Havana: Clandestine Business Deals, Poverty and Glamor / Iván García

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski at night.

Ivan Garcia, 26 April 2017 — When night falls, it’s not advisable to walk through certain neighborhoods in Havana. Like the one from El Curita Park, on Reina and Galiano, up to the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos.

In addition to the disagreeable odor from the sewer water running through the streets, you’ll see propped-up buildings, beggars and drunks hanging out in the doorways, and poor cheap whores on the hunt for the incautious.

More than 10,000 compatriots of the eastern provinces who flee poverty reside illegally in Havana. In the case of Zenaida, a woman from Santiago, who with a bag full of cones of peanuts and chickpeas for sale ambles along toward a rickety room in a rooming house on O’Reilly Street, which she rents. continue reading

There, under the light of an incandescent bulb, she loads several pails of water and waits her turn to bathe in one of the three shared bathrooms of the tenement. After reheating her meal, she turns on the old Chinese television and hopes for the arrival of her 22-year-old son, who makes a living by pedaling 12 hours in a bicitaxi.

“This is what it’s like to live in poverty: eat badly and make a few pesos to survive in the lion’s den. Yes, because in this zone of Havana you have to be a lynx if you want to make a little money,” says Zenaida, seated in an iron chair.

In spite of everything, she doesn’t complain. “In Santiago de Cuba we were worse off. The water supply on the outskirts of the city comes every 40 days, and the money just goes. At least in the capital, although we live like animals, you can make enough money to eat and send detergent and clothing to relatives in Oriente. If I were younger, I would be hooking like some women in the building. But now I can’t do that kind of thing,” confesses Zenaida.

The old part of the city is a network of narrow alleyways with broken asphalt and deteriorated buildings where Cubans live who know their way around the streets.

Here illegalities are not hidden. Any neighbor knows who sells imported marijuana, cocaine delivered from a boat on the coast or who rents half an hour in a room in his house for convertible pesos, so that a client can have a toss in the hay with a prostitute who charges in the national money.

Just in front of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, formerly Manzana de Gómez, which is close to being inaugurated, several blue buses with large windows in Parque Central pick up more than 100 workers from India who are putting the final touches on the first five-star plus hotel in Cuba.

Seated on a marble bench in front of the Kempinski Hotel, José Alberto wonders, “Why are they paying an Indian !,500 dollars a month and Cuban workers, adding up pesos and hard currency, don’t even get 60 dollars?” And he answers himself: “These people (the Regime) don’t respect us. Havana now is the same as during the epoch of Batista. Luxury hotels are for the foreigners, surrounded by poverty, whores and guys who have to clean to earn four pesos. The worst is that there’s no end to this.”

José Alberto is a perfect wildcard. He gets money from the illegal Cuban lottery, parks cars for a home restaurant in the area and fills the cistern with water for the “retired guys in the neighborhood.”

Under the protection of night and avoiding the black-uniformed police with their German Shepherds who patrol the streets at this time, José Alberto asks for money from passing tourists. “The ones from the State (United States) are the most generous, and the Japanese, if they like you. Europeans are the most stingy.”

Old Havana has two opposite faces, distinct levels of life and many ways to earn money, outside the law or behind its back. In the areas restored by the historian Eusebio Leal, with their cobbled streets, renovated buildings, innumerable cafes, restaurants and hard currency shops, the panorama is beautiful.

Two blocks up or down, the landscape is something else. At the entrance to crowded quarters, shirtless men standing in the heat seem to be waiting for a a miracle. Around them are screaming neighbors, Reggaeton at full blast and kids playing soccer with torn tennis shoes and a deflated balloon.

On calle Chacón, a few meters from the Museum of the Revolution, where a garrison of young soldiers at the back of a patio guard the Granma yacht and other relics and trophies of the delirious guerrilla saga of Fidel Castro, there are three elegant bars where tourists calmly drink mojitos and nibble on garlic shrimp.

Nearby, a group of boys, mainly black, sitting on the sidewalk pavement, wait for the foreigners to leave the bars, restaurants or home restaurants to ask them for money, chewing gum or pens.

The revolution of the humble, so promoted by the Castro brothers, today is a slogan without meaning for the poor people of Havana.

Iván García

Note from Tania Quintero: The night photo of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, the first with five-plus stars in Cuba, was taken by Iván García. Up to this date, the hotel installations had not been officially inaugurated, but after putting in shops and luxury boutiques on the ground floor, with showcase windows on the street, every day hundreds of people go to look at and even photograph the clothing and accessories exhibited, with prices that are not within reach for the large majority of the population. Already the first incident happened when they removed the bust of the student leader, Julio Antonio Mella, which had been installed in 1965, from the central patio with access to the public.

An installation artist held a silent protest with a sign that said “Where is Mella?” Without using violence, the police took him away, put him in a vehicle and drove him home. The hotel, constructed by Kempinski, a Swiss company founded in 1897, occupies the space of the old Manzana de Gómez, the first commercial center on the Island, located on Neptuno, San Rafael, Zuleta and Monserrate streets, in the heart of Havana.

Inaugurated in 1910, along its history the Manzana de Gómez housed law offices, commercial businesses, restaurants and cafeterias, among other facilities. The management of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is in charge of Gavota S.A., a Cuban tourist corporation administered by the military.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Miami Has It All, Even Russian Meat / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Some of the Russian foods, toys and perfumes for sale at Marky’s in North Miami (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.

This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading

For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”

Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.

Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santería necklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.

That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.

But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.

In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.

Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.

Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”

It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Cuba: Forbidden Fruit / Iván García

An old building in Old Havana is the view you get from one of the boutiques in the Hotel Gran Manzana Kempinski. Taken from the article The New Luxury Hotels in Cuba try to attract a swarm of tourists, by Ali McConnon, published in the New York Times in Spanish on May 10, 2017, with photos by Lissette Poole.

Iván García, 11 May 2017 — Scarcely a block away from the majestic Grand Hotel Manzana Kempinski, whose inauguration is expected next June 2nd, next to the Payret cinema, a state-owned cafeteria sells an acidic and insipid hamburger with bread for the equivalent of 50 centavos. Workers in the neighbourhood and beggars who survive on asking foreigners for change, form a small queue to buy the inedible hamburger.

The hotel, built by Kempinski, a company started in Berlin in 1897, stands in the place of the old Manzana de Gómez, the first shopping mall on the island, at Neptuno, San Rafael, Zulueta and Monserrate streets, in the heart of Havana. Opened in 1910, throughout its history, the Manzana de Gómez housed everything from offices, lawyers’ chambers and commercial consultants to businesses, cafes and restaurants and other enterprises. continue reading

Very near to Manzana Kempinski, the first five star hotel there, will be the Cuban parliament, still a work in progress, which will have as its headquarters the old National Capitol, a smaller scale replica of the Congress in Washington.

The splendid hotel, owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military corporation, and managed by the Kepinski organisation, can boast of having the old Centro Asturiano, now the home of the Fine Arts Museum’s private collections, the Havana Gran Teatro and the Inglaterra, Telégrafo, Plaza and Parque Central hotels as neighbours.

Apart from the recently-built Parque Central Hotel, the other three hotels are situated in 19th century or Republican era buildings, and are among the most beautiful in the city. In the centre of these architectural jewels we find Havana Park, presided over by the statue of the national hero, José Martí.

In those four hotels, you will find shops selling exclusively in convertible pesos (CUC), a strong currency created by Fidel Castro for the purpose of buying high quality capitalist goods.

Incidentally, they pay their employees in the Cuban Pesos (CUP), or national currency. In the tourism, telecoms and civil aviation sectors, their employees only earn 10-35 CUC as commission.

The chavito, as the Cubans term the CUC, is a revolving door which controls the territory between the socialist botch-ups, shortages and third rate services and the good or excellent products invoiced by the “class enemies”, as the Marxist theory has it, which supports the olive green bunch which has been governing the island since 1959.

21st century Cuba is an absurd puzzle. Those in charge talk about defending the poor, go on about social justice and prosperous sustainable socialism, but the working class and retired people are worse off.

The regime is incapable of starting up stocked markets, putting up good quality apartment blocks, reasonably priced hotels where a workman could stay or even maintaining houses, streets and sidewalks in and around the neighborhoods of the capital. But it invests a good part of the gross domestic product in attracting foreign currency.

José, a private taxi driver, thinks that it’s good to have millions of tourists pouring millions of dollars into the state’s cash register. “But, the cash should then be reinvested in improving the country. From the ’80’s on, the government has bet on tourism. And how much money has come over all those years? And in which productive sectors has it been invested?” asks the driver of a clapped-out Soviet-era Moskovitch.

Government officials should tell us. But they don’t. In Cuba, supposedly public money is managed in the utmost secrecy. Nobody knows where the foreign currency earned by the state actually ends up and the officials look uncomfortable when you ask them to explain about offshore Panamanian or Swiss bank accounts.

In this social experiment, which brings together the worst of socialism imported from the USSR with the most repugnant aspects of African style capitalist monopoly, in the ruined streets of Havana, they allow Rapid and Furious to be filmed, they tidy up the Paseo del Prado for a Chanel parade or open a Qatar style hotel like the Manzana Kampinski, in an area surrounded by filth, where there is no water and families have only one meal a day to eat.

In a car dealer in Primelles on the corner of Via Blanca, in El Cerro, they sell cars at insulting prices. The hoods of the cars are covered in dust and a used car costs between $15-40,000. A Peugeot 508, at $300k, is dearer than a Lamborghini.

For the authorities, the excessive prices are a “revolutionary tax”, and with this money they have said they will defray the cost of buying city buses. It’s a joke: they have hardly sold more than about forty second-hand cars in three years and public transport goes from bad to worse.

For Danay, a secondary school teacher, it isn’t the government opening hotels and luxury shops that annoys her, “What pisses me off is that everything is unreal. How can they sell stuff that no-one could afford even if they worked for 500 years? Is it some kind of macabre joke, and an insult to all Cuban workers?” Danay asks herself, while she hangs around the shopping centre in the Hotel Kempinski.

In the wide reinforced concrete passageways, what you normally see there is amazing. With his girl friend embracing him, Ronald, a university student, smiles sarcastically as he looks in a jewelry shop window at some emeralds going for more than 24k convertible pesos. “In another shop, a Canon camera costs 7,500 CUC. It’s mad.” And he adds:

“In other countries they sell expensive items, but they also have items for more affordable prices. Who the hell could buy that in Cuba, my friend? Apart from those people (in the government), the Cuban major league baseball players who get paid millions of dollars, and the people who have emigrated and earn lots of money in the United States. I don’t think tourists are going to buy things they can get more cheaply in their own countries. If at any time I had any doubts about the essential truth about this government, I can see it here: we are living in a divided society. Capitalism for the people up there, and socialism and poverty for us lot down here”.

