Hidden Agenda Behind the Attack on Cuba’s Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 October 2015 — Some news outlets echoed the words of the Vice President in charge of the Council of Provincial Administration for Havana, Isabel Hamze, when she exposed the Havana Government’s reasons for temporarily suspending the issue of new licenses for paladares — private restaurants — and revising those that already exist. Look, this campaign isn’t a matter — like so many have repeated — of a war against the self-employed, the Cuban private initiative, the restaurants or the late-night bars. It’s much more: a field battle, subtle and personal, against some private entrepreneurs who brushed up against power.

It’s true. The municipal governments of Havana affirmed that they had several meetings with 135 owners of Havana paladares and conversed with them, implying a threat, about particular negative tendencies that have appeared in some private restaurants. But yes, according to official figures, in Havana there are more than 500 paladares and 3,000 cafes. So why didn’t they all attend these meetings? Continue reading “Hidden Agenda Behind the Attack on Cuba’s Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida”

At the beginning of this month, Cuban authorities ordered some private nightclubs to close, citing allegations of violations of the closing hour (3:00 am), not having parking, hiring artists without going through agencies, permitting the consumption and trafficking of drugs, accepting the practices of prostitution and pimping in the establishments, not respecting Customs regulations in the importation of goods for commercial use, acquiring and smuggling goods, money laundering and investing capital of doubtful origin, not abiding by contractual relationships as established in Law 116 or the Work Code, violating city regulations and evading taxes.

Doing so would be understandable. But they didn’t close Bolahabana or the Ashé Bar, the Shangri Lá and others, where incidents had been reported with some members of the Castro elite. Thus, the measure is simply a demonstration of power.

You remember that in August of last year, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, the bodyguard-in-chief (and Raul Castro’s grandson), now with a higher rank, because of a “skirt” problem, insisted on expelling from Cuba, with an indefinite sanction against entering the national territory, the Spanish businessman, Esteban Navarro Carvajal Hernández, owner of the Shangri Lá bar and the Up&Down bar-restaurant.

These particular restaurants are the most visible part of the economic reforms promoted by General Raúl Castro. No one in his right mind can believe that a “Vice President in accordance with a Council of Provincial Administration,” a Cuban official of the fourth category, sweaty, poorly coiffed and with an excellent aptitude for being a police officer, is the person in charge of informing the media that the Cuban Government is deciding to take a step backwards from such a trumpeted opening of the new economic model.

So, why did they do it this way?

The present socio-political situation and the historic advertising caused a considerable increase in the number of travelers that come to the island today. The images of the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew, although at a too-high price, helped the government monopolize the friendly view of the international community.

The moment is favorable for General Raúl Castro, but politically it’s not sensible to go back to landlord methods.

The day after tomorrow, in the next session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the presentation of the Cuba Report entitled, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba,” will resume the robbery of owners.

The Cuban government hopes that the majority of the countries’ representatives present will disagree with maintaining a law that they consider a violation of international rights. This is the same government that today hinders, harasses and blockades, without the least respect and in its own backyard, not useful enemies, but a group of entrepreneurs who have bet on private initiative and social improvement.

Translated by Regina Anavy

“It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of Independent Journalists”

Ignacio Gonzalez, journalist and editor of Free Hot Press agency (screenshot)
Ignacio Gonzalez, journalist and editor of Free Hot Press agency (screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Joanna Columbie, Havana, 21 October 2016 – Ignacio Gonzalez is frequently seen in the streets of Havana with microphone in hand recording citizens’ reactions to a flood, a historic baseball game or the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States. Independent journalist and editor of the Hot Free Press (ECPL) agency, the young man aspires to continue excelling professionally and thinks that non-government media are experiencing a time of growth.

Recently Gonzalez spent 48 hours under arrest at a police station as a consequence of his work as a reporter, an arrest that is among the repressive acts carried out against independent journalism in recent months.

Columbie: How was Hot Free Press born?

Gonzalez: It comes from the idea that people are again gaining confidence in the independent press, which had lost a little due to government propaganda that says that it involves unqualified and mercenary journalists. We interview not only the regime’s opponents but also doctors, engineers, can collectors, mechanics, carpenters… people like that. Continue reading ““It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of Independent Journalists””

Columbie: You suffered an arrest recently. What happened?

Gonzalez: I was doing a report together with another colleague on a study of central Havana, and an operation began with a patrol car, five police officers and two agents from State Security. They took us to the fourth police unit and interrogated me in one of the offices. They made me undress and squat forwards and backwards in order to see if I had hidden any USB drives. I felt denigrated.

Then I was transferred to a police station on Zanja Street and later to the 10th of October, located on Acosta Avenue. I was detained for 48 hours, which had never happened to me, because they had always detained me between three and four hours.

Columbie. Were you accused of some crime or are you now subject to some investigative process?

Gonzalez. They told me that they had a file on me and that I am a counter-revolutionary. Although they assured me that my detention was not because of political problems, but because I was committing an illicit economic activity, since I had an agency where it was known that I paid workers and that I had no license to practice this activity nor was I accredited in the country. They also threatened me that my equipment could be seized. I did not sign nor will I sign any paper. There is no accusation as such, what I have is threats.

