Our Potato Who Art in Heaven / Orlando Freire Santana

HAVANA, Cuba — Prices of agricultural products have increased between 15 and 25 percent in recent months. An unsustainable burden if we take into account the population’s salaries. The price increase coincides with new forms of marketing. It turns out that the mechanism for bringing producers and consumers closer and eliminating intermediaries set off prices.

It was obvious: An official research center decides to cast aside marketing analysis and concentrates on production.

Armando Nova Gonzalez, researcher for the Cuban Economic Studies Center, told the Tribuna de la Havana newspaper: The levels of production should have increased with the transfer of idle lands to lease-holders. But it has not been so because of how expensively the State sells tools and adequate inputs to the lease-holders in order to make the land produce, among other reasons. Continue reading

The Workers Never Believed in “Their” 20th Congress / Orlando Freire Santana

Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, secretary general of the workers. Photo from
http://www.trabajadores.cu

HAVANA, Cuba.  The 20th Congress of the ruling Cuba Workers Central (CTC) has just concluded its sessions.  Even though authorities proclaimed that this had been a democratic meeting, what is true of every workplace discussion of the main documents is that very few workers expected anything good from the event.  I could verify the foregoing a day after the conclusion in conversations held with several people.

Alina is a worker in a dressmaking shop of the Ministry of Industries.  She told me that she did not bother to read newspapers or watch television news during the days that the Congress was in session.  Overall, it was not going to answer her demand and that of the rest of her companions: a salary increase.

Alina told me that in her workshop three systems of payment have been applied, and none of them has served any purpose. They have not been able to pay the wage stimulus because the company to which the workshop is subordinate has breached the indicators that they call macroeconomics, and no worker understands where they come from.

The day that they gave the pre-Congress meeting in her workshop, her companions suggested that, since they never paid the stimulus, at least they could increase the base salary. But the municipal CTC official said that was impossible until the country’s labor production and productivity increased. “And of course I wasn’t about to listen to the same story now in the 20th Congress,” concluded Alina.

Miguel Angel is a Bachelor in Economics. He does not much like that kind of slogan that the government brandishes in the context of modernizing the economic model, in the sense that planning prevails over the market. What he likes least is that the CTC is not original and merely repeats what the country’s rulers say.

Like many, he was not aware of what happened in the chief worker meeting. He did not need to be. Some days before, Mr. Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, who presided over the Organizing Commission for the 20th Congress, confirmed that the unions supported the economic strategy that planning put in the foreground. “Well,” says Miguel Angel, “I oppose planning in Cuba. The government planners here, besides being inefficient in their work, want to stick their noses into everything, even in what must be produced and sold in a simple farmer’s market.”

And on passing near one area where some months before everything was business due to the clothes that private workers were marketing and that today languishes in loneliness, I stumbled on Yoandri, a young man who had to turn in his license as a self-employed worker. He was one of the first to agree to belong to the unions sponsored by the CTC. Today, however, he assesses that decision as useless. “Bottom line, it was all for nothing. When they closed my clothing business, the union did nothing to defend me,” he confessed.

He also said that his case could serve as a lesson to many other self-employed workers who find themselves pressured by authorities to join the unions. “The government wants to unionize them in order to control them better, because here the union and the government are the same thing. The rest is baloney,” he concluded.

Ah, and the three knew beforehand that the fatso by the name of Brazilian — as they call Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento — was going to be elected secretary general of the CTC. That was decided previously.

Cubanet, February 26, 2014,

Translated by mlk

The Cuatro Caminos Market Will be a Museum / Orlando Freire Santana

Cuatro-Caminos-2a-500x400HAVANA, Cuba – The Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads) Market, one of the most important of Havana, and pioneer of the system of supply and demand for agricultural products, will close its doors on 2 February. They already met with the employees and told them the site will undergo “repairs” and that they will be relocated to other farmers markets.

Consumers will see one of the few markets displaying a “true range” of products disappear. And, with one less market, the possibility of a decline in the prices paid by the population for fruits, meats, vegetables and meat products becomes more remote.

