A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Computer store (14ymedio)

Computer store (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — “Beds, furniture, mattresses, heaters”, is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer advertises his wares: “airs,’microgüeys’, washing machines, rice cookers, ‘Reina’ brand pots and pans…” The cries are not too loud, but measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.

Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an “inspector”, the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless August air. They know they don’t fool anyone, but neither can they be charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.

For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an official media campaign being developed against the first two links (hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic that has turned endemic–affect the country’s commercial trading networks. Continue reading

Another "Broom" Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Foreign Investment Bill | First Special Session | 8th Legislature | March 29, 2014

The National Assembly or Cuban parliament easily approved (nothing odd for that body when the issue is something that, although not divinely ordained, “comes from above”) the new foreign investment law. One does not need a crystal ball to know that the new legislation — like the proverbial broom* — will sweep efficiently, basically for those in power and the barriers they have created.

The breathless financiers of the antiquated Cuban political model demonstrate that for la nomenklatura, the need of their wallets — or the need to upgrade,or air out, their state capitalism — is more important than to truly revive the the battered “socialist economy”.

As with all laws that “are to be (dis)respected” in post-1959 Cuba, it passed unanimously, i.e., everyone was in agreement — or at least, they all raised their hands — in that caricature of a senate composed almost entirely of members of the sole legal party in Cuba, which has been in power for 55 years and which, despite calling itself Communist, really isn’t.

It follows, therefore, to suggest to the Cuban authorities that to be consistent with their own laws, they should conduct an aggiornamento (update) of the philosophical foundations of their ideology, and of the historic government party.

The Cuban state has long had its eyes on foreign investors. Rodrigo Malmierca, minister of exterior commerce and foreign investment, stated several months ago in Brazil that Cuba will continue to have just one political party. He was, of course, speaking to the interests of Brazilian entrepreneurs, and emphasizing the message of confidence and stability that Cuba’s governing class wants to convey so as to encourage them to do business on the island. Continue reading

Letter to Pope Francis from the Christian Liberation Movement Youth

“But Cubans are tired, Cubans want changes. More than ten years ago more than 25,000 Cubans supported a legal reform project. Called the Varela Project, it called for a plebiscite to ask the people, yes or no, did they want free elections. The Cuban Constitution establishes that if more than 10,000 people support a legal proposal than the government is constitutionally required to respond.” Rosa Maria Paya. Poster by Rolando Pulido.

Havana, May 5th 2014

“Fear is ridiculous and it provides ammunition to the enemies of liberty.”- The Venerable Father Felix Varela

Your Holiness, Pope Francis:

We would like to thank you with utmost respect and kindness for taking time to read this letter.

We are Cuban Catholic youth who everyday are intent to fortify ourselves to the clamors that burst forth and splatter our conscience from the brutal reality of our beloved Cuba. From the dawn of our youth we have occupied the rows of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), a pacifist-civic movement which, inspired  by Christian humanism and the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church, has yearned for the freedom that Cuba has wanted and needed for more than 25 years.

We love the church, and we have grown under her auspices with the influence of her Ignatian spirituality. Because of this, we turn to you to voice our pain and concern with several Cuban Bishops who, surrounded by pro-government Cuban laity and other figures of privilege, pronounce and act in the name of the Church before the unfolding drama that we Cubans have lived in for more than half a century.

Increasingly, ecclesial offices are shunted into a caricature of the masses, to be only the bottom substrate in the background and a common denominator legitimizing the government, asking for more votes of confidence for the politico-military junta who govern as dictators and awaiting a new “leader” to succeed the dynasty of the Castro Brothers and amend the “justified errors” of 55 years of governmental mismanagement that devastated a country whilst omitting the daily violations of human rights and the repressive despotic and unpunished actions of State Security personnel against nonviolent opposition and begging for weak reforms which lack transparency and in so doing be able to navigate comfortably in all waters through the use of ambiguous and confusing language that decorate and embellish the harsh realities, foregoing calling them by name, and thus presenting themselves as authentic rhetoricians and builders of bridges. Continue reading

Message for Yadira / Regina Coyula

I’d like to be able to have a conversation with the Cuban-American Yadira Escobar. The photo in her blog tells me that she is young, and the information she provides about herself indicates that she emigrated when she was very little. I have read much about how Yadira would like to return to Cuba, and I have also read about what her dream Cuba is.