Columbie: Do you feel you are a “counter-revolutionary?”

Gonzalez: I told them that they were the counter-revolutionaries because they refuse progress and all kinds of democracy to our country. If they are going to put me in prison, they are going to have to do so also with thousands of Cubans who bravely and spontaneously make statements for our reports. Nor am I a mercenary. I work and get a salary for my work with my press outlet.

What they want with their threats is that I stop being an independent journalist and dedicate myself to taking photos for birthdays and quinceañeras [girls’ 15th birthday celebrations – a major coming-of-age milestone].

Columbie: How do you define yourself?

Gonzalez: I am neither an opponent nor a dissident; I am a person who practices journalism in favor of the truth. If the government does something positive, I do an interview or a report about that topic, but if it does something negative, I also bring it to light. If an opponent commits an act of corruption, I bring it to light, and if he is making a move in favor of the people, I do as well. That’s how journalism should be: impartial.

Columbie: Why do you believe that the repression against you has become more intense now?

Gonzalez: The increasing growth of independent journalism is upsetting them. We unofficial reporters have had the opportunity to attend courses, improve ourselves, and the government doesn’t tolerate it. This improvement, this professionalism that journalists are acquiring, even the audio-visual media which shows the whole world the news as it is, it is hard for them to tolerate. They are trying to accuse us of illegalities. It is a zero-tolerance policy towards the independent press.

In the case of Hot Free Press we are making reports almost of the same quality as Cuban television, but with the difference that we are not censored. We are reaching people; we have managed to make people feel a little more confident with the independent press, to give their statements. We have even found among members of the public that they say that if it’s not for national television, they say whatever they want. They are more disposed to make statements to independent outlets because they know that the national press belongs to the government and simply does not work.

Columbie: Are other non-governmental press agencies going through the same situation?

Gonzalez: I have not seen the same attitude with the rest of the new supposedly independent programs, like Bola 8 or Mi Havana TV. These just have a lot of nonsense. Supposedly they are being financed by the self-employed, but I work in this industry, and I know that the self-employed cannot pay for a production like these programs are showing. There are diverse locations and entry to places to which the independent press does not have access.

Columbie: How would you define the practice of the press in Cuba outside of the official sphere?

Gonzalez: Being an independent journalist here is like being a war correspondent.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diario Las Américas, 7 October 2016.

Translated by GH

Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday
Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 October 2016 — The second round of talks on Human Rights took place this past Friday between the governments of Cuba and the United States, as part of the ongoing dialogue initiated when relations were restored.

In line with the importance of the issue and in relation with the relevance that the US government has granted him, this Saturday, Thomas Malinowski — Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor- who co-chaired the US delegation, together with Mrs. Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary for Affairs of the Western Hemisphere — met with independent journalists Ignacio González and Miriam Celaya, to discuss topics that were debated on that occasion.

Unlike the previous meeting held in Washington on March 31, 2015, this time both sides delved deeply into human rights issues, on which they hold opposing positions. Continue reading “Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Malinowski: “I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba”

“I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba, but we consider human rights as an important and permanent item on our agenda,” said Malinowski. While acknowledging the opposing stances of the two governments, he considers that these meetings are of great value because, on the one hand, they reflect the common agreement of both governments on addressing that the issue of human rights in the rapprochement process is legitimate; and on the other hand, it has been established that the basis for these freedoms is upheld in international standards that establish the universal character of human rights, recognized and signed by our two countries.

“The result is positive. At least the Cuban government is not refusing to discuss human rights, and does not deny that they are also applicable to Cuba, though the legal interpretation of the principles is defined differently in our countries”.

Both sides discussed related laws and international treaties that confirm the universality and protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of association, freedom to join unions, and electoral systems, among others. About the last item, the US side fully explained the characteristics of its electoral system and inquired about the Cuban system, particularly the obstacles faced by opponents and critics of the Cuban government to aspire to political office.

“For our part, we recognize that our system is not perfect. But in the US human rights violations are made public, and there are ways and mechanisms to force politicians to fulfill their commitments and obligations”.

Cuban laws, however, are designed so that the Power can manipulate them according to its interests, with no civic or legal mechanisms to force the government to observe the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948.

Malinowski asserted that the US government is committed to the debate on human rights at every meeting with the Cuban authorities, but he insists that it is not their place to interfere in Cuban politics, which is a matter for the government and the people of Cuba. He believes that dialogue is proceeding on the basis of mutual respect, despite differences in respective viewpoints on the subject. However, he believes that frank conversations about the realities of our nations create a more positive and beneficial climate for all than does the policy of confrontation that maintained a breach between the two countries.

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution. Some people assume that it only favors the Castro regime, and complain that the demands of opponents are not represented on the agenda.

In that vein, Malinowski said: “We have maintained contact with all of Cuban civil society. Not only with opponents, independent journalists and other sectors of civil society, but also with representatives of the emerging private sector and even the sectors that are in tune with the Cuban government. We want to hear all opinions, aspirations and proposals to form a more complete picture of the aspirations of the Cuban people. We share and defend the defense of human rights and our government will continue with this policy”.