The official press insists that the problems of Cuban agriculture are transportation and marketing. They repeat that products do not reach the bodegas because there are so many intermediaries between the producer and the consumer. They believe that the reasons that sweet potatoes, yucca and malanga do not reach Cubans’ tables are paperwork, truckers, and vendors.

Certainly the most inefficient of these intermediaries is the state-owned Supply Company, a bureaucratic monster that has never had enough means of transport nor containers to collect the crops, nor has it correctly set prices for purchasing from farmers, but the Supply Company doesn’t deserves all the blame. Continue reading

Difficult Unity at the Summit in Havana / Orlando Freire Santana

celac-cumbreAt first glance, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is a laudable mechanism for consultation and integration of the nations located south of the Rio Grande. When it was founded in Caracas in December of 2011, under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, it was thought that it would foster unity among the 33 Latin American countries without the presence of the United States and Canada.

That unifying spirit that transcends the diversity of our region, is what the Cuban government is trying to bring to the Second Summit of the organization, which will be held in Havana on January 28-29. The hosts of this event, like the rest of the continent’s Chavista militant leftists on the continent, yearn for a united Latin American in the ideological environment of 21st Century Socialism, conducive to economic integration within — in the style of ALBA and Mercosur — which favor commercial relations of complementarity rather than competition, and that reject the so-called “neoliberal politics,” and above all that conceive the rivalry with the north through the compass of its foreign policy.

More precisely, the attitudes towards trade, economic integration, and the view of the United States, are some elements of diversity that could bury the consensus. Because a negligible portion of Latin Americans believe in the benefits of economic liberalism, competition, and openness to foreign capital. Also, they contemplate the United States and the European Union as suitable partners with whom to sign free trade agreements. Continue reading

Self-Employed: Don’t Cross the Line / Orlando Freire Santana

HAVANA, Cuba – The echoes of the unfair audits of the Declarations of Personal Income haven’t even faded yet, nor have the prohibitions of the marketing of imported household objects and clothing, and government action again threatened to overshadow the horizon of self-employment.

An extraordinary issue of the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba just appeared, containing Decree Law 315.  The document, among other things, describes several of the offences that the self-employed could commit in the exercise of their work, among them the marketing of goods or services not contemplated in the descriptions of their respective occupations.

For some weeks now, as a preview of the Decree Law, the Ministry of Labor’s municipal authorities have been visiting the self-employed to ratify what they can and can’t do in the context of their occupations. These meetings always end with the signing of a document by the person visited; a signature that attests that the person has been warned about what could happen to them if they depart from what is established. Continue reading

Generational Collision in the Alejo Carpentier Charity / Orlando Freire Santana

Havana, Cuba, December – http://www.cubanetorg – It’s not a secret for anybody that, in general, youngsters favour transformations which advance social development. As far as Cuba is concerned, the majority of young people who are academics and researchers urge that the economic changes being implemented by Raul Castro’s government be taken forward more rapidly. And journalism should not lag behind.

This understanding was corroborated in the winding up of the course entitled “Journalism is not a job for cynics”, which took place at the Alejo Carpentier charity. On this occasion, the journalists Jesus Arencibia and Ricardo Ronquillo, both from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde took part in a panel, along with Doctor Graciela Pogolotti, president of the above mentioned cultural institution.

The first one to mention it was the youngest of the panelists, Jesus Arencibia, who, to the astonishment of some of the people present, strongly criticised the present situation of the Cuban press. Responding to the question, “What journalism do we need today in Cuba?”, Arencibia stated that we lack media able to function without approval from above; and, pursuing this line, argued that editorial policy should not be the preserve of a political party. Arencibia also questioned the activities of the official Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), who insist on not mixing up journalism with commercial publicity, without saying anything about political propaganda which dominates the work of the news-pages, the radio and the television in our country. Continue reading

Self-employed Construction Workers: The Next Victims? / Orlando Freire Santana

sanlazaroAt this point few will doubt that in a totalitarian system like Cuba, centralized control of the economy by the state is inherent; and if the leaders agree to allow some space for private initiative, they do it as a tactical maneuver and not with strategic overtones.

