Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Taken from Habana Live.

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era. With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. “When I stop driving, it’s felt in the house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that’s not true,” says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad. continue reading

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. “There are two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each year, by using some ruse,” he comments, and he adds:

“The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren’t working are erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us for, is something that they haven’t resolved. If my business is one of supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices. It doesn’t concern the State. If they want to improve public transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can see how low prices have fallen,” says Pastor, who, as we’re chatting, becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the conversation.

“This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State doesn’t give a shit about helping us. They don’t give us so much as a single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed prices on a route,” says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will note their barely-contained irritation. “It’s simple: If the government continues fucking with me, I’ll surrender my State license tomorrow and work under the table. Actually, there’s a ton of people who are doing that. They don’t have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal taxi drivers,” says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his accounting. “I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban pesos daily. But I don’t have any rest. I kill myself working.”

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of the authorities. “What would it cost the government to meet with us and negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It’s true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State, but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force it on people, an old government custom.”

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8, the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in Havana. “The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they’ve had the balls to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución, but don’t try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the passenger,” comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de la Fraternidad.

“The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who’s really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. “It’s an undeclared war on private workers. Why don’t they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs.”

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the State as a leasing fee.

The government isn’t stupid. They’re not going to start a battle with taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Too Young for the Party and Too Old for the Communist Youth / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Harold Cárdenas (dw.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 9 February 2017 — Try as I might—to avoid being a bore and accused of holding a grudge against the boy—I cannot leave Harold Cárdenas, the ineffable blogger at La Joven Cuba, in peace, I just can’t. And the fault is his own, because the narrative he makes out of his adventures defending his beloved Castro regime, and his loyal candor, strikes one as a kind of masochism worse than that of Anastasia Steele, the yielding girl in Fifty Shades of Grey.

In a post on 19 January, Harold Cardenas complained of the terrible limbo, for a communist, in which he finds himself (not to mention that it would be the envy of many militants who accepted the red card because they had no other option): Harold, being past the requisite age, was removed from the Union of Young Communists (UJC), but he is not accepted into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) because, they explain, he is still too young. continue reading

His situation reminds me of a 1976 song by the British rock band Jethro Tull (which Harold probably doesn’t know, because of his age, and because I can’t imagine him listening to any music other than that of Silvio, Buena Fe and Calle 13). The song tells the story of the disconsolate and hairy motorcyclist and failed suicide, Ray, who was “too old to rock and roll, too young to die.”

Harold Cárdenas rightly intuits, given the entrenchment recently being displayed by the regime, that he has been given the boot—or the bat, as his contemporaries say—from both organizations because of his publications “in other media.” And so he knocks himself out with explanations, challenges his punishers to find one counterrevolutionary line in his writings, “but without taking a line or a post out of its context—conducting a serious search through the totality of the content.”

As if these guys needed to go to so much trouble to suspect someone and consider him an enemy!

The blogger, with his foolish sincerity and wild innocence (Ay, Julio Iglesias!) has annoyed the stony big shots and their subordinate “hard-core” little shots—always so unsympathetic towards those who, even while remaining within the Revolution, dare to think with their own heads and give too many opinions. This is why they consider him undisciplined, hypercritical, and irresponsible, why they don’t want him in the UJC nor the PCC.

Overall, he came out all right, because in other times, not too long ago, who knows what the punishment might have been…

Harold Cárdenas, with his faith intact through it all, assures us that he does not have a single complaint about the Party, although, as he says, it hurts him “how some dogmatists detract from the collective intelligence of the organization.”

As far as Harold is concerned, his punishers do not answer to an official policy, but rather are dogmatic extremists who think themselves more leftist than Stalin. He warns: “We must take care not to confuse sectarian procedures with State or Party politics, even if they try to disguise themselves as such. The individuals who apply them, although they might try to justify their actions as being taken in the name of the Revolution or some institution, are doing it for themselves. They are trying to preserve the status quo of the known, motivated by fear, ignorance or other interests.”

Harold Cárdenas, who seems to believe himself the reincarnation of Julio Antonio Mella (who, by the way, seems to have been assassinated by order of his comrades and not the dictator Machado, due to his Trotskyite connections) believes that what is happening is a “tactical struggle among revolutionary sectors” of which he has been a victim. But he does not despair. With the patience of a red Job, having been warned that “it is very difficult to fight for a better society outside of the movement that must lead the construction,” Cárdenas says that he will join the Party when he will not have to “subordinate the political struggle to a vertical discipline… when they give me a way, there will be a will.”

And one, faced with such resigned masochism, does not know whether to pity Harold in his wait for the blessed little red card, or give him up as incorrigible, and let him continue to self-flagellate. May Lenin Be With Him!

Author’s email: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Birthrate Is Not Just a Matter of Resources / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Mothers who return to work after 18 weeks of maternity leave will receive, in addition to 100% of their salary, an extra provision of 60% of their pay. (Priscila Mora)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 February 2017 — Concerned about low birthrates, this month the Government has launched a campaign focused on fertility and a package of measures to stimulate births of two or more children per woman.

Since 1978 fertility rates have declined throughout the Island, dropping below population replacement levels. By 2050, the country will rank 9th in the world for elderly population. The aging demographics will exacerbate the lack of economically active people.

The new regulations to stimulate birth, made widely known by the paper Gaceta Oficial (Offical Gazzette), are composed of two decrees and four resolutions. These measures include the paid participation of family members in the childrearing process. continue reading

“Now my mother will be able to stay home with my daughter while I go to work,” says Sahily Cuevas, mother of a four-month-old baby and an employee of a Cooperative of Credits and Services in the municipality of Güira, Artemisa.

The discount of 50% on subsidized childcare rates for parents of two or more children can help “the poorest families,” especially in rural areas.

The grandmother, employed in the State Gastronomic Network, will receive 60% of her salary as a social benefit, a benefit that up until February was only available to the father of the child. It is true, however, that this payment is equivalent to $11, the price of three packs of disposable diapers.

The majority of women surveyed point to lack of resources as the main cause for postponement or interruption of a pregnancy. In the period between 2006-2013, birth rates rose from 1.39 children per woman to 1.71, but that figure should reach a minimum of 2.1 to get out of the red zone.

“I would not dare have a second child,” exclaims Tahimí, 27, resident of Aguada de Pasajeros. “The list of necessities to have a baby is so long that the extra money will be like a drop in the ocean, it will serve very little use.”

The women believes that the 50% discount on subsidized childcare rates for parents of two or more children can help “the poorest families,” especially in rural areas. With the third child the family will become exempt from payment, a benefit extending to couples that have multiple deliveries at once.

Returning to work after giving birth has also received new stimuli. Mothers who return to work after 18 weeks of maternity leave will receive, in addition to 100% of their salary, an extra provision of 60% of their pay, from three months to one year after giving birth.

The private sector, with more than half a million employees in the country, has also received a reduction in monthly taxes for self-employed workers with two or more children under 17 years old. But the labor demands in private businesses leave little room for women to take a more extended family leave.

“I would not leave from here because they would replace me and this is my family’s livelihood,” comments an employee of La Mimosa, a restaurant in Chinatown in Havana. “There is a lot of competition and getting pregnant is the same as being left out,” adds the employee, who chose to remain anonymous.

Maipú, 21, has had four abortions. The first two with the technique of menstrual regulation performed on an outpatient basis that does not require anesthesia. For the last two she entered an operating room where they used the technique of scraping, known as curettage. The young woman refuses to have children at the moment.

“I live with my parents and my grandparents, as well as my two brothers,” she says to 14ymedio. Housing problems are the main cause for postponing motherhood, but she also has her eyes set on emigrating. 

The director of the Center of Population and Development studies believes that “social processes like female emancipation” also influence in the decision to push back maternity.

In recent years, without publicly announcing it, the Ministry of Public Health has restricted abortions. “Now the requirements to receive an abortion are stricter,” says a nurse of the Obstetrical Gynecological Hospital, Ramón González Coro. The employee believes that “it is difficult to complete all the paperwork in time for a menstrual regulation technique or an abortion.”