According to Malinowski, a climate of detente favors the desires to strengthen the ties between our peoples, and to promote a mutual approach after half a century of estrangement and hostility. In fact, in the last two years, exchanges between the US and Cuba have increased and diversified, as evidenced –for example — by the participation of young Cubans in scholarship programs in US universities

When asked how the US government viewed Cuban authorities’ insistence on spreading through its media monopoly a distorted interpretation of the topics discussed at the bilateral meetings, Malinowski stated that this encounter with the independent press was exactly a way to get a more complete view to Cubans about information on the issues discussed between the two delegations.

At the end of the meeting, the Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recognized the importance of the views and suggestions received by the US delegation from many sectors of Cuban society. “Without their remarks and views, without their participation, our agenda for these meetings on human rights with the Cuban government would not be possible. We appreciate the contributions of all Cubans. We are open to continuing to listen to all proposals, whether they come from those who support the dialogue process or from its detractors”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida

City of Havana Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2016 — As in the Greek epic, Eusebio Leal, the Captain of a small stronghold of Cuban historians, confronted Brigade General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas and the Business Administration Group of the Armed Forces (FAR) with lively and poetic oratory. We know that FAR has taken possession of Habaguanex and several business institutions linked to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana.

This past October 11, from the central patio of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, during an exhibit that began at 8:30 in the morning and lasted a little more than one hour, Doctor Leal Spengler inspired confidence in his troops, using phrases like: “The Office of the Historian is today stronger than ever”; “We’re facing the storm without any type of fear”; and, “Be calm and serene, let nothing perturb you; I am here.” Continue reading “Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida”

Self-taught and with more awards (national and international) than any other Cuban, Eusebio Leal met with the technicians and directors of the different museums, because – according to his explanation – “Of all the groups with whom I work, the one that shares my goals the most is the one dedicated to museums, the collections, and to that exercise of searching which becomes a necessity for each one of us.”

With vague insinuations of mutiny and not calling for obedience, Leal, a member of the National Assembly’s Commission on International Relations, the Committee for the Eradication of Poverty of the United Nations, the National Geographic Society, the Madrid Royal Academy of History and the Latin American Council for Human Rights encouraged his troops publicly to not allow anyone to intervene and put their hands even on one piece of the museum without being properly prepared, and to not accept “improvised directors although they have a wonderful curriculum of having done other things in life.”

“The inventory” — he harangued them — “to mention only the subject of furniture, needs the knowledge of an antiquarian who has studied the different styles, epochs and models. It’s not just a matter of a table with four legs.” And thus, dressed in his usual grey safari outfit that he wears like a uniform, visibly recovered from the illness that afflicted him and vaunting his oral skills, he answered with irony-charged words the discredited oration, “During the process of transfer, the important thing is the inventory,” that the General-Intervenor Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés gives in every meeting with imperial enthusiasm.

“I’m an attorney, and I know what corresponds to me,” he said solemnly, remembering, in an emotional moment, the sentence that the illustrious Cuban patriot and composer of our national anthem, don Pedro Figueredo, pronounced on that fateful afternoon of August in 1870, facing the military tribunal that condemned him to death by firing squad.

“To those like me who admire Leal’s work and the Office of the Historian, we are sad knowing that the final chapter in the struggle to govern Old Havana looks like it won’t go any further,” said a known worker who, having been present at such a restricted meeting, requested anonymity.

Translated by Regina Anavy

"Work is rewarded according to its quality and quantity" / Cuban Law Association

Cuban Law Association, Egar Luis Arozarena Gómez, 10 October 2016 — This article’s title is taken from Art. 45 of our Constitution, which is a clear reflection of the socialist principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

For work reasons I visited a production centre, concerned with exporting Cuban products, and I couldn’t help noting that in just one month more than 70 workers went off sick. Why? Low salaries, and union discontent with the payment system introduced by the company management.

How is it possible that there are such problems in a sector like this, which is so important to the economy? Men and women working 12 hour shifts, covered in grease, dust, working outside in sun, rain, heat and cold, not being paid a reasonable salary for what they are doing?

In different speeches and out of the mouth of one of our leaders I have heard the call to the workers to produce more. We have to produce more, because it is the only way to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban society, but I don’t agree with the working class being urged to produce more, without motivating them. I am not talking about paying people who are not producing, but paying people in accordance with the work they are doing, because it is painful to see the conditions in which most of our workers have to work, and the quality of the snacks and lunches they receive.

People like me, who were born and brought up in the countryside and have a family member or friend who cuts cane, operates farm machinery, or who works in the sugar industry, live with these conditions every day and it affects us closely.

It is time to put in place the well-known “inverted pyramid” and pay attention to our “Supreme Law,” as José Martí always wanted,  in the interests of an ever more just Cuban society

Translated by GH

Zero Victims in Cuba, at What Price? / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 13 October 2016 – Several reporters from international press agencies, in particular the AFP, have recently highlighted the fact that in Cuba, in contrast with neighboring countries like Haiti, Hurricane Matthew caused no loss of life in spite of its extensive property damage.

The journalists credit the preventive work, mainly evacuation, that the Civil Defense carries out as soon as a storm approaches Cuban shores. And they are right: the Civil Defense is one of the few Cuban state institutions that really functions effectively.

