Berta Soler: They Must Put An End To This / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Berta Coler, Leader of the Ladies in White

Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White

14ymedio, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 October 2014 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, has called for a vigil this October 21 in front of the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana. The reason is the new suspension of the trial of Sonia Garro.

Soler explained that there are “dubious things” in the way the authorities have handled this latest extension. “Sonia called to tell me that a captain had told her that the trial was suspended, but she did not believe it.” The activist also said that Sonia Garro’s defense lawyer “was unaware” of the decision. The new date for holding the criminal trial has been set for next November 7.

“We do not trust the Cuban Government, therefore the vigil goes on,” the leader of the Ladies in White told this newspaper. Soler does not rule out that “all this supposed suspension is for the purpose of demobilizing the people.” So, “we are going to be there anyway,” she announced.

There will also be a vigil in the interior of the country because it is expected that in front of the courts of Santiago de Cuba and other cities peaceful demonstrations similar to that in Havana will take place. The Diez de Octubre municipal court is at Juan Delgado and Patrocinio, and Berta Soler says that “the plan is to begin at 8:00 a.m. and last until noon. It depends on whether they let us or not.”

The activist also reported that “since this Saturday, State Security has reinforced vigilance over the Ladies in White.” This is the third time that they have suspended the trial of Sonia Garro. “They must to put an end to this,” she demands.

Translated by MLK

Back Channel to Cuba / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation of "Back Channel to Cuba" at UNEAC (14Ymedio)

Presentation of “Back Channel to Cuba” at UNEAC (14Ymedio)

The Villena room was too small for the audience, which endured sweltering heat during the two hours of the presentation of the book “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”

The free event, at the headquarters of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC), had raised such high expectations in the academic world and in public opinion that almost two hundred people gathered his Monday at 4:00 in the afternoon to meet the authors of a book that has been presented outside of Cuba as “revelatory.”

Researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande had to face being accosted by the press before entering the room where they were awaited by figures as diverse as Ministry of the Interior agent Fernando González – imprisoned in the United States for 15 years – and the Cuban-American businessman Max Lesnick. Continue reading

Florida Two Hundred Yards Away / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

The view from Devin Castle, at the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers. (Source: Wikipedia)

The view from Devin Castle, at the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers. (Source: Wikipedia)

14ymedio, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 19 September 2014 – The Morava and Danube rivers come together in Devin. The place still belongs to the Bratislava region, but only the far shore is Slovakia. The near shore is Austria.

Maybe a detail that means nothing special. Even less because today you can cross from one side to the other without anyone saying anything to you and the barges loaded with tourists calmly navigate up and down the river. But before the Velvet Revolution, this was the border between communism and capitalism, between oppression and freedom; to try to cross, in many cases, implied paying a very heavy price. Say what you want to those who died, shot by the “proletarian” side, or to those taken by the strong current, but the rivers have never been as terrible as the politics of middle Europe.

It’s as if we Cubans had Florida 200 yards away, right in front of Mariel. Although we do have the Guantanamo Base and the sad death toll that claims those seeking to escape the island-prison. “The law of adjustment is to blame,” the border guards at Devin would have said in their time. Why not: We Cubans are all so observant of the laws…!

On a rock that strategically dominates the Devin landscape are the ruins of a fort. Our guide told us that people launched themselves from up there,  during the Soviet heyday, hanggliding to try to get to Austria. It was a flight of freedom or death.

A portico in memory of the millions who crossed or tried to cross the Iron Curtain rises here today. A mute reminder of what should not be repeated. All borders have some capriciousness about them, but the one that was in place here until just 25 years ago was a sinister monument to the absurd. To the delight of all, the Warsaw Pact soldiers are long gone and today fishermen sit near where the waters of the Morava and Danube flow together. By the way, the wine in this region is very good.

Reseller, That Dirty Word / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

14YMEDIO, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 August 2014 – “I have mattresses, games room, air conditioning …” an individual stationed at the entrance to a popular store says softly. A few yards further on, another vendor has filters for drinking water, and so it continues, on both sides of the commercial center, an illicit network that caters to more than a few dissatisfied customers with poor State offerings.