However, the informal market has also flourished in that field. Maipú paid 50 CUC for her last abortion. “I did not have much time because I was already at 12 weeks,” she recounts. She spent the equivalent of a doctor’s monthly salary. There was no record of her procedure on her medical record.

The director of the Center of Population and Development Studies, Juan Carlos Alfonso, has tempered the weight of the economic crisis and immigration in the rejection of pregnancies maintained by Cuban women. For the specialist, “social processes like female emancipation “also influence in the decision to push back maternity.

A 2009 fertility survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (ONEI) found that 21% of women aged 15-54 had experienced at least one pregnancy that ended in intentional abortions. Eighty percent of the population reported having used contraception.

“Obtaining one visa is not the same as obtaining two,” affirms Maipú in a pragmatic tone. However, she acknowledges that she has always wanted to “be a mother and have many children running around the house.”

Translated by Chavely Garcia.

 

Private Taxi Drivers Close Ranks Against Fixed Prices Charged By The State / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Transportation crisis in Havana is aggravated by the “semi-strike” of private taxis. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerMarcelo Hernandez, Havana, 12 February 2017 – “Take me, I’ll pay you double,” implores a woman to a taxi driver on the main route of Prado y Neptuno. The car is empty, but the driver does not stop to those hailing his taxi, even while showing money in their hands. Imposed fixed prices on private transport have unleashed a silent battle on the streets of Havana.

Since last Wednesday capital authorities have applied a new scale of fixed rates on the routes of private taxis, a decision that reinforced an end to the law of supply and demand, which regulated the private transport since its authorization in the mid 1990s. Last year the authorities decreed set fares, but the drivers found a way to get around them and the state came back with a second round of controls last week. continue reading

Private transport drivers reacted by eliminating intermediate stops or by opting to pick up only passengers going the full route. Despite not relying on an independent union, they have closed ranks and reduced the number of clients they transport in order to pressure local authorities to take a step back.

Since last Wednesday capital authorities have applied fixed rates on the routes of private taxis.

“It has not been necessary for drivers to agree on taking these measure because we all know that accepting this means worse measures to come,” assures Leo Ramírez, one of the private taxis whose route runs between downtown and the neighborhood La Víbora. Driver of a 1957 Chevrolet, this man says the government is “waging war” on them.

Like most of his colleagues who transport passengers within the city, for the past three days Ramírez only accepts riders going the full route. “Most of the time I ride around with no passengers and I have lost a lot of money,” he says to 14ymedio. He claims, “if the measure is not reversed I will turn in my license.”

At the end of 2016, Cuba had more than 535,000 private or non-state workers, the largest figure recorded since 2010, according to data from the Ministry of Work and Social Security (MTSS). Of these, about 54,350 work in the transport of cargo and passengers and are popularly know as boteros (boatmen).

The situation has put the mobility of Havana in check, a city with over 2 million people and a public transport system facing a deficit of vehicles.

In July 2016, the Council of Provincial Administration published Agreement 185, setting maximum fares for the routes of the popular almendrones*, or private taxis. At that time, established rates were for the most important routes, but the drivers resorted to breaking the trips into segments and charging per segment.

Tatiana Viera, vice-president of the Council, explained on national television that behind that decision was “a series of violations that occurred between the months of September and October.” Consequently, “in order to continue to protect the public,” they decided on the new “measures for shorter trips.”

The official explains that private taxis transport workers, students and even “teachers, who with their salary and hard work cannot afford transportation at those prices.” Viera pointed out that “it is our state and moral duty to continue protecting these customers,” even though she classified the almendrones as “complementary transport.”

The situation has put the mobility of Havana in check, a city with over 2 million people and a public transport system facing a deficit of vehicles.

“The problem is not prices, but wages,” says Yampier, a taxi driver on the route from the area of the Capitol to the municipality of Marianao. According to this self-employed driver, “our cars are always full, which means there are people who can afford our prices.” However, he considers that presently, they are all affected by the new measures.

A retiree who tried to take a taxi this Saturday to Santiago de la Vegas from El Curita park, showed more optimism. “There was no one who could pay those prices, which makes me glad the State intervened,” she commented to 14ymedio. She went outside with the newspaper stating the new rates to “show (the drivers) if they tried to take advantage of her.”

The sanctions for those who do not conform to the new rates range from a fine to the confiscation of the vehicle. “Our inspectors are already on the streets” dressed in “blue jackets,” warns Viera and adds, “They are accompanied by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR).”

The sanctions for those who do not conform to the new rates range from a fine to the confiscation of the vehicle.

Carlos Manuel, known as the Mule, is self-employed in construction and lives in the Martí neighborhood. Every day he takes at least two private taxis to get to the house where he is building a bathroom and a kitchen. “When I heard the news I felt happy because I was going to pay half of what I was paying last Thursday,” he commented to this newspaper.

However, as the days pass, the Mule explains that these new measures have actually “affected me a lot.” Now, “I have to go to where the route starts to hop on a taxi,” he retells. So, “I pay more because I have to go on a longer route now.”

This construction worker is also concerned that “this type of decision by the State will trickle down into other professions.” In his case, he is afraid that “one day they might announce fixed rates for the placement of a square meter of tiles or the installation of sanitary fixtures,” a situation which he would be “deeply affected” by.

*Translator’s note: “Almendrones” means “almonds” – from the shape of the classic American cars often used to provide this service.

Translated by Chavely Garcia.

“Those Who Do Not Help the Victims of Castro-ism Are Complicit in the Oppression,” says Rocio Monasterio / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Video not subtitled: Rocio Monasterio talks about her dreams for Cuba in Miami

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 11 February 2017 – Rocio Monasterio, a Cuban living in Spain who became popular after starring in a televised debate at the end of November in which she confronted Castro supporters about the legacy of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, gave a talk Friday in Miami about her ideological platform and her aspirations for Cuba’s future.

This 43-year old Cuban with parents from Cienfuegos and a member of the (conservative) Vox Party in Spain defends the family and liberty as supreme values. She is a passionate speaker who strongly criticizes the Cuban government and condemns those politicians disposed to dialogue with Havana.

“Cuba raised a big wall in 1959. Since then night fell on the country, the search for liberty was interrupted. Unfortunately, 60 years later, Cubans are still in the shadows and we don’t see a light that illuminates our homeland. All those who live in Cuba are imprisoned,” she said before emphasizing, “When we see a brother imprisoned we have to do everything possible to help him.” continue reading

An architect by profession, Monasterio decided to go into politics as a result of the loss of values that, in her judgement, Spanish society has experienced. She joined Vox as a way of giving voice to hundreds of Spaniards who do not agree with the relaxation of policies by the Popular Party, currently in power, an organization to which she delivered her vote every year but about which she is singularly critical.

“It is extraordinary that a Hispanic Cuban can speak to Cuban Americans in Miami. We are united by the Hispanic phenomenon,” she said.

About those who opt for investment in Cuba in order to foster an emerging middle class that in the future will be able to demand political changes, Monasterio asserts that those politicians and businessmen are “soothing their conscience for collaborating with the regime.”

“It is being shown that investment in Cuba is nothing more than supporting Castro-ism,” she adds.

As an alternative to totalitarianism, Monasterio proposes Hispanic values.

“We have inherited from Spain the Christian values that are society’s foundation: equality, defense of freedom, right to life, belief in the individual and in his individual responsibility, also the family as a fundamental value of society. All this is this based in freedom,” she said.

One point that she emphasized was the relationship between the European Union, above all Spain, and the Cuban Government. For the Hispanic Cuban, the credibility of the institutions and the parties that negotiate with Raul Castro are in jeopardy.

“In the collective imagination of Spain, Cuba is the most beloved. The relationship of both countries is that of brotherhood,” said Monasterio. Nevertheless, she characterized as “a great betrayal” the normalization of relations without a single word about human rights violations on the Island.

“Those today who do not help the victims of Castro-ism are accomplices in the oppression and contribute to the perpetuation of night in Cuba, a night that has already lasted too many years,” she added.

The architect conceives her battle as not only against communism but against all kinds of totalitarianism, which according to her is being exported from Cuba to Spain and Latin American countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

“Totalitarianism is not only the lack of freedom, but also the elimination of the individual. All contrary to our values,” she says.