Security guards dressed in grey uniforms, with earphones in their ears and surly-looking faces, have a go at anyone taking photos or connecting to the internet via wifi. People complain “If they don’t let you take photos or connect to the internet, then they are not letting Cubans come in”, says an irritated woman.

In the middle of the ground floor of what is now the Hotel Kempinski, which used to be the Manzana de Gómez mall, in 1965 a bronze effigy of Julio Antonio Mella, the student leaders and founder of the first Communist party in 1925, was unveiled. The  sculpture has disappeared from there.

“In the middle of all this luxurious capitalism, there is no place for Mella’s statue”, comments a man looking at the window displays with his granddaughter. Or probably the government felt embarrassed by it.

Iván García

Note: About the Mella bust, in an article entitled Not forgotten or dead, published 6th May in the Juventud Rebelde magazine, the journalist Ciro Bianchi Ross wrote: “I have often asked myself what was the point of the Mella bust which they put in the middle of the Manzana de Gómez mall and then removed seven years ago, before the old building started to be transformed into a luxury hotel, and which seems to bother people now. Mella had nothing in common with that building. The Manzana de Gómez had no connection with his life or his political journey. Apart from the fact that from an artistic point of view it didn’t look like anything”.

Translated by GH

Canada Studies A Petition to Award Refuge to Cuban Migrants

Democracy Movement leader, Ramon Saul Sanchez (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 May 2017 – The Canadian government has responded to a request for refuge made by the Democracy Movement on behalf of thousands of Cubans who were stranded at several locations in the Americas after the decision by the United States last January to end the wet foot/dry foot policy.

The response letter, released this Friday by the president of that Cuban exile movement in Miami, Ramon Saul Sanchez, assures that the petition has been carefully reviewed and forwarded to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, for his consideration. continue reading

Letter sent by the Canadian government to the Democracy Movement, acknowledging receipt of the asylum petition for stranded Cubans. (Courtesy)

On February 1, the Democracy Movement had asked the Canadian government to welcome thousands of Cubans who were stranded in Mexico and Central and South America after the sudden cancellation of the wet foot/dry foot policy that used to allow them to enter as refugees upon reaching U.S. soil.

Canada each year offers thousands of refugee visas to people who suffer persecution on the basis of politics, race, religion, nationality or gender.

Since January of this year, the Democracy Movement, together with other groups from Cuban civil society in the United States, have been organizing food shipments for their compatriots stalled in Mexico.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Interview with El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) in San Francisco

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, in San Francisco. (Regina Anavy)

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is in San Francisco, planning for the opening of his art exhibit, “Angels and Demons,” at the Immersive ART LAB, 3255A Third Street, May 11, 6-10pm. His exhibit is sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation as part of its Art in Protest series. This interview took place with the translation help of Alexandra Martínez.

Link to exhibit on Facebook

Regina Anavy: Danilo, I know that you’ve already had interviews with the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and other people about your experiences as a political prisoner in Cuba. Now I want to ask you about your artistic process. How you were able to create art while you were in prison?

Danilo Maldonado: I wasn’t able to paint in prison. I could only draw.

RA: How did you get drawing materials?

DM: To draw, all I need is pencils and plain sheets of paper.

RA: Did you have visitors who brought you these materials?

DM: My family brought colored pencils and pens and paper.

RA: Did the authorities try to prevent you from having these materials?

DM: Yes, that happened. They search everything, and a lot of the things they take away. For example, they didn’t let my mother take in my asthma medication, but I could get pens and little notebooks, as long as there was nothing already written on them. continue reading

RA: What did you do without your medication?

DM: A friend provided it for me until my mother finally was able to bring it in.

RA: How did you have the space to draw in a cell with other people?

DM: The same place where I was living and sleeping was the place where I could draw: my bed. I wrote letters but also spent my time drawing.

RA: How did you get your drawings out?

DM: In Valle Grande, I could always get somebody to help me take out the drawings. Someone who worked with an official but who wasn’t part of the searching, even sometimes an official.

RA: So people were mainly sympathetic to you?

DM: Some, yes. When I was in the isolation cell in Valle Grande, a doctor at one point gave me a sheet of paper and a pen so I could draw.

RA: It’s good to know that there were people inside the system who wanted to help you.

DM: Yes.

RA: How long have you been living in Miami?

DM: I’ve been here for roughly four months in total in the U.S.

RA: Are you here permanently or are you planning to go back to Cuba?

DM: At the moment it doesn’t make much sense – it’s not very logical – for me to be in Cuba. I can’t keep going to jail every five minutes. I can’t help my family. Now I’m trying to start a new life here, and I’m trying to focus on my career. There are a few motives for me to return, of course, because that’s my country, that’s my place, but I’m not sure when that will be.

RA: I understand you’re having a baby with Alexandra. Congratulations. How did you two meet?

Alexandra Martinez: I met him over a year ago in Miami. I’m a local journalist in Miami, and he was there for an art show, and I interviewed him, and then a few months later I went to visit family in Cuba and we started dating.

DM: It was her plan to be together. She went after me. And she’s been supporting me ever since. There have been a lot of dark moments but also some nice moments.

RA: Alexandra, are you still working as a reporter in Miami?