If you look in the stores without success, you shouldn’t worry, because outside it’s possible to find everything you need from the “resellers” for a few pesos more. Those traders who swarm streets like Carlos III, Monte, or 10 de octubre, operating with nothing more than the law of supply and demand. The solution that occurs to the government, far from focusing on filling up the half-empty shelves, has been to eradicate what they describe as “social indiscipline.”

What they haven’t considered, however, is granting licenses to the traders. In fact, the word “trader” is banished from the official jargon. Those who exercise one of the oldest crafts known to humanity are called “resellers” and that, in the eyes of the authorities, is not a good thing. The government accuses them of hoarding and speculation.

So far this year there have been almost 17,000 fines and hundreds of seizures. However, the punitive measures taken so far are not enough. “We don’t have an inspector on every corner. We need help from the public,” declare some State inspectors on the TV news. The phenomenon has gotten out of control. This not only contributes to the lack of productivity and bad distribution on the part of the State monopoly, but the problem also includes more than a few corrupt officials.

What Was the Havana Metro? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Bus Routes in Havana. (BdG/14ymedio)

Bus Routes in Havana. (BdG/14ymedio)

Conceived 30 years ago, it would have been the largest civil engineering project in Cuba, but it sank after Perestroika.

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana | June 17, 2014

It’s morning rush hour at the Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor bus stop, a busy node in the city of Havana. Thousands of people rush to work, school, the office, or run errands. New bus routes, as well as signaling changes on the existing road network, have tried to relieve the headaches involved in mass transit in our country.

Thirty years ago, when the island was a satellite of the USSR, and other foreign capital was virtually nonexistent, an ambitious rapid transit project was conceived for the Cuban capital with a metro  system as the centerpiece. The civil engineer Felix C., today employed by a Cuban-Foreign construction equipment company, related his experiences working for the City of Havana Executive Group (GEMCH), the company then in charge of what was called “the work of the century.”

“I came here after I graduated, in the mid-eighties,” he said. “GEMCH already existed at the beginning of the decade and several projects for the metro came out of CUJAE (Ciudad Universitaria Jose Antonio Echeverria) — the technical branch of the University of Havana. Several of us were even sent to Eastern European countries to study and participate in works of this type already being implemented.

During those years, in fact, everything seemed to be in place to build the metro in Havana. A series of articles published in the magazine Technical Youth in August, September and October of 1982, expounded in a straightforward way not only on the necessity, but also on the possibility that Havana could count on this type of transport. Enthusiasm was great. At that time relations with the USSR looked stronger than ever, and it was considered significant that the only socialist country in the Western Hemisphere would have its own metro system. Continue reading

Our Own Dangerous “Twin Towers” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Tejas Corner. 14ymedio

Texas Corner. 14ymedio

Havana, June 9, 2014, Victor Ariel Gonzalez — Corrugated fiber-cement sheets and wooden planks form a security fence in the shadow of the two tallest buildings of an iconic Havana site: the “Twin Towers” at Texas Corner, where 240 families live, marooned, as the buildings crumble.

Every day many people walk past, where the sidewalks of Calzada Del Cerro and Diez de Octubre intersect. Life goes on as usual at the foot of the gray structures, 20 floors and 200 feet high, which dangerously dominate the landscape.

A glance behind the makeshift wall leaves no doubt about the problem: chunks of rust-stained concrete detached from the walls are scattered in the grass, evidence of the deterioration of the buildings. If you look up, the poor state of the structural walls, which support thousands of tons, is revealed, with their broken edges and numerous areas where rebar is exposed. Continue reading

Dad, I Want to Go to La Yuma* / Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Josué Colomé Vázquez, son of Cuba’s Minister of the Interior. Photo from Josué’s Facebook page.

Havana, Cuba – It’s not too surprising that a son of Cuba’s Minister of the Interior recently arrived in the U.S. to stay. Josué Colomé–as this immigrant is named–is not the first descendent of a high official of the regime who decided to leave for “enemy” lands, and so join the thousands of Cubans who arrive in the United States each year in search of opportunity. It’s obvious that the Revolution that dad helped make isn’t good enough. Not even for him.

His father, General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, is one of the historic leaders of the Cuban dictatorship. He serves in a key position, given that he’s the guardian of State Security, in charge of administering the repressive forces, watching friends and enemies alike, as well as executing exemplary sentences. That is, the largest jailer on the island-prison. The job of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) one of the strongest currencies that sustains the regime: fear. The heads of this institution have always been dark characters who enjoy the greatest confidence of the Supreme Leader. MININT is the principle guarantor of the Cuban government (that is the Castro brothers) to exercise their absolute power.