She also admitted that she fights hard against gender politics and is radically opposed to homosexual marriage:

“I don’t meddle in civil unions between people who have another view of sexuality, but that is not matrimony. Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” she says.

For Monasterio, gender ideology is “another big dictatorship of our time.” She condemns Spanish education in this sense.

“We are subjected, once again, to determined ideologues who come from big institutions. Gender ideology is contrary to the family and our values,” she said.

To oppose the proposed education in gender ideology values, Monasterio’s party proposed a platform for freedoms that defends the right of parents to educate their children according to their values.

About her dispute with “the defenders of the indefensible, that is, Castro-ism, Monasterio reminded that the Castro brothers came to Cuban government promising equality,” but what they have done is to equalize everyone “in misery and oppression.”

“A Castro military elite controls Cubans and makes them ignore freedom.”

According to Monasterio, the Cuban diaspora confronts three big responsibilities: the obligation to denounce what Castro-ism means before those who truly do not know what it is; to be effective in the use of a new discourse and new tools for telling and transmitting the values of our culture; and to create a new iconography. “We have to pass to the next generations the commitment to fight for the freedom of our land.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Faith Arrives to the Rhythm of Reggaeton / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Members of La Union: Left to right: Osmel (Mr Jacke), Misael (Dj Misa), Ramiro (Pucio) and Randoll (El Escogido). (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerLuz Escobar, Havana, 11 February 2017 – Sexists, hard and streetsmart, such are the lyrics of most reggaeton songs that are heard everywhere. Topics that speak about jealousy and rivalries, but that can also convey very different messages. Under the name La Unión (the Union), a group of young artists spread the Christian faith to the rhythm of this urban genre so popular in Cuba.

The group, founded in 2013, promotes their songs and videos through the Weekly Packet in the folder titled “Christian section.” A musical work that stands out in the Cuban panorama by combining two elements that seem opposed: religion and reggaeton.

Willing to break down those prejudices, Ramiro (Pucio), Osmel (Mr. Jacke), Randoll (El Escogido), and Misael (DJ Misa), compose and sing for a new generation of listeners born with this millennium. A generation accustomed to choosing a la carte the audiovisual materials they consume and who are very familiar with flash drives, Zapya and smart phones. continue reading

In times of vertigo in the exchange of content, the members of the Union release their songs under the label Kingdom Records, a handcrafted studio installed in the house of DJ Misa, in the Alamar neighborhood. In that zone of ugly buildings and good musicians, rap and hip-hop reigned in earlier decades.

In public performances of the Union, women dancing with lewd movements, twerking style, are not seen and the group members do not wear heavy gold chains around their necks. Even so the places where they perform are packed and fans sing along to the lyrics, which praise values such as solidarity and friendship.

In public performances of La Union, women dancing with lewd movements, twerking style, are not seen and the group members do not wear heavy gold chains around their necks.

In a conversation with 14ymedio during a promotional tour around La India, in Old Havana, the director of the group, DJ Misa, said that from the beginning they wanted to “take the message of Jesus to the Island’s youngest listeners” and they thought it “perfect” to use urban music “as a strategy” because “that is what is mostly heard in the streets.”

Currently, the DJ Misa is immersed in a whirlwind of preparations for a concert the group will perform on February 17 in the central venue Riviera. The launching of a new video clip also fills him with pride, although reaching the point they have now arrived at has not come easily.

The beginnings of the Union were not exempt from “some obstacles,” comments DJ Misa, because few people dared to “mix Christian music with reggaeton.” However, they found acceptance within the island’s millennials and the pastor of the Methodist Church of Alamar, Daniel Marín, who supported them unconditionally.

A recent survey of young Cubans found that their idols range from soccer players, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, to reggaeton singers, like Yomil, El Chacal and el Príncipe, who are overwhelmingly popular among those under 30 years old.

In this context, Christian musicians count on an audience interested in rhythms representing reality. But it is also an audience accustomed to the ruggedness of many reggaeton songs, which praise sexism, promiscuity and frivolity. These are the themes heard in bars, cafeterias, and taxis and even during morning assemblies in Cuban schools.

Christian musicians count on an audience interested in rhythms representing reality. But it is also an audience accustomed to the ruggedness of many reggaeton songs, which praise sexism, promiscuity and frivolity.

DJ Misa explains the support they have also received from other pastors. He says it is because many young people “who are in church but no longer very interested and about to leave,” after listening to their music return with more joy. Although he laments that due to lack of resources they can only do two or three concerts a year.

Both performances and video clips are self produced and financed, says the artist, who complains “there are still no companies that promote Christian music.” Nevertheless, they have managed to perform various concerts and in August of last year filled the venue Avenida.

The young man’s production ability was self-taught, and he counts on spreading his music through social networks, such as Facebook and YouTube.

He does not discard that the Union will be televised and is thinking about presenting his next music video, Jesus Fanatic, at next year’s Lucas Awards. DJ Misa is convinced that his audiovisuals “have the same quality as the ones presented” and show a “very professional appearance.”

As they reach the small screen, these young musicians are achieving a special place in the national urban music, a place where the heavy terrain of reggaeton manages to gain spirituality and compromise.

Translated by Chavely Garcia

 

Informers Approved by the Cuban Government / Iván García

CDR Billboard: In Every Neighborhood, CDR 8th Congress. United, Vigilant and Fighting

Ivan Garcia, 10 February 2017 — Seven years ago, when the roar of the winds of a hurricane devastated Havana and the water filtered through the unglazed living room door of Lisvan, a private worker living in an apartment of blackened walls which urgently needed comprehensive repairs, his housing conditions did not interest the snitches on the block where he lives.

“When I began to be successful in my business and I could renovate the apartment, from doing the electrical system, plumbing, new flooring, painting the rooms to putting grills on the windows and the balcony, the complaints began. What is, in any other country, a source of pride that a citizen can leave his poverty behind and improve his quality of life, is, in Cuba, something that, for more than a few neighbours, arouses both resentment and envy so that it leads them to make anonymous denunciations”, says Lisvan. continue reading

So many years of social control by the regime has transformed some Cubans into hung-up people with double standards. “And shameless too,” adds Lisvan. And he tells me that “two years ago, when I was putting in a new floor, my wife brought me the ceramic tiles in a truck from her work, authorized by her boss. But a neighbor, now in a wheelchair and almost blind, called the DTI to denounce me, accusing me of trafficking in construction materials.”

Luckily, Lisvan had the documents for the tiles, bought in convertible pesos at a state “hard currency collection store” — as such establishments are formally called. But the complaint led to them taking away the car his wife was driving. In the last few days, while he was having railings put across his balcony, to guard against robberies, a neighbor called Servilio complained to the Housing Office that he was altering the façade of the building, and to the electric company for allegedly using the public electricity supply. Lisvan ended by telling me that “It all backfired on him, because everything was in order, and the inspectors involved gave me the phone number of the complainant, who, being a coward, had done it anonymously.”

According to Fernando, a police instructor, anonymous complaints are common in the investigation department where he works. “Thanks to these allegations we started to embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States.

“People report anything — a party that seems lavish, someone who bought beef on the black market or a person who drinks beer every day and doesn’t work. It’s crazy. Snitching in Cuba is sometimes taken to extremes.”

When you ask him what is behind the reports, he avoids the question.

“Because of envy or just a habit of denouncing. These people are almost always resentful and frustrated and tend to be hard up and short of lots of things. And not infrequently the complainant also commits illegal acts,” admits the police instructor.

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that large scale reporting, as has happened for decades in Cuba, is a good subject for specialist study. “But lately, with widespread apathy because of the inefficiency of the system, the long drawn-out economic crisis and the lack of economic and political freedoms, as compared to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, informing has decreased.”

And he adds. “It’s true that in the beginning the Revolution was the source of law. But it also smashed to pieces deep-rooted traditions and social norms. Fidel Castro justified launching the practice of informing on people by reference to Yankee Imperialism, class enemies, and as a way of protecting the Revolution.”