Alexandra Martinez: Freelancing. I went with him to Cuba for a month, and I was reporting from there. That was our original plan, for me to do that from Cuba with him, and then he went to jail. There was a moment when they didn’t want me to visit Danilo. They tried taking my camera away, and then when he was in jail they wouldn’t let me see him at first. They said that I was American and I wasn’t really his spouse. So I couldn’t see him. And then I was with his mom trying to visit him, waiting outside the prison, and in that very moment we hear Danilo’s voice, and he’s screaming, “They’re taking me to Combinado del Este.” And that was the first time that Danilo and I had seen each other in a month. They move prisoners around without informing the family. Families have to struggle to find out where the prisoners are, and it was lucky that we were out there.

DM: In 55 days I was moved to six prisons.

RA: And each time your family didn’t know where they had taken you?

DM: No. But I would always find a way to relate the news back to my mom. Whether that was through a prisoner who had recently been released or a friend who worked there, I would always find a way to get the news back to her.

RA: Were you allowed to have telephone calls?

DM: No. It was always very difficult for me to get to the phone. It was complicated, because if the guards helped me they would get into trouble.

RA: Did you have trouble getting a visa to come to the U.S.?

DM: No. I have a five-year travel visa.

RA: Are you planning to study art here?

DM: If they pay me, I will teach. I’m not a student anymore. I absorb what’s going on around me, and it would be difficult for someone else coming from a different tradition, a different place and time to teach me something. I’ve always drawn from when I was little. I had art history professors; then I studied marketing and public relations.

RA: I understand your mother is in Cuba and you also have a daughter there.

DM: Yes, but my mother can’t travel. She doesn’t have a passport. My daughter has a British passport, like her mother, and I’m trying to see if they will be able to come over here, so I can see my daughter.

RA: Is your art recognized in Cuba as much as it is outside?

DM: There are many people who know me, who recognize me in many parts of Cuba, in my neighborhood. I didn’t make myself famous on social media at first. I’m a graffiti artist who invaded the street, and the people on the street know me. It’s a different type of thing, because bloggers, journalists and people who tweet or do interviews are famous on social media, but I’m coming from the street and this gives me a different type of visibility. For example, on May Day, May 1, the activist who went out with the American flag and was beaten, many people had known him and seen him before, but never on the television screen. Although many people would never dare do that, many people now know about him, like the famous Reggaeton artist, Chacal. They will give a shout-out in a concert, and the popular rap group, Los Aldeanos, who are on film, critical of the Regime, have made songs about me as well. Now is when I’m able to take my career to another level of visibility. I’m really just trying to show and teach others through my own conduct.

RA: Do you feel now that you’re outside that you’re getting more information about what is going on in Cuba with opponents of the Regime?

DM: Yes, now I can get a lot more, but I already have my network and I’m well connected. I know what’s going on in my neighborhood.

RA: Is this through the Internet, telephone, word of mouth?

DM: Facebook.

RA: What was your reaction when Obama suddenly ended the wet foot /dry foot policy?

DM: Unfortunately the issue of immigration and people entering the country is really only a concern for the president of that country. Really it was Obama’s decision whether or not to end the policy. The reason Cubans emigrate is not really Obama’s fault. The blame is on the Castro Regime for forcing people to leave. And at the end of the day, I’m more concerned about the problems facing the Cuban people. Even I could have been a victim of the change, of not being able to come into the country, but really the people to blame is the Castro government. The main concern is changing things inside Cuba. The dictatorship is to blame for me even being here right now. The country’s a prison. Look at all the people who attacked the man with the flag. There are people who get attacked and don’t appear on television. But we need to be very clear about who’s to blame here, because maybe even if they [the Castro Regime] are brought to international trial, they could be set free, and we need to be very clear. Who’s to blame? The guard in the prison? The police officer who didn’t want to open the door for me or the security guard who was beating me up for saying something? In this case both of them are guilty.

RA: Our mutual friend, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo wants to ask you this question: Was it easy to find a tattoo artist willing to put the image of the martyrs, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá on your skin? Tell us about that experience and what it means to you.

[There is a You Tube video of the tattooing.]

DM: Yes. A friend made the appointment. I explained what I wanted to do. He told me, “Don’t record my face.” And immediately I had a solo appointment just for me. Another problem with art is that tattoo artists in Cuba are persecuted by the Regime. It’s not a legal business. They don’t give out licenses. Everyone is persecuted.

RA: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has another question: In 2011, in the first article ever published about you, which appeared in Diario de Cuba, he quoted you as saying that you were like “the noise of the people.” Today, six years later, what do you feel is the noise of Cuba?

DM: I believe that there’s some “noise” now with respect to graffiti. There are a few graffiti street artists, like Yulier [Yulier Rodríguez Pérez]. I love his work. He does graffiti on the street, very morose-looking surrealist creatures. He’s not outrightly political; he doesn’t associate himself with anything political. Right now I’m in a process of war against the bad in Cuba, and even heroes like José Martí had to leave Cuba and go into exile for some years. So I consider what I’m doing now to be part of this process, part of this war that I’m fighting. I didn’t leave to forget about what’s going on. I don’t stop working. I don’t stop thinking every moment, every day, about what I started and what I want to achieve. So there’s a lot left to do.

RA: What about what’s happening in Venezuela. What would it take for a movement like that to happen in Cuba?

DM: No, it’s a different situation. The people in Venezuela are completely different.

RA: What do you predict will happen when Raúl steps down in 2018?