Thus, although not unique, it’s a singular case of apostasy. The son of the General, who now awaits his residency in the U.S., is one of the few who know first hand the intimacies of the governmental summit. Josué has lived among luxuries and complete indifference, and could stay in Cuba enjoying his surname. However, he preferred to abandon ship.

But that’s not the most striking thing: his father having ears that hear everything, it’s tempting to wonder about the following: Did the General know that his son was preparing to escape? Did the chief of MININT participate in the plan in some way, or knowing it, did he look the other way?

It’s hard not to suspect it. The Cuban Minister of the Interior could sin at anything, but not naivete. It may never be clear what, if any, degree of involvement did the Cuban official have in the happy journey? Perhaps it’s not a crazy assumption that the young Josué, now a refugee in the USA (waiting on the Cuban Adjustment Act), had the help of his powerful father to get to his destination through a third country. Then, the “killer” Adjustment Law would have been very good for the family interests of the representative of the regime.

General and Minister of the Interior Abelardo ColoméIbarra with Raul Castro. Photo from Internet

General and Minister of the Interior Abelardo Colomé Ibarra with Raul Castro. Photo from Internet

*Translator’s note: “La Yuma” is what Cubans call the United States and other foreign countries.

Cubanet, 7 April 2014, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Shelves of Misery / Victor Ariel Gonzalez

The old Carlos III market was transformed into a “mall.”  At the beginning, Havanans found a wide selection of merchandise (in CUC — hard currency); today the showcases are empty.

The shelves where the most common ingredients should be found often appear empty or offer only one product of its type without options of quality or size.  Those foods that Cubans eat the most are exhausted rapidly, sometimes missing from the shelves for weeks.  On the other hand, the most expensive foods stay for sale for so long that many wind up expiring.

Carlos III market, inaugurated in 1957 as Plaza de Mercado

Not to mention the toiletry section. This week there was only one kind of soap for sale, a small bar for 0.25 CUC.  The counter where there used to appear dozens of offers for varying budgets now presents a desolate emptiness. Continue reading

2014: Death Before Birth / Victor Ariel Gonzalez

HAVANA, Cuba, January, — Doorways where until a few days ago all kinds of clothes and shoes were for sale are now empty. All the usual stalls are closed. It is a return to the recent past, confirmation that the economic openings are not as open, but quite the opposite: they narrow.

The state of opinion on the streets of Havana is negative. Skeptics have multiplied and pessimism is heard in normal conversations. A taxi driver who was driving an old American car, in the dark December nights, predicted to this reporter what the new year would be from his vision at that time. According to him, he’d never seen such a dark end of year, perhaps not even such an infamous December 31, 1994, when a cigar box cost 120 pesos (the entire pay, let’s say, of a secretary).

The man apparently was not mistaken in his forecast that 2014 would be fatal. The first thing that happened is that an important branch of trade is dead. There will be no stalls where the poorest buyers can go looking for something to wear. People are angry, as the Cuban population usually is without any spontaneous social event occurring. Continue reading

Legacies of Castro-ism: The Destruction of the Sugar Industry / CID, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

On December 10, 1868, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes liberated the slaves of his sugar center La Demajagua and invited them to join him in the fight for Cuban’s independence. The Cry of Yara was the beginning of the 10 Years’ War.  These are the ruins of Demajagua.

The great capitals of the Cuban economy were forged within the sugar industry.  This last one and all its surrounding areas constituted a basic feature of the country’s culture, of its identity.  The formation of the Cuban nation is closely linked to sugar production in that it served to form a Creole aristocracy, which with the passage of time was differentiated from the Spanish mother country, still holder of political power on the island even while in the economic sphere it began to lag behind her thriving colony.The formation of the Cuban nation is closely linked to sugar production in that it served to form a Creole aristocracy, which with the passage of time was differentiated from the Spanish mother country, still holder of political power on the island even while in the economic sphere it began to lag behind her thriving colony. Continue reading

Havana Smells Very Bad / Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Havana, Cuba, November 2013, – In Cuba there exists no consumer society.  Or heavy industrial activity.  The quantity of debris should not be frightening. But the treatment of waste is troubling, because it pollutes the country and promises to future generations.