In Cuba, the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) are the basis of collective vigilance in the blocks and neighborhoods of 168 municipalities on the island. Those same committees provide information to the State Security Department about dissidents, that elevates unfounded gossip and marital infidelities to the category of ‘secret reports’.

“In the 21st century, when inequalities have increased, the most diehard Fidelistas, who are still to be found in blocks and neighborhoods, continue with their complaints. It’s a mixture of several things, from base instincts to failure to adapt to new circumstances. It will take years for this dreadful habit to disappear,” concludes the Havana sociologist.

Diana, an engineer, recalls the time when the State granted a week’s holiday on the beach, a TV, a fan or a coffee. “The ancient squabbles in the union meetings to decide who should get the prizes were a theatrical spectacle. It was embarrassing. Yesterday’s shit gave us today’s smell.”

It is likely that in Cuba, if we bet on democracy and are lucky enough to choose good rulers, we will make progress in economic terms, and the country will start to develop and progress.

But the damage caused to Cuban society by informants, as approved by the olive green autocracy, is anthropological. Recovering a basket of interpersonal values will take time. Perhaps ten years. Or more.

Translated by GH

Cubans Wanting To Emigrate See The United States As First Option / Ivan garcia

Cubans who want to emigrate prefer to go to the US

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — There are few things that spontaneously bring Cubans on the island together. For example, if the provincial team is crowned champion in the national baseball series, where, in between the infamous beer and a noisy reggaeton, in Communist Party-arranged pachangas, people celebrate at the tops of their voices.

It’s also a desire to live as well as possible in a country with the lowest salary in the third world and things for sale at the same price as in Qatar. And, God willing, to be able to travel abroad.

It’s all the same if it is for business, or a government mission, or an invitation from a relative, a friend, or a future fiancé or fiancée living in Europe. To emigrate for a fixed period of time or permanently, is an almost permanent plan on the part of many unmotivated young people or professionals who earn less than a hotel porter. continue reading

A wide cross-section of the Cuban population has it stuck in their imagination, like a postage stamp, that some foreign country ought to sort out their national disaster.

Instinctively and shamelessly, the government, Cubans in the street, trained intellectuals and dissidents, act the victim, and blame the mess on the trade embargo, the global crisis, tropical hurricanes, or the lack of help from the United States.

Any situation is held responsible for the economy not growing, not enough houses being built, the disaster area that is urban transport and waste collection and that the internet is not available everywhere.

With new measures adopted jointly by the White House and the Palace of the Revolution, abolishing the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, an inconsistent policy that Clinton enacted in 1994 which allowed Cubans who “touched dry ground” in the US to stay, the majority of Cubans have vented their anger at Barack Obama.

Let’s analyse it. Obama is a liar. He cannot publicly announce that certain migration laws exclusive to Cubans will not be changed, and then eight days before the end of his mandate, changed them.

And it isn’t that Barack is mistaken. No. He is right. Each sovereign nation designs its immigration regulations as it sees fit. The privileges for Cubans were at the very least counterproductive.

If being born in a country with a dictatorial communist government, where founding other political parties and the freedom of the press are prohibited, is a force majeure for the state which is the world’s greatest receiver of immigrants to offer an opportunity to Cubans, then it should not take any half-measures, and should defend its enacted legislation according to its ethical principles.

Democracy, opportunity and human rights are part of the pillars of American society. They should not find it difficult to safeguard them. Although, in the case of migration, it should be monitored.

A terrorist is not going to arrive from Cuba, and dangerous criminals rarely land. But sometimes there are scammers of Federal programs, people who bet on making money with the sale of drugs, or lazy intellectuals, accustomed to living in a parasitic state where natural human ambition is labelled as suspected delinquency, who abuse the support of the American government.

The wet-foot/dry-foot policy was a dangerous and badly implemented program. If you are going to receive immigrants, then receive them. Don’t make them go on a marathon by sea or land to reach the United States’ border.

That double standard of the American executive was absurd. If you want to help the hundreds of thousands, probably a million or two, who dream of emigrating, do it by safe routes.

Lotteries for visas, or, after analyzing the labour needs of different production and service areas, grant work permits. If you want to find out how many Cubans are fed up with the Castro military junta, I suggest that the White House grant a three-month extension and issue a visa to any Cuban who wants it and has no criminal history. The queues outside the embassy in Havana would be miles-long.

Sloppy regulations create a reckless mirage. Because what the letter of the law doesn’t prohibit is presumed to be permissible. That’s what happened to the policy repealed by Obama.

It’s a pity for his administration, which was certainly the most highly-regarded by the Cuban people, until it annulled the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. If you spoil a child, it will not behave reasonably later.

The United States federal government should allow the two or three thousand Cubans scattered throughout Central America and Mexico, to enter the US. Most of them burnt their boats. They sold their homes and valuable possessions. They cannot look back. They have nothing left.

The greatness of the United States is not its force, but its magnanimity. Those professionals, athletes and technicians, among others, who want to work hard to get on, should have a chance to emigrate safely from Cuba.

Some dissidents and exiles believe that after closing the immigration doors, many fellow countrymen would begin street protests demanding their rights.

It would be ideal. But I’m afraid that’s not going happen. Totalitarian States are whimsically different. If four generations of Cubans have left or have been expelled from their homeland, they can’t ask the rest to be heroes.

Most Cubans are peaceful people. They want the best for their family and to live in dignity. The Castro autocracy will fail because of its own inefficiency. But it has strength and will not hesitate to use it.

The silent mass of Cubans, who pretend to have loyalty to the regime and also yearn to emigrate, do not want to be cannon fodder. Patriotism and defence of their rights are not going to bring them together to challenge the regime.

It’s hard to accept, but it’s the way it is. They only want to emigrate. And to the United States as their first option.

Translated by GH

First Group of Cuban Doctors Arrives in Miami after the End of the ‘Parole’ / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 6 February 2017 – Two dozen health professionals who abandoned their Cuban medical missions abroad arrived this afternoon at the Miami International Airport from Colombia. This is the first group to arrive in the United States after the end of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP).

“This is a triumph for the whole Cuban American community, our organization and the offices of the Cuban American congressmen who have worked so that these guys can get the right deal, and their petitions were satisfactorily answered,” said Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of the organization Solidarity Without Borders (SSF) which supports Cuban doctors.

Yerenia Cedeno, a 28-year old Cuban doctor, characterized the situation they experienced in Venezuela as “horrible.” She escaped five months after arriving at the mission, pushed by insecurity and the precarious conditions where they worked. continue reading

“You would find out that they took the phone from this one or robbed that one on the minibus. It’s horrible,” explains Cedeno.

The doctor adds that she could not go back to Cuba because there she “would be marginalized and looked at badly.”

“They put you in another place, not in your job because they look down on you because you don’t agree with what you experienced and for what you were badly prepared,” she adds.

The doctor felt exploited in Venezuela, where she shared her work with her husband, also a doctor, who accompanied her on her trip to the United States but did not want to make a statement to the press.

Their plan is to take their little three-year old daughter who lives in Guantanamo out of Cuba and resume their studies in the United States.

“I want to work as a doctor or something similar. This is the start of a new life,” she says.

This past January 12, the then-president of the United States, Barack Obama, eliminated the CMPP, a program established under the administration of Republican George Bush that in a decade allowed the flight of more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals.

Cuban Health Personnel Received through Cuban Medical Professionals Parole

 

According to the non-profit organization Solidarity Without Borders, which helps integrate these doctors into the US health system, it helps those fleeing from the biggest human trafficking system in the modern history of the western hemisphere.

Arisdelqui Mora, a young Cuban who escaped the Island four years ago on a raft, waited for her half-sister Arianna Reyes, a Cuban doctor who escaped from the mission in Venezuela. The happiness of the reunion, which included the grandmother of both, received wide media coverage.

“We have been separated but during the whole time we remained in communication through the networks,” explains Mora to 14ymedio.

“They have worked a lot,” she adds.

Celia Santana, a dentist, only spent five months in Venezuela.

“Venezuela is much worse than my country. I never imagined that it would be like that. That country is a disaster, and of course the Venezuelan people are not to blame,” explains the doctor.

