Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Retail store that accepts payment in both currencies. Sign: Now! Easy to pay in CUP (Cuban pesos). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 January 2017 — It is not common, in the middle of all the gloom and the torrents of noteworthy dates that constitute the bulk of the official press, to find a journalistic work that brings to light — even partially — the obstacles that derive from one of the most stubborn problems of the Cuban economy: the double currency system.

A report published this Sunday in Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) evauated the sales results in both national currencies (CUP and CUC) in the so-called shopping centers. The report indicates that almost three years after the start of this “experiment,” it becomes apparent that the resulting benefits are reduced almost exclusively to the simplification of the exchange process. Continue reading “Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

The only improvement is that shoppers who only have ordinary currency (CUP) interested in making purchases at the foreign currency shops do not need to exchange their currency into CUC at the currency exchanges before they shop

In the case of more comprehensive terms, the improvement is that shoppers who only have ordinary currency (CUP) interested in making purchases at the foreign currency shops do not need to exchange their currency into CUC at the currency exchanges (Cadeca) before they shop, thus avoiding the consequent inconvenience of long lines, wasted time and sometimes traveling from distant places, as they can now transact their purchases in the stores themselves in CUP.

Another advantage that, without going into the sordid details, reporters mention, is that with the undifferentiated use of both currencies “the illegal currency market has been restricted to a minimum.” In practice, this does not mean that the underground exchange markets have disappeared or been weakened — as the article implies — but that the excellent health the illegal transactions continue to enjoy occurs in closed spaces. As is well known, some go this route when they sell their properties intending to emigrate, so they can take some hard currency capital (in dollars or euros) with them.

In contrast to the two modest improvements mentioned, the report lists a string of difficulties, among which are the errors derived from the lack of training of personnel in how to operate with the two currencies, which has caused numerous mistakes; the instability of the specialized labor force and the “lack of experience” in the “accounting treatment of monetary duality”; along with the “insufficient capacity of safes and cash registers” to store the cash in the stores.

The lack of an automated system to register operations with the new payment instrument — that is, Cuban pesos — is another problem, which means “accounting errors” or “differences in the daily schedule due to errors in the operation of cash registers”, among other limitations, not attributable to the stores, but related to the eternal governmental improvisation and emergency strategies to alleviate deep and old evils.

A recurring problem is the displeasure of those customers who pay in CUP and get their change back in CUC

A recurring problem is the displeasure of those customers who pay in CUP and get their change back in CUC. The lack of coins and small bills in the shopping centers is ever-present, so that customers are short-changed, which harms their buying power and benefits the employee in charge of collecting payments, who, at the end of the day, pockets the overage from the cash register. The matter is aggravated by the increased demand for stores to keep available change in CUC, because it is mandatory that customers paying in CUP be given their change in hard currency.

Among the most interesting points, although scarcely mentioned tangentially in the report, is the complaint of an interviewee who criticizes the confusion created by the buy-sell in two currencies, especially by the exchange rate that the stores apply (where 1 CUC is equivalent to 25 CUP), while in the currency exchanges, the Cadecas, the exchange of 1 CUC is equivalent to 24 CUP.

Stores go beyond their function as commercial entities when they carry out a banking operations or currency exchnages that would legally be the job of the National Bank, a distortion proper to a system where the bankrupt economy cannot offer real financial support to its currency, so money has no realistic value. On the other hand, there is a single entity, the State-Party-Government, as sole administrator and owner of everything, from Banking to commercial establishments and most services, so that the currency has a virtually symbolic function and, significantly, is only valid within the national territory.

Since we are talking about monetary distortion, the most palpable reflection of the ambivalence of such a fictional* currency as the CUC is the capricious difference in values that it acquires in its popular usage, depending on whether it is whole or fractional currency. In the informal market, the fractional currency – that is coins – loses value.

Mysteriously, there seems to be an unwritten law where the use of coins in CUC currency places it in the informal market at an equivalence of only 20 pesos in CUP

This aberration manifests itself in every informal transaction, for example, in what the passenger of a private sector taxi pays for the service: if the trip costs 10 Cuban pesos (CUP) and the passenger pays with a CUC, he will probably get 14 CUP in change, the equivalent of the CUC at a rate of 24 CUP, which is the same value one finds in the Cadecas.

However, if that same passenger pays for the service with coins in CUC currency (say, 50 cents), the norm is that he won’t get any change back, though the driver is supposed to give back 2 CUP. Mysteriously, there appears to be an unwritten law where the use of coins in CUC currency places it in the informal market at an equivalent of only 20 pesos CUP.

The same thing happens if a one peso CUP purchase is made (informally, 5 cents CUC), as in the case of a plastic bag or newspaper bought from street vendors, usually elderly retirees looking to increase their meager income in this way.

Another notorious issue that is mentioned is the high prices of store products, which become more evident when the payment is in CUP. Obviously, the use of the CUP in the commercial and service networks highlights the enormous inflation that has been enthroned in Cuba which is masked, somehow, when the sale is transacted only in CUC.

It does not cause the same psychological effect to buy a bag of powdered milk at 5.65 pesos CUC as it does to pay 141.25 pesos CUP, which is 35.3% of the average Cuban monthly salary (400 pesos CUP). In addition, there is talk of “high prices” in Cuba when we should be discussing the devaluation of the CUP currency and workers low wages, which depress the consumption capacity of the average Cuban to a minimum.

We shouldn’t overlook the efforts of those who, from the dictatorship’s monopoly of the press, strive to pull the monkey’s chain, even if they continue to fear him

Other many collateral points of the report deserve to be mentioned, such as the refusal of most commercial establishments to offer statements to the official press — a formidable obstacle that constitutes the daily bread of the independent press trying to question officials, official institutions, or to cover supposedly public events — and the reporters’ allusion to the informative, cultural, social and civic role that they must fulfill. But it is not possible to cover in one article the extent of the debates these subjects deserve.

Despite everything, with its successes and evasions, the article in Juventud Rebelde gets credit for uncovering at least the tip of the iceberg of some of the most serious wrongs that the Cuban economy exhibits, and implicitly points to the urgent need to put an end to the dual currency system, a thorny question that – inexplicably — was not on the agenda at last December’s National Assembly sessions.

None of the problems nor their solutions were there. The villain remains hidden behind an army of scapegoats and small-time officials. We shouldn’t overlook the efforts of those who, from the dictatorship’s monopoly of the press, strive to pull the monkey’s chain**, even if they continue to fear him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Translator’s notes:
* Despite its name, Cuban Convertible peso, the CUC can only be exchanged for foreign currencies within Cuba, and in fact it is illegal to take Cuban currency out of the country.
** A common expression in Cuba – referencing ordinary people’s relationship to power – is “You can play with the chain but not the monkey.”

The Drama of Hundreds of Cubans Who Have Their Bags Packed / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in various Latin American countries in their flight to the US. (Archive).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Havana/Miami, 14 January 2017 – Yeny Varela cried bitterly this Thursday when she heard on national television about the immediate end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.

Repatriated to Cuba from Mexico after a long month-and-a-half trip from Ecuador in 2014, and after raising the necessary funds to leave the country again, her hopes of escape from the Island were ruined.

“I did everything to get to the United States where I have my elderly aunt and uncle. I went to the embassy, and they denied me a visa, I walked from Ecuador, and the Mexicans deported me, the last thing I had managed was a work contract in Mexico for which I paid thousands of dollars, and now I have lost everything,” she laments.

At 32 years of age, this young Havanan believes that the best years of her life are behind her.

“And now where do I go?” she says. Continue reading “The Drama of Hundreds of Cubans Who Have Their Bags Packed / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

“They (the US government) are doing that because they believe that they are going to force a change, but it’s not going to happen,” she says. Although everyone is “sick” of that system, no one can protest because “they disappear you,” she says.

“Do you really believe they are going to give you a visa at the embassy? No one believes that. Don’t you realize that once someone has a visa he’s going to stay?” she adds.

Varela is not the only one dressed up with no place to go. In Villa Clara, Rosa, age 26, had sold her house and all her belongings to begin the dangerous trip through Guyana.

Cuban women stranded while trying to make their way to the US through Central America. (EFE)

Her intention was to make the trip that thousands of other migrants have made in recent years to get to the southern border of the United States. After the immigration policy change, she is “devastated.”