This is demonstrated by government repression against certain private activities, especially when they expose the inefficiency of the state bureaucracy. In 1986, for example, the authorities banned the first version of Free Farmers Markets. The reason? Well, in those markets which responded to the laws of supply and demand, people could buy roots, fruits, vegetables and meat products that didn’t exist in the markets run by the all-powerful state.

Moving forward in time, the private owners of 3D cinemas had to close their establishments at the behest of the ruling party directives. According to the government, these cinemas showed films that were inconsistent with the cultural policies of the nation. However, everybody knows that the official Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC ) was unable to equip their theaters with the technology used by individuals.

And lately we have seen them end the selling of imported clothing by the self-employed, who supply clothing more attractive than those sold in state shops. Continue reading

Karina Aspires to be a Successful Prostitute / Orlando Freire Santana

jinetera-cara-borrosa-300x215HAVANA, Cuba , November www.cubanet.org – Karina laments having come rather late to Havana from her native Santiago de Cuba. According to her, if her arrival in the capital had happened five or six years ago, the job of becoming a successful prostitute would have been much less work.

Because the competition here is huge, and the clients increasingly prefer younger girls. However, at 25, Karina still has hopes of being able to find her way through the intricacies of this craft to reach her great objective: hooking up with a “yuma,” as foreigners are called here, and getting out of this hell.

Back in Santiago, Karina left her mother and a five-year-old daughter. As a mid-level food technician, she held a job as an assistant in a seedy State snack bar, with a salary that wasn’t enough to feed her daughter. So Karina, and two other single mothers like herself, decided one day to take a train to Havana, without even knowing anyone in this city that could pave the way for them.

jinetera-carroThe first few days in the capital were difficult for the three girls, sometimes eating only once a day, and sleeping on benches at the train station. They continued that way until they met a man who sheltered them in his house. And at the end of several weeks, after earning the first fruits of her trade, Karina managed independence. Now she lives along in a rented room in Old Havana that she pays 50 CUC (about 50 dollars) for, and has already been able to send some money to help her family.

And what is more important, Karina has come to understand that she has several steps to reaching her goal. These days, still devoid of the material attributes that make it easier to trap the big game, Karina roams the areas of Havana where the cheapest prostitution is practiced, such as the doorways of stores on Monte Street, or the area around Fraternity Park. In these places almost all the customers are Cuba, and they generally pay five CUC for half an hour of rented love. Still, sometimes she’s lucky, hooking up with guys who offer as much as 10 or 15 CUC. Of course in these cases she has to really put herself into providing the service.

But, clearly, Karina believes this “poverty” will be transitory. She gives up certain comforts in order to save money so she can purchase elegant clothes, nice shoes and expensive perfumes. Then she will be in shape to launch herself on the Paseo del Prado or Obispo Street, the busiest in Old Havana, where there are lots of foreign tourists.

jineteras-carte-renta-cuartosA good presence increases the probability that some yuma will focus on her — especially it he’s middle-aged, and already written off sexually in his own country — fall in love with her, marry her, and take her to live abroad. In addition, even if a marriage doesn’t materialize, every transaction that originates on Obispo or El Prado is very lucrative for a prostitute, because it’s customary in those places to charge no less than 30 CUC.

When Karina is asked why she moved to Havana instead of undertaking her work in Santiago, especially if we take into account the police repression against prostitutes here in the capital, she replied that she faces the risks for both practical and family reasons. Back in Santiago there’s less chance of meeting a yuma, perhaps only at Cespedes Park, across from the terrace of the Casa Granda Hotel.

Furthermore, she doesn’t want her mom and daughter to find out how she’s earning a living in Havana. She’s lied to them, saying she works as a cleaning lady in the residence of some foreigners. And this young woman who is a “fighter” concludes, “I’ll let them know the truth after I get out, and I can also sponsor them to get the out of this agony.” Karina didn’t want her portrait on Cubanet. And we understand.