DM: I don’t like predictions. The future belongs to the future. But I believe that what comes after Raúl is going to be another Castro. They will put different faces, different people to control the economy, different people to control different sectors, but at the end of the day they’re all puppets for the Regime. And one day they can put up on the television that so-and-so, like Miguel Díaz Canel, is betraying the revolution. Mariela Castro knows what she’s doing with the homosexual community, running around with the flag, and they’re trying to make out that what she’s doing is not a political campaign, not a political strategy, but of course it is. What’s coming is Mariela. That’s what they’re preparing. She’s taking a political platform. And if it were the sons, they would have created a political campaign for them. But the only thing people see is Mariela Castro going around, touting herself, doing whatever she wants and getting away with it, so we can only imagine that she is staging a political campaign to build the next face, the future of the revolution, something progressive, a human rights activist, a woman.

RA: But she wont be officially replacing her father.

DM: No. I wouldn’t dare make that type of prediction, but I can see that she’ll be the president; she’ll be the one controlling everything from behind the scenes. It will all be the same.

RA: So we should talk about your upcoming art exhibit in San Francisco.

DM: I’ll be inside of a cell for three days not eating anything, just drinking water.

RA: And at night?

DM: Same thing. I’ll be drawing portraits of political prisoners to raise awareness not just in Cuba but also in the whole world.

RA: What about a bathroom?

DM: There is one inside the cell.

RA: Are you going to have more of your paintings up in the gallery?

DM: There will be a total of about 20-25 paintings, all the drawings I did in prison and the most recent ones. They will be for sale.

RA: And this exhibit is going on how long?

DM: Two weeks, but I’ll only be there for three days.

RA: What are your future plans?

DM: I’ll continue with my work here. First I’m trying to take my art to the next level. Not just in the U.S. but in the whole world, the free world. Now there’s a show coming up called “Angels and Demons,” on May 11. Then I’m going to Europe for an Oslo Freedom Forum and Internet event, and then in September, this same show is going to Houston. The goal is to not stop working, to build a larger platform, so that when I decide to go back to Cuba, I will have a larger following, a larger layer of protection. We’re dealing with a group of murderers, of assassins, and we don’t know if they will detain me or not, so I have to keep doing what I’m doing. That’s my job.

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, and Alexandra Martinez in San Francisco (Regina Anavy)

Note: This interview is © by Regina Anavy

Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Iván García, 2 May 2017 — On an afternoon like any other, an underground seller of beef, living in the southeast of Havana, bought flank steaks wholesale from a slaughterer, to then sell them to private restaurants and neighbours who could afford them.

He filleted the chops and started to offer them for the equivalent of three dollars a pound. “They flew off the shelf. By night time I didn’t have an ounce of it left. If  any red meat comes my way, I can sell it immediately. The thing is, Cubans like to eat a good piece of steak with fries, washed down with a glass of orange juice. But, my friend, that dish has become an extravagant luxury in Cuba,” says the vendor, who knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Havana black market.

Even though a pound of beef costs three days’ of a professional’s salary, you don’t always find it in the profitable black market. continue reading

In the island there is a network of butchers, slaughterers and sellers which makes sufficient money selling beef. “Everything starts when someone spots a bullock or a cow not properly protected in some odd corner in the Cuban countryside. That’s when they start to plan how get it to end up as stew (kill it) and transport it to Havana, which is where they can sell it for the best price. They can get between 1,300 and 1,600 chavitos (CUCs) for a 1,000 pound bull, and the slaughterer, the transporter and the sellers get a few kilos of meat free”, according to a cattle slaughterer, a native of the central region of the country.

And he explains that they will just as happily kill a calf, a grown up cow, or a horse, “whatever has four legs and moves, gets what’s coming to it. Of course, a slaughterer who knows what he’s doing takes care not to kill a cow which is sick or has brucellosis, because if the police catch you, along with the twenty years the District Attorney goes for on account of killing a cow, he adds another five or six on top for endangering public health.

In 2013, the Granma newspaper reported that more than 18,400 cattle were dying of hunger or disease in the province of Villa de Clara. In April 2014, the Communist party organ highlighted that something over 3,300 cows died in the first three months of that year in the province of Holguin, and another 69,000 were found to be under-nourished. The authorities blamed the drought and, according to Granma, 35 thousand head of cattle were receiving water from water tank trucks in order to alleviate the effects of the months without rain.

According to Damián, an ex-employee of a sugar mill, who now survives selling home-made cheese on the Autopista Nacional, “what has happened to the cattle here is irresponsible and those officials should be behind bars. But they carry on like that, carrying their Party card and talking annoying rubbish”.

Mario, a private farmer, says, jokingly, that “Cuba is an unusual mixture of Marxism and Hinduism. Seems like a religious prohibition on eating beef, which is what Cubans like to eat. Although the leaders carry on eating it — just look at their faces and stomachs; they look as if they are going to explode. If you gave them a blood test, their haemoglobin would be around a thousand”.

During the time of the autocrat Fidel Castro, when people wore Jiqui jeans, Yumuri check shirts and very poor quality shoes, all made locally, the old ration book which, in March 2017, had been in use for 55 years, authorised half a pound of beef every nine days for people born in the country.

“Then the cycle was lengthened to once a fortnight, then once a month, until it was quietly disappearing from the Cuban menu. Along with many other things like milk, fresh fish, prawns, oranges and mandarines”, recalls a butcher, who made plenty of money selling beef “on the side” for four pesos a pound in the ’80’s. In the 21st century he survives making money from selling soup thickened with soya.

In the last week of February, some “good news” was announced. Because of poor agricultural output, the state started to sell potatoes through ration books again.