Yadira is a self-proclaimed lover of freedom. Neither the Marxist collectivism nor capitalist individualism agree with her idea of what Cubans want; however, she missteps in inciting our academics, university students, and specialists of all kinds to be at the ready to plan the national course.

I can assure young Yadira that there is an intellectual contemplation coming from many places and many walks of life on Cuba, but their mark cannot always be found in official channels; it needs to be sought out in alternative sites, and in many cases, it is plagued, silenced and demonized. Continue reading

Amidst Rumors and Disinformation, Angel Santiesteban Continues Missing

{*Translator’s Note: Angel disappeared from prison on July 21, 2014. As of today he has not been heard from for 29 days.}

Five days* have passed now since the disappearance of the writer Angel Santiesteban in Havana, barely hours after he wrote a post from Lawton prison,  in which he announced to the world that there were strong rumors that the Regime’s prison authorities would transfer him to a higher security prison.

After his disappearance from said prison last July 21, without the Cuban authorities informing family members of anything, another rumor started circulating: supposedly, Angel Santiesteban had escaped. In a telephone call that the writer’s son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban, made to the prison, worried at not knowing anything about his father, a minor official confirmed the rumor. “I don’t know if they did it to scare me, to make me more nervous than I am,” said the 16-year-old, on the Columbian television program, Night, Channel NTN24. In conversations with family and friends he has said that he feels this lie by the regime’s prison officials is a bad sign. Continue reading

The Day the People of Havana Protested in the Streets / Ivan Garcia

1000472_474759539275644_1332749336_n1994 was an amazing year. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the USSR had been the trigger for the beginning in Cuba of the “Special Period in Times of Peace,” an economic crisis which lasted for 25 years.

We returned to  a subsistence economy. The factories shut down as they had no fuel or supplies. Tractors were replaced by oxen. And the power cuts lasted 12 hours a day.

The island entered completely into an era of inflation, shortages and hunger. To eat twice a day was a luxury. Meat, chicken and fish disappeared off the menu. People ate little, and poorly. Malnutrition caused exotic illnesses like beri-beri and optic neuritis. Continue reading

Temperamental Old Coots / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

The issue is not just about winning the argument with the United States. It’s also about a legacy created 55 years ago. Of what use to us are their perspectives, when ambitions fade with the passage of time”

The leaders of Cuba are well past working age. Small changes occur at the hands of his brother, Raúl Castro, another long-lived individual who has lived his life and realized the goals he set for himself. What are his ambitions today?

The Cuban desires progress and is at the mercy of old men. Are they perhaps different from others of their age group? As far as I know, an old man does not have the same drive as a young person who is just beginning to face the challenges of the future. Continue reading

Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale / Ivan Garcia

Alan Gross (b 1949, NY) before his detention and now.

In the Zamora neighbourhood, next to the Carlos J. Finlay military hospital, in the Marianao Council area, in Eastern Havana, many of the neighbours don’t know anything about the background of Allan Gross, the US contractor, who is stuck there.

It’s a poor district, with little houses, dusty streets and broken pavements. The midday heat finds it deserted. Not even the street dogs can bring themselves to walk over the hot asphalt.

People there take shelter from the mid-day sun inside their houses, or, inside a bare private cafe, put together in a house entrance hall, they talk about the latest TV serial, José Dariel Abreuthe’s 31st home run with the Chicago White Sox, or Barcelona’s next sign-ups.

Around here is where you find out about the latest violent crime which happened the previous night and, if the person you are talking to trusts you, he’ll take you round to the house where one of the neighbours will discreetly sell you some trashy industrial bits and pieces and Chinese cell phones. Continue reading

Fiesta and Funeral / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo taken by Juventud Rebelde

Starting on the morning of Tuesday August 12th, we have the International Youth Day celebrations all over Cuba; but, in view of the fact that, in the words of José Ángel Maury, who is responsible for the UJC (Young Communist League) International Relations, “We have the happy coincidence that it takes place on the eve of the Commander-in-Chief Fidel’s birthday,” the climax will be a huge chorus of Cuban young people and artists singing Happy Birthday Fidel at dawn on August 13th.

And if that doesn’t seem enough, in order to make it up to three, the communist organisers have contrived to combine the festivities of the 12th with the “Yes I have a Brother” day, to commemorate the 60th birthday of the dead President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel’s 88th. It seemed to me I was hearing my talkative grandmother when she said “If anyone doesn’t like soup, they give him three cups of it.”

Translated by GH

12 August 2014

RWB Exhorts Cuban Authorities to Clarify Angel Santiesteban-Prats’ Situation

Published Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cuban writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats disappeared from the jail at San Miguel del Padron on July 21, 2014.  Authorities at first said that he had escaped; nevertheless, ten days later his daughter managed to speak with him briefly at a police precinct.  His whereabouts are still unknown.

After having denounced the disappearance of Angel Santiesteban-Prats from the jail where he had been since April 2013, his relatives are worried about the accusation of attempted escape.

They have not yet been able to learn the Cuban writer and blogger’s version, but his family suspects that this new complaint is unfounded and its only purpose would be to increase his sentence to captivity. Continue reading

Despicable Manipulation / Rebeca Monzo

Yesterday, July 28, I read in the Trabajadores ["Workers"] newspaper about the speech given by 6th grade pioneer Wendy Ferrer during the main event of a celebration in Artemisa marking the 61st anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks. I could not help feeling shame and indignation over the vile manipulation that was so evident in the discourse read by this child.

To my understanding, the words and phrases used were not typical of a school-age child. If they were so, it would only be an even more lamentable proof of the terrible distortion fed to our students, a political manipulation that takes precedence over the true history of our country, and over true education. This is truly unfortunate. I believe that it is a civic duty to clarify for this girl, or actually for her teachers, some of the very sensitive aspects of her speech:

I completed my primary school studies — starting with a marvelous and unforgettable Kindergarten, as we then called what are today known as children’s camps — up to 6th grade in a public school, No. 31 of the Los Pinos suburb. Never, in our humble school, did we go without a school breakfast, as was provided in all public schools of that time. Nor did we ever lack notebooks — which I can’t forget included an imprint on the back of the tables for multiplication, addition, subtraction and division — or pencils, which were provided to all students at the start of — and midway through — each term. At that time, public education accounted for 22.3% of the national budget. There was also a private education sector, with wonderful schools founded and directed by great educators. Continue reading

What it Costs to Eat! / Rebeca Monzo

This week I invited to lunch a couple who are friends of mine.  I have among the more “respectable” pensions in this country: 340 CUP (Cuban pesos) — the type of currency which is also used to pay salaries.

I set out early in search of the necessary elements and ingredients to prepare for my friends a “criollo” [traditional Cuban] menu. They live outside the country, and I wanted to treat them to a home-cooked meal. Since there would be four of us to feed, I purchased the following:

Four plantains to make tostones, 10 CUP for the four; 1lb onions, 30 pesos; 1lb peppers, 20 pesos; two small garlic heads, 6 pesos; one avocado, 10 pesos; 2lb rice, 10 pesos; 1lb black beans, 14 pesos; 3lb pork steak, 120 pesos; one large (3lb) mango, 7.50 pesos. After that, I stood in line to buy one loaf of Cuban bread for 10 pesos.

As you might have noticed, a simple luncheon for four cost me “only” 257.50 Cuban pesos. My guests brought a bottle of wine.

The meal was a success and we had a great time, but as you can imagine, my pockets are wobbling until my next pension check. Now you see what a simple meal costs on my planet!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 August 2014