“Our intent was to leave the country in order to live a little better. There are no opportunities here,” she explains. The Villarena does not plan, however, to go to the United States embassy to seek political asylum.

“I don’t involve myself in politics, that doesn’t interest me. I wanted to leave Cuba for economic reasons,” she explains.

Now she will have to start again from scratch. Meanwhile she decided to live with her mother.

Not only in Cuba were migration plans cut short. Throughout the continent hundreds of Cubans who were headed to the United States border have seen their plans thwarted.

“I never get involved in politics at all, but Obama has been worse than Pontius Pilate, seven days from leaving the presidency, it was not for him to have done such a thing,” says Maria Isabel, a Cuban who lives in Argentina and was preparing her trip to the United States.

“I have left everything behind. I was just taking a small step here in order to continue my journey,” she says.

According to the Cuban, who spent three months awaiting papers to continue to Mexico, the most misguided thing about the Obama administration’s decision is that it “tackles the consequences but not the causes.”

“How many people have risked or lost their lives? The degree of despair and frustration is so great that we can only cry,” she laments.

The latest statistics from the US Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services calculate that 56,406 Cuban citizens benefitted in the last fiscal year from the wet foot/dry foot policy.

After the resumption of relations between Cuba and the US, a migratory crisis unfolded which had regional repercussions when several thousand Cubans were stranded in Central America after Nicaragua refused to permit the islanders to pass.

With the later closure of the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders, the crisis spread to Colombia and Ecuador when those countries took steps to prevent mass migration from the Island. Two “air bridges” arranged with Mexico allowed the evacuation of the Cubans; however, since the departure of the planes from Panama in May, hundreds of other migrants continued arriving.

More than 80 Cubans on their way to the United States are in a hostel run by Caritas, a non-governmental organization tied to the Catholic Church.

One of them, Andres, says that “Obama is abominable” and that they did not expect it.

His situation was apparently made worse by the Immigration General Director’s statements only a few hours earlier that Cubans must leave the country.

However, the migrants being sheltered by Caritas have the support of the Catholic Church, which will intervene to prevent their deportation, as explained by Deacon Victor Luis Berrio, head of the organization.

At least those in Panama have protection, says Yuniel Ramos, who together with another 40 Cubans is continuing his journey through Honduras to get to the American border.

“They will have to do something with us because Cuba won’t take us back,” he adds.

But the doors to the United States are now closed for Cubans.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Activist Abandons Hunger Strike After Promise Of Not Being Deported To His Home Province / 14ymedio

Vladimir Martín Castellanos, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2017 — Vladimir Martín Castellanos, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), abandoned his hunger strike this Monday after the authorities promised that he would not be deported from Las Tunas to Santiago de Cuba, as confirmed by the Castellanos himself to 14ymedio. Continue reading “Activist Abandons Hunger Strike After Promise Of Not Being Deported To His Home Province / 14ymedio”

The activist remained 32 days without food in his fight to register himself in the civil registry of Puerto Padre where his wife, Ileana Marrero, resides. Beforehand and on various occasions, the Security of State intercepted him when he attempted to register.

On Monday, an officer who identified himself as Captain Miguelito, visited Castellanos’ wife and promised her he would be allowed to reside in the municipality. Upon hearing the news, Castellanos decided to end his hunger strike.

“I feel very weak and began drinking soup” to regain strength, he commented to this newspaper. “I would like to continue my fight and stay with the Unpacu,” explained the activist.

Martín Castellanos, 53, believes that “the authorities will follow through” this time, but notes that they did not provide him an official document confirming the decision. A family member of the activist is arranging tickets to “travel early tomorrow toward Puerto Padre.”

Translated by Chavely Garcia

Leadership and Dissidence / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 6 January 2017 — The leadership and the dissidence seem more and more the same to me. Is it coincidence or lack of experience?

At this very moment, if suddenly there were free elections on my planet Cuba, supervised by the United Nations or other countries, I would not know who to vote for.

Lately, what I see and hear most among the dissidents is about travels abroad and buying things cheaply and so-and-so “stayed.” I don’t hear much talk about organizing and meeting to raise awareness among neighbors and friends, with the goal of winning supporters. Continue reading “Leadership and Dissidence / Rebeca Monzo”

The Cuban people, in general, don’t know any of the leaders from the many existing groups. Not even their neighbors know who they really are and what they do, unless State Security visits them to alert them against the dissidents and presents a false picture of them. Of course, the government takes full advantage of the lack of internet that it has intentionally imposed on us.

Increasingly, sadly, the dissidence is more divided. Everyone aspires to be the “head of the mouse” but they are not resigned to being the “tale of the lion.” The heads of the groups are those who receive economic support from abroad and distribute it how they wish, along with the courses and trips to different events in distant countries, the content of which is shared with no one.

This, without counting those who have a police file on their “dangerousness” and then, at the first opportunity, leave the country for good. Apparently, without realizing it, they are giving the government what it wants.

How is it possible to change the destinies of a country if the opposition groups within the island are distancing themselves from each other and, therefore, it is so difficult to effectively dedicate themselves to spreading democratic ideas among the people?

It is time to reconsider and smooth things over and try to become united, ignoring differences, then denounce the most acute problems suffered by the Cuban people, and try to find solutions to them.

Being divided pleases the government, whose policy from the beginning has been precisely that: divide and conquer.

Translated by Jim

Cubans Don’t Have Big Plans For 2017 / Iván García

Photo: Taken from One Step 4 Ward.

Iván García, 6 January 2017 — When you live on the edge of an abyss, you lose your capacity to think about the future. Just ask Giraldo, who works as a plumber for Aguas de La Habana, what his plans are for 2017, and you’ll see an expression of surprise on his face.

He takes off his faded New York Yankees cap, which once was blue, and takes a few seconds to think. Before I tell you his answer, I’ll give you some details about his every-day existence.

Giraldo lives in a tiny, one-room apartment, but because of overcrowding, he had to enlarge it with a “barbecue” — the name Cubans have given to a makeshift platform built in existing room between the floor and the ceiling (see page 7 of this document). Now seven people of three different generations live together. Continue reading “Cubans Don’t Have Big Plans For 2017 / Iván García”

They have coffee for breakfast, when there is some, and spread a mixture of cooking oil, crushed garlic and salt on a 2.8 ounce bread roll, which, for the price of five centavos, the ration book gives by right to all Cuban-born citizens.

In the living room you see an outdated, cathode-tube Chinese television, and on a wood and glass shelf, a half-dozen empty bottles of rum and whisky serve as decoration.

The Haier refrigerator, also Chinese, granted to them 11 years ago, has still not been paid off. “And we’re not going to pay it,” says Giraldo’s mother, calmly, while she rocks on a chair of springs.

The apartment needs work. But the money is only enough to give it one coat of paint. They don’t have money in the bank, they don’t dream about having a modern car with GPS, and they have never thought about spending their vacation in Varadero or Cayo Coco.

Their lives are made up of working eight hours a day for the adults, studying Monday to Friday for the kids and, after they have dinner, sitting in a patched armchair to watch the current soap opera or a national-series baseball game.

Probably, like in a movie, these images passed through Giraldo’s mind before answering a question that any other person would find easy. Now, with his speech armed, he answers, without drama:

“For people like us who count their money by the centavo, every year is more or less the same. Some less bad than others. But none are good. I think it’s unfair that the Government doesn’t resolve the problems of working people and fucks us over. My only plan is to get enough money to fix the roof, which is full of holes. It’s been that way for over three years, and I haven’t been able to get enough money.”

You should walk in his shoes before judging. I suppose that right now in Aleppo, Syria, or in a stronghold in Yemen being overrun by warlords, a crust of bread or not hearing the howl of mortars is a good sign that you’ll still be alive the next day.

But Cuba isn’t in a civil war. The plans of Julio, a Cuban who arrived recently in the United States, are different. He was put in prison on the Island for embezzlement when he was the manager of a State cafeteria. Then alcohol and a lack of future sent him into a self-destructive cycle. But when he crossed the El Paso international bridge in Laredo, he swore that he was going to start anew.

Now he lives in Kentucky, where it’s unbearably cold. Two times a week, by instant message, Julio communicates with his friends in Havana, who wait for a connection from a wifi zone. And he tells them how things are going in la yuma, and that, really, you have to work hard in the United States to move forward.