“It’s one step forward, one step back. Five years ago potatoes were rationed. Until one fine day, the bright sparks in the government decided that, along with beans, they should be sold by the pound. So that, everyone was fucked, with potatoes becoming a sumptuary good. If you wanted to eat potato puree or fries, you had to wait in a queue for four hours and put up with fights and swearing just to buy a bag of ten potatoes for 25 pesos. And now that it is rationed once more, the news channel tells you that they will sell you 14 pounds a head, two in the first month, and six after that. But in my farmers’ market they don’t give you a pound any more. Five miserable spuds and you have to take it or leave it”, says Gisela, a housewife.

If you fancy a natural orange juice, get your wallet ready. “Green oranges with hardly any juice cost three pesos, if you can actually find any. A bag of oranges costs between 140 and 200 pesos, half the monthly minimum wage.  I keep asking myself why it is that in countries with a Marxist government, or a socialist one, as invented by Chavez in Venezuela, getting food has to be such torture”, says Alberto, a construction worker.

In Cuba, you can’t eat what you want, only what turns up.

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Translated by GH

The Dangers of Hatred / Miriam Celaya

Venezuelan demonstrators burn the Cuban flag, March 2014 (CNN)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Norma Whiting, West Palm Beach, U.S., 29 April 2017 – The news, later refuted, of a supposed Cuban flag burning in recent days by Venezuelan demonstrators who oppose the government of Nicolás Maduro provoked diverse reactions on social networks and some Cuban websites. Many Cubans, mostly residing overseas, immediately expressed their indignation against Venezuelans at what they interpret as an affront to a national symbol they consider sacred, which does not represent in the least the dictatorial power that has ruled Cuba for almost sixty years, ultimately co-responsible for the deep political, social and economic crisis that Venezuela is currently experiencing.

The misconception, however, was not completely unfounded, considering that a few years ago Cuban flags burned in connection with student protests in Venezuela. continue reading

However, leaving aside anything smacking of nationalism, justified or not, the Venezuelans’ apocryphal pyromantic message against the Cuban flag in several important cities of their country would have made clear the rejection of the gross Cuban interference in Venezuela by Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, since it is not just the perverse tabernacle where the devastation of their nation has been cooked for years, but, to date, it’s the arena from where the strings of the Chávez-Maduro regime are manipulated, now decadent but, because of this, more dangerous.

Thus, in any case, it should have been that evil power and not the Cuban national emblem that Venezuelans burned in their riots of recent days. In fact, the images from 2014 that caused the confusion leave no room for doubt when we see that several of the flags burned then carry Fidel Castro’s image on a bundle of dollars displayed under his face, and other pictures where the signs “Out with the Castros” and “Out of Venezuela” can be seen. At that time, they also set on fire mannequins that mimicked the now deceased creator of the longest dictatorship that has existed in this region.

But it is also true that one of the dangers now is that, in the midst of the violence applied by the repressive bodies and the gangs incited by the central government against the demonstrators, their response will turn more violent. The Venezuelan crisis offers a much more convulsive and highly volatile and unstable scenario as a result of widespread hunger, the shortages and the needs of the population, social frustration, and the regime’s misrule, so that any situation can lead to uncontrollable chaos for any of the parties.

In this context, popular indignation would not be able to discriminate between Cuba and Cubans on the one hand, and the Castro regime on the other, bypassing the irrefutable fact that the misfortune of living under autocratic regimes is something that nationals of both countries share.

In this sense, and not wishing to be apocalyptic, it cannot be denied that the thousands of Cuban civilians who currently collaborate in the populist programs (called “missions”) of the Castro-Chávez alliance are very fragile links in the midst of the Venezuelan confusion, not only because they could easily become victims of the hatred, accumulated over many years, against a political project led by a gang of thieves and crooks which turned out to be a swindle, but because the perverse nature of the alliance between the hierarchs of Havana and Caracas would not hesitate for a second to sacrifice them motu proprio, and to attribute to the opposition the loss of life and the violence against Cuban civilians.

The Cuban gerontocracy knows that the loss of Cuban lives would allow them to unleash a whole Witches’ Sabbath through their monopoly of the press, and would be a golden opportunity to stir the patriotic spirits of the masses in the hacienda in ruins, especially now, when the defunct revolution doesn’t have any credibility among Cubans, and when the final fall of ” twenty-first century socialism” also heralds (more) difficult times for the Cuban population.

The fact that it would involve Cuban professionals, mostly in the health industry, who carry out a humanitarian mission of medical care to very poor populations, would add a dramatic touch that is extremely conducive to the propaganda effects of the Palace of the Revolution. Who could resist the tragedy of perhaps dozens of Cuban families?

For now, the official Cuban press is keeping a suspicious, almost sepulchral, silence about what is taking place in Venezuela. Or it has lied cynically, as is evident in the printed version of the main official newspaper, Granma, which contained a brief note this past Monday, April 24, stating that “normalcy reigns” in Venezuela, despite the opposition to Maduro calling for demonstrations, the massive mobilizations that have flooded the streets of many cities in Venezuela since the beginning of April, and the dozens of deaths, mainly protesters’, that have taken place at the hands of the delinquents grouped in the sinister “collectives”, that variety of motorized terrorists at the service of the government who assassinate their compatriots with impunity, just for exercising their right to protest.

Let us hope that the best children of Venezuela do not allow the just aspirations of freedom, justice and democracy of her people to be contaminated with criminal acts against Cuban civilian collaborators. They need to not give in to the hatred sown by officials in power. But, in any case, the evils that might take place in Venezuela will be the direct responsibility of the Cuban leadership and its puppets at the head of the Venezuelan government.

(Miriam Celaya, a Havana resident, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García

By Elio Delgado, from the Havana Times

Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn cobs.