She spent five months awaiting the parole in order to travel to the United States.

“It’s absurd to end the program. They should have taken other measures,” she says.

“Cubans escape because of the economic situation and also because of the politics because they want freedom of expression.”

Mildre Ester Martinez, recently arrived in Miami, appreciates the help received through the media and the service of Solidarity Without Borders.

“I did not feel right. I was disgusted, disappointed by all the work we did there. I thank God to be here,” she added.

Maikel Palacios, health professional and spokesman for the group of Cubans, reminded that although Cuba has said publicly that they can rejoin the public health system, “they don’t let defectors enter the country for eight years.”

Health worker Veidy Diaz, from Cuba, is received by her family and friends on arriving at MIA from Colombia (NH).

Palacios also questioned the supposed good will of the Island’s government when the official communication from the Minister of Public Health did not mention the frozen bank accounts that the aid workers lose once they abandon the mission.

“They don’t talk about the money. There are people who have up to 7,000 dollars, and they lose it all the day they decide to escape,” he said.

The Cuban government appropriates two-thirds of the salary earned by the Cubans abroad. They are generally sent to the most remote places in deplorable working conditions. In countries like Brazil they do not have the right to receive their family while the aid program lasts, even though the laws of that country permit it.

Solidarity Without Borders is in the middle of a campaign to re-establish the Parole program for Cuban doctors. Currently they are working with the offices of Cuban American congressmen in order to present a proposal to President Donald Trump to reinstate the CMPP.

“We will keep working so that our colleagues may reach the land of freedom and in the near future the Parole program will be re-established for professionals who are in third countries,” explained the president of SSF, Julio Cesar Alfonso.

According to statistics from SSF more than 69 Cuban doctors have been killed in Venezuela in the last 10 years. The Cuban government has divulged that currently more than 50,000 professionals from the Island are dispersed throughout more than 60 countries worldwide.

Working conditions and political pressure push thousands of professionals to accept the missions proposed by the Cuban government. Even though the salary was increased in 2014, the average salary of a doctor in Cuba is about 60 dollars a month.

The massive exportation of health services has generated income for the government on the order of 8.2 billion dollars a year in 2014 according to official sources.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Internet In Cuba: Strict Control And Excessive Prices / Iván García

The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and 22 March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Iván García, 30 January 2017 — Five or six abstract oil paintings are tastelessly jumbled together in the living room of a house in the west of Havana, next to  a collection of laptops and ancient computers waiting to be repaired. We can call the owner Reinaldo.

A clean-shaven chap, who has fixed computers, tablets and laptops for twenty years and also, quietly, provided an internet service on the side.

“I have two options. Dial-up internet at 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC – roughly $50 US) a month. And via ADSL at 130 CUC. The transmission speed of the modem is between fifty and seventy kilobytes a second.  With ADSL, the speed is two megabytes. It has the advantage of being free (i.e. unlimited), as it is rumoured that two MB connections will be marketed by ETECSA, the government-owned telecoms company, at 115 cuc for 30 hours,” Reinaldo explains. continue reading

No-one is surprised by anything in Cuba. Clandestine businesses are always two steps ahead of what the state comes up with. Many years before the olive green people legalised private restaurants and lodgings, people had been taking the chance of running such businesses anyway.

And something similar is happening with internet business. The spokesmen for the ETECSA monopoly — the state run telephone and communications company — strongly deny it.

When, on 4 June 2013, the government opened 118 internet rooms all over the country, Tania Velázquez, an executive in the organisation, announced that “by the middle of 2014, we will start to market the internet for cellphones and, by December, at home.”

It was a bluff. While we are waiting for ETECSA to get the internet for cell phones started, what we have now is ETECSA’s Nauta email for cell phones, running on out-of-date 2G technology, too many technical problems, and initially they were charging 1 CUC a MB.

Just over a month ago, they lowered the price to 1.50 CUC for five MB, calling it Bolsa Nauta. But the service is dreadful. “You wait five or six hours to send an email, and the message never leaves the outbox. They are robbing you, as they sometimes charge your account without having offered any service. My advice is to disconnect Nauta from your cell phones as quickly as possible,” says Marlén, who opened an account two years ago.

Marketing the internet at home service is two years behind what Tania Velázquez promised. Just after Christmas 2016, ETECSA started to provide free internet via ADSL to two thousand families with fixed residential phones around the Plaza Vieja, in Havana’s colonial quarter, as a pilot, until the month of March.

“The connection is better than the wifi hotspots. Although it sometimes runs slowly. You need to have a conventional phone to receive the internet service. It isn’t true that you have to belong to the CDR, or Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, or be working. I don’t know if dissidents will be able to opt for the service when they start to sell it. Although the prices will be “thank you and goodnight.”

An ETECSA engineer, working in an internet distribution centre in the capital states that “the prices for internet at home are bollocks. Saying that they will charge 30, 70 and 115 CUC, the dearest tariff, for 30 hours, and depending on the bandwidth, is unofficial. They are looking at setting up a flat charge and also a charge per hour. The prices will be high, but not what the foreign press claims, because an hour at two MB would cost nearly three CUC, and users of half that would prefer to connect to a wifi point. There will be various speed options. The highest will be two MB,” says the engineer.

The military dictatorship has designed a structure capable of controlling the internet. Before the internet landed in the island, where previously the finca rusa, a Russian-built electronic spying base, known as the Base Lourdes, operated. Fidel Castro inaugurated the University of Information Science on the San Antonio de los Baños highway on 23 September 2002. In addition to exporting software, its functions include the rigorous monitoring of internet traffic in the country.

The internet started to operate in Cuba in September 1996. One of the first public internet rooms was located in the National Capitol building, charging $5 an hour. The connection was painfully slow and was not provided by ETECSA, but by CITMA, the present Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

The internet was also offered in four and five star hotels, at between $6 and $10 an hour. In the winter of 2011, the coaxial network on the island was connected to a submarine cable, at a cost of $70 million, and jointly planned with Venezuela and Jamaica.

“The cable was quite a story. It had everything. Embezzlement, poor work quality, various company officials jumping ship. Leonardo, one of the people implicated in the misappropriation of funds, stayed in Panama. The Obama administration authorised a Florida-based company to negotiate with ETECSA. The proposal was to renovate an old underwater cable. The project cost about $18 million. But the government, citing digital sovereignty, opted to do the cable with Venezuela. It is that cable which is providing the present service,” explains an engineer who worked on the ALBA-1 project.

The Cuban secret services have tools for hacking into opposition accounts and spying on the emails of the embassies in the island, including the US one.

“You must not under-estimate the technical capacity of the counter-intelligence. Almost nothing works in Cuba, but they have the latest technology for their work. Since the time of the EICISOFT (Centre of Robotics and Software) at the end of the ’80’s, the Ministry of the Interior has had specialists in new technologies. Maybe they can’t get into Apple systems, but the rest is easy peasy. They now have advice from Russia and China, which is amongst the best in the world when it comes to hacking,” says an ETECSA specialist who prefers to remain anonymous.

According to our informant, “Nothing gets past them. They have a complete arsenal of spy programs and an army of information analysts to crack dissidents’ accounts and keep an eye on social networks like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Everybody who travels the information highway is under their microscope.  Whenever ETECSA opens a new internet service, the State Security monitoring tools are already in place.”

For Cubans whose breakfast is just a coffee, account privacy doesn’t matter much. It’s normal for people to lend their cellphones to strangers. Or to give out their passwords to show how to work their emails. “I don’t care if the State Security is watching me. What interests me is getting off with girls on Facebook,  arranging to get out with the help of workmates who have already got to the US, and finding out stuff about CR7, as Cristiano Ronaldo is known, and Real Madrid,” says Saúl, undergraduate.

The thing is, in Cuba, the internet is, with few exceptions, a means of communicating with your family “across the Pond” (i.e. in Florida). You will see that when you go to any wifi hotspot. “Hey guys, look at the new car Luisito’s just bought,” a kid shouts to a group of friends in the Parque Córdoba hotspot in La Vibora.

