Our Dead Are Raising Their Eyelids / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, 22 January 2015

It’s true. Although I still don’t believe it.

But they’ve told me it in all the families I’ve visited since I’ve been out of my country. That’s what families are, a mausoleum. They don’t lie. There is no Cuban family which is not our death memory.

That’s how it is. We Cubans die in the family. That’s the saddest part of dying. Not dying as such, which doesn’t bother the person dying, but the horror of imposing on exactly those people who loved us while we were alive. People should go and die among strangers. Get lost, and that’s it. That’s why I went to the United States. That’s why I didn’t die in Havana, in spite of the fact death whispered “Orlando” in my ear every morning where I lived. Continue reading

Roberta Jacobson Queries the Castros’ Crime / Rosa Maria Paya

Screen shot from the Twitter account of one of the regime’s aliases

A subject we always include

Rosa María Payá

I have only been in Washington DC 12 hours. Time enough to take up Senator Marco Rubio’s kind invitation to go to President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

It’s winter in DC, but as it gets late, the monumental silhouettes are turned on, giving the capital a warm appearance. In the Capitol I was able to talk to various Democrat and Republican senators, all of them wanting to hear about Cuba. The points in question continue to be fundamental ones:

1) The United States is having high level conversations with a government which has never been chosen by its citizens. And therefore we hope they will put on the table some support for the constitutional petition put up by thousands of Cubans in favour of a referendum for free and multi-party elections. Continue reading

Internet in Cuba, I’ll believe it when I see it / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 “If you want to free a country, give it the internet.” Wael Gonium

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 25 February 2015 — A vice president who gives an assurance that the country “… is committed to social information” but who then automatically sees it as being led by the communist party, and who sees it as “…a key weapon for the revolutionaries to get participation in the social project we desire“: who at the same time emphasises that “… everyone’s right to the internet presupposes the duty to use it properly and in accordance with the law, and also presupposes the responsibility to be vigilant about the defence of the country and its integrity“, and a Deputy Minister of Communications assuring us that along with the economic development of this sector there must also be running in parallel the “political and ideological strengthening of the society,” are indications that we will not see anything different anytime soon after the recent Information and Biosecurity workshop ends.

The underhand warning which indicates the presence in the front row of Col. Alejandro Castro — implied candidate to inherit the family throne — and the silence whenever the subject turns to his father, President Raúl Castro; Comandante Ramiro Valdés’ permanent position in charge of the Ministry of Communications — twice ex-Minister of the Interior, the most rancid relic from Cuba’s Continue reading

Castrobama / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

OLPresident

LET THE OLD DEAD GIVE WAY TO THE NEW DEAD

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The title is, of course, a quote from the Czech, Milan Kundera, an obsolete reference for the rest of a world, which believes it is living in the post-communist era. But in Cuba, it continues to be something referring to the future.

Just as in global capitalism, “time is money”, in twenty-first century Castroism time is the essence of totalitarianism itself. Because of that, Cubans don’t have lives, only, barely, biographies. And because of that Cubans don’t live in human time, but buried, with the dismal defect that it could last for all eternity. Continue reading

With Raul Castro, Are the Poor Poorer? / Ivan Garcia

condiciones-en-que-vive-niña-con-cáncer1-_mn-620x330

Iván García, 26 February 2015 — José lives with his wife and five kids, crammed into a nine by twelve foot space with a wooden platform, in a shack in Santos Suárez, a slum south of Havana.

The tenement is a precarious spot where the electric cables hang from the roof,  water runs down the narrow central passage from the plumbing leaks, and a disgusting smell of sewage hangs in your nose for hours.

That shack forms part of a group of ramshackle settlements where more than 90 thousand Havanans live, according to Joel, a housing official in the 10 de Octubre municipality.

There are worse places. On the outskirts of the capital, shantytowns are spreading like the invasive marabou weed. There are more than 50 of them. Houses made of sections of aluminium and cardboard, without any sanitation Continue reading

Seven Hours with Jorge Luis Piloto in Miami / Ivan Garcia

Jorge Lis Piloto and Ivan Garcia in Miami

Iván García, 4 February 2015 — For the prolific and noteworthy Cuban composer, Jorge Luis Piloto Alsar, born in the winter of 1955 in Cárdenas in the town of Matanzas, some 145 kilometers north of Havana, not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that his songs would achieve international fame.

Let’s get into the time machine. An ordinary day in the ’70’s. Culturally speaking, Cuba was going through a rough period. Writers, poets and composers are being administered by the state, following Fidel Castro’s decree.