Cubans are emigrating precisely in order to move forward. They know the difficulties, what it costs to adapt to other customs and to learn a new language.

“The problem is that to hold onto an option, it has to be achievable, however distant it is. That when you pass by a store or a car dealership, you can say, ’Look at that car; if I work hard, I’ll be able to buy it. If I make an effort, I can improve my quality of life.’ Everything good that can happen in your life depends on you. Here things don’t depend on you,” says Sergio, who clandestinely sells clothing he imports from Panama out of his home.

It would be very pretentious to paint a picture of Cuba as monolithic. There are too many realities superimposed on the Island. But if anything remains clear it’s that people have lost the capacity to think big.

“Every New Year’s Eve we set goals. And we tell our relatives and friends,’May you fulfill your dreams in the New Year.’ But what are our dreams? To get a better salary at work, to be able to become sainted (in the Yoruba religion), to win a big sum in the numbers game or leave the country. Very few have plans to increase their business or to buy a better house or modern car. Our goals are not big. To make a little more money and eat more meals. The Government has killed our hopes with ideology, anti-imperialist speeches and odes to Fidel Castro,” says Rachel, a lawyer.

When you ask Cubans, their aspirations for 2017 are not at all ambitious. Quite the contrary. Antonio, retired at 79 years, wishes for this year that “there won’t be blackouts, the quality of bread gets better, the State repairs the multi-family buildings and they increase my pension by 1,000 pesos.”

He says this with a joking tone, but it makes you sad and compassionate. And among the average Cuban citizens you perceive a skepticism, fatigue, unease and apathy that doesn’t seem to have a cure.

It’s not that they don’t aspire to live better. It’s that they don’t find the way to do so.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Castro II’s Island is Adrift / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 January 2017 – It is well known that for almost six decades we Cubans have not had a real government program, unless the old “five-year plans” are defined as such. These were programs Castro I copied from the USSR in order to plan and control Cuba’s socialist economic development, and applied without the least success in Cuba.

It is worth remembering that, even in the USSR, these plans were not successful. In fact, almost one hundred years after the first Marxist social experiment, it has been sufficiently established that communism and success are irreconcilable, antagonistic categories.

In the end, Castro I departed this world leaving behind a crowded inventory of useless speeches and a history of failures as a ruler. In his decades at the helm of a country which he assumed as his personal property which, as such, he ruined with impunity, the would-be demiurge only managed to play victoriously one intangible card: his personal symbolic commitment as a “world-class revolutionary leader,” which allowed him to gather solidarity and subsidies which, undeniably, contributed to the support of his long dictatorship and helped to mask the national economic disaster provoked by his regime. Continue reading “Castro II’s Island is Adrift / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The year 2016 ended with two facts relevant to Cubans: the definitive death of the founding patriarch of this whole ill-fated circus and December’s anticipated announcement by the National Assembly that worse times will soon be upon us, not as a consequence of the failure and unfeasibility of the Cuban socio-economic “model” and the long demonstrated incapacity of the political guide of the country, but due to the “unfavorable” international scene, in the words of Castro II, the substitute head of the rink.

In his words, this scenario is derived from the capitalism crisis, and mainly from the “negative effects generated by the economic, commercial and financial blockade (…) which remains in force,” which means that “Cuba is still unable to carry out international transactions in US dollars” and this “prevents important business from materializing.”

In fairness, it is necessary to recognize that the panorama is really unfavorable for the Castro regime. The regional left has fallen into disfavor, several allied presidencies have collapsed, presidencies whose corruptions favored the entrance of foreign currency to the Palace of Revolution for a time, and, to put the icing on the cake of the misfortune of the olive green power, Venezuela is threatening to turn into a chaos that will drag in its wake that other second-rate dictator, Nicolas Maduro, which would slam the last source of subsidies for the Antillean autocracy.

Fifty-eight years later, the collapse cannot be hidden anymore, and Cuba seems to have entered a stampede phase. While the economy slows and the recession knocks on the door, the only Cuban production that continues to grow unabated is emigration, thus aggravating the outlook for the future of the nation.

Such a gloomy scenario, however, fails to move the government and the country’s economic policy and decision makers towards the search for real and effective solutions.

The Government, Ministers and Parliament gathered at the meeting of the first Assembly after the death of the Autocrat in Chief simply repeated the eternal formula (also eternally unfulfilled): more work, more controls and more savings, instead of proposing a viable program based on elementary and possible issues, such as liberating the economy, allowing greater participation of the private sector, removing investment barriers, reunifying the currency or stimulating the development of small and medium-sized enterprises.

There was talk of greater constraints when it was necessary to speak of more freedoms; of a slower pace when there should be more haste.

If we have had a bad leader and bad economic strategies to date, now we have neither leader nor strategies. This, however, is not necessarily worse. In the absence of a way out, sooner or later the second heir will have no choice but to move one of his tokens, against his better judgment. And history has shown that every move made within a closed and immovable regime will produce changes.

Meanwhile, 2017 has begun for Cubans with a general feeling not unlike disorientation, an aimless unguided journey, and skepticism. The same disorientation seems to seize the General-President, now orphaned by the mighty tree that gave him shade and protection throughout his life.

At least that was the image he projected during his brief address at the inaugural session of the National Assembly. Haggard and tired, the old deputy cast a speech full of cryptic phrases, complaints, reprimands, and even warnings at undisclosed recipients.

There were no promises, no itineraries, and no symbolic cut-throat shots fired. If anyone expected to hear a captain in command of the ship in the midst of the storm, he only found a hesitant and inexperienced helmsman.

But in a country where secrecy prevails, every gesture or word can be a signal to search for hidden meanings. That is why it was remarkable that instead of the triumphal “Motherland or Death” of the Fidel era, or “Always towards Victory” of the Guevara bravado, the General-President opted for a much more realist and meager closing: “That’s all,” he muttered almost in a sob.

And then he descended from the podium amidst the applause of his docile amanuenses, not the political leader of the rampant Revolution from which we could expect salvation in moments of crisis, but this tired and contrite old man. It is obvious that the government of the hacienda in ruins doesn’t fit. It is way too big for him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

To All My Readers / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 2 January 2017 — I wish the best for you in this year of 2017.

For several days I have been without internet, thanks to the “induced mourning” and the holidays. I look forward to the small government changes, which happen very slowly, as this year accelerates and shows the truth of the huge economic changes the country needs to get out of the stagnation and depression it is submerged in.

A hug for everyone and good health, peace and prosperity.

Translated by Jim

Cuba: Christmas for Rich People and for Poor People / Iván García

A typical Cuban Christmas Eve meal for 24th December, is some variation on pork, whether it’s roast, as in the picture, or a suckling pig, and fritters.

Ivan Garcia, 24 November 2016 — Two trucks with trailers, full of reddish-brown earth, park in a narrow street, next to the agricultural market in Mónaco, a neighbourhood thirty minutes from the centre of Havana.

Four men with teeshirts and dirty overalls lug sacks of yucas and sweet potatoes, and boxes of tomatoes to a store with a door made of metal bars. A chap with an enormous stomach cups his hands to his mouth and shouts “Get your yucas here! A peso a pound. Three-cane tomatoes, knock-down prices.”

In a few minutes, in the hot sun, a queue was formed of twenty or thirty people, each with their own basket. A few yards away from the agricultural market, in a state market, there is an even longer queue, to buy pork. Continue reading “Cuba: Christmas for Rich People and for Poor People / Iván García”

Rubén, a retired chap, joined the queue at five in the morning. And by mid-day, “I still haven’t  bought two legs of pork, one for the 24th and the other for December 31st. It’s because pork is cheaper in the government markets. They sell loin of pork at 21 (Cuban) pesos a pound, and it’s 25 pesos in the private ones.”

You can hear murmuring and complaints. The legs have an odd colour. A lady said, “They don’t look like pork. It’s because they keep it for so many months in the fridge that the meat gets a strange colour.  They say when you eat it, it tastes like fish or game. Maybe it isn’t even pork. You never know with those people (the government). They sell coffee thickened with chickpeas, cigarettes sold in Cuban pesos with bits of wood in them.”