From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork fillets and sautéed rice, to sell later in his small mobile shop positioned in a large car park, at the main entrance to the International Book Fair in Havana.

A line of kiosks with aluminium tubes and coloured canvas tops offer local favourites, like bread with suckling pig, ham and cheese sandwiches, jellies, mineral water and canned drinks. continue reading

“My kiosk specialises in dishes from San Miguel de Padrón.  But the truth is that in this particular fair, sales are sluggish. Mainly because the organisers prohibited the sale of alcohol. You can forget about books and all that intellectual shit, you have to give Cubans beer and reguetón if you want them to feel happy – the rest is secondary”, says Jesús.

Thursday February 16th started off rainy in Havana. Idelfonso, a self-employed clown, looks up at the overcast sky and mutters, “if it starts raining again, they’ll have to take the circus and its tent away, because no-one will bring their kids in bad weather. This fair has been pretty bad for us. No-one has any money, and those who do prefer to spend it on books and food”, he says, in his bear get-up.

In different parts of the car park, private businesses rent out inflatable toys for fifteen pesos for the kids to bounce about for thirty minutes, and five pesos for a quick ride on a horse.

“Many families don’t come to buy books. They would rather their kids enjoyed themselves playing with the equipment. There are hardly any amusement parks in the capital”, says Rita, who deals with charging for the horses.

Families and groups of friends lay towels out on the grass and picnic on a hill from where you get a unique view of the city across the bay.

Gerard, a young man with tattooed forearms, feels uncomfortable. He tells his wife to go off with the kid to play with the inflatable toys while he complains about the lack of any beer.

“These people are really party poopers. Whose idea was it to stop selling lager and nips of rum? I can’t imagine it was because of Fidel Castro’s death, as the bloke has been pushing up daisies for over two months now”, moans Gerard, knocking back a lemonade as a temporary solution to the matter.

Dora and Germán come from El Cotorro, in south west Havana, with two enormous bags to buy “fifteen or twenty boxes of drink. We have a cafe and we buy stuff here for ten pesos and then we sell them there for twenty. If we have time, we buy a few books for our grandchildren”.

The Book Fair always was a good excuse for thousands of Habaneros to amuse themselves. Kids skipping classes looking over displays of foreign books, inveterate bookworms, pseudo intellectuals who take the opportunity to come over as writers, the peripheral catwalk of hustlers and pickpockets selling tourists fake Cohíba cigars made in shacks in deepest Havana.

But this time the organisers decided to put a stop to “sideshows which have nothing to do with reading”, says Idalia, a Editora Abril bookseller, who adds:

“The fair has been turned into a mess. Like a strip club. Hustlers who came to pull foreigners and people with money who have never read a book and were downing beers ’til closing time. The number of people coming here has definitely fallen, as nearly two million people came here two years ago. Now the numbers have fallen to less than half” says Idalia, who, in exchange for offering her opinions for Martí Noticias, asks me to buy some books.

“The thing is, we get commission on our sales. And we aren’t selling much”, she emphasises. From the books on display, I choose the biography of  Raúl Castro written by Nikolai Leonov, an ex high-up in the KGB and personal friend of the Carribean autocrat.

The book, which looks good, costs 30 pesos, equivalent to three times the daily minimum wage in Cuba. According to the official press, it is the best selling book of the year.  Idalia thinks differently.

“You can put any rubbish you like on paper. They give the book, just like they did with Fidel’s, as gifts to lots of people who attend events, and then they record them as sales. And, being prioritised by the printers, they have gigantic print-runs, and are on sale in all the bookshops in the country. But, I haven’t seen too much enthusiasm among Cuban readers for Raúl’s biography. Foreign lefties certainly do buy books dedicated to Fidel”, she tells me.

Although the present Book Fair is dedicated to Canada and the tedious state official Armando Hart Dávalos, the dead Fidel Castro is the prime actor.

There is no lack of sets of Fidel Castro’s speeches on the local publishers’ stands, a revised edition of History will Absolve Me and cartoon books eulogising the dictator from Birán.

“God help us! Fidel everywhere”, says a lady walking through the Mexican pavilion looking for a diary she has promised her granddaughter. The foreign publishers are the busiest, in spite of the high foreign currency prices.

They also sell pirate Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar teeshirts, as well as a collection of Barcelona and Real Madrid posters. A Mexican bookseller tells us that “We take advantage of the fact that Cubans like football, and so we push this merchandise”.

At midday St Charles Fort looks just like an informal flea market. A few serious readers sit down, leaning against the ancient cannons which protect the fort, in order to read George Orwell’s 1984 or a Gabriel García Márquez novel.

The less serious fill up nylon bags with books on spritual advice or magazines about fashion and cooking. Then they form a little queue at the exit from La Cabaña, to get the bus going to the centre of Havana.

Few visitors know the dark history of the fort, an ancient prison and location of hundreds of firing squads for Castro opponents. The thing is that in Cuba the disinformation, fear of knowing the truth, and amnesia help people live apathetic and apolitical lives.