The cinema, novels, la guaracha, and sound must highlight the exploits of the revolution. The government controls all of it. In your profile, you have to indicate how many marches you have been on and how much voluntary work you have participated in, if you want to pass the summer in a house on the beach, have a Russian fridge Continue reading

Cuba: The Other Embargo / Ivan Garcia

Melia-Marina-Varadero-Cuba1-_mn-620x330Last summer, 48-year-old Lisván, owner of a small photographic studio in a neighbourhood in the east of Havana, personally suffered the consequences of the absurd prohibitions that the Castro regime imposes on its citizens.

With the profits made from his business and after saving a part of the money sent to his family from abroad, he stayed for five nights with his wife and daughter in the hotel Meliá Marina Varadero, for 822 pesos convertibles.

“On the beach I struck up a friendship Continue reading

Any honest and decent agreement should include the demand for the release of ALL the political prisoners / Angel Santiesteban

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats was and is the victim of Cuban State Security, which wants to silence his voice of opposition.

They fabricated a judicial action based on false denunciations from the mother of his son, who properly denied them when he announced internationally that he had been forced by his mother and the political police to declare against his own father.

Angel’s innocence has been shown with more than enough proof, and all good Cubans (and others) know it. Before the impotence of puppet justice to “prove” these denunciations, in spite of the fact that international law doesn’t consider one element of the accusation valid, they justified a sentence of five years on the report of a calligraphy expert: “guilty by the height and inclination of his handwriting.” Continue reading

A Writer With More Talent Than Fear / Angel Santiesteban

Literature has its decorum, as do those who live by it. José Martí

Nelton Pérez is a Cuban writer who recently won the Alejo Carpentier prize, which is the highest literary award for writers on a national scale, and also the best financially-endowed prize, comparable only to the Casa de las Américas International Prize.

His winning novel “Infidente”, deals with José Martí’s stay at the El Abra estate, on the Isle of Pines, following his release from political prison, when Sr. Sardá, a friend of his father’s, invited him to recover his good health there, while he awaited his deportation to Spain.

Taking as his starting point the limited historical information about Martí’s stay on the island, Nelton recreates, imagines, supposes — and he does it so well that the reader ends up believing that the letters written by the young Martí are real. Once when he visited me in prison, I had the privilege of him bringing me the manuscript. Continue reading

The Betrayal of Humboldt 7 or the Legal Art of Looting

Humboldt 7* in Havana, Cuba.

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

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

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

Not Many Black or Mixed-race Businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia

Cuba-Mar-2011-620x330Just as with most successful businesses in Cuba, the owners of Leyenda Habana, an elegant restaurant in El Cerro, surrounded by ranch houses, are white.

Two miles to the east of Leyenda Habana, in the poor and mostly black neighbourhood of San Leopoldo, the iconic private La Guarida restaurant, where US congressmen and the Queen of Spain have dined, also has a white proprietor. And, unless something has changed, the chef is black.

I invite you to visit glamorous bars like El Encuentro in Linea and L, Vedado: Shangrilá, in Playa, or El Slopy’s in Vibora Park, very near to La Palma; central crossroads in Arroyo Naranjo.

Apart from being comfortable and with efficient service, the common denominator is that the owners are white. Black people work in the kitchen, or, if they are very qualified, and look good, they dispense daiquiris and mojitos behind the bar.

The waitresses usually are white, young girls with beautiful faces and spectacular bodies. Could be pale-skinned mulattas who spend a fortune on straightening their hair to be similar to many white women.

The owners of rental properties with swimming pools or luxury apartments are also white. Or the owners of fleets of American cars and jeeps from the 40’s and 50’s, fitted with modern diesel engines, used as private taxis in Havana.

Ignacio, who has sun-tanned white skin, owns six automobiles and three Willys jeeps, made sixty years ago in the Detroit factories. Every day he turns over 600 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“Part of the money I invest in gasoline and in maintenance of the cars. I make juicy profits, but my business is in a judicial limbo as it is not something envisaged in the self-employment regulations. For the moment, the government lets us do it,” he indicated while he drinks a German beer.

When you ask him why it is that in the most successful private businesses, 90% of the owners are white, he replies: “Several reasons, ranging from subtle or open racism on the part of many business people, to economic reality, in that black Cubans are the ones with the lowest standard of living and receive fewer remittances from family abroad.”

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that not all of the blame for negroes and mestizos not occupying prominent positions in private businesses can be attributed to the Fidel Castro regime.