But the admiring journalists overlook the fact that the Civil Defense works with an advantage: that which is conceded by social control and the “command and control” methods of a totalitarian regime. When evacuation is ordered, the people have no choice but to carry their rags and three or four pieces of junk, get on the trucks and buses and evacuate. If they refuse, they are evacuated by force or taken prisoner. Continue reading “Zero Victims in Cuba, at What Price? / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez”

In a country where the citizen is free, the master of his actions, there is always some stubborn person who refuses to take refuge or prefers to stay to take care of his belongings, his animals, etc. Or he simply stays home because he wants to. But not in Cuba. If he doesn’t go one way or another, they take him. To a shelter or a jail cell if he acts the fool.

And Cubans, resignedly, let themselves be driven to the shelters, no matter the overcrowding, filth, and head and pubic lice: the roof there will not fall on top of them, as probably would happen in their miserable and dilapidated dwellings, and they are guaranteed food, even if it is bread with canned Venezuelan sardines, which the army keeps in its warehouses for emergencies. And as if there were not enough, Kcho will come, with an artist brigade that includes clowns and reggaeton players, to bring them a little entertainment…

If not for these forced evacuations there would have been deaths and injuries in Cuba as in the other countries. Or more: let’s remember that most dwellings in Cuba are in a deplorable state. Especially in the poor eastern region, which usually is one of the most affected by hurricanes. (Fortunately it has been years since a cyclone passed through Havana where with so much ruined housing and buildings – much of which remains upright only through miraculous static – the catastrophe would be unimaginable.)

Without detracting from the merits of the Civil Defense leaders: most of the generals of the armed forces, the older ones, in spite of playing so much with tanks and AK-47s, have not forgotten their rural origins, their highland times, when before the arrival of a cyclone, they would put their cattle and chickens in a safe place. We now are their animals, on their bosses’ farm, the size of an archipelago.

Too bad they are not more effective in the recovery effort. Or in guaranteeing, after the evacuation ends and the people return to the ruins that their houses have become, the most basic things: food and water. And not to mention the materials for repairing the dwellings, though the state says that it will bear 50% of the costs.

General Raul Castro at once assured the people of devastated Baracoa – the AFP should have referred to how happy they are with the Chief’s visit – that “the Revolution will never leave us” but warned them that reconstruction will take time.

They already know, without haste but without pause*. So they can join the long line of victims from prior hurricanes…

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez (b. Havana, 1956).

*Translator’s note: A catchphrase from a Raul Castro speech to the Communist Party Congress of 2016, often repeated in official discourse, and even more often mocked. Excerpt from speech: “The course is already plotted. We will continue at a steady pace, without haste, but without pause, bearing in mind that the pace will depend on the consensus that we can build within our society and the organizational capacity we reach to make the necessary changes without precipitation, much less improvisations that only lead us to failure.” 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


Two Aspects of the Reintroduction of Flights to Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 5 October 2016 — With the landing in Santa Clara of an Airbus A-320 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood on August 31st, Jet Blue restarted commercial flights between Cuba and the United States, which were suspended in 1962.

To accompany the general travel permissions, the increase in the level of remittances, better access to communications, the arrival of cruise ships, and North American hotels, the US Department of Transport, approved the launch of 110 flights to Cuba. Of those, apart from Jet Blue, American Airlines will fly 56 times a week to Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero. And at the end of the year, other companies, such as Frontier, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines will start up. Continue reading “Two Aspects of the Reintroduction of Flights to Cuba / Dimas Castellano”

Nevertheless, not everything is positive. The reintroduction of flights has twin aspects, both good and bad.

The good bits are that they are the result of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries — the most important political event in Cuba since 1959 — the evidence of the failure of the Castro regime and the embargo, and the continuing arrival of North American cruise ships and hotels. An opening which will keep widening out. We can also add that the price of one-way tickets with medical insurance* included will not exceed $100.

In the face of the chronic inefficiency of the Cuban economy, clearly shown in the disaster of the reforms, the decline in GDP, and massive emigration, doing tourism business deals with with the greatest economic power in the world, located just a few miles away from our coast, looks to be an essential component in Cuban development.

The bad part is that, after a lost half a century, we are going back to our starting point, in the worst conditions, for two reasons.

The first one is that the Cuba of the 1950’s was tied up in the development of the hotel industry, international flights, and the arrival of tourist car ferries. Havana had become an obligatory destination for foreign tourists. The clearest evidence was the opening of the Capri, Deauville, Riviera and  Havana Hilton hotels between the spring of 1957 and May 1958, with more than 1300 rooms. That plan, interrupted by the 1959 revolution, is starting up again now after about seven decades’ delay.

The second one is that Cuba is the only country in the region  where its people don’t enjoy the elementary right to participate as entrepreneurs in their country’s economy and to contract directly with foreign companies, in spite of having more than adequate professional training.

Because of those reasons, among others, getting out of the profound crisis in which the country is immersed will be impossible without removing the obstacles preventing Cubans from exercising their right to participate  in the opportunities now opening up.