“Look, what matters for most people is asking for money by email, talking to family and friends by IMO, the Cuban equivalent to WhatsApp, using the internet to read about famous artists and sport personalities, and other unimportant stuff like that. Not serious media or websites published abroad about Cuban issues,” is the realistic view taken by Carlos, a sociologist.

You can read periodicals from Florida, the New York Times in Spanish, and dailies like El País and El Mundo, without any problems. But not sites like Martí Noticias, Cubanet, Diario de Cuba, Cubaencuentro or 14yMedio.

“But you can reach them with a simply proxy,” says Reinaldo, who, as well as repairing computers, sells internet service on the side. And he takes the opportunity to explain the technical features of a gadget he has for sale, which lets you connect to the internet via satellite, without using ETECSA’s servers.

How do such gadgets get to Cuba? I ask him. “Through the ports and airports. The government controls the state economy and also the black market”, he tells me. And I believe it.

Photo: The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and 22nd of March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Translated by GH

Everyone in Cuba Wants to Learn English / Iván García

Sign for an English School in Havana

Ivan Garcia, 3 February 2017 — It’s raining cats and dogs in Havana and the Weather Institute announces a moderate cold front on the west of the island. Like any weekend, after lunch people gather in front of the TV to watch a Spanish football game, a Hollywood film pirated by the Cuban state, or a soporific Mexican soap opera offered by the semi-clandestine “weekly packet.”

On Sunday, a day of general boredom, many Havanans sleep in or kill the boredom drinking the cheapest rum. But Sheila doesn’t allow herself this “luxury.” She looks at the overcast sky and curses her bad luck. continue reading

“I have an appointment in the afternoon with a Chinese customer who invited me to dinner and later we’ll have a drink. The guy “looks like a flower pot” (has money). The bad weather makes me want to say ’fuck it’,” comments Sheila, a hooker, while looking at her watch.

How do you talk to a Chinese man? “In English of course, throwing in a little Italian and six of seven phrases in Mandarin that I learned on the internet. In the end, I say a hundred dollars a night, or I love you, and it’s not very complicated in any language,” she adds, laughing.

Like Sheila, thousands of Cuban prostitutes learn the basics of foreign languages. In particular English, which in the last ten years has grown spectacularly in Cuba.

English schools, private or state-run, are multiplying in Havana. In the municipality of Diez de Octubre alone, one of the most populated on the island, there are around 60 English schools.

There is English a la carte. For every taste. From classes in state institutions that cost 20 Cuban pesos to sign up, to private air-conditioned schools with the newest methods of teaching children, young people and adults.

In some of them, like Britannia or America, you learn to speak the language of Shakespeare in the British or US version. “Including turns of phrase frequently sued in New York or the Spanglish spoken in Miami,” says Diana, a teacher at the America school.

Enrollment in the best private schools costs between 20 and 30 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), the entire monthly salary of a professional. And each class is between 10 and 18 CUC.

Increasingly, children between 5 and 12 are registered by their parents. “Mastering English is imperative for the future that is coming our way. In my case, our family is thinking of emigrating. And if my children speak English the way is already paved for them,” says Carlos, father of two children who are studying English.

Technical, intensive or personalized English classes are also offered. Betty, 32, is waiting for a work permit for Canada. “Twice a week I take intensive classes, the teacher teaches me personally and it’s very helpful, I pay 35 CUC a month, but if I go to his house it’s a little cheaper.”

Havana’s marginal fauna, of course, doesn’t want to be left behind. With the increase in visitors and tourists, especially in the capital — a little more than 4 million in 2016 — there is an opportunity for hookers, informal guides, and illegal or clandestine sellers of handicrafts, works of art and tobacco.

Even those who sell cocaine, marijuana or psychotropic drugs need basic english, because “a little Italian or French, sure, but if you don’t speak any foreign language, you’re out of luck in this business,” says a guy who sells melca in the old part of the city.

Let’s call him Josuan, a sturdy guy, not very tall, who considers himself a perfect joker. “I go all the way. I sell tobacco, work as a guide, go to bed with the ladies. The problem, man, is getting some money. And if you have your wits about you and the tourists like you, you get it. But you have to know how to start a conversation in English or some other language. This creates empathy with your customer.”

Learning English is all the rage in Cuba. The military junta that governs the island has recognized it as a priority of the state. In an article on the changes in higher education in Cuba, published in Weekly Progress, the journalist Nery Ferreria wrote, “One of the most disturbing measures for many is the requirement to demonstrate a mastery of English, as an ’independent user’ before graduating from the university.”

And she mentions that Rodolfo Alarcon, in his time, before he was ousted at Minister of Higher Education in July of 2016, said that there had to be a resolution to “the problem that the Cuban professional is not capable of expressing themselves in the universal language of our times.”

In her article, Ferreira includes two comments left on the official Cubadebate website. “Start with English from elementary school and solve the deficit of teachers in this subject and then the mastery of the second language will be a done deal,” said a reader. While another added, “Why ask for what hasn’t been taught all these year. Now we want to demand it without having a base, or worse, that the parents have to pay for private lessons, which are very expensive.”

English is well-received in Cuba, especially now that the regime sighs about doing business with the Yankees. It doesn’t matter if the interlocutor is a caveman Donald Trump-style. “Business if business, man. Whoever the person. If you have the ticket, let the dog dance,” stresses René, who sells Cuban cigars on the black market.

And this is the Cuba of the 21st century, blurring ideology. From Socialism or Death to the death of Fidel Castro to Welcome Yankees as the national slogan.

No one wants to be left behind. Not the state businesses, nor the private ones nor the underworld. Everyone wants to speak English! [in English in the original]

 Translated by Jim

Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2017 — A fine that is stranger than fiction. More than 400,000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in dollars), is the astronomical figure set as a penalty for La California restaurant, a palader (private restaurant) a few steps from Cuba’s Malecon.

Established in abeautifully restored 18th century building at 55 Crespo Street between San Lazaro and Refugio in Central Havana, La California restaurant-bar offers Italian and Cuban-international fusion food, as well as exquisite service, attractive and entertaining, where the customer can enter the kitchen and prepare their own delicacy. Part of what is consumed in this agreeable place is grown on the private estate of a Cuban farmer, and the rest — according to co-director Charles Farigola — is imported. continue reading

“During the plenary session of the National Assembly Cuban vice president Machado Ventura referenced the food in the paladares, making particular note of the products offered that are not acquired in the national retail network,” began an explanation of a Cuban entrepreneur passing through Miami to buy supplies for his restaurant in Havana.

“The reality,” he continued,” is that the paladares import very little, most of the food and drink comes from the hotels*, especially those that offer ‘all-inclusive’ plans. Vacuum-packed filets, serrano ham, fresh vegetables, salmon, sausages, octopus, squid, etc. Almost everything comes from Matanzas Province, where tourism is concentrated. There are police checkpoints to search vehicles coming from the resort town of Varadero to Havana; but almost everything is transported in tour vehicles and they avoid the controls, because the national police don’t want to bother the tourists.

“The strategy, in response, was to inspect the paladares that boast about having these kinds of imported products, and La California fell. They also say that the inspection report specified that the sales report didn’t match observed reality. Parameters and factors that seem subjective.”

Can a Cuban paladar pay such a huge fine?

“I don’t think so. Look, the inspectors collect a percent of every fine they impose, and the private businesses offer the inspectors a greater percentage than they would receive. So that’s how we all survive because it’s a game of give and take.

“It could be that La California didn’t want to play this game, they could have accepted an arrangement to pay in installments, they could default and accept an ugly penalty, they may fight the fine in the courts. Anything can happen.

“No, we self-employed are not criminals, we are a social group that makes things and not communist dreams nor libertarian utopias; we are the part of civil society most dedicated to work, to generating income, jobs, and bringing money to the national economy, and even so the policy of the government is to push us toward crime,” concludes the entrepreneur before boarding his plane to Cuba, the island that, with a certain euphemism, he calls the “Barracks.”

*Translator’s note: That is, it is “diverted” (the term Cubans prefer rather than “stolen”) and sold to private businesses by a chain of state workers that can range from the highest to the lowest levels.