But it’s the cheapest option for Cubans who have coffee without milk and bread without butter for breakfast. Diana, a housewife, is optimistic. “At least tomatoes were much cheaper this year, 3 pesos a pound. Last year at this time they were going for 25 baros (one of many terms for Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC))” she recalls, and adds:

“Cubans are born to work. Three days before New Year’s Eve, many families have not yet bought their pork. And not very many can buy nougat. Look at those prices”, she adds, indicating a selection of nougats displayed in the counter of a foreign currency shop.

Prices may be cheaper than in Miami. Jijona soft nougat costs the equivalent of four dollars. Ones with fruit, nuts, almonds or chocolate, around five dollars. “Yes, but in ’Mayami’ people get eight dollars an hour, while in Cuba, people earn 20 dollars a month. And the average pension is 12 CUC.  There’s no comparison”, replies a man waiting angrily in the government market queue.

Let’s take the Rodriguez family as a microcosm. Six people live in a two-bedroom apartment in La Víbora. “My wife, daughter and I sleep in one bedroom. My in-laws and our son sleep in the other one,” says Rodriguez. His wife and he are professionals and together earn the equivalent of 2,500 Cuban pesos, if you add in the 25 CUC she is paid as a salary incentive.

“My parents’ pension is 570 Cuban pesos. We have a total of 3,070 Cuban pesos coming into the house, which converts to 125 CUC” (about the same in dollars), notes Mrs Rodriguez, as she goes over their expenses once more. “Ninety per cent of the money goes on food. The rest on electricity, telephone and other services. Buying clothes, going anywhere or celebrating Christmas means inventing stuff.”

All Cubans know what “inventing” means. Pinching things from where they work, or running a business on the side which provides some extra cash.

Christmas Eve dinner at the Rodriguez house will include a leg of pork, four fricasseed turkey thighs, rice, black beans, lettuce, cabbage and tomato salad, yuca with mojo sauce, Jijona nougat, cut into twelve pieces, two for each one of the six family members.

The kids drink pop and the adults half a dozen canned Cristal beers and a bottle of red wine. As well as the nougat, the dessert also includes doughnuts prepared by grandma. “We eat and drink the same at New Year’s, except that, instead of red wine, we drink rum. The cost of the dinners for the 24th and 31st of December adds up to around 120 or 130 CUC, which is about the same as what we both earn in a month. Cuba is a crazy country, don’t you think?” asks Sr. Rodríguez.

Quite a lot of Cubans don’t celebrate Christmas. Not because of Fidel Castro’s death, but because they can’t afford to. “If all the butcher has is chicken, because fish is hard to come by, I get annoyed and buy two boxes of cheap Planchao rum to celebrate Christmas Eve. Right now, I don’t have any plans for parties,” says René, a construction worker.

But a small minority, between 7 and 10 per cent of the population, have enough cash. Augusto, a musician, has already bought a frozen turkey for 60 CUC, six different nougats, three crates of beer, and six bottles of mature rum. For the 31st, he plans to buy El Gaitero cider and some bunches of grapes (traditionally eaten at New Year’s). And he has put up an enormous Christmas tree in his living room, covered in balls and lights.

Mario, an independent furniture designer, is planning to spend 60 CUC a head for his wife and himself on 24th December at Meliá Habana, a hotel in Miramar, which also offers lunch at 25-27 CUC for adults and 15 CUC for children up to 12 years old, and evening meals on the 31st for 145 CUC for adults and 55 for children up to 12.

The generals, ministers and government officials with sufficient seniority receive a basket with a turkey, fruit, bottles of rum and wines, nougats and other delicacies. Even during the hard times, when Fidel Castro prohibited parties at Christmas and Three Kings Day, the olive green middle class never failed to celebrate Christmas Eve.

“The first time I saw so much food was in the house of Enrique Lusson, who was then Minister of Transport. There were tables overflowing with meat, seafood and drink”, recalls a MININT (Ministry of the Interior) security guard.

The story of having to scrimp and save is about the other people, the ones lower down. The higher-ups are different. Their lives are hardly affected by the rules. Although, maybe, this 31st December, they will see in 2017 with moderation, since they should show discreet mourning for the death of their commander-in-chief.

Photo: A typical Cuban Christmas Eve meal for 24th December, is some variation on pork, whether it’s roast, as in the picture, or a suckling pig, and fritters.

Translated by GH

Cuban Parliament Sessions Predict Somber Times / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s president Raúl Castro, and first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, at the session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. (EFE / Abel Padrón Padilla)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 December 2016 — On December 27th, at the Havana Convention Center, the Eighth Session of the Eighth Legislature of the Cuban Parliament opened, with a balance sheet on the socio-economic results of the year ending and the proposed draft of the National Budget Law for 2017.

This time, there is no good news or triumphant speeches. 2016 ended with a 0.9% drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the report presented by Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of the Economy and Vice-President of the Council of State, and there are no reasonable grounds to date to believe that the forecast of a 2% growth of the GDP for 2017 will be realized. In fact, that was the modest growth prediction for the second half of this year, which finally failed. Continue reading “Cuban Parliament Sessions Predict Somber Times / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Even more somber, Cubans will start the New Year with overdue payments to suppliers. “It has not been possible to relieve the transitory situation we are experiencing in the current payments to suppliers …”, indicated the general-president, Raúl Castro, in presenting the central report, although he announced, without going into details, “a number of measures that will alleviate the described scenario”.

“It has not been possible to relieve the transitory situation we are experiencing in the current payments to suppliers …” indicated the general-president

As for the 2017 budget plan, he cautioned: “I must warn that financial tensions and challenges will persist that could even increase in certain circumstances.” The current difficulties related to the economic downturn in 2016 will affect next year, the president stated, unless three “permanent and decisive” objectives are met: guaranteeing exports and working immediately to create the conditions to increase them in successive years; identifying the possibilities in the national production and substituting any level of imports; and reducing possible non-essential expenses, among which he indicated trips abroad by the cadres and leaders at different levels.

“We will have a definitive solution to these traditional deficits if we produce more goods and services, both internally and externally, and reduce expenses as much as possible,” said Cabrisas. But the proposed solutions revolve around the usual jingle of the last decades which is never fulfilled, such as the one that proposes the substitution of imports based on the development of national productions “with a well-designed program” encompassing the entire national industry, including the military, or a “greater requirement of the efficient use of carriers to avoid purloining and theft,” in addition to increased controls in this area.

The Cuban president said that he attaches “great importance to the need to boost foreign investment in Cuba” as an essential road for the country’s economic development. However, he made it clear that there are forces opposing this solution, which are blocking this inflow: “I recognize that we are not satisfied in this area and that excessive delays in the negotiation process have been frequent. We need to overcome, once and for all, the obsolete mentality of prejudices against foreign investment and, to resolutely make strides in this direction, we must shed false fears towards foreign capital.”

The report by the Minister of the Economy detailed an opaque and unpromising scenario for now and for the future, because of “the persistence of existing financial constraints due to the non-fulfillment of export earnings, the difficulties faced by some of our main partners due to the fall in oil prices, and by the commercial and financial blockade, strengthened by large fines to international banks that transact business with our country.”

While figures on investments and imports are expressed in dollars, the State’s income and budget -including so-called subsidies and other social benefits -are expressed in CUP

In general, the budget plans for 2017 are similar to those of 2016, except for lower fuel imports, which should stimulate the growth of electric power generation from better utilization of the national capabilities.

One confusing aspect is that, while figures on investments and imports are expressed in dollars, the State’s income and budget – including so-called subsidies and other social benefits – are expressed in Cuban pesos (CUP, that is the “national currency”). This creates a distortion that masks the actual amount of profits and expenses.

For instance, it is stated that the State proposes to invest $1,750,200,000 in food for the population ($82,000 more than in 2016), although total imports in physical terms are similar to 2016. However, we do not know the total amount of foreign exchange revenues generated mainly from tourism, a sector that is controlled by the generalship.

The official reports remain mysteriously silent on this subject. Something similar happens with the issue of monetary duality, an insoluble distortion pending a solution and not mentioned among the great problems that hinder foreign investment in Cuba.

Another problem of the domestic economy during 2016 was the positive reaction of agricultural production, but the industry was unable to respond to production, thus affecting the high level of imports to meet the demand of the population. This is a situation that the Government will try to reverse in the 2017 plans through an “accelerated medium-term program to recover this industry and enable it to respond to both domestic consumption and visitors.”

Another problem of the domestic economy during 2016 was the positive reaction of agricultural production, but the industry was unable to respond to production

The transportation sector is another old and pressing problem, although it is officially acknowledged that “it is strategic for any of the branches of social and economic development of the country”, therefore, its boost is projected for 2017.

In this sense, the State proposes 3% growth compared to 2016, guaranteeing the essential services of national bus companies, transportation for workers and for school children, as well as taxi and cooperative services, in addition for guaranteeing necessary fuel “for buses manufactured in 2017”.

An interesting note was the Minister of the Economy’s reference to maintaining “the current production capacity of bicycles and spare parts” as well as the importation of tires. In the present circumstances, the mere mention of producing bicycles casts over the Cuban population the lugubrious and counterproductive memory of the hardest years of the Special Period.

Other figures for the 2017 plans were the program of 9,700 homes and the start and development of an additional 4,890, similar indicators to those in 2016, which were not met. This program will prioritize the homes affected by Hurricane Matthew in Guantánamo and “those affected by previous hurricanes in Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba”.

But the most serious problem is that the solution to our economic ills, foreign investment, remains extremely low at just 6.5% of the plan. In other words, the provisions of Guideline 78, which gives an essential role to this investment, are not fulfilled. Cabrisas stated: “These projects need to be energized,” starting with making a list of investment projects for development that will guarantee the economic development plan until 2030, “concentrating the efforts in strategic and prioritized sectors.”

Thus, 2017 investment takes into consideration supporting priority tourism programs in Havana, Varadero, the Northern Keys, Holguín and in the infrastructures of the Special Development Zone of Mariel (ZEDM) or fuel storage, among others. Measures have also been developed to increase salary systems in the development of tourism and ZEDM sectors.

2017 investment takes into consideration supporting priority tourism programs and in the infrastructures of the Special Development Zone of Mariel (ZEDM) or fuel storage

An increase in the income levels of the population and the absorption capacity of the State is projected in the plans. Productivity will grow by 6.6% and the average wage by 3.5%. To accomplish this, it is essential to avoid payments without productive results, the consistence between the indicators, and taking into account added value, in order to avoid monetary imbalance.

The preliminary draft of the 2017 budget foresees revenue growth of 1.525 million pesos, mainly from taxes on profits, an investment of the state enterprise sector with 6.330 million pesos in increase in expenses with respect to 2016, and an 11. 454 million fiscal deficit, 12% of the GDP.

The report of the Finance and Prices Minister, Lina Peraza, did not offer much detail, other than that of the Minister of the Economy. It seems that the “solution” for the Cuban economy has been reduced to a simple list of elementary considerations, such as deepening the country’s financial obligations, assessing the impact on credit levels, guaranteeing exports and substituting imports, making progress on foreign investment projects, increasing controls in the use and pilfering by energy carriers and stopping the decreasing trends in production, among others. These are about the same solutions as in previous years.

“The plan we are presenting to this Assembly is tense, (…) but we believe we can meet it,” Cabrisas said. “The above calls for willpower, decision, organization, discipline and attention prioritized to all these matters” especially by those responsible for enforcing them.

Apparently, the Cuban economy’s “solution” is reduced to the same solutions as in previous years.

It has been a redundant day to announce the dark clouds that hang over an unborn 2017, a somber gloomy Parliament on a somber Island. No one expected an economic miracle, but perhaps the most candid were trying to picture see some sign of change. For the time being, everything indicates that Cuba is on its leaderless way, tottering towards some enigmatic horizon.

Curiously, the greatest novelties now are what’s missing: this is the first session of Parliament without the shadow of a Fidel Castro -not sufficiently alive or completely dead -vigilant and omniscient; there was no Council of Ministers prior to the sessions, so that the last one, held on July 25 of this year, was referred to; the full plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) was not held, and the former Minister of the Economy, Mr. Marino Murillo, who accompanied the “Raúl reforms” for a long time, was not seen at the sessions.

What these signals might mean would be material for another analysis.

Translated by Norma Whiting

So Did Havana Go Back To Laughing, Singing, Dancing? / Iván García

Acosta Danza company, directed by the Cuban, Carlos Acosta – See details below (Source Ana León from Cubanet)

Iván García, 13 December 2016 — The heat returned to the city along with the Reggaeton, the bustle and the alcohol. There’s nothing that bothers Danay, 26 years old, more than the drops of sweat running down her cheeks, mixed with the unbearable smell of kerosene of the old cars used as taxis in Havana, and the scandalous Reggaeton of Micha booming in her ears.

“Turn yourself around, tight and on your toes,” echoes the husky voice of Micha, an ex-slum dweller converted into a singer, coming from the audio equipment of Luis Alberto, 56, a self-employed taxi driver who drives a hybrid racing car 12 hours a day. It has a 1948 Chevrolet body, a German Mercedes Benz motor, a Japanese band-brake and a South Korean Hyundai gear box. Continue reading “So Did Havana Go Back To Laughing, Singing, Dancing? / Iván García”

“I really missed the noise and the sandunga (a type of dance) of Cubans. Those nine days of mourning made Havana into one big funeral parlor. A magic trick. Rum wasn’t being sold, and if they saw you drinking a beer, you were pigeon-holed as a counterrevolutionary,” says Luis Alberto, while he tries to swerve around the collection of potholes on the streets of the capital.

Of the five passengers, no one mentions Fidel Castro. Nor the national mourning. Zulema says she got some bags of chicken at 24 fulas (Cuban Convertible pesos/dollars) each in a market at Carlos III and tells how she rations them out to her family.

“If I put them in the freezer, my children and my husband, who eat like pigs, will devour them in a week. I put five pieces of chicken in a little container inside the fridge. I keep the rest in a freezer under lock and key,” she explains to the passenger at her side, a sporty-looking black man who rides with his head shrunken into the back of the car and only knows how to nod, without commenting.

A young man with a bizarre hairstyle is living in another dimension. He listens to Jay Z with wireless headphones at elevated decibels. He doesn’t participate in the daily debate of the habaneros about the lack of money, food and a future.

He only looks out the car window and occasionally wipes the screen of his shiny Samsung Galaxy 7 with a cloth. Twenty minutes into the trip, Danay explodes.

The heat, the drops of sweat that are spoiling her makeup, the Reggaeton at high volume and the driver’s cigarette smoke, one cigarette after the other, like Marlon Brando in the Godfather saga, have gotten to her: “Please, can you turn down that music and stop smoking?”

The taxi driver looks are her like she’s an extra-terrestrial and answers, “Baby, although it doesn’t look like it, the car is mine. If you’re in a bad mood, you can get out. I bet anything that your boyfriend has left you,” and everybody laughs.

I’m left with this image. The laughing. In the last nine days, just to smile was suspicious. The habaneros were walking around like zombies, solemn and crestfallen.

When people talked about Fidel Castro, they threw out that automatic reproduction that many Cubans carry inside: “The greatest statesman of the twentieth century, the undefeated comandante, the man who escaped more than 600 attempts on his life by the CIA.” Something in that style. The commentaries were replicas of the official jargon.

People drank rum on the sly, the noise died down and a silence that brought more fear than calm spread throughout the whole city. Those who liked to tell tales about Pepito — the little boy who stars in so many Cuban jokes — in the corners, where Fidel Castro was the center of the joke, postponed the pleasantry until new notice.

The private bars sold only soft drinks, malt, fruit shakes and hamburgers. Neither mojitos nor wine. “You’re crazy, brother, if you think I’ll let the inspectors take away my license,” whispers the bar owner to a client. But before closing, he looks from one side to the other, and to those who remain in the bar he offers of drink of aged rum: “This is on the house, so you can celebrate what you want to celebrate.”

And so Fidel Castro’s death suddenly switched off the local customs, the proclamations in the street and that juicy and casual language of the Cubans. But Cuba is a game of mirrors.

Below ground they were betting on the numbers game and playing cards or baccarat in the clandestine casinos known as burles. The hookers worked exclusively door-to-door.

“In those nine days of national mourning it wasn’t wise to prowl around the outskirts of the private bars and discotheques,” says Zaida, who on Monday returned “to the fire.” “The clients were hungry. The mourning ended at 12 midnight on Sunday the 4th, and right away I began to have requests. Because the men were tense.”

Twenty-four hours after Fidel Castro’s ashes were placed by his brother, Raúl, inside an enormous rock that supposedly was brought from the Sierra Maestra to the Santiago cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, 900 kilometers from Havana, the chatting and the noise returned to the capital, and the drunks came back to uncork their bottles.

And the Reggaeton at high volume couldn’t be far behind.

Diarío Las Américas, December 9, 2016

Photo: Once the nine days of official mourning for Fidel Castro’s death was over, the habaneros not only went back to laughing, singing, dancing and making jokes, they also resumed their cultural life. On the night of December 7, many attended the Gran Teatro de La Habana to enjoy the premiere of four works from the Acosta Danza company, directed by the Cuban, Carlos Acosta, who, in addition to the National Ballet of Cuba, has been a dancer in the Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theater and The Royal Ballet, among other important companies. One of the works premiered that night, taken by Ana León, from Cubanet.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Ileana de la Guardia: "Castro Executed My Father Because of Rivalry" / Juan Juan Almeida

Ileana de la Guardia

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 December 2016 — Twenty-seven years after Cause Number 1, the judicial proceedings that resulted in the deaths by firing squad and arrests of several high officials of the Cuban army and secret services, Ileana de la Guardia–daughter of the then-colonel of State Security of the Havana regime–believes that the decision to execute her father was made by the Cuban dictator to teach a lesson.

According to De La Guardia, who lives under asylum in France, Castro did not accept the critiques that her father and others, such as the general Arnaldo Ochoa–also executed–made regarding the need for changes in the country. She affirmed that the deaths of her father, Ochoa, and two other officials served as a way to cast the blame on them for the charge by United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that Cuba was involved in international drug trafficking.

Ileana de la Guardia with her father.

Until the time of your father’s trial, who was Ileana de la Guardia, how did you learn of the trial, how did you experience it?

At that time I was living in Cuba, had finished my university studies, and was a psychologist. I learned of the seizures of my father and my uncle, Patricio de la Guardia, on the same day. We did not know where they were nor what the charges were. Eventually, we learned that they were being held at Villa Marista [Central Offices of Cuban State Security], and we went there. Upon arriving we were told that they were being detained, that they were not arrested, that we had to leave, and that nobody could tell us what the charges were. This is how justice works in Cuba–“justice” in quotation marks, that is, because it is not justice. Continue reading “Ileana de la Guardia: "Castro Executed My Father Because of Rivalry" / Juan Juan Almeida”

A week went by, and I was given the authorization to see my father. I asked him if he knew what he was being accused of and he told me no. I also asked him if he would be tried, and he said he didn’t know. That same day in the evening, when I arrived at my grandparents’ house, I learned from a phone call that I was required to appear in the auditorium of the Armed Forces (FAR) the next day because that was where the hearing would take place.

Imagine receiving this news without them having the right to have their lawyers present. The lawyers who were there were “public” defenders. The one assigned to my father told me that he was ashamed to represent him. The one for Patricio told us that he had not had time to read the file and did not really know how to defend “that gentleman.”

That was when we knew that they were all lawyers with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). Before starting the proceedings, before trying them, Granma newspaper ran headlines announcing the death penalty. The front page said, “we will cleanse with blood this offense to the fatherland.” It was clear that the decision to execute them had already been made.

The trial was a kind of circus in which all were accused or accused themselves. Later we learned that they had been blackmailed, that they had to incriminate themselves to escape the death penalty–and to protect their families–there was a lot of blackmail with regard to the families. Thus the trial went until the end.

Our family wanted to appeal, but we were denied. Later, the Council of State, fully and unanimously, came down in favor of execution. They were executed exactly one month after being arrested: General Arnaldo Ochoa; Martínez, the assistant; my father, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia; and his assistant, Amado Padrón.

The memory of that trial brings back images of confusion and much division within the high military command. How do you remember it, and what were the repercussions for you, your family?

The consequence for our family was being watched all the time. There were always cars parked near where we lived, and when we went out, these cars would follow us with officials inside them who would watch us. There were also cameras filming us from the houses across the street from ours.

The de la Guardia brothers were twins.

Your father, as well as Patricio (the brother of your father, Antonio de la Guardia), and General Arnaldo Ochoa were well-known and admired men. Throughout that trial, what happened with their friends?

I could not say that all the friends stopped seeing us; I believe some people were afraid, others were not. I maintained relationships with many people who continued coming to see us. I know that many people were let go from the MININT, many officials, a high percentage. That ministry was taken over by Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, who up until that moment was in the FAR. There was a takeover of the Interior Ministry by military officials.

What information do you have about the real reason that your father and the other defendants in Cause Number 1 of 1989 were executed?

From the beginning, I knew immediately that the charges against Ochoa and Patricio, who were in Africa, were trumped up. All of them were charged with drug trafficking, which made no sense. If they were working in Africa throughout so many years, directing the Cuban troops in Africa, how were they going to be accused of something that they couldn’t control? If drug trafficking was going on, and the ships were docking in Cuba, it was happening while these men were in Africa.

Later we realized that Raúl Castro, in a speech to the armed forces that was broadcast on television, had said, “those officials who are criticizing, let them go to Eastern Europe,” and then, “down with Ochoa.”

Then, connecting the dots, we realized that Ochoa and the group of officials around him criticized Fidel Castro and the regime a great deal because of the need for changes. This reached the ears of Fidel and Raúl because Ochoa had made sure to make it public, within the army and in family gatherings–besides telling them directly.

This is the fundamental reason why Fidel decided to eliminate these officials: because of the political aspect.

Meanwhile, the DEA was accusing Cuba of involvement in drug trafficking to the United States, and Castro found the perfect excuse to eliminate these military men while at the same time eliminate the DEA’s accusation of the Cuban government.

Prior to these events, what would you hear your father say about Fidel Castro?

As of 1986 or 87, there were very critical articles starting to appear in the press in Cuba, in the [Spanish-language Soviet] magazines Sputnik and Novedades de Moscú, which spoke of glasnost and about how Gorbachev was trying to make rapid changes.

People read these publications and these topics were discussed a great deal in my father’s house, we would speak of it on the patio. They thought the place might be bugged but they didn’t care.

The fact of being at a high level of command and knowing that the Soviets were already changing the system made them think that Fidel Castro would accept this. They thought that he couldn’t be so crazy as to oppose the changes. “He has to realize that this doesn’t work anymore, people must be given freedoms to express themselves, to travel, to have human rights”–they talked about all of this.

When I left Cuba–first to Mexico and later to Spain–it was very difficult to talk about this because we were still undocumented, we had no residency anywhere, no political asylum. It was in France, where we received support, including political asylum, where I decided to speak publicly. Articles started to come out, journalists started to investigate, and other facts emerged. We learned that there are officials in Russia who say that Ochoa met in private with Gorbachev in Cuba. Ochoa spoke Russian, there was nobody else present, Gorbachev wanted to speak only with Ochoa. Fidel could not stand this.

Ochoa never kept quiet about anything. One day, right in front of me at Patricio’s house, he said, “This has to change, it cannot go on this way, that man is insane, what are we going to do with the crazy man.”

In Cuba, it was always said that the writer Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and personal friend of Fidel Castro, tried to intercede so that they would not execute your father and Arnaldo Ochoa. Is this true?

What I know for sure, because my husband Jorge Masetti and I went to see him, is that we took García Márquez a letter from my grandmother, asking him to intervene so that these officials, including my father, would not be put to death.

He told us, “I will do everything possible, I believe that this is not a good idea, and I have tried to get across to Fidel Castro that it is not a good idea for him personally.” But I never had proof that he did this.

After the execution, did you ever see García Márquez again? Did he tell you anything about this matter?

No, never again. I was now the daughter of a traitor. García Márquez was a powerful man, friend to powerful men. After being executed, my father was no longer a powerful man, he was a victim.

Did you have the chance to speak with your father after the sentence and before the execution?

Yes, before the trial, then during the trial I had a visit, during which he gave me to understand that they asked him to take responsibility and then they would not execute him, but that there was blackmail regarding the family and also with his life, and if he did not say that [incriminate himself], they would execute him.

And they did execute him. During the visit prior to the execution, which was very personal, he said, “things are going to get bad, but very bad, in this country.” Later came the “Special Period [grave economic crisis].” He knew what was awaiting Cuba.

Have you had any further news of your uncle Patricio, where he’s living? Does the government provide him with any retirement pension?

I cannot speak about this very much because it is a bit sensitive. What I can say is that he paints, because they [Antonio and Patricio de la Guardia] were painters before being military men, and they studied at an art school in the United States. He paints very well. He lives in the family home, it is not a house given to him by the Cuban state. Our family had properties before 1959. I don’t speak much about him these days, because if I say where he is or if I say too much, they will throw him in jail again.

Do you have contact with the family of General Ochoa or any of the other executed officers?

No, none.

In 2006, because of illness, Fidel Castro gave over the command of the country to his brother, Raúl. The day after this announcement, I entered the cafeteria of the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, ran into one of the daughters of General Ochoa, and she told me, “I don’t want him to die, I want Fidel to suffer at least the half of what my family has suffered.” What did you feel at that time, when you heard this announcement, and what was your reaction when you found out that Fidel Castro had died?

At first, I didn’t believe it. When they called me from the US and my husband answered the telephone, I said to him, “He died again? I want to continue sleeping, leave me in peace.” Later when I got up and realized that it was true, it was like a sense of relief.

My husband asked me, what do you feel? I told him an enormous relief. The matter is that for me, it’s as if I had died spiritually. Besides, I already knew that he was ill and that he had lost his senses somewhat, given the things he would say. For me, he was like a shadow, a ghost. But that sense of relief was also because that symbol of the repression is no more, he doesn’t exist.

Does the death of Fidel Castro modify or change what 13 July 1989, means to you and your family?

To a certain point, I will tell you that for me, it is a relief that the one responsible, who decided the death of my father, has died, and in a certain way it gives me joy, I must admit. I cannot say that the death of him who ordered my father to be executed makes me sad, that would be absurd. That would be hypocrisy.

What does Raúl Castro mean to you?

For me, Raúl Castro represents the continuation of the system, with certain attributes different from those of his brother. They are two different people and have different command styles. The two have that ideologically dogmatic aspect, but perhaps Raúl is a bit more pragmatic, thus the changes that have been made on the economic level.

This is why I have been in favor of Obama’s visit, the opening of tourism, and of certain exchanges because it is the Cuban people who will benefit from this. Unfortunately, the regime takes advantage of this situation, but so does the average Cuban, those who have been able to start a business derive benefit and thus are able to help their families and other Cubans. And it is better than nothing, the problem is that it is not enough.

The country will not change until there are real political changes.

After the execution of your father, have you talked with or run into any of the children of Fidel or Raúl? If this were to happen, what would you say to them?

No, never, no. I didn’t know them. I never went anyplace where the children of Fidel Castro might be. I did meet two of Raúl’s daughters, but they were not friends of mine, we ran into each other somewhere. Mariela also studied psychology, so one time we coincided in some place.

How do you see Cuba’s immediate future?

In the short run, as things are now, the growth of tourism and Cubans surviving. This is what for now the government wants so as to not have social conflicts with the people because of the difficult economic situation.

At the political level, they are demonstrating that if they have to repress people for taking to the streets, for writing certain things in the blogs, they will do so. They will try to maintain control that way. We will have to wait and see if they realize that a country cannot develop without liberty.

Your family, like many others, is scattered around the world. Do you think that you will ever reunite again in Cuba?

I don’t know, the truth is that this is very difficult to answer. Seeing how things are, knowing that Raúl Castro has placed his children and relatives into the most important sectors of the country, taking control of the country with a view towards the future. Truly, I cannot give you a yes or no answer if I do not know what will happen. It would have to be a situation that would allow the return to a place with certain guarantees of justice and legality.

Would you delay, then, being able to give your uncle Patricio a hug?

For now, it will be delayed, if they don’t make changes and accept that one can go there having different opinions, which I have stated publicly outside. I don’t believe that I can go.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Pagan, A Very Bad Man With a Cuban Ministry of the Interior ID / Luis Felipe Rojas

Police raid the home that serves as UNPACU headquarters in Santiago de Cuba on Sunday, December 18. Photo: @patriotaliu

Luis Felipe Rojas, 20 December 2016 — Today I am going to tell you something you absolutely are not going to believe. But I don’t care, the military dictatorship violates human rights in cold blood and many don’t even want to know. Great is the fool who defends them.

The brothers Geordanis and Adael Muñoz Guerrero are two activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), an opposition organization located mainly in Santiago de Cuba. The Muñoz brothers were convicted of contravention: they didn’t pay the 24,000 peso fines imposed on them when they appeared with anti-Castro signs in their neighborhood of Rancho Grande, Palma Soriano, where they live.

Geordanis’s wife told me on the Radio Marti program Contacto Cuba (Minute 12:43), what happened to them on 3 November, when they were both in prison in Aguadores. An official from State Security named Dainier Suarez Pagan came to them. He ordered Geordanis handcuffed behind his back, took him down from Detachment 1, and he himself gave him a hard beating. Continue reading “Pagan, A Very Bad Man With a Cuban Ministry of the Interior ID / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Yenisei Jiménez told me herself, her voice breaking, because she became furious telling about the abuse.

On 9 September 2015 these activists tried to go to the Shrine of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. On the way they were detained by the police, civil officials and members of the Rapid Response Brigades — ’ordinary’ citizens who supposedly rise up spontaneously to repress their fellow citizens — and they saw them in an unusual way.

Pagán, the bad man who beats women and men in Santiago de Cuba, took charge of the humiliation. He undressed Geordanis and beat him with a rubber cane and told him if he wanted he could put it on the social networks. As this young regime opponent is not ashamed of being martyred for the freedom of his homeland, he let a photo be taken of his bruised buttocks and handed it over to Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU’s leader and former prisoner of the Cause of 75 from the Black Spring of 2003) and he posted it on his Twitter account.

Geordanis Muñoz was beaten by the G2 (State Security) agent Dainier Suarez Pagán who told him he could put a photo on the social networks.

The Muñoz Guerrero brothers were sentenced to prison in October for 6 months (Adael) and one year (Geordanis).

Geordanis Muñoz Guerrero leads the “Pedro Meurice Estiú” cell in Palma Soriano and had twice gone to Argentina invited by the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL). He participated in workshops on Human Rights and ’nonviolent’ struggle, put on by the young Serb Srdja Popovic, leader of the OTPOR movement.

There is more. Both brothers were fined again, but this time — you won’t believe it — inside the prison. They were fined 2,000 pesos because Geordanis sent a note outside about the bad conditions suffered by common inmates in the prison.

What will the hundreds of Cuban attorneys who know that a G2 official violates all the protocols of Prison Control, Prison Security, Internal Order, Reeducation and sees and mistreats his victims in cold blood do about it?

When are Cuban lawyers, with their law degrees, going to get off the fence?

The henchman Dainier Suárez Pagán is a particularly bad man. He has beaten dozens of opponents throughout the province of Santiago de Cuba. The little that is known of him is that he has the rank of first official (that is, Major or Lieutenant Colonel) and that he comes from the town of San Luis.

Ferrer wrote to the Cuban bishops, hoping to hear, but he has had no response. He did this on 11 September 2015 and started his letter in an elegant way: “Respectable Pastors: (…)” but the prelates turned a blind eye.

Ferrer, who denounces every injustice that happens to his activists, included this paragraph in the letter: “… In those hills (known as” La Tanqueta”), political police agent Dainier Suárez Pagán, with his subordinates, has beaten, injured and harassed more than a dozen activists. They have been stripped and forced, with pistols placed against the heads of these victims, to assume humiliating positions while they threaten to rape them sexually. They have also brought the flame of a match to their chin to force them to shout against their own organization while filming them with a mobile phone.”

Each bishop to his bishopric, all are silent. And the soldiers beat Cubans.

Translated by Enrique

Rice Might Be In Short Supply This Festive Season / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 December 2016  — Sad, paradoxical and irresponsible — but real. Rice, the common denominator, and basic ingredient, of Cuban cuisine, could be almost absent from the island’s tables at the end of the year.

The official press has already started its plan of offering free publicity for the dinner parties which will be celebrated the coming 24th and 31st of December and January 1st in cinemas, cultural centres, social circles and theatres on the island.

The idea, as they explain it, is to guarantee family enjoyment and dining during the Christmas period and, fundamentally, for the coming of the 58th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Continue reading “Rice Might Be In Short Supply This Festive Season / Juan Juan Almeida”

For that reason, they have doubled the work schedules for catering units and restaurants belonging to the government commercial chain.  They will arrange exceptional supplies to livestock markets and local market places, and they are  planning the sale of foodstuffs, from a variety of crops to different types of meat. But … is there the productive support to achieve this aim? As far as rice is concerned, no.

One of the directors of the agro-industrial company “Fernando Echenique Urquiza” made the point, in the national press, that, although in 2016 the production of rice was much higher than in previous years, he could not get hold of a good supply.

The government official blamed the problem on the early maturing of the crop, but another worker in the sector proposed other explanations:

“During the rainy season, we had a lot of rain, which helped the crops”, was the rice expert’s explicit and clear explanation.

“It’s true that it was ready early, but there are other factors which also have a negative effect, and not only in this harvest” he said.

“The country has developed an important investment programme to increase rice production nationally.  Agreements have been signed authorising credits from the Import Export Bank of China (EXIM) for the purchase of medium and high-powered YTO tractors, and financial arrangements for the promotion of the national rice-growing agro-industry. We are setting up new irrigation systems, repairing dryers and mills. Modern seed-processing factories have been built and advanced equipment and technology has been purchased.

“But we still cannot depend on a sufficient fleet of vehicles to transport the product from the farm to the dryers, and to the stores, let alone to the markets. Nor do we have enough combine harvesters. And the dryers both here in Mayabeque province, and nationally, do not have the capacity to deal with a good harvest. And all of that is without taking into account the ridiculous price paid to the farmers for the demanding task of producing the grain which is irreplaceable in Cuban cooking”, said the expert.

As a last resort, the government has had to make up for negligence and inefficient production with last-minute imports, taking a hit with the purchase price, which, in turn, has a clear impact, especially at this time of year, on your average Cuban table.

Nevertheless, in spite of all these difficulties, for all Cubans, this is a Christmas to celebrate.

Translated by GH

No Right to Breakfast / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Bread rolls in a Cuban ration market bakery

Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, Havana, December 12, 2016 – When in 2006 Raul Castro took power, one of the first things he said was that he would give a glass of milk a day to every Cuban. He knew very well the importance that the people gave to the strong tradition of having breakfast with coffee with milk and a piece of bread with butter. Even during the years of the Republic years it was within reach of the poorest in any cantina, inn, kiosk, or cafeteria.

Starting in 1991, with the collapse of Soviet communism, Cubans’ breakfast disappeared. In this way, Fidel’s permanent teaching failed, when he had said: “Yes we can.” Continue reading “No Right to Breakfast / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro”

It was simply not possible for dairy industry to supply enough milk, although in a speech in December 1966 Fidel predicted that he would fill Havana Bay with milk because “in 1970 the island will have 5,000 experts in the livestock industry and around 8 million cows and calves, good milk producers.”

A little history

The Cuban dairy industry began its great development in 1927, under the government of Gerardo Machado. A few years later, when our population was 6 million, the island had one head of cattle per person and the price of meat was one of the lowest in Latin America. Cuba’s annual milk production was 1,014 million quarts, equivalent to 157 quarts per person per year.

Canned condensed milk and packaged skimmed milk.

According to economic data of those years, and as we Cubans of the third age remember it, in Cuba an excellent butter was produced, as well as good cheese, condensed, evaporated or powdered milk, and a quart of fresh milk could be acquired daily And at modest prices, thanks to private companies and modern factories, which disappeared practically at the beginning of the Castro dictatorship, when in 1960 Che Guevara was appointed Minister of Industry.

What the future says 

Just a few hours ago, on the occasion of the visit of a senior Russian leader, General Raúl Castro offered great news: The government of Russia would participate in the island’s economy! ¡Madre mía! I hope it’s not so that they will again send us Russian canned meats swimming in water instead the meat of good native cattle.

The future of the domestic industry, especially of food products, is uncertain. It is an industry that is unable to participate actively in resolving the country’s shortcomings. One of its problems, Commander Ramiro Valdés said recently, is the exodus and the lack of discipline of the workers and, above all, the bad technological and risky conditions in plants and factories.

Just to give one example, in 2014, a factory, the only one of its kind for dairy products, began operating in Ciego de Avila at a cost of 800 thousand pesos in hard currency. Its commercial director, Pérez de Corcho, informed the newspaper Granma in February 2015 that: “The factory does not work at full capacity because for months there has been low milk production in the territory, even though what is produced was destined for the tourist-focused cities of Jardines del Rey, Venezuela and Ciego de Avila.”

The current reality 

Today, even with all the juggling they do, Cubans cannot have breakfast. In order for a family consisting of couple and two children, for example, to be able to afford their daily breakfast, they would have to have about 50 Cuban Convertible pesos per month, equivalent to more than one thousand Cuban pesos, in a country where the average wage of a worker does not exceed four hundred pesos in national currency. (That is, two-and-a-half monthly salaries, just for breakfast.)

Ready to serve chicken with sauce.

This is because the imported products — milk, coffee and butter — come from very distant countries, although they can also be seen in Latin America, with the exception of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, from where we get no foods, neither expensive nor cheap.

The privilege of having breakfast is enjoyed only by Cubans who receive family remittances, principally from the United States, so they can buy things in Cuban Convertible pesos. The ordinary Cuban, which is almost everyone, has irretrievably lost this right.

Our food industry, we are faced with an irrefutable truth, thanks to Cuban communism has gone to hell in a handbasket.

 Translated by Jim

Donald Trump and Raul Castro / Dimas Castellano

(Ilustration: Giovanni Tazza)

Dimas Castellano, 29 November 2016 — The great majority of Cubans were surprised by Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Surveys in other countries, and the official Cuban press, labelling Hillary Clinton as the favourite, created false expectations.

Since the results have become known, all sorts of opinions have been put forward. Some believe that Trump is a dangerous man, who will damage things, others that he will demand more from Havana, and they are happy about that, and many are worried that there will be a setback to relations and regret his triumph, while a majority are unhappy with the official press campaign against president Barack Obama’s policy.

What almost everyone is agreed upon is the poor state in which Cuba finds itself, and the need to emigrate. Continue reading “Donald Trump and Raul Castro / Dimas Castellano”

Going back on the established improvements in relations will be extremely difficult. Why is that? Because of the division of public authorities, the existence of a diversity of interest groups, and its institutionalisation in the United States.

The president could limit or eliminate some things, but not everything, because that would imply affecting North American interests. Quite simply, electoral populism is one thing, and presiding over an institutionalised country is quite another.

Even supposing that Trump really could be a threat to the improved relations with Cuba which Barack Obama managed to achieve — in my opinion the most important political act in the last half century in Cuba — the biggest danger of sliding backwards up to now has been, and still is, the Cuban side of things.

Nationalisation, centralised planning, and the absence of liberties, are among the principal causes of the permanent crisis in which Cuba finds itself. The Obama administration’s policy offered an opportunity for change, which was missed by the Cuban side.

Therefore, whatever risk the Trump administration might represent would be less than the negative influence of the Cuban government, trapped in an insoluble contradiction between changing and at the same time preserving power.

Fidel Castro’s thesis that “Cuba already changed, in 1959,” produced a more pragmatic vision than General Raúl Castro’s one of “changing some things to hold onto power.” Nevertheless, the measures implemented to that end have not brought about the desired result, because of a conflict of powers. Instead, they have revealed the unviability of the economic and social model and the depth of the crisis.

The series of measures enacted by the White House have, among other things, led to increased tourism and remittances sent to families, the first cruise ship has arrived, flights have restarted, agreements reached with American telecommunication companies, negotiations with other countries and restructuring of external debts. Meanwhile the Presidential Decision Directive of last November was aimed at rendering irreversible the advances achieved.

If those measures have not produced a better outcome, it is because the obstacles in the path of production and the absence of civil liberties in Cuba have prevented it. For that reason, changes are dependent on the Cuban authorities, rather than on Trump. To tackle these changes now, albeit very late, would neutralise any intention by Trump to set things back.

Bearing in mind that the suspension of the embargo is the prerogative of the United States Congress, what is needed now, after the “physical disappearance” of Fidel Castro, is to get on with a comprehensive structural reform, like that carried out by the Vietnamese, who, having abandoned centralised planning and adopted a market economy, have positioned themselves as the 28th largest exporter in the world.

Taken from: El Comercio, Peru

Translated by GH