The ball is in Cuba’s court. Flights starting up again should not only serve to consolidate the normalisation of relations, but also to give Cubans back their rights seized from them over fifty years ago. Without that happening on the Cuban side, the moves taken by the White House and the reintroduction of flights will not have a positive effect on Cuban society.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government has made medical insurance is mandatory for visitors to Cuba

Translated by GH


A Disappointing And Unfair Report / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

cpj_logo-354x354Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 30 September 2016 — The most recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the state of journalism in Cuba is, more than disappointing, worrisome. It is not that its authors are uninformed about the Cuban reality. Rather, they have manipulated the information at their disposal so as to emphasize—at the expense of traditional independent journalism, whose presence is concealed—that journalism which is done on the Island more or less outside of state control. However, the sector to which they devote so much attention is not really quite so outside of that domination as the authors seem to wholeheartedly believe; either they are too naïve or too optimistic about the situation of journalists who work under the conditions of a dictatorship.

This report reinforces a tendency which could be seen emerging in recent months: that of obscuring and making obsolete the journalism that is most critical of the regime so as to present the pro-government bloggers and journalists who work in foreign outlets or alternative media of recent vintage—On Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo, El Toque, Progreso Semanal, La Joven Cuba—as the new protagonists of a free journalism on the Island. Continue reading “A Disappointing And Unfair Report / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez”

And I was calling this worrisome because this type of analyses, arising from who knows where, which try to make the case that Cuba is changing by giant steps in rhythm with the Raulist reforms, turn into a type of “trending topics,” become viral, and are later unstoppable.

The report obviates the fact that the independent journalism that has obtained in Cuba since the first half of the 1990s, and which ever since then has had to endure repression pure and simple, and which brought to light the prohibitions, and enabled the very existence of those alternative media whose collaborators are set on clarifying that they are not dissidents, complaining about the scoldings and warnings they receive, as if they were wayward sheep, from government bigwigs.

Regarding journalism which is critical of the regime, the report makes sole* reference to 14ymedio, but praises its middle-of-the-road tone. Lacking this tone, Primavera Digital, for example, is ignored, even though it continues to come out every Thursday on the internet despite the fact that it has not received a single cent of financing for more than two years. By the way, when 14ymedio started, Primavera Digital had already been around for more than six years—a fact that does not prevent the repeated assertion, mantra-like, that 14ymedio “was the first independent news outlet in Cuba.”

It is laudable that these young communicators from the alternative media have appeared, speaking of a Cuba more like the real one than what is portrayed by the official media. There are excellent ones, such as Elaine Díaz, or the team at El Estornudo with its literary journalism—and even Harold Cárdenas, why not? Despite his pretensions of “saving the Revolution” and making himself out to be more socialist than Marx and Engels combined. But when speaking of quality in the field of the independents, I have to say that it is the dissidents who have for many years now been incomparably plying their trade—journalists such as Miriam Celaya, Tania Díaz Castro, Iván García, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Juan González Febles, Víctor Manuel Domínguez, Jorge Olivera, among others.

More than unfair, the angle the CPJ report takes in characterizing TV and Radio Martí as “mostly irrelevant” is insulting. It would be interesting to know, keeping in mind the powerful interference of their signal and the blockage of their web site in Cuba, how TV and Radio Martí might increase their audience and have greater relevance compared to, let us say, Granma or Radio Rebelde. However, even this would not be enough for the CPJ, which lumps the official press with Radio and TV Martí insofar as they both “have become echo chambers for ideologues at both extremes of the political spectrum. As they are currently structured, neither is capable of providing the type of transformative journalism that could help to achieve the changes longed-for by the majority of Cubans.”

Bearing in mind that this section of the report was written by Ernesto Londoño, a journalist who when it comes to Cuba sees only what he wants to see and make seen (remember those editorials in The New York Times that heralded 17D?*), I believe I understand the changes to which he is referring. The problem is that these are not exactly the changes that are desired by the majority of Cubans, who desperately aspire to others of much greater significance.

Neither is it just for the report to not acknowledge the relevance of such outlets as CubaNet—not that it is blocked in Cuba occasionally, but rather that it was occasionally not blocked for almost a year. Since a few weeks ago it has begun being blocked again (as has Diario de Cuba), several of its journalists have been arrested, and the political police have confiscated their equipment. It would be interesting to know which formula CubaNet could employ to be in Havana the same way that On Cuba is. I say this because both outlets are based in the United States and the journalists who contribute to them are Cubans who live on the Island.

The CPJ’s concern for Cuban journalists is all well and good, but it should be for all, equally—the official and semi-official ones (it is often hard to tell them apart), and those who are lately turning the screws even more—but also for the independents, those truly critical ones, those who do not remain on the surface or who try to hide the fact that they definitively have gotten out from the “innards” of the Revolution: those who, in the CPJ’s report, have been diminished, or simply ignored.

About the Author

Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) is a journalist in Cuba currently visiting the United States. Cino has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered the field of independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and Spring 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.