 Translated by Jim

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García

Caricature by Pinilla taken from Diario Las Américas.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — As if by magic, the irreverent and prosaic Donald Trump is the man of the hour for Cubans who have plans to emigrate. “He’s the guy; there’s no one else. If he orders it, the United States will open its doors,” says Miguel, emphatically, while he drives a ramshackle collective taxi down Infanta Avenue.

His comment intensifies the polemic of five passengers who shout above the odor of gasoline that filters through the old car’s patched-up exhaust pipe and the unbearably loud music.

“Obama is a real son-of-a-bitch. If Cubans allow their Government to step all over them it’s because they have the possibility of hauling ass out of Cuba. Tell me who here doesn’t have a family member in the States?” asks a corpulent mulatto. continue reading

Everyone wants to talk at once and give their opinion on the subject. Some analyses are puerile; others border on political science fiction, like that of Magda, a primary school teacher, who, from the back seat of the taxi, advises Trump to “accept all the Cubans who want to leave. Most will work at anything. You think there isn’t space in the U.S. for 11 million Cubans?” she says, and the other passengers smile.

Right now, the fashionable subject in Havana is the repeal of the wet foot-dry foot policy. A collection of sad, crushed people react to the announcement as if they received a direct blow to the chin by a heavyweight.

“Listen, brother, I sold my house to go to Guyana. My plan was to cross the Mexican border and enter the U.S. Now it’s impossible. But I’m going to get out anyway I can. Even through Haiti, I’m telling you,” says Jean Carlos, a veterinarian.

At Christmas time, Diego flew to Uruguay with his wife to travel to Laredo and cross the border into El Paso. “I’m devastated. I didn’t leave with much money. Now I’ll look for a job in Uruguay and see later where to go. But I’m not returning to Cuba. I have nothing there. I sold everything. If I’m going to start all over let it be in any other country,” he says by Internet.

The same thing happened to Yosvani and his wife, Mildred. The couple flew to Rome in November, on a tourist package. With a one-month visa they crossed the border and settled in Spain.

“Here we’re together with a group of illegal Cubans. My wife found a job taking care of an old man. I worked for a week cleaning a bar, but the owner paid me only four euros. My mother already sold my apartment in Havana and sent me the money that I wanted to use to go to Cancun, Mexico. But now with this news I have to stay here. My hope is that Trump will reverse the measures that Obama approved,” he says, through Instant Messenger.

The new panorama, presumably, will not put the brakes on those who have plans to emigrate. “It can change everything. But then people will try their luck in another country or will come to the U.S. through marriage or by other tricks. I have my eye on Panama. I liked the city and the people when I went to buy junk to sell in Havana. The one place I can’t be is Cuba. You can’t do anything here. You can’t move. The last person who leaves, please turn off the lights in El Morro,” (the castle fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay) confesses Maikel in a wifi park in Vedado.

Even those who have relatives in the U.S. don’t think they have enough patience to get there by family reunification. “My father has been in Miami for five months and is already working. When he has his residence papers he’s going to claim me. But how long will all this paperwork take? Three, four years can go by. If I can, I’ll leave before. Here in Cuba I have no future,” comments Germán, a university student.

Obama has passed from being a hero to being a villain. From that president, who 10 months ago in Havana gave a memorable speech, saying that Cuba should change and bet on democracy, to being persona non grata.

It’s the opposite with Donald Trump. The Cuban who drinks only coffee for breakfast, indoctrinated by the international press, always saw the wealthy New York businessman as an extravagant weirdo. A rich guy who by pure caprice got into the world of politics.

“The guy’s a time bomb. When he explodes, no one knows what’s going to happen. Trump thinks that politics is a reality show. It would be a miracle if in the next four years the world equilibrium doesn’t change. He’s poorly educated, an egomaniac with the soul of a tyrant; and thousands of Cubans who are thinking of emigrating are placing their faith in him,” says Norge, a political science graduate.

Like in an Agatha Christie crime novel or a suspense film, the roles have been reversed. Goodbye Barack Trump. Welcome Donald Obama. The world has been turned upside down, and not only for Cuban emigrants.

Translated by Regina Anavy

With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 5 January 2017 — In the face of the new scenario created by the death of the “historic leader,” many representatives from the fragmented Cuban dissidence see a chance that the authorities, looking at a very complicated situation, will invite them to dialog, in search of a exit concept.

I am not optimistic about this, because for it to happen the dissidence must, first, create a unity it does not possess, achieve recognition and credibility among the citizenry, and present a comprehensible, concrete and viable project, that attracts majorities, all of which needs time.

Right now, the Cuban dissidence is better known outside the country than within it, because some of its members have dedicated themselves to “political tourism,” rather than work among the people, trying to attract adherents to their cause. This reality, in addition to the fragmentation already mentioned, makes it such that the authorities don’t need them to realize economic, political and social changes.

Rather than seek a currently impossible dialog, the first task should be to achieve unity in everything shared, and set aside what separates them, dedicating themselves to working with the citizens to make themselves known and gain credibility, and for be part of a project of national solutions, that involves everyone without distinctions, including the authorities.

The problems of Cuba are so immense and complex that they need everyone working together, without exceptions, to resolve them.

Starting with the ability of Cubans to set aside fifty-seven years of dogma and confrontations, and putting their feet on the ground, abandoning the absurd idea that someone from outside will come to resolve things, and that success or failure will depend on him.

Translated by TFW

Why We Don’t Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The Government requires “labor prowess” of workers but does not allow freedom of association. (Juventud Rebelde )

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 January 2017 — I recently had the opportunity to participate as guest in a forum held at Florida International University. Among other topics, the issue of labor rights in Cuba and the role of journalism in the defense of these rights were discussed.

At first glance, the proposal does not seem incongruous. The relationship between journalism and workers in the struggle for the exercise of labor rights in Cuba had its beginnings as far back as the second half of the nineteenth century, when the first trade union periodicals of the region were founded in Cuba – La Aurora and El Artesano – (Castellanos, 2002), an indication of both the worker’s recognition of the importance of the press and the timely proficiency they developed in union organization.

The independent press denounces the constant violations of all rights, including the most basic one: earning a deserved living wage.

On the other hand, labor rights of domestic workers is one of the most recurrent and polarized issues of current official and independent Cuban journalism, though from two opposite ends. Contrary to the official monopoly of the press, in charge of praising the supposed guarantees of the State-Party-Government labor rights – though the new Labor Code does not even recognize such universal achievements as the right to strike, free recruitment and free association – the independent, press denounces the constant violations of all rights, including the most basic one: earning a deserved living wage. continue reading

Numerous independent journalists have addressed the issue of labor rights. Among them are the articles of historical analysis on the Cuban trade union movement, its achievements and errors, developed by the researcher Dimas Castellanos, some of which are cited here.

However, while the independent journalism sector has had the most sustained growth within the Cuban pro-democratic civil society in the last decade, its scope and real possibilities should not be overestimated. Much less can we hope that the press works the miracle of transforming society separate from the human beings who compose it.

The demand for labor rights is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the workers themselves within the extent of their groups

Journalism can support and complement the actions of individuals in their struggle for the full exercise of their most legitimate rights, but it cannot assume the functions of the institutions that those same individuals must create. Neither is it capable of changing reality all on its own. Thus, just as the triumphalist discourse of the official press does not turn into practice the rights it touts as “conquests of the Revolution,” neither is the independent press able to function as an intangible union, apart from the collective workers.

Unions, as organizations created to defend workers’ interests from employers (State, managers, companies), cannot be replaced by the press or, as in the case of Cuba, by the State. It is worth noting that nor is it the role of the (marginal) political parties of the opposition is not to assume such a demanding mission, especially considering that, under the Castro regime, opponents don’t usually have any labor ties nor have they have successfully influenced large sectors of the population, and even less so in workers’ State or private labor collectives.

In other words, the demand for labor rights is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the workers themselves within the extent of their groups, as subjects with the capacity to organize spontaneously and autonomously in defense of their interests as a group, developing a strong trade union movement capable of dealing with the powers that restrain those rights. It is the essential premise for the press – in this case, the independent press – to expand, thus increasing the effect of the workers’ labor demands or for the opposition to rely on trade union movements.