Orlando Freire Santana

Cubanet, 5 December 2013

Is Diaz-Canel the Third Power in Cuba? / Orlando Freire Santana

Díaz-Canel-en-la-Cumbre-de-Petrocaribe-300x225HAVANA, Cuba, November, www.cubanet.org -In closed societies, where there is no freedom of information, it’s necessary to read between the lines to break the secrecy imposed from above. Secrecy that, among other things, makes it impossible to know the real share of power of each leader.

When the naming of Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez was named first vice president of the Council of States and Ministers was reported, there was no lack of voices, in Cuba and abroad, who claimed to be in the presence of the second-in-line of the Cuban regime.

Soon they became convinced it wasn’t so. Because Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, in his position as second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, remained Raul Castro’s shadow.

Diaz-Canel appeared to be the third man in the power structure.

In recent days, however, we’ve observed an event that could tell us the true location of Diaz-Canel in the Castro nomenklatura. It was the hosting of the vice president of India by the General-President, reported by the newspaper Granma on October 31.

Both in the official notice as well is in the photo of the meeting, with the delegations of both countries, Cuban protocol was in charge of strictly locating the personalities in accordance with their political hierarchy.

Next to Raúl Castro was Esteban Lazo, member of the Party’s Politburo and president of the National Assembly of People’s Power; next to him was Díaz-Canel, followed by Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment; and finally, Marcelino Medina, Deputy Foreign Minister.

That is, Mr. Lazo currently has a position senior to Diaz-Canel in the nomenklatura. He is second to Raul in the Government and the Council of State, but his location in the office of the Party’s Politburo — which defines his share of power — seems to be very powerful.

It’s even probably that prominent figures in the Party, like the Minister of the Interior Abelardo Colomé Ibarra (Furry), and the also vice president Ramiro Valdés, and Minister of the Armed Forces, Leopoldo Cintra Frías, are also ahead of Díaz-Canel.

We have to interpret the small details to decipher the secretiveness of the Castrocracia. An element that could shed light on: General Furry is the only one authorized to accompany Machado to the airport when Raul Castro returns from a trip abroad.

Then the ascent of Diaz-Canel to the first vice presidency of the Councils of State and Minister, as well as the media attention he has received lately, far from a climb to the summit of power, would just be the recurring “killing two birds with one stone.”

In these terms, it’s necessary to give the impression that something is moving in the island’s stagnant political landscape, in this case through some “renewal” in the nomenklatura.

On the other hand, Castro II is preparing for the moment of relay, in fact, when other figures assume the reins of power. But for them that moment will come when the historic generation of the Revolution disappears physically. Before then, don’t even think about it.

Orlando Freire Santana

6 November 2013, Cubanet

Cuba Shaken by Rumors of Currency Unification / Orlando Freire Santana

HAVANA, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org — The official announcement in the newspaper Granma this Tuesday, October 2, with its timeline for instituting the changes regarding currency unification, unleashed a torrent of rumors, which some say circulate faster that news from the Communist Party.

But there wasn’t much to it. There was no change of any importance in the value of the two currencies. Stressed-out Cubans, who must rely on an average monthly salary of some 445 CUP (or Cuban pesos), will still have a “rope around their necks,” worrying about how to pay for goods priced in CUC (or convertible pesos) at the fixed exchange rate of 1 CUC to 25 CUP. Given the sensitive nature of this topic, however, it was inevitable that contradictory analyses would start cropping up first thing Tuesday morning.

Almost everyone believed that there would be a gradual strengthening of the Cuban peso until the two currencies reached parity and the CUC was finally phased out. In the opinion of some, the rate of exchange could be around 1 CUC to 20 CUP within a few months.

A neighbor in my building, who subscribes to this line of reasoning, noted that this could create pressure on the currency exchange bureaus (CADECAS) if people tried to gradually get rid of their CUCs, especially now that the rate of exchange is still at 1 CUC to 25 CUP.