See also: Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists inCuba to “Cross the Red Lines”

**Translator’s note: As Americans say “9-11” instead of September 11, 2001, Cubans say “17D” instead of 17 December 2014, the day Barack Obama and Raul Castro jointly announced the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Reflections Against a “Black Winter” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Ladies in White during a Mass, shortly after the raids of 2003’s Black Spring (Photo: EFE)
Ladies in White during a Mass, shortly after the raids of 2003’s Black Spring (Photo: EFE)

cubanet square logoMiriam Celaya, Havana, 4 October 2016 — CUBALEX, an independent organization dedicated to providing free legal aid to Cubans — an essential service in a society where the abuse of rights is a permanent part of daily life — in recent days suffered a sudden and brutal attack at its headquarters in Havana, by the repressive forces of the government.

This unpredictable event, in which disproportionate and absolutely unjustified violence was applied, marks a new chapter in the escalation of terror that has been taking place in recent months against the independent civil society of the Island in the form of harassment of individuals and of various civic projects.

With this act, repression breaks its own routines and sends a grim message: it is no longer about assaulting and beating dissidents and opponents who demonstrate peacefully in the streets, but the regime is willing to violate their own laws and indiscriminately level private spaces in its attempt to crush any outbreak of dissent. No one is safe; the Constitution and the laws are worthless against the power of the State-Party-Clan Castro. Continue reading “Reflections Against a “Black Winter” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Meanwhile, the project Convivencia, the Law Association of Cuba, independent journalists, unions and independent libraries, among others, have also been receiving the unwanted attention of the political police in the last three weeks, with no shortage of summonses, threats, arbitrary arrests, seizures and “visits,” both covert and open, a clear sign that, despite the almost two years since the beginning of reconciliation with the “imperialist enemy” and the end of the belligerence, the top leadership is not even slightly willing to tolerate the existence of areas of freedom and alternative positions to its totalitarian power.

Put in perspective, since the raid of the Black Spring in 2003, the picture has never been so baffling and obscure for independent civil society, a fact that should trigger alerts in civilized societies that defend the principles of democracy throughout the world.

In a clumsy effort to legitimize repression, the Castro regime has also turned up its propaganda machine through its media monopoly, with its old and hackneyed arguments: disqualification of its critics within Cuba, as “mercenaries,” “stateless,, “counter-revolutionaries,” etc. – and accusations against the US government of attempting to subvert the political order in Cuba, to fund, either directly or indirectly, “enemies of the revolution” and perversely maintain “politics of carrot and stick,” since the true intentions of Uncle Sam continue to be reinstating capitalism in Cuba, something that is the well-known wish of millions of Cubans.

Interestingly, this has not prevented the reconciliation process of the Palace of the Revolution with the White House from continuing its course. In fact, both parties consider that it is progressing satisfactorily. Because it happens that the elders in olive green (or in suits and ties, depending on the occasion) are more interested in American dollars than these very “mercenaries of the internal counterrevolution” whom they are accusing.

Repression, then, is not really based on the alleged bad habits of sovereignty and self-determination – two buzzwords as corrupt as everything else in Cuba – as their faithful spokesmen and their regional allies argue. Nor it is that Castro and his claque aspire to a share of the benefits that a normalization of relations with the powerful Northern power would bring about. It is about wanting it all – dollars and power – without intrusion and without question. For that purpose, they need to complete their silent transition to succession without uncomfortable interference from the restless actors of Cuba’s independent civil society. They also have the quiet acquiescence of international public opinion and the approval of democratic governments around the world, looking away distractedly as repression increases in the exemplary Island.

This explains why this upsurge in violence by the forces of power stops being logical, not contradictory. The Cuban reality is now so confusing and controversial that there are no flat-out explanations to interpret the signals in a unique or irrefutable way. The same question may receive a number of different answers, not necessarily related to each other.

For example, the most recent survey presented on the cover of CubaNet had a simple question, as is to be expected of an inquiry of this nature. It sought responses to whether the current escalation of repression of the Castro regime is due to the impunity it enjoys before the international community. And indeed, just 24 hours after the survey, more than 80% of respondents (including this writer) did so in the affirmative.

Though impunity is indeed a factor of great importance in this case, because it stimulates the violent actions of the Castro hordes, it is just one element to explain the repression, but it is not its essential cause. In fact, there is not one essential cause, but several; and they are all essentially within Cuba and not just in the international political arena.

In that cluster of underlying causes – which are, in turn, the result of the failure of the Castro model and its inability to stand on its own so-called “socialist” founding principles—include, among others, an increase in social discontent and dissident sectors (and others “who disagree”) in the country, with the corresponding increase in activism and social groups potentially receptive to proposals for alternative solutions to the regime; greater visibility of critical sectors from the standpoint of the use of new information technologies and communications to penetrate the official information monopoly, despite the still precarious and insufficient capacity of Cubans to access to the Internet; hopelessness and lack of prospects of a better future for new generations, dramatically reflected in the sustained outflow of people from the country and the whole crisis that stems from it; and the fading myth of the “external enemy” which has created numerous pores in the monolithic structure on which absolute power was based.

Add to this the current boom of new critical actors, in this case under the same or similar ideological designation used by the Castro regime (socialist, Marxist, José Martí-based and others), which move in two different trends: those who advocate participatory and democratic socialism to allow opportunities for all Cubans, regardless of their political color; and those faithful followers of the thought and labor of the Revolution, who recognize the historic generation and ignore the political otherness but refuse to slavishly repeat the official line, while claiming their participation in political decision-making, an unthinkable heresy to the totalitarian power.