The official policy of manipulating the different social organizations has abolished the possibility of the existence of true trade unionism in Cuba

The working social base is so significant in mobilizing changes that a prominent union leader who counts on its support could become a political leader, such as the well-known case of Lech Walesa, or the well-known union leaders of the Latin American left, Lula Da Silva and Evo Morales, who eventually reached the presidency of their respective countries. But the inverse does not take place: political leaders do not usually become trade union leaders.

In fact, the powerful Solidarity trade union, with its effectiveness in overthrowing the puppet government of Moscow in Poland and putting an end to the so-called “real socialism” in that country, is an essential reference point when we are talking about which path the Cuban transition should follow: A great working organization with strong leadership, able to face and bend the Power.

Regrettably, such practice is not possible in Cuba, where sufficiently strong or autonomously organized labor groups in key positions in the economy do not exist, where the relatively better paid jobs are in the hands of joint venture foreign capital companies and in those of local, dominant military caste where, in addition, the deep national and civic feeling characteristic of the Polish peoples has never existed.

This leads directly to the historical fragility of the civil society in Cuba, demolished completely, especially in the 60 years after the arrival of the Castros to power, and hijacked by the leaders of the Revolution to put it at their service, subordinating it to the ideology of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The official policy of manipulating the different social organizations, which operated autonomously and were self-financed before 1959, has abolished the possibility of the existence of true trade unionism in Cuba, whose dependence on the political will of the Government is equally evident, since numerous calls for plenary meetings and “workers” congresses stem from the Political Bureau of the PCC and not from so-called trade union organizations, and the workers’ laws and “rights” are also stipulated by the political power.

In November 1961, the loss of autonomy of trade unionism was enshrined, when delegates renounced almost all the historical achievements of the labor movement

But even though political manipulation of Cuban trade unionism became absolute after the “revolutionary triumph,” pre-1959 alliances of some trade union leaders with political parties had already strongly undermined the trade union movement, detracting from its autonomy, undermining its foundations and fragmenting it into its structures.

This is how Castellanos summarizes it in one of his writings on the subject: “The subordination of trade union associations to political parties, which began in 1925, intensified in the 1940’s with the struggle between workers in the Authentic and Communist Parties for control of the labor movement. In 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then General Secretary of the labor movement, after ordering the general strike against that year’s coup d’etat, ended up accepting an offer from Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC*.” (Castellanos, 2013)

The death of Cuban trade syndicates was sealed in 1959, when the CTC was dissolved and replaced by the (CTC-R). The 10th Congress of the workers’ organization took place that year, and its Secretary General, David Salvador Manso, said during his speech that “workers had not attended the Congress to raise economic demands but to support the Revolution.” At the 11th Congress, held in November 1961, the loss of autonomy of trade unionism was enshrined, when delegates renounced almost all the historical achievements of the labor movement, among others, the 9 days of sick leave, the supplementary Christmas bonus, the 44-hour work week, the right to strike and a raise of 9.09%. The CTC became, in fact, a mechanism of government control of the workers. (Ibid)

Far from improving the situation, the exploitation of Cuban workers has diversified and consolidated since the arrival in Cuba of foreign-funded enterprises

Needless to say this has been maintained until now, with the aggravating fact that the Cuban autocratic regime has achieved the positive recognition of all the international organizations responsible for ensuring compliance with labor rights, which increases Cuban workers’ hopelessness.

In fact, far from improving the situation, the exploitation of Cuban workers has diversified and consolidated since the arrival in Cuba of foreign-funded enterprises – which employ Cuban workers indirectly, entirely through contracts signed with the State rather than with the workers themselves – and with the leasing of professionals, especially health workers, who are sent abroad under collaborative projects in countries allied to the Castro regime.

Raúl Castro’s rise to the head of the government, as successor to his brother, the so-called historic leader of the revolution, seemed to open a brief period of expectations, encouraged by a reformist speech followed by a set of measures meant to bend the extreme centralism in Cuba’s domestic economy.

Such measures allowed for the emergence of small sectors of private entrepreneurs, grouped under the generic name “self-employed,” which have faced a number of constraints – such as high taxation, harassment by corrupt inspectors, absence of wholesale markets to provide their businesses, among others – and initially constituted an opportunity to encourage autonomous venues that could eventually pave the way for the emergence of groups of workers organized in defense of their interests, independent of the State.

Private workers were quickly absorbed by the government’s political officials who run the sole Cuban workers pivotal labor shop. The self-employed also meekly accepted the official “unionization”

However, the private workers were quickly absorbed by the government’s political officials who run the sole Cuban workers pivotal labor shop. The self-employed also meekly accepted the official “unionization” that represents the interests of the boss: the tower of power.

Thus, though Cuba has been a signatory of the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Covenants since 2008 – which recognize, among others, the right to work and the choice of employment – and the Civil and Political Rights Convenants – whose written text includes freedom of the Press, expression, association and assembly, which are also essential for the existence of trade syndicates – there are no real trade union organizations in the country or areas of freedom to make them possible. The Cuban government has not ratified the signatures of these Covenants, and United Nations officials responsible for ensuring compliance with their contents are often extremely complacent with the Cuban authorities.

A long road traveled and a longer one yet to go

In spite of the historical shortcomings of Cuban civil society, the reality is that labor movements demanding workers’ rights began relatively early in Cuba. The strength achieved by the workers during the Republican period, organized and grouped in unions, determined political transformations as important as Gerardo Machado’s departure from power after a powerful workers strike that paralyzed the country.

During the same period, collective bargaining was another struggle method that gave trade unions the ability to influence the enactment of laws based on workers’ demands. Politicians recognized in the working masses a social fiber so powerful that the governments of Grau San Martin, Carlos Mendieta, and Federico Laredo Bru promoted labor legislation that included such rights as the eight-hour day, labor striking, paid and maternity leave, and collective bargaining. (Decrees 276 and 798 of April of 1938). (Castellanos, 2002)

The 1976 Constitution reduced labor rights to six minimal articles, omitting almost all the gains of the trade union movement of previous periods

Later, the 1940 Constitution legally recognized the results of previous years’ union struggles by dedicating 27 articles of Title VI to the collective and individual rights of workers. These ranged from the minimum wage to pensions due to the death of the worker. Paradoxically, once the government “of the poor, with the poor and for the poor” came to power, not only were unions lost by a stroke of the pen and absorbed by the new dictatorship of a supposed military “proletariat”, but Chapter VI of the 1976 Constitution reduced labor rights to six minimal articles, omitting almost all the gains of the trade union movement of the previous periods, endorsed in the Constitutions of 1901 and 1940.

Currently, the Cuban socio-political and economic situation is extremely complex. Not only because an economic crisis has taken root permanently, but there has been a wave of layoffs and no salaries in Cuba are sufficient to even acquire basic foodstuffs. Social actors capable of reversing that scenario cannot be found in our country.

The opposition has proposed a few attempts for independent unions. However, such proposals have not made progress, not only because of the repression that is exerted against any manifestation of dissidence within Cuba, but because these alternatives have no social bases or real support. In fact, since they are marginalized by the system, Cuban opponents do not usually have any labor ties – if they had held a state job they would generally have been fired — so they have no chance of representing Cuban workers.

The constant Cuban exodus, mainly composed of working age individuals, is another factor that contributes to the weakening of the work force

The constant Cuban exodus, mainly composed of working age individuals, is another factor that contributes to the weakening of the work force, the result of the system itself but one whose solution is already beyond the reach of a government to which any deep change might cost the loss of its power.

So far, it does not seem that the vicious circle that keeps Cuban workers and the whole of society in a motionless state will be broken in the short term. The road to recovery will be long and tortuous, and will only begin when the omnipotent power that has hijacked the nation for almost 60 years disappears. Because without rights, there will be no unions, and without unions there will be no force capable of legitimately representing the interests of that endangered species that was once called “the Cuban workers.”

*(CTC): The Central Union of Cuban Workers [Central de Trabajadores de Cuba] originated as the Confederation of Cuban Workers [Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba] in 1939. The original leaders of the organization were forced to flee after Castro’s seizure of power in 1959.

Translated by Norma Whiting