A diametrically opposite point of view was expressed by a self-employed worker as he was preparing to begin his day. He believed it might be a trap by the government to collect the money in circulation and deal a fatal blow to the new “potted plants.*” According to this worker, a third currency would be created and this would be the one to survive. All Cuban pesos and CUCs would have to be exchanged for it but there would be a maximum amount that could be exchanged. Anything exceeding that figure would represent a loss to its owners. It would be a kind of punishment for those who sold their homes at astronomic prices in hopes of leaving the country.

Twenty-four hours after the release of the official announcement I decided, one way or another, to gauge the public mood by visiting various CADECAS around the capital. There seemed to be a prevailing calm and the lines of customers were no longer than usual at the entrances to currency exchanges in the Focsa building — located at 23rd street in front of Copelia — and at the National Bus Terminal. I joined a line of customers at the latter to exchange some money so that I could make inquiries with the cashiers.

The  two or three people with whom I was able to speak did not completely understand the announcement which appeared in Granma, though I did detect a certain level of anxiety about what could happen. One of the people in line with me, an older gentleman, did not hide his mistrust of the authorities and recalled what happened with the currency change in the 1960s when people lost a substantial part of their savings. For her part, the cashier who waited on me acknowledged that on Tuesday morning people were asking for Cuban pesos with some insistence. However, by Wednesday — the day of my visit — demand was back to normal.

After chatting with some of my colleagues, an interesting point of view emerged. It was felt that this could be a public relations maneuver on the part of the government to calm the many gullible people who believe that, with the end of the dual currency system, the country’s economic problems will be solved. The Party Guidelines indicate that officials contemplated currency unification but they now know neither when nor how to properly pull it off. At least the published timeline shows they are giving themselves a little more time.

Orlando Freire Santana

*Translator’s note: Cuban slang for the nouveau riche.

 Cubanet, October 25, 2013

They Pick up the Prostitutes but Not the Trash on the Streets of Havana / Orlando Freire Santana

Trash dumped at Aquila and Estrella Streets. Photo by Orlando Freire Santana

Trash dumped at Aquila and Estrella Streets. Photo by Orlando Freire Santana

HAVANA, Cuba, September, www.cubanet.org – At almost the same moment that Mariela Castro declared that Cuba only penalizes pandering, but not prostitution, police officers in uniform and in plainclothes conducted an operation against prostitutes who frequent Águila Street, between Monte and Estrella, in the municipality of Centro Habana.

The place had lately become a stronghold of cheap prostitution in Havana, basically targeted to domestic customers. For only six CUC — the equivalent of six dollars — five for the prostitute and one for the rent of the room, one can access those services. Of course, this “cheap prostitution” is relative, as six CUC are a third of the monthly salary of the average Cuban.

Veterans with experience in the meat trade alternated with young newcomers from the interior of the country or girls from Havana who decided to leave school and go out to “fight” for their daily bread. And although that area, on more than one occasion, has been the target of other police actions against prostitutes, repression never reached the levels of bygone days. Just as Mariela, the sexologist of the ruling dynasty ,also announced the upcoming celebration in Cuba of a symposium on prostitution and sex tourism.

25-prostitutas-carroOne of the girls who managed to escape the raid told us the modus operandi of the authorities on that occasion. The first to act were the uniformed police. They could not pick up many girls as they managed to flee. A few hours later, when apparently it was all over and prostitutes returned to their task, the repressive forces decided to change the strategy. Some agents dressed in civilian clothes, approached the girls and proposed a transaction. Once they were accepted, the agents identified themselves and they were arrested right there.

According to the witness, the detainees were forced to board a police truck and then driven to the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) Sector located in Reina Street near the corner of Rayo. There a few were released after receiving a warning letter — the first step to a subsequent arrest — but most were taken to the cells at the police station on Zanja Street, waiting for a trial that could condemn them to several years in prison.

And while that stretch of Águila Street was witnessing such a manhunt, very nearby, at the intersection of Angeles and Estrella Streets, a giant trash dump threatened to worsen the already deteriorating hygienic conditions faced by residents of that municipality and the rest of the city.