Following the logic of a regime that encompasses the worst of the traditions in all other Latin American dictatorships and totalitarianisms in the rest of the planet, we can only expect more repression and terror in the immediate future. The Castro regime seems to be preparing for what is being proclaimed as a Black Winter. Paradoxically, every new repressive action that aims to provide the image of strength and curb outbreaks of internal dissent exposes more clearly the vulnerability of the regime and its own fears of losing the absolute control exercised for nearly six decades.

Independent civil society’s response against the dictatorship’s escalation in repression has been the same in all cases: don’t give up, keep the will to continue fighting peacefully for democracy in any circumstances, an attitude that deserves greater recognition, respect and support from democratic governments and international organizations that demonstrated so much solidarity at times when they rewarded the oldest satrapy of the Western world with their applause, their approval, or their silence.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Negligence and Violations Opened the Door to Zika in Holguin / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almedia, 8 September 2016 — A commission put together by senior management from the Ministries of the Interior and of Public Health in Cuba has released a report that enters into evidence the origin of the entrance of the Zika virus into Holguín Province.

“Soldiers and Doctors,” a paraphrase of the title of the book by Carlos Loveira, matches a chain of avoidable oversights and violations, committed in the service area of airport security.

“There are videos from the airport cameras showing the guys who, instead of paying attention to the temperature scanner, left to carry luggage in order to get tips from the passengers on international flights.” An officer tells me this unabashedly, and, on cue, he prefers to remain anonymous. Continue reading “Negligence and Violations Opened the Door to Zika in Holguin / Juan Juan Almeida”

“By doing this,” he continues, “they neglected epidemiological vigilance and Zika came into the province of Holguín. But, apparently, they already took the measures required by the authorities of the Frank País International Airport, and they expelled those implicated, who are at the disposition of the competent body, because their failure to perform their duties facilitated the propagation of this illness in the province.”

My interlocutor says, “The miserable salary that the customs agents receive and the lack of incentives for those in charge of looking after border security was what really provoked the failure or negligence in airport protocol, permitting someone infected to come into the Holguín region, and the later development of new ’autonomous’ cases that, as you know, are residents in the city of Holguín who have never traveled abroad.”

A doctor in the province with authority on the subject added, “Now what is most worrisome is controlling the vector, meaning the mosquito, Aedes Aegypti. Although they are taking precautions to identify the possible existence of new cases and are studying the viability of taking samples from animals and/or humans in order to develop vaccines, in addition to coordinating health actions with various institutions and raising the consciousness of the population with vigilance and vector control, all these things seem to be insufficient, because we still have it here and we know that the mosquito is changing its usual behavior.”

This past February, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a world health emergency.

From La Voz del Morro, by Juan Juan Almeida.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iván García

Hispanopost, October 3, 2016.

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

Translated by Regina Anavy

Youth Leadership, a Dangerous Sequel to the US-Cuba Rapprochement / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth (Photo: aulasabiertas.net)
Cuban youth (Photo: aulasabiertas.net)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 September 2016 — This Friday, 30 September 2016, the fourth session of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission is meeting in Washington, an occasion which the Cuban regime has selected to present their rejection of “endorsing programs that Washington is promoting without the consent or consultation by the official channels established for exchanges of this kind.”

This statement by Mr. Gustavo Machín, vice president of the Cuban Foreign Ministry in the United States, refers to the summer scholarship program that the non-governmental World Learning Organization grants young students around the world, although the official Press in Cuba and officials instructed in the case have been orchestrating in recent weeks in an all-out media spectacle aimed at convincing domestic public opinion that this is another grisly imperialist plan aimed only at encouraging young Cubans to subvert the political and social order within the country. Continue reading “Youth Leadership, a Dangerous Sequel to the US-Cuba Rapprochement / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

It would seem that the roughly 40 Cuban students who have had the opportunity to pass these summer courses in 2015 and 2016, respectively, constitute a real threat to the stability of a dictatorship that has survived for nearly 60 years in power. Or that the White House has concocted the bright idea of annually forging a handful of youth leaders who, after several weeks of classes in a free society, where they will exchange with other young people from the US and other countries, will be willing and prepared to end Castro’s revolution.

Such presumption suggests, on the one hand, the fallacy of the ideological solidity of the Cuban youth, so touted by the olive green regime; and on the other, that the political system has begun to suffer from a butterfly fragility in the heat of the exchange programs promoted by the US after the restoration of relations between the two governments.

The apotheosis of nonsense is the list of “subversive” practices acquired by students benefitting from World Learning summer course scholarships, shown on the organization’s website, citing verbatim the press monopoly scribes of the Castro regime: developing public speaking skills, teamwork, negotiation, consensus building, conflict resolution, defense of one’s rights and troubleshooting.

Only for a reality like that of Cuba could such a program be termed “subversive”. No leader with a modicum of decency – especially in our underdeveloped, poor countries with serious institutional problems – would be offended in the least by their country’s youth receiving this type of instruction and acquiring these skills that, according to the website, “help the next generation of world leaders to get a greater sense of civic responsibility, to establish relations across ethic, religious and national lines, and to develop skills and knowledge to transform their communities and their countries.”