“This is a long-running story. When in 1886 they abolished slavery in Cuba, the negroes and mestizos started off at a disadvantage. They didn’t have property, knowledge or money to invest in businesses. They moved from being slaves to wage earners. They gained prestige and a better position in society by way of sport, music and manual trades.”

According to the sociologist, “The Revolution involved the negroes in the process, dressing them up in olive green and sending them to risk their lives in African wars. But in key positions in the economy, politics or audiovisual media, there was an obvious white supremacy.”

For Orestes, an economist, “We cannot overlook the detail that 80% of the Cubans who have done well in exile are whites. The first wave of emigrants to Florida were educated white people, nearly all business people with capital. And those who left without money, thanks to their knowledge and hard work, moved forward and triumphed in the US society.

And he adds that, in the subsequent waves in 1965, 1980 and 1994, there was a larger percentage of negroes and mestizos, but they were ill-prepared and they worked in poorly paid jobs in the  United States. “And because of that, they sent less money to their poor families in Cuba,” the economist explained.

The situation was capable of change. Now, dozens of sportsmen, mulattos and negroes, play abroad and some earn six figure salaries.

Although José Dariel Abreu, who plays for the Chicago White Sox and earns $68 million over seven years, in theory cannot invest one cent in Cuba, because of the embargo laws, one way or another, thousands of dollars get to his relations in the island and they are able to open small businesses in their provinces.

In spite of the fact that the majority of the owners of currently successful businesses in the capital are white, reggaeton singers, jazz players, musicians who commute between Cuba, the United States and Europe, have opened businesses or have provided finance for their family members.

The reggaeton performer Alexander, the write Leonardo Padura or the volleyball player Mireya Luis, among others, have opened bars, restaurants and private cafes with part of their earning in hard money.

But they are the few. Most of the negroes or mestizos who have permits to work for themselves, work twelve hours filling matchboxes, repairing shoes or open up a small shop in the the entrance to their house, with no grand pretensions, trying to earn 200 or 300 pesos a day.

Nearly always the competition from white people with bigger wallets gobble up the self-employed negroes or mulattos. Leonardo, a negro resident in La Vibora, in 2010 put up a jerry-built stall made of sheet metal painted ochre in the garden of his house.

“Things went well. Until in the corner, by the house, a relation of a general opened a modern, well-stocked cafeteria. From then on, my earnings have collapsed. I am thinking of closing,” he says. The owner and employees of the business competing with Leonardo are white.

Although in this case, the advantage didn’t lie in skin colour. Because in Cuba, if, apart from having money, you have a relative who has the medals of a general, that will open many doors. Including those which should remain shut.

Iván García

Translated by GH

13 September 2014

Who is really blockading us? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The brand name of this company selling chicken portions in Havana tells you its origin: these products arrive here from the other side of the iron curtain, from the enemy’s shore. This “Product of USA” reminds us that more than ten years ago the US Congress approved licences for selling food products to the Cuban government, on a cash-only basis, but with the result that also for years the chain stores selling in CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, i.e. hard currency) on the island have insisted in selling these chicken portions at up to 4.50 CUC (about $5). If we bear in mind that historically this has been one of the cheapest meats on the world market, we can easily see that food for the people is not exactly treated as a special case by our government when it comes to turning a profit.

But to this type of profit in CUC we have to add its analog in CUP (Cuban pesos). Also years ago the state-run Food and Business Companies joined in the party: many administrators immediately “saw the light” and proceeded to start selling a pound of raw chicken on the black market for 25 pesos, that’s to say, the price  of the prepared product, like fried chicken, and so they keep hold of the surplus oil, and you can guess where that ends up.

In the end, Liborio, [a cartoon character representing the typical poor Cuban peasant] poor man, caught in the cross-fire, doesn’t receive his monthly bag of chicken, oil — and lots of the other things, speaking of Lindoro, [incompetent Lindoro is an archetypal useless boss of an unproductive Cuban company] –  that the people in headquarters get: poor Lindoro, who, in reality is the only loser. And the main culprit in all this continues to be the Cuban government, because of its obstinate and half-assed economic focuses, and also because of its unscrupulous pricing policy — the same one which fixes the price of a USED Geely auto at $38,000, which doesn’t cost $5,000 new, or which tries to sell us a shitty Suzuki moped for over $12,000 which cost a little more than $300.

Here everything comes down to the same thing; simply and straightforwardly our government is always pursuing one goal: blocking the well-being of the people by every means possible. And so, we should ask, who is it that is really blockading us? Lets see what the “Yankee Blockade” theorists have to say about that.

Translated by GH

9 October 2014