After the four containers for receiving solid waste were full, more than 20 or 30 yards of the street were occupied by wastes of all kinds. One would think that the leaders of the Castro regime’s planning decided to remove the fuel from the Communal Service Department vehicles charged with picking up the trash, and give it to the vehicles of the PNR that undertook the “patriotic” labor of cleaning Havana’s streets of prostitutes.

The Cuban leaders haven’t been able to rid themselves of the habit of constantly creating new campaigns to solve problems. First it was the health campaign against dengue fever and cholera. Now, it seems, it doesn’t matter how many Cubans get sick. The priority in the days to come is to get rid of the prostitutes so Mariela Castro can invite the attendees of her symposium to roam the streets of Havana and to see for themselves that the accusations that Cuba promotes prostitution, sex tourism and trafficking, are mere fabrications by the enemy, intended to denigrate the work begun by her uncle and now continued by her father.

Within several months, when Mariela’s symposium is history, no one would be surprised if Águila Street, between Monte and Estrella, is once again overrun by new practitioners of the oldest of trades.

Orlando Freire Santana

From Cubanet, 24 September 2013

Family Medical Practice: Mirror of Cuban Medicine / Orlando Freire Santana

HAVANA, Cuba, September, Orlando Freire Santana, www.cubanet.org –The Cuban health system has a vertical structure that has its base in family run medical practices, followed by polyclinics and hospitals.

In the ’80s of the 20th century, when they were created, it was thought that all the problems of the population would be solved.

Soon after, patients lost faith in the practices. And today, the task of the family doctor has been reduced to taking blood pressure, prescribing medications, and sending patients to polyclinics and hospitals.

Isabel is an 80-year old woman, who never visits the family doctor in her neighborhood. It isn’t that the elderly woman doesn’t need medical care, just that she prefers to get it directly from hospitals because she has friends who “connect” her with specialists. What’s more–she tells us–many times the doctor’s office is closed and other times instead of the doctor there is a student who is only good for prescribing aspirin.

Ofelia, for her part, doesn’t want to be reminded of the family doctor. It turns out that her doctor doesn’t live in the housing annexing the doctor’s office. He left it to his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. And even though the doctor drops by the clinic in the day, he’s absent at night and in the early hours of the morning. What happens if there’s a medical emergency?

Ofelia’s father-in-law passed away suddenly at home, around 7 or 8 at night.  And since the family doctor wasn’t there to sign the death certificate they had to keep the cadaver in the house until the next day around mid-morning.

Photo: Orlando Freire Santana

Of course she has lived through lot.  Before the Revolution, she says, her family were members of the “Accion Medica” private clinic located in Cocos y Rabi, in the Havana neighborhood of Santos Suarez. For a monthly fee of 2 pesos they had access to all the clinic’s services, including admission to hospitals, in addition to any medications they needed. They could even ask for a doctor’s visit in their home, and the doctor would arrive at the latest only 15 to 20 minutes after the request was made.  Now, by comparison, Clara laments that the family doctor barely “shows up.” That is, he doesn’t visit the sick in their beds.  ”Well,” Clara warns, “at least not unless he gets a little present.”

Amelia desperately hopes that they select her to complete a medical mission in any other country.  It doesn’t matter that the Cuban government keeps most of what doctors are paid abroad. But anything would be better than what they make in Cuba, from 15 to 20 dollars a month.  The doctor Amelia “makes do” with what is earned by her husband who, at night, being careful of the police, rents his car, illegally.

The patients are not the only ones who disagree with the family doctor’s offices.  A doctor who works in an office in Cerro –who asked to remain anonymous– showed herself to be overwhelmed:  ”When one arrives at the office, within 15 days you know all the elderly in the neighborhood, they come every day, just for kicks, to stretch their legs, because they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

And how do medical students weigh in?  The other day several daring young women with the uniform of medical science, snacked on a bench in the park.  One of them highlighted the importance pf earning high grades from the first day of class, to form a record that guarantees a good placement after graduation. “Yes, of course,” another student asserted, “we can’t slide, they’ll punish us and send us to a family medical practice.”

From Cubanet

 11 September 2013