There exists no appropriate policy for dealing with the debris.  And if it is true that Cuban reality demands a solution for more urgent problems, where the trash goes, it should not be left behind.

The frowned upon dumpster divers

In homes, work centers, dumpsters on the streets, everything that is thrown in the trash falls in the same compartment where glass or metal or biodegrables are not distinguished. The whole lot ends up at the landfills, where the trash is not classified or its treatment facilitated.

One of the effective ways of contending with trash is recycling.  In Cuba it is a task of extreme difficulty.  There is no education nor political will directed to the necessary separation of wastes.  Moreover, the State hinders the process.

An example of that is the negative attitude towards “divers,” who are dedicated to searching for empty beer and soft drink cans to sell to raw materials recovery companies.  These individuals are frowned upon by the government in spite of the fact that their labor is ecologically laudable and they are socially useful since they have honest work.

Beyond not separating trash, the system does not even recognize the work of those who could be called “little aluminum businesses.”

If other discarded materials also gave business, there is no doubt that the waste recovery industry would rapidly flourish and contribute to the city’s improvement.

Fire at the big dump

From the heights of one of the faculties of the Superior Polytechnic Institute, Jose Antonio Echeverria observed how a dense column of smoke rose, born in the entrails of the big dump of Avenue 100.  The toxic spectacle was nothing new: the uncontrolled combustion of debris would be dragged by the wind to the classroom of the university grounds.  The students in class there were going to inhale however much undesirable chemicals the fire generated.

Only after many sinister — and repeated — complaints was the cause of the fire removed, giving certain treatment to the wastes.  The decomposition of large quantities of organic material can generate sufficient heat to unleash accidental fires.

The fire out, the bad odor of the Dump of Avenue 100 continued flogging the surrounding population.

The first mistake is to locate an enormous landfill in the middle of Marianao township, near well traveled areas, but of course, quite distant from the Havana neighborhoods where the country’s ruling class lives.

Lack of containers

Another of the problems is the lack of trash containers and the irregularities in collection.  Parts and fuel are stolen from the garbage truck, as they are from all state vehicles.  Garbage cans are also vandalized.  Their wheels are ideal for making street vendor carts.  Wastes accumulate for days on the corners.

Not to mention sewer networks.  The growing population has made the water collection and treatment system collapse.  And the construction going up lacks the most basic technical standards.  Entire communities are found with a deficient and even non-existent sewerage.  Sewer water runs through the streets or seeps into the lower soil, contaminating springs, while the toxic wastes in rivers and oceans destroy various ecosystems in their wake.

The lack of control, the accumulation of trash and the deterioration of water treatment systems contribute to the fact that in Cuba there exists the danger of a widespread epidemic.  Signs of the health crisis have already started to be seen:  the resurgence of illnesses that were eradicated from the country indicates that the filth that surrounds us will have disastrous consequences.

By Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Cubanet, November 26, 2013

Translated by mlk

Initiating Improvements in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Victor Ariel Gonzalez, CID

On October 30th the newspaper Granma published,

Beginning improvements in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The approved proposals were aimed at shaping a modern revolutionary Foreign Ministry to ensure more efficient performance of the organization and the concentration of the resources and efforts in the priorities of Cuban foreign policy.”


Under the slogan of “Combating the blockade as our principal mission” in the diplomatic sphere, lies perhaps in the modification of the existing legal mechanisms, which allow Cubans (especially the most powerful Cubans, who are those of the Government of Havana) to interact with foreigners (governments or companies) interested in the new direction that Cuban political economy seems to be taking.

Should this be the case, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) would be undergoing a transformation similar to that of other State agencies and entities: to  accommodate the game at the convenience of the ruling class, who want to economically restructure the country while still having absolute power over it.

All this can also be related to the winks that come from the leadership of the country to the prosperous Cuban community in the US.  They have made declarations (onthe part of Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro and the true “owner” of the Cuban baseball team) that it would be good if the Cuban ballplayers in the U.S. major leagues returned to play under their flag: which was denied to them the day they “deserted” and were called “traitors.”

Certainly, with the changes within the country there will also come changes toward the exterior. MINREX will not be the exception.

Víctor Ariel González

14 November 2013