Translated by GH

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Residents Thank The Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

The fire destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of fields and forests in Holguin. (Archive/Telesur)

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

From left to right, Raúl Castro, Bruno Rodríguez and Nicolás Maduro, at an ALBA meeting (EFE/Archive)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old adage, when you see you neighbor’s beard on fire, go soak your own*. The maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a real bombardment of misinformation by the government’s press monopoly. continue reading

As a result of decades of lies and “secrecy” — which journalist Reinaldo Escobar has defined as “the euphemism that disguises what is in reality a policy of censorship of the press” — and the requirements of the struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans, for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban “missionaries” of health and other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them? Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the “collectives” and police forces are increasing, and the government’s repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be “the peoples’ alternative,” has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government or respected international organization will support a government that is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans’ will and courage, but knowing that with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-“Bolivarian” alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them. It’s not always possible to find allies with the features of the Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to fully manipulate, for Cuba’s benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as “a democratic dictatorship” for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms, presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator’s note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire…”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba and Venezuela: And God Created Them… / Cubanet, René Gómez Manzano

Venezulean President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, René Gómez Manzano, Havana, 5 Abril 2017 — In recent days, the absence of a true rule of law has become evident in the two countries of “Socialism of the 21st Century,” an absence that reached the highest levels of arbitrariness and injustice: Cuba and Venezuela. In the second of these the iniquity took place at the highest level, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

The brand new Chavista magistrates ruled: “As long as the contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persist, this Chamber will ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body that it designates.” In short, the court replaced the parliament with itself. continue reading

And in passing, the High Court also withdrew immunity from the country’s parliamentary deputies. It was a coup d’etat pure and simple; only not one undertaken by the military or the congressional branch, but by the judicial. Of course, it didn’t happen on the judges’ own initiatve, but because Maduro ordered it, because it is already known that the supposed independence of that power is now a fiction in the homeland of the “Liberator,” Simon Bolivar.

The voices of protest did not hold back: in Venezuela, National Assembly President Julio Borges called the shameful ruling “trash” and ripped it up in front of the television cameras. The protests of students and others who disagree began. At the international level, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States was convened, and Peru withdrew its ambassador from Caracas. Even complacent the mediators Torrijos, Fernandez and Rodríguez Zapatero rejected the gross maneuver.

But not only democracy supporters weighed in. A character as little suspected of being anti-Chavez as the Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega (yes, the same person labeled the “Eternal Commander” as “the most humanist man that has ever existed on the planet” and totally supported the unjust imprisonment of Leopoldo López) described what happened in his country as a “rupture of the constitutional order.”

Urgently convened, the Venezuelan Defense Council called on the Supreme Court to “review” the statements that left Parliament without functions. The obedient magistrates, in a fulminating manner, applied “what I meant to say was…”

In Cuba, on the other hand, recent illegality had a lower level, in both directions of the word. Lady in White Lismerys Quintana Ávila, also urgently, was subjected to a spurious trial and sentenced to six months in prison — the maximum allowed penalty — by a docile Municipal Court.

As a precedent for this injustice, we must remember the new trick that the political police use against these admirable women: At the outset, they impose a fine for a misdemeanor that does not exist. After the refusal to pay the illegally imposed penalty, the defendant (in this case, Lismerys) is taken to a Municipal Court to be tried.

Now the offense charged is “breach of obligations arising from the commission of misdemeanor,” and is provided for in article 170 of the current Penal Code.Under this provision, “anyone who fails to comply with the obligations arising from a resolution that has exhausted its legal process, issued by a competent authority or official, relating to contraventions” may be punished.

According to the final sentence of that rule, “if before the sentence is pronounced, the accused meets the obligations derived from that resolution, the proceedings will be archived.” The purpose of this, obviously, was not to establish a mechanism to send one more person to prison, but to dissuade her from not paying the imposed pecuniary penalty.

But it is already known that, in Cuba, “whoever made the law, set the trap.” In the case of someone who disagrees and says so, any misrepresentation of the correct sense of the rules is valid for the Castro regime’s authorities. What real chance to pay the fine had Lismerys or her loved ones if she were detained and the latter did not know what her situation was?

We know that the repressor who “cared for her” (who calls himself “Luisito”, but whose real name is known (unusual in itself) — Ariel Arnau Grillette) was truthful in the text messages with which he harassed this Cuban mother. We know what they said thanks to the inventiveness of the brave fighter Angel Moya Acosta: “the desicion to send you to prision is in my hands,” he wrote. A phrase in which we do not know what to admire more: his creative spelling or the confidence with which he says what everyone knows, but usually shuts up about …

However, what is decisive in this case is not what the murky State Security intended, but the submission of a court to the design of that repressive body. This is how the “organs of justice” of Cuba and Venezuela, once again, have become brothers in ignominy.

 Translated by Jim

The Right of Assembly / Somos+

Somos+, Ezequiel Álvarez, 27 March 2017 — I believe that, in the resistance against the totalitarian, military dictatorship of the Castros, the existence of diverse organizations is essential and necessary. If we fight against a monolithic system, it is indispensable to start from a pluralist base wherein there is room for different ideas. continue reading

If communism’s major flaw is to intend for all the world to submit by force to one ideology, our response cannot be another antagonistic solution of the same kind.

The human being by nature represents a variety of opinions. The democratic system proclaims freedom of assembly, and as proponents of democracy for Cuba, we should accept that other points of view also have a right to participate in the opposition.

Starting from that premise, I propose that we should know how to work together in this phase, and allow the electoral process to decide the democratic route that the nation will take.

Meanwhile, let us continue, each according to his conscience, respecting the same right in others, working together toward the same ideal.

Let us prepare the foundations starting now, so that in the eventual future, we can be ready to prevent a repeat of the current tragedy. An upright structure that will serve as safe passage to a constitutional democracy, with the prior approval of the opposition parties, is a solution that we should explore and work towards making a reality.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison