The Last Days of That Amorphous Thing Called “The Masses” / Cubanet, Rafael Alcides

Young Cubans marching in a government sponsored "protest"

Young Cubans marching in a government sponsored protest against the United States

  • Whatever the Cuban government does, that amorphous thing with no head or eyes, that they call “the masses,” is in its final days. And with it are also ending the repudiation rallies, detentions, physical attacks on the Ladies in White, and other forms of repression.

Cubanet, Rafael Alcides, Havana, 29 January 2015 — In the first elections of Cuban socialism, an old Communist leader would call the voters from his neighborhood and would instruct them which candidate they should vote for. I, being a provocateur and also a friend of his, told him, “Didn’t we agree to let the masses decide?” He replied to me, with a complicit irony while stopping the next voter in order to instruct him, “Yes, but we need to orient them.”

I say complicit irony, because that leader understood that I, by that time, should have known all too well that the trappings of democracy are a farce in socialism, mere props. Being, after all, totalitarian, one thing the Socialist State fears is that the citizenry – “the masses” as those who “orient” them call it – could think for itself.

From there proceeds the State’s lifelong fear of the artist, the intellectual – even of those whom it pretends to honor with its paper roses – and its fear of the individual, of the loner. In Cuba, the State – the better to keep an eye on him, and beyond that to convert him into one of “the masses” – made the peasant a member of a cooperative, he who had been granted two plots of land, and whenever possible made him live in housing developments where the units were joined window to window, allowing the residents to watch and overhear each other at good advantage.

Clearly, this fear had to be hidden. Taking advantage of the political circumstances of the moment (we’re talking of the months following the Bay of Pigs), the “Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing”* pills were quickly manufactured, which had a certain flavor of patriotism on the outside, and much Soviet medicine on the inside.

Even though they appear to have been produced for use by the intellectuals, these pills have been a daily dose administered to the masses. We observe them when, arguing that “the enemy** is listening,” Cubans are prohibited to speak unless it is to praise the Revolution. Or when, without consulting the people, the government declares wars in which the country will participate with tens of thousands of men. Or when, as right now, the government makes peace with the “enemy” of just a minute ago, according to the surprising announcement by Raúl this past December 17.

All right, now. Following this announcement, which the people have greeted with emotion, these pills have lost their potency. Or, we must re-think this. Besides, logic and the reasoning of the Socialist State tend to not coincide. The foreign press continues mentioning (while the national press doesn’t discuss it) new detentions, operatives stationed outside residences, all with the object of preventing the opposition from attending anti-establishment events, and reporting names of dissidents whose passports have been confiscated or not renewed – who rightfully fear being returned to their former condition of “prisoners at large.”

But, why? When, after all, ‘round about two years ago, they were allowed to travel outside the country, and the government did not collapse. So, then, why this regression? And besides, why now, at this moment, when the hackneyed and same old song about the “plaza besieged” can no longer be invoked?

We are not so Hellenic, although anything can happen in a government full of secrets.

In any case, let the government do what it will now, that amorphous thing with no head or eyes, which the government leaders privately call “the masses,” is in its final days. And with it are also ending the repudiation rallies, detentions, physical attacks on the Ladies in White, and all manner of repression that has up to today been the government’s common practice.

Because, with the ratification of the United Nations Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – without which as a precondition for the agreements announced on December 17, 2014, Obama would have become a super-generous Santa Claus to Raúl Castro – the dissidents will, finally, enter into possession of the rights that will allow them to dedicate themselves, without government interference, to the formation of political parties, societies, professional schools and institutions, all essential to a democratic civil society. Why? Because in those little pills that are the Covenants — and the reason the government has not wanted to ratify them — is contained all that is necessary to articulate a democracy wherein the citizen can enter an electoral college and vote with decency, without anybody “orienting” him.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

* Translator’s note: A line from Fidel Castro’s so-called “Speech to the Intellectuals,” delivered in June 1961.

** Translator’s note: The “enemy” is a common epithet used by the Castro government and its supporters to refer to the United States.

The official press: “Made to conceal, not to publicize” / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

A joke making the rounds: Napoleon said, “With Granma, nobody would have found out about my defeat at Waterloo:” (Photos: Internet)

A joke making the rounds: Napoleon said, “With Granma, nobody would have found out about my defeat at Waterloo:” (Photos: Internet)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 26 January 2015 – “Cubans are seeking a new conception of the press within socialism. All that can be predicted, without a doubt, is that it will be a democratic press, lively and original,” wrote Gabriel García Márquez in 1975.

That Gabo — always so unreal, so optimistic when it came to opining about his friend Fidel Castro’s Revolution. Such a quest does not show signs of obtaining results in any near future. It is easier to imagine the ascension into the heaven above Macondo of Remedios the Beautiful with a band of yellow butterflies*, than to reap, within olive-green socialism, a journalism free of shackles, sparkling, with bubbles that the Genius of Aracataca** would foresee 36 years ago.

Even Gabo himself had to admit that the Cuban press “seemed to be made more to conceal than to publicize.”

Another brilliant writer, who could never be said to be complicit with the enemies of the Revolution – the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano – was more precise in describing the Cuban press when he said that “it seems to be from another planet.”

The official Cuban press, which manipulates, distorts, enshrouds and when it speaks truths, does so only halfway, only as far as is convenient, has nothing to do with the real Cuba. It seems to speak of another country, a virtual one, where everything functions in a manner quite distinct from how it is in reality.

Fidel: Omnipresent in the official Cuban press

Fidel: Omnipresent in the official Cuban press

In recent years there has been much talk about the need to create a credible journalism, one more analytical and critical. The task turns out to be a chimerical one. The press is forced into being the concubine of Power. They endowed it with the chastity belt of “informative politics.” Journalists are “ideological workers,” forced to constantly reiterate their loyalty to a stubborn and myopic regime which, as it racks up failures, divorces itself evermore from the interests of the people.

On repeated occasions, the “fearless leaders” have referred to “the need to reconcile the informative politics of the press with the interests of the country’s direction” and they have warned that “disagreements can be of form but never of principles,” because above all, “the defense of the Revolution” must take precedence.

Thus, official journalists find themselves confined to the sad role of mere propagandists and mouthpieces of worn slogans. Even those more honest among them, who can’t seem to hide their doubts and dissatisfaction, only go so far as the “danger” signal if they allow themselves to express any complaints during debates about informative politics. They all know how to have it both ways.

When, at the beginning of his mandate, General Raul Castro attended the VIII Congress of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), he said that some of the problems discussed were “older than Gutenberg.” But they are going to be resolved… and I say no more,” he said, smiling enigmatically. And he left everyone “in that.” Like halfway to an orgasm.

"To taste a better cup": What a farce! Cubans drink coffee mixed with ground-up dried peas.***

“To taste a better cup”: What a farce! Cubans drink coffee mixed with ground-up dried peas.

The years have passed and our problems have not been resolved. To the General-President’s exhortations and chidings to official journalists have now been added those of Vice-President Díaz Canel. The result: Nothing. The official media — except for issuing some occasional critique that goes no further than the medium levels of government — continue to be as irrationally exuberant and attached to the inertia of the sermon as ever.

The idyllic and bubbling journalism inside olive-green socialism of which Gabo dreamed, now almost four decades ago, has not materialized.

The bad news, as General Raúl Castro has warned on various occasions, is that we should expect neither miracles, nor magic.

Translator’s notes:

*Refers to Remedios La Bella (“Remedios the Beautiful”), a female character in García Márquez’ novel, “100 Years of Solitude,” who resides in the town of Macondo, and who one day ascends into heaven, body and soul. Remedios is in love with a man who is constantly surrounded by a band of yellow butterflies.

**Aracataca is the birthplace of García Márquez.

Related articles: Al Qaeda Coffee; Coffee with Roasted Peas; Out of Coffee.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian country, where these cyberspace activists receive “nothing but” jail for being “anti-government.”

The political scientist and essayist offered these observations last Wednesday at the Juan Marinello Center during the presentation about the book “From Confrontation to Efforts at ‘Normalization.’ The Policy of the United States towards Cuba,” by the publisher Social Sciences. One of the authors, Elier Ramirez, participated in the panel discussion held by the magazine.

Just reading its name, one deduces that the essay by Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales – co-author – reflects the offical Cuban position about the rapprochement between the Island and its “historical enemy.” The word “normalization” in its title appears in quotation marks because, among other reasons, “the United States has always understood normalization from the position of domination,” says Ramirez. “There is no change in its strategic objectives [basically, regime change in Cuba, but] a profound tactical adjustment” behind the negotiations between Washington and Havana, according to the author.

This work had already been released, at least once, during the presentation of the volume “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” written by U.S. researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. But then, last October, the political situation was very different from the current one.

During Wednesday’s presentation about the book, the comparison between Vietnam and Cuba emerged in the context of what Rafael Hernandez considers a double standard in U.S. foreign relations which criticizes Cuba on questions like freedom of expression while not doing the same to other countries. “How do you [the American government] demand from me [the Cuban government] what you do not demand of the Vietnamese who put bloggers in prison?” asked the researcher who is also a moderator of the space Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday).

Rafael Hernandez also referred to the case of the performance by Tania Bruguera last December 30. In order to justify the attitude of Cuban authorities, he gave as an example a hypothetical megaphone protest in front of the home of the British prime minister. “Before taking out the loudspeaker, they already told him off and got him out of there,” he said, referring to the imaginary protester. “What does that have to do with freedom of expression? What are we talking about?” he added, insisting on the supposed “double standard” of the western discourse with respect to that basic right.

Entering into a process of negotiations that both parties have deemed “historic,” one can no longer speak only of “a relationship between two governments” because now there is also “a relationship between two societies” declared Hernandez, who called for a realization that “there is a new game.”

The official analysts define this “game” as a “form of battle” for preserving the regime, different from all previous battles. This war, certainly is already taking place also in the symbolic realm where the most rancid nationalists have been contaminated by a certain foreign banality, especially American.

It is not strange that an official intellectual like Hernandez expresses himself thus about the rapprochement between the two countries. As far as his comparisons in matters of human rights, it is legitimate to ask what exactly the editor of Temas meant to say. There are three possible interpretations:

  1. Vietnam is a dictatorship.
  2. Cuban bloggers should be prisoners.
  3. We bloggers should feel grateful for the few handouts of freedom that the regime grants us and that it also can take from us at any time, imitating its “sister nation” from southeast Asia.

Translated by MLK

The ‘Sandor Case’ / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Known as "The BimBom 23 and Malecón" this is one of the meeting points for pingueros. (14ymedio)

Known as “The BimBom 23 and Malecón” this is one of the meeting points for “pingueros.” (14ymedio)

  • In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 30 January 2015 — A farmer wakes up before dawn to brand with a burning iron the last cow he has left. It’s a ritual of pain and possession. A tourist brands a young person in one of Havana’s cabarets and takes them to bed in exchange for some money. The brands are different, but both as permanent.

Sandor was born in the countryside and was raised to be rough. When he reached adolescence he had already castrated and slaughtered pigs. His wide shoulders, olive skin, and oriental eyes earned him town-wide fame as being “hot.” Since he was young he felt the pressure of desiring other men. It was like a permanent breath down his neck that followed him everywhere.

His father had deep wrinkles around his mouth, a group of them also skirting his eyes. The hours in the furrow, beneath the sun, had cracked his skin and his character. He started drinking rum with his friends in the afternoons after work, but ended gulping anything he found. One day, Sandor saw him downing one of his grandmother’s perfumes. His mouth smelled of sweet roses for hours.

Sine he was little, Sandor resolved not to end up like his father. After he turned 16, he packed up what little clothes he had and went to Havana. He arrived at night and walked from the train terminal to Fraternity Park, where the lamps were off and one could hear moaning coming from the shadows. “This is my thing,” he immediately said to himself.

Between footlights

In Las Vegas Cabaret, the air smells of urine. There are tables far from the lights where almost anything can happen. Sandor watches, empty-eyed, the male stripper show unraveling on the stage. The bodies shine from the oil they have been rubbed with.

A sixty-year-old moves forward and puts some bills inside one of the dancer’s underpants. Sandor follows him with his eyes and later sits on his same table. He’s wearing very tight clothes and his muscles stand out provocatively, but competition is strong. He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution that will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

“I am a male sex worker, a pinguero,” he says shamelessly to anyone who cares to hear him. He offers his goods to any buyer, although he emphasizes not considering himself a homosexual. Sometimes his clients are women, European and in their fifties, but his main market is made up of men who come “de afuera” – from abroad. Cuba is a promising destination for gay tourism and Sandor casts his rod into the turbulent river waters of caresses for money.

He fixes himself up constantly while speaking, an eagerness for physical perfection that makes anyone who approaches him feel ugly and wrinkled. He has shaved his eyebrows and painted them in a fine, high arch. On his arms, his forearms, his chest and his pubis there isn’t a single hair. Hours of painful hair removal have left his skin smooth and even.

He prefers this world to days of working in construction, erecting walls or putting roofs together. He spent his first months in Havana working with a brigade of bricklayers, but he couldn’t stand it. Now, the palms of his hands feel soft from the body lotion he lathers on to please his partners with caresses, but during those times the hammer and chisel had left him with rough and ugly calluses.

He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution who will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

The Malecón, Central Park and the private Cabaret Humboldt, on the street bearing the same name, are his habitual working grounds. “I go looking for yumas [foreigners]. I get there and, in between drinks, the zorreo [flirtation] begins and then comes business,” he says when describing his modus operandi. There isn’t much to say in those places, because those who visit know the codes and steps to take in order to leave accompanied.

“I never leave with a Cuban, even if he has all the money of the world,” assures the young man. The rates range from 10 to 100 CUC, so he seeks to reach a middle ground so as to not sell himself “for nothing” but also not to end up “more alone than the 1 o’ clock peal.” Not few times has he had to exchange love for objects, like a watch, a pair of shoes or an expensive bottle of cologne, but “I prefer cash,” he says.

The hours to “expensively sell oneself” are before midnight. After that, “the goods lose value and you have to take whatever comes your way.” He learned that language, or jargon, while working in a produce market. Amid dirty sweet potatoes and the smell of rotting onion, he understood that wasn’t the life for him. “Now, in one night I can make as much as I made in a month behind the counter of an agricultural market.”

Below the sun-faded awning where he sold fruits and vegetables, the first foreigner branded him. This, in street slang, means identifying someone and exchanging seductive glances. He was Dutch and had come to buy some plantains, but he noticed Sandor and invited him for some ice cream. That night, they slept at the Hotel Nacional and for the rest of the week he didn’t show up to his job at the produce market. He had never been in a hotel, so he jumped on the bed and left the faucet open for hours. He swallowed his breakfast almost without chewing it and the tourist gave him a gift of some clothes.

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

At that time, Sandor lived with an older woman, through whom he was able to get a transitional address in the capital written down on his national ID card. Without that, he was in danger of being deported by the police if they asked him for his ID on the street. One night he arrived with a lot of money, a bottle of wine under his arm, and she began to suspect. While he slept, she checked his cellphone and found a picture in which the Dutch man held him by his fly. In the middle of the night, the woman threw his clothes from the balcony and told him never to return.

Later he had a Mexican. “When this farmer saw himself driving a rental car, with a gold chain and money in his wallet, he got used to this life,” he recalls while speaking of himself in the third person. However, he says he prefers Europeans and North Americans because “they pay better and are more delicate.” He had an African only once, a doctor from Luanda who gave him many gifts.

“My body is my enterprise,” he brags. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes”

Beginning some years back, Sandor has had a routine he repeats daily. He gets up at noon and tries to eat only protein. “No bread or fried things that make me fat; my body is my enterprise,” he brags. He also takes vitamins and spends hours in the gym. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes,” he points out while lifting several pounds of iron to render his biceps irresistible.

At the gym he met Susy, a transsexual who is also in the business. She helped him find more select clients with more money. They both work without pimps, although there are groups of pingueros that pay others to protect them as they try to make a living in certain territories. On the corner of Payret Theater one can only work if “one is protected” because police harassment is very harsh, explained Susy on the first week of friendship.

The police know the hook-up zones well. Some of the officers fight to patrol those corners or streets to get money in exchange for looking the other way. It’s a profitable business, where the pinguero has everything to lose if he doesn’t give the cop a piece of the prize or do him a sexual favor.

Sandor prefers not having to show himself off on the street, instead he looks for his clients inside of clubs, cabarets, and other local party scenes. His ID with a transitional Havana address expired and he is now illegally in Havana. If he comes across a troublemaking policeman, it’s very probable that he will be deported to his home province.

Since he arrived in the city, he has been detained on various occasions. He has three warnings and could be tried for the charge of pre-criminal dangerousness. The last time he was inside a police station, the officer told him that he knew what he was doing, so he changed his area of operation from Old Havana to Vedado and Playa.

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having the entire night’s earnings snatched away

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having an entire night’s earnings snatched away. If he had a pimp, then he would protect him and keep la fiana, or the police, away, but since he works alone, he needs to deal with those in uniform. The worst thing is ending up in a cell, because there anything can happen. 

The price of meat by its hanging weight

Every day, the market becomes more competitive and each client wants the best porcelain for the smallest price. The illusion of buying a home or supporting a lover with what you make is a thing of the past. A wrinkle, a bit of belly that may show when you strap your belt will signify tens of convertible pesos in losses. “On facial and body treatments, gym and clothes alone, I spend most of what I make,” he says while showing us his Dolce & Gabbana underwear. Most likely they are a counterfeit of the Italian brand, but, even so, they cost about a month’s earnings for a regular state worker.

He doesn’t scout his clients on looks because he confesses that his work does not give him pleasure and it’s been a long time since he has felt anything. In order to give a good performance of his role, he tries to think of some porn film or he drinks some alcohol. Sometimes he thinks of a girlfriend he had back in his town, when he still wore his middle school uniform and life seemed simpler.

But that was a long time ago. Now he has to work very hard. Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease. For months he disguised himself an “intellectual” with sandals and went to Plaza de Armas. There, he feigned looking at books on displays and branded the yumas, capturing various sleepless admirers of Che who wanted to feel “the clay of the new man.”

Susy has shown him how to tell the ones who are forrados (the wealthy ones) apart. It’s in the details; like being treated to bottled water or a Heineken beer on the first date. He once knew a German who, in August’s midsummer heat, would pack his own beverage in his backpack and wouldn’t even offer a sip.

The man turned out to be so stingy that Sandor got payback and applied la segunda, which is to take him in a taxi to where, supposedly, they will spend the night. The client would have paid for the room in advance and when he gets out, the driver hits the gas and “if I once saw you, I no longer recall.” He later had to share his earnings with the taxi driver, but at least he taught the miserly man a lesson… “so he learns,” he would chuckle to himself for weeks.

Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease.

The best case is when an old client recommends a pinguero to his friends and so more come over. Sandor spent some months with a group of Japanese businessmen because of that, but the Cuban government didn’t pay them what it owed and no one from the company ever came again. When he remembers those days his face lights up and he shows off a gold tooth, “it’s a shame they didn’t come back, because they were very polite and had a lot of money.

In the world of the pingueros there’s someone for every taste and every wallet, but Sandor explains that “the one you see there, with the nice watch and the fancy cellphone, most likely if a yuma propositions him for 20 CUC he will say no” and he will demand that he give him more than the 150 he already has in his wallet. But those older than 20 can’t make such high demands. “Fresh meat, the fresh meat always wins,” he says with some melancholy as he touches his hardened thigh muscles from hours at the gym.

When Sandor closes a deal, he goes off to a privately rented room. A bed, condoms, and it’s all set. Nowadays he prefers private rooms to hotels because they’re more intimate and he also gets a commission for taking a client. Some of them are just like hotel rooms, with air conditioning, Jacuzzis, minibars, and mirrors on the ceiling.

Sometimes he gets a client who wants a longer relationship. Those are the most yearned for. The biggest success of the operation is finding a foreigner that will support them from overseas. The highest price for his caresses is to manage to leaving the country. But, make no mistake, on the other side he says he wants to abandon this lifestyle. “I’ll load bags onto ships with my bare back or mop floors in a hospital, but I won’t return to this filth.”

For the moment, while waiting for the foreigner who will get him out of here comes around, he dreams of buying a motorcycle. When he has it, he wants to show it off in the same areas he has offered his goods, but this time with a “hot girl with a killer body” on his arm. That will be his small revenge for all that’s past.

Maybe he’ll go back to his town, to see what’s become of his dad. He will take a bottle of aged rum for him and get his grandmother some new perfume. From that trip “I’ll come back with a country girl to wash and iron my clothes who I can also introduce to the business.” He plans to live off of her for some time, but, if they have a child, “he has to get out of this shit, he has to get out of this shit.”

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)

Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 January 2015 — It was barely 10:00 am Wednesday, January 28th, and the currency exchange (CADECA) at Belascoaín had no national currency (CUP)*. One of the tellers explained that he had only several 50 peso bills and that was it until the “cash truck” arrived.  Some customers, leaving because they could not transact business, stated that this has become the norm, not only at this currency exchange, but also at the one on Galiano Street, across from the Plaza del Vapor.

These are virtually the only two currency exchanges operating in the municipality of Centro Habana after most of them were converted to ATM’s, so both exchange of hard (i.e. foreign) currency to Cuban convertible currency (CUC) as well as CUC to CUP implies traveling to some CADECA or to Banco Metropolitano, both located at some distance, and the likelihood of having to stand on long lines before being able to complete the desired transaction.

Another difficulty that has become common in both CADECA and ATM locations is the absence of bills in denominations smaller than 100 or 50 CUP, which also distresses the population, especially the elderly, who receive their pensions in debit cards and are often unable to withdraw all of their money, since there are no 5 or 1 peso bills available. In these cases, they need to wait a whole trimester or quarter until enough funds accumulate in their accounts to cover the minimum denominations of 10 or 20 CUP, a ridiculous amount compared to the high price of any market product, but what is significant is that the affected individuals depend almost entirely on this income.

Since the start of 2015, Cubans who receive remittances from abroad or convertible pesos by other means are quick to exchange their money into the national currency. Those who receive larger amounts – on the order of 100’s of CUC, in general the owners of more thriving private business — prefer to use the black market to exchange their funds into US dollars. The common denominator is that nobody wants to hold CUC money, which, until recently, was in high demand and CADECAS would even often run out of.

Announcement of a new national currency bill being issued into circulation in February, in 200, 500 and 1000 peso denominations, coupled with the ability to access the former “hard currency market” with either money, has sounded the drum-roll in people’s psyche as a prelude to the much anticipated monetary unification. People fear that an official changeover will take place that will carry penalizing fees that will cause serious losses to people’s pockets.

Fear is running throughout the population that an official changeover will take place suddenly, with extremely high fees that would produce serious loses to their pockets

The expectation is felt, by osmosis, in the capital’s agricultural trade networks, especially in meat markets that are not “state-owned”, where either one of the two currencies was accepted a few weeks ago. “Mother of Mercy, give me national currency!” is the butcher’s cry at Combinadito de Sitios in Centro Habana when a customer brings out 20 CUC to pay for a cut of pork meat whose price these days of non-ration cards has risen to 45 Cuban pesos per pound. “Country farmers don’t want CUC, my brother, they have a lot of money** and are really afraid of the monetary unification. They won’t sell me meat unless I pay in national currency”.

Something similar is happening with peddlers with street carts, who still accept payment in “convertible” currency for retail sales, but their wholesale suppliers are demanding payment in national currency for their products. A street peddler in my neighborhood states “farmers have high incomes and almost all producers have accumulated large sums. None of them wish to lose when the currency is unified”.

The lack of information and clarification from the official media creates uncertainty and speculation in the population.

It is evident that, once more, the lack of information and clarification on the part of the official media are causing uncertainty and spreads speculation throughout the population, giving way to obstacles such as the (unexplained) shortage of cash in the CADECA, increasing the demand for US dollars in the black market foreign exchanges.

With the imminent introduction of the new denomination bills, clear evidence of the very high inflation rate in Cuba, nothing is known about a monetary unification that -according to official notification- will be gradual and will “not affect” Cuban pockets. For now, it is expected that, when it takes place, the official exchange rate of 25 pesos in national currency for each CUC will not continue, a transaction with which the CADECA and the state commercial networks have operated to date. Our experience, after decades of deceptive monetary maneuvers, has motivated the popular wisdom so that, already, before the dreamed about monetary unification, Cubans are shedding was has been the last few years’ supreme sign of Cuba’s status: the CUC.

Translator’s notes:

*See here for a longer discussion of the history of Cuba’s currencies and the plan to move to a single currency. Briefly, Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional (national money), abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. In theory CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is illegal to take them out of Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other countries. Cubans receive their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs, with wages roughly the equivalent of about $20 US per month, and pensions considerably less. The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American dollar, but exchange fees make it more expensive. The CUP trades to the CUC at about 24-to-1. 

**It has been a common practice in other tightly controlled countries, when new currencies are introduced, to limit the total amount of money people are allowed to exchange and/or to require documentation of the sources of larger sums. As the old currency becomes instantly worthless domestically and internationally, people who have been ‘hoarding’ it can see almost all their savings disappear. Cubans fear this could happen with the elimination of the CUC.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Message from Jorge Luis Sanchez / Polemica, 2007 Intellectual Debate

This debate seems far more serious and interesting than the candles feeding the shadows of study, in this I agree with Arturo ArangoI have no time to sit and watch TV, I saw the little programAnd I doubted, for when the pavonato took place, I was a child and didn’t suffer it directlyIt touched others, more recentin the eighties.

But this man of the seventies, I hadn’t seen his face. It drew my attention that whomever make the report skirted around, olympically, the fact that Pavón was the President of the National Council of CultureNor did the narrator’s voice dare to name the charge! Continue reading

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. Continue reading

Do Obama’s measures promote democratic change on the Island? / Antonio Rodiles

Diario de Cuba, Antonio G. Rodiles, Havana, 28 January 2015 — The recent visits to Havana by American legislators and by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, have reawakened controversy over the transparency in the process of political dialogue between the Obama administration and the Castro regime. So far, the aim of furthering a previously determined plan has been evident, as well as raising the profile of those political actors who support and conform to this policy.

Indispensable voices from the opposition movement have been conspicuously absent from the meetings held. Equally apparent was the reluctance to have a balance of opinions in these contacts.

On multiple occasions, in support of the new policy, the Obama administration has posited the premise that the Cuban people should be the ones who guide the process of change on the Island. This pronouncement implicitly seeks approval for the new measures and opens the door to strong criticisms of those of us who reject the unconditionality — and the notable lack of transparency and consensus — that have characterized the start of this process. Continue reading

“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. Continue reading

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2014 – It’s been three years since the Communist Party of Cuba’s First National Conference. As can be expected, few are the people, including a great part of that organization’s own militants, who remember what was agreed to at that meeting and, to an even lesser extent, which of the adopted accords remain unimplemented. But, who cares?

The “Work Objectives” approved by the Conference, point 62 of Chapter II, titled “Ideological and Political Work,” outlines the need to “work especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical fundamentals of the Cuban economic model.” Eight months prior to that Conference, the Communist Party of Cuba’s Sixth Congress had revealed the Guidelines (Lineamientos) that would govern the country’s economic and social policies. All pointed to the fact that, since conceptualization could not be the source of inspiration for the Guidelines, it could at least be its after-the-fact theoretical justification.

However, the task of theorizing seems to be more complex than the practical application or, to say it in official jargon, “the implementation” of the Guidelines, which have a structure led by Mr. Marino Murillo, Minister of the Economy. Who is responsible for the conceptualization? What entity is committed to undertake it? No one knows. Continue reading

The Betrayal of Humboldt 7 or the Legal Art of Looting

Humboldt 7* in Havana, Cuba.

Christmas is a tradition which goes beyond the limits of the Catholic religion. Before the birth of Christ, the Incas used to celebrate the 25th December as their Cápac Raymi (a religious prehispanic celebration in honour of the sun); and also the ancient Romans, with their Natalia Solis Invicti or, “The birth of the unconquerable sun”.

There is agreement between various cultures; it is a celebration of family joining together and happiness. But, this Christmas not everybody received the gift of happiness. My friend, Osvaldo Fructuoso Rodríguez, (son of one of those young people who accompanied José Antonio Echevarría on March 13, 1957 in the attacks on Radio Reloj and the Presidential Palace) had his application to visit his sick mother in Havana turned down by the Cuban authorities.

What was the reason, or caprice, which justified some nobody in denying the legitimate right possessed by Cubans to travel to our country? Continue reading

Alan GGross / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The Silence of Alan Gross

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

We live not in the civilization of media, but of the mediocre. And from there directly we inhabit the miserable.

Cubans desperately need witnesses to our tragedy. In the absence of politicians on the Island, we pin our hopes on any alternative voice: bloggers, musicians, graffiti artists, performers, etc.

Just recently a supposed North American hostage has been released. Alan Gross completed his role in the democratic-totalitarian theater of legitimization of the Castro dictatorship. He is now free, but he remains stuck in the labyrinth of his lawyers and the six-figure compensation with which they have invited him to recuperate and remain reticent. In the United States, he will not for one moment stop being a true hostage. Continue reading