But it is not difficult either to understand the alarm of the Druids of the Plaza of the Revolution, well-versed in subversions. Nothing is as dangerous to them as a “leader” who does not emerge from the “Ñico Lopez” Party High School where, nevertheless, dozens (or more) guerrilla leaders have been formed who have sown conflict, war and death in this region. Not a few leaders of the FARC and other leaders of the most corrupt Latin American radical left have passed through its classrooms and have received diplomas and awards from their mentors. Some have even attained the president’s chair in their own countries, with known disastrous results.

Young participants in World Learning programs (blogs.worldlearning.org)
Young participants in World Learning programs (blogs.worldlearning.org)

And not to mention the indoctrination and systematic brainwashing of thousands of young people from the Third World who have studied Medicine and other specialties in Cuba over the last decades. The Castro regime, the most perversely “generous” dictatorship in recent history, has even extended its “charitable” mantle to lower-income American students, though it has not requested their government’s permission to do so.

And it is specifically at that point where the apex of insular authoritarianism reveals itself. Assuming that the US government and the NGO World Learning need to go through the prerequisite of requesting authorization from the Cuban government to provide summer scholarships for Cuban youth, they are placing the young people in an obvious position of slaves who need the benevolence of their masters (the State-Party-Castro Dictatorship) to access certain training. At the same time, the government places itself in the position of the feudal lord who turns down success opportunities for his serfs.

At the same time, they ignore once again the leading role that should belong to the young people’s parents and relatives, who would be best suitable to decide and support, or not, their children’s education, especially since the timing of such instruction – student’s vacation period – will not interfere with the school year set by the Cuban educational system.

Far from it, and to legitimize the “national outrage” of the colossal offense, the Cuban authorities have ordered middle school, pre-university and technical school students to engage in the traditional protests against the twisted imperialist maneuver leading them down the wrong path. The most histrionic teenagers have screamed their heads off chanting slogans and waving nationalistic signs, they have learned by heart the speeches they might have to utter before the news cameras and the world press, while their own government has yet to offer an alternative with a future.

I see these fresh faces, hear their voices repeating the thousand platitudes of several generations lost in the national shipwreck, and I cannot stop thinking about how this corrupt regime has sown duplicity in the spirit of the nation. I just hope, for the sake of these young people and of Cuba, that scholarships like these will become more prevalent, that our youth will be taught as free individuals and that they will be granted lofty dreams and strong wings so they can achieve them. By then, they will have forgotten the slogans and will provide ideas and actions to overcome the long Middle Ages of the Castros. Meanwhile, let more “subversive like this” scholarships come, until Cubans won’t have to leave their national borders to learn to lead the destiny of their own country.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Making a Living in Cuba on Gambling / Iván García

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iván García

Hispanost, September 8, 2016.

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

Translated by Regina Anavy

Ethics Commission Rejects Appeal by Journalist Expelled from Radio Holguin / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja shows the medal that was conferred on him by UPEC before he was fired (courtesy photo)
Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja shows the medal that was conferred on him by UPEC before he was fired (courtesy photo)

14ymedio biggerMario J. Penton, 14ymedio, Miami, 30 September 2016 — The National Ethics Commission of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) this Thursday ratified the expulsion of journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja from Radio Holguin. The ousted professional now will be able to appeal to the UPEC Congress, which could encourage the debate currently taking place about the role of censorship and the protection of the Communist Party over the press.

The move comes after a long series of appeals since Ramirez Pantoja was expelled from his job last July 11. The journalist was penalized with removal from office for five years at the end of which he could return to work, provided he “has an attitude that comports with UPEC’s ethics code.” Continue reading “Ethics Commission Rejects Appeal by Journalist Expelled from Radio Holguin / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

14ymedio spoke by phone to Ramirez Pantoja who declined comment but did not deny the ruling.

“He is being pressured a lot by the authorities. They have told him that when he spoke with the independent press he complicated his case and in this trial they did the opposite of what they had announced: they treated him like dirt and affirmed an unjust sentence,” says a Holguin source close to the journalist.

“It was no use for Arnaldo Marabal [official journalist for the daily Giron in Matanzas] to try to ‘clean him up’ writing an interview in which he assures that Joseito is and always will be a revolutionary. They wanted him to pay the price in order to scare the others and so that no one dares to speak without permission,” adds the same source.

The Holguin journalist was dismissed from his job after publishing on his personal blog some controversial comments by the vice-president of the newspaper Granma, Karina Marron, about the current economic crisis in Cuba.

At the beginning of September, the recently elected president of the National Ethics Commission for UPEC, Luis Sexto Sanchez, visited Holguin in order to interview Ramirez Pantoja. After the interview and even though different people assured him that the situation would calm down and he would be able to return to his job, he received the ratification of the decision at both a provincial and national level.

Before the incident with Marron, Ramirez Pantoja even had been recognized with the highest distinction that UPEC awards, the Felix Elmusa. On that occasion, the same authorities who today condemn him to ostracism awarded him for fighting “from an ethical premise,” in order to make “the truth about Cuba” known to the world and “for educating, informing and revealing that Cuba is now free.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel