In accordance with the new Foreign Investment Law*, workers will be engaged by an State-run employing organisation. When you factor in the fact that the only union permitted is the one representing the interests of the State, we are looking at a capitalist-style relationship in which the workers have no-one to defend them. Although we already knew about this, the information provided by the Director General of the regulating office of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is surprising just the same. Let’s see: Continue reading
Una Noche (One Night) is the film which best reflects why it is that young people leave Cuba. That’s how a female friend of mine, who is a lover of the seventh art, laconically replied to my question, after visiting the film exhibition in the 34th Festival of New Latin-American Cinema, which took place in Havana from 4th to 14th December 2012.
Because of the social theme it deals with, because of the magnificent photography of Trevor Forrest and Shlimo Godder, Roland Vajs’ and Alla Zaleski’s sound quality, and also director Lucy Mulloy’s script, the British-Cuban-North American co-production Una Noche constitutes an important cinematographic work, which, with its truthful narrative, gets close to documentary cinema; and, due to the authenticity of the people and social events it focuses on, it gets close to naturalism. Shot in Havana, with local actors, dealing with a national theme, the film can be considered to be part of the filmography of the island.
Shot between the years 2007 and 2011, the 89 minute film received international resonance with the news that the three principal protagonists, Javier Núñez, Anailín de la Rúa and Daniel Arrechada, deserted the artistic delegation going to the XI Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in the month of April 2012.
The first two did it as soon as they touched down on North American soil in Miami, the third, after receiving the prize in Tribeca. The event, something quite ordinary for Cubans, attracted international attention to the film and served to confirm the film’s story.
HAVANA, Cuba, April – Osvaldo Esteban Brito Amat is another of the many Cubans, mostly youngsters, who every day jump into the sea looking for a better future.
“And the sharks? Aren’t you afraid of them?” I asked him while he told me about what happened to him when he tried to get to the coast of the US for the second time.
“No way. If you don’t take any risks in life, you won’t achieve anything. The sharks here, on land, do you more harm. They go around dressed as policemen and they don’t let you live.”
Everyone calls him Valdy and he was born 41 years ago in Ben Tre, one of the various communities forming part of Bauta Council, in the province of Artemisa next to the city of Havana.
Because of his height, blue eyes and his build, Valdy could be taken for a North American in any place in the world, although the sun has darkened his skin and he speaks in a very Cuban manner.
He boasts of never having been a good example of a revolutionary, because from when he was a child he never felt anything in his heart when he was made to repeat every morning before starting his classes: “Pioneers of communism, we will be like Ché.” He says that nothing that you are forced to do can be sincere.
“I think that ever since I was born I have dreamed of living in the USA,” he tells me. “I didn’t try to go earlier because of my mother. I promised her not to do anything crazy like going in a very risky way. But my mother died a year ago. So now it won’t hurt her if the worst happens. And if I succeed in getting there I am sure she would be very happy.”
“In Ben Tre, that small village, where scarcely three hundred people lived, working on miserable little plots and in the poorest of living conditions, many people remember the former North American landowners there in the fifties of the last century, the good wages they paid to the workers, and how they lost their lands and they left the country when Fidel Castro disappropriated them without offering any compensation.
“It’s the second time I have jumped into the sea, hardly ten days ago, at El Salado beach, at Baracoa. I was a kilometer from the Florida coast. I could almost smell Miami. I felt so happy to be able to open my eyes and try to make out its lights from afar. But they caught us. There were several of us, all youngsters and we almost cried when we saw the US coastguards’ boats on top of us.
“They treated us well. With respect. Just as the Cuban authorities did. They only asked us why did we want to leave. I told them the truth: because I don’t like socialism. I am a bird with four wings who wants to fly to liberty. To earn money by working, not looking for handouts offered by the Cuban government.
“I work for myself. I sell meat and pigs’ trotters, sausages, and some fruit, from my horse and cart; what I get from the community in order to earn an honest living. But that’s a criime in Cuba. That’s why I am familiar with jail. I am very familiar with it without being a criminal.”
“Of course I will try again. As they say, third time lucky.”
He showed me the baseball hat with Florida on it which they gave him in the US boat. For him it’s a trophy for his heroic act of confronting the sharks in the middle of the night. I ask him if he doesn’t think that they deserve to be welcomed into that great country and he looks at me with his deep blue eyes, filled with tears.
Cubanet, 8 April 2014
Translated by GH
HAVANA Cuba – Imagining a Cuban nutritionist in a health centre is like flying a kite without air. Given the general scarcities, these specialists in healthy eating, in their efforts to propose adequate diets to patients with obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes, have to act as circus magicians.
How can anybody guide you on what to eat to improve your health when you can’t obtain essential foods such as milk, beef, fish, seafood, when malangas (a kind of sweet potato) are available occasionally and potatoes are unobtainable?
Carmen, a nutrition specialist in various hospitals, finds her work makes her sad. “We all know what deficiencies we have to put up with. It pains me to see the looks on the faces of the old people who ask what they should eat, and complain about the impossible prices of fish, a pineaple, or oranges, from the healthy eating suggestions I give them so that they can recover their good heath”, she told me.
Most people – Carmen included – can’t afford fruit, on their miserable incomes. Imagine an old lady whose social security payment doesn’t even allow her to buy medicines, or a single mother without economic support from her child’s father.
Worthless junk food
A balanced diet is necessary to control certain conditions, but it’s also necessary to maintain your health. The worthless junk food eaten by Cubans is really an insult to the palate, is responsible for the small stature of today’s kids, the early loss of teeth, and the use of canes on the part of many under-70’s, due to deterioration in their bones.
It’s impossible to avoid catching diseases, when we are eating our monthly ration of “enriched mince*” (whose ingredients no-one knows), the little bit of chicken you get when there isn’t any fish; and other “leftovers”, dating back to the 90’s, of the notorious Special Period**, which never ends.
Who would tell the Cubans of the island that their food would be much worse than the diet the 18th and 19th century colonist farmers gave their slaves? In the plantation barracks they did not go without dried beef, bacalao (a type of fish), beef, milk and other valuable nutrients.
The 1842 rules regarding slaves specified that the masters must give their slaves two or three meals a day, with eight ounces (230 gm) of meat, dried beef or bacalao, and 4 ounces (115 gm) of rice or other kind of grain, accompanied by 6 or 8 plantains every day, or their equivalent in sweet potatoes, yams, yuccas or other types of tubers.***
Before 1959, the chef Nitza Villapol, became popular with her television recipes Cooking by the Minute. Later, in order to survive in the revolution, Villapol (by then a party militant) adapted her recipes to fit what you received in your meagre ration card. And ended up offering a recipe for “grapefruit steak”.
Even our very own Fidel Castro didn’t escape the temptation of offering cooking recipes. He recommended Cubans to drink some milk with a little bar of chocolate. It seemed like a joke: “what chocolate, and what milk?” asked the desperate mothers at home, who did not know what to dream up to feed their kids.
It’s absurd that the government can’t guarantee every citizen a glass of milk, and doesn’t allow Cubans to set up private businesses to supply milk and meat. It’s hypocrisy to blame the low livestock output on theft of cattle, when it is nothing else but another product of our misery.
What can we look forward to? Today’s slave-owners refuse to relax the state monopoly, the reason why Cubans can’t enjoy a balanced diet. What can Carmen, the nutritionist, say to the elderly person lacking in vitamins who asks her what should I have for lunch and dinner?
*”Mince” refers to “minced meat” which, in Cuba is likely to be a “mystery substance” rather meat.
** Fidel Castro coined the term a “special period in times of peace” to refer to the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the sudden loss of the USSR’s financial subsidy plunged Cuba into a severe economic crisis
***Source: El Ingenio, Manuel Moreno Fraginals
Cubanet, 4 April 2014
Translated by GH
HAVANA, Cuba – In the Cuban capital, two cooperatives operate the old public routes of the so-called taxis-ruteros, microbuses which take passengers from the Parque de El Curita, to four destinations: El Náutico, Alamar, Santiago de las Vegas and La Palma.
Curious to know why the people in Havana speak so ill of these services, I asked the impatient passengers: how frequently do they run? how long do they take to get there? And to various drivers of the vehicles, about the contracts the cooperatives use to lease out the buses.
A driver on the Parque del Curita Micro X line – who didn’t give his name – answered me: ” I do about 16 journeys a day, the microbus has 25 seats, and the fares for them to go to the CNoA (Non-Agricultural Cooperatives), 50 seats for the total return journey, or say 250 pesos. The fare is 5 pesos (CUP), equivalent to 20 cents.”
The driver continued: I carry more than 800 passengers a day, I collect about 4,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to $160). In 24 working days I hand over to the association, not less than 96,000 pesos ($3840). First I pay over what is due to the cooperative, which leases me the vehicle, the difference, or what is left over, goes to the drivers, because we are the semi-owners of these microbuses. Did you know we have to repair, clean, and cover the cost of maintenance, for which we have to pay third parties and the CnoA itself?
Another driver went further than his colleague: “After paying the association, I am left with some 1,200 pesos ($48), because as I am going along people get on and off. Those receipts don’t go to the CNoA; we keep them for our costs, because we are driving piles of old junk.
I could recognise that the micro’s driver, as well as his own income, receives about 600 pesos a month from the cooperative ($24), as profit share for being associates.
Liliana Ezquerra, vice president of the Provincial Administration Council of Havana, recently emphasized to the media: “When the two transport cooperatives started operating, using vehicles rented from the state, the number of passengers in the capital increased and at a lower fare than the private drivers charge.”
One passenger in the Micro X Alamar told me “It’s 8:50 in the morning, I waited 40 minutes for the bus, they arrive here when they feel like, come to fill up with fuel and hang around to go back again or to start their working day. They take time having a snack – how should I know?! The bottom line is, it’s a disaster. They may be cheaper than the privates, but I can’t rely on them to get me to my work on time.”
Another passenger told me: “There is no fixed time for them to start work; but nevertheless the pirates are in the street at 6 in the morning, and at 12 at night they are still providing a service; I don’t even want to talk about the public buses, you can’t even count on finding one at 7:30 at night.”
The third passenger, irritated, assured me: “Look, a microbus just got here and it got lost more than 30 minutes ago. Just so you can see. Look, there it comes, who should I complain to if now they are the owners?
As for me, I took a photo of the delayed bus, because I also spent more than 30 minutes waiting for it.
Cubanet, March 11th 2014. Ernesto García Díaz
Translated by GH
24 March 2014
My acquaintances in public transport like Ms. C tells me that we are now facing another cyclical crisis in urban transport. In the rush hours you see bus stops which are full up and people hanging about in queues 50 metres long and who are trying to guess where the bus is going to pull up, which, you can be sure, will not be at the stop.
The “blues” and “yellows” we used to see have disappeared, those inspectors authorised to stop public transport and organise passengers wanting to get on. In contrast, lots of fairly empty buses associated with work places, pass the crammed-full bus stops, one after the other, giving rise to lots of colorful comments on the subject of the privileged few.
In the face of this phenomenon, I always ask myself whether it wouldn’t be better if this semi private transport were incorporated into the public transport, but as a dear acquaintance says to me: The “Razonamil* I’m taking must have too strong an effect.
The irritation of buses whizzing past just adds to other frustrations, every one of which is a burden. Therefore, waiting for a bus and, if you can manage to get on, listening to how everyone in there gives vent – even if briefly – to his individual view of the process of modernisation of the economy, and how it provokes immediate reactions from other passengers, is a good thermometer, even though it may be that the general “reaction” is one of indifference.
Looking at the passengers’ faces doesn’t show you a happy society. Some of them pass the journey dozing, even though they are standing up; the younger ones often cut themselves off with their earphones or, on the other hand form noisy groups and are often abusive if people protest.
Most of the passengers are men and they are also the majority sitting down. Rucksacks, baskets, briefcases and parcels which seem to be heavy, take up a space which is already insufficient for the passengers. Gaunt faces, acrid smells, verbal violence in response to the slightest incident. And the heat is the last straw in this micro world.
*Translator’s note: “Razonamil” is a joke, a fake name of a drug that makes Regina “see reason”.
Translated by GH
28 March 2014
Following ETECSA informing most of its users of the new service, they can access their emails via NAUTA.cu from their mobile phones. The SMS service won’t work as it did before.
These problems with ETECSA’s service have affected all the Cuban government’s opponents, even leaving them without access to the internet. But what’s happening now is no more than possible overloading being experienced by ETECSA in carrying out what they have promised.
Does ETECSA have the ability to offer a quality service?
Another one of the services affected is MMS. In spite of the fact that it isn’t popular among Cubacel’s users because they don’t know about it. Those people who have been able to use it have found it difficult to send an MMS.
“Yesterday I sent a photo of her granddaughter to my mother and she wasn’t able to see it because the service isn’t working”, said Michel.
Is ETECSA going to get worse? Just as everything that the government touches does. Or is it just a question of getting used to a poor to middling service quality which varies from month to month?
Translated by GH
17 March 2014
Autocrats always want to transcend their own times. The Roman emperors, Hitler, Mussolini and the communist dictators Stalin, Honecker or Ceaucescu, bequeathed their own styles of architecture.
In Rome they still retain coliseums and palaces. Mussolini left hundreds of works, constructed under the label of fascist rationalist architecture, rolled out in Italy at the end of the 1920s in the last century.
Hitler also put up buildings and spaces in the Nazi cult, with the patronage of Albert Speer, in an original architectural style inspired by neo-classicism and art deco.
Sixty-nine years after the psychopathic Führer shot himself in his Berlin underground bunker, just before the defeat of the Third Reich, the Germans are still driving along the magnificent autobahns built in the Hitler period.
A serial criminal like Stalin left us socialist realism – horrible, certainly – which encompassed all the arts. Nicholas Ceaucescu, another dictator doing it by the book, demolished a fifth of Bucharest and put up new buildings.
His greatest project was the Palace of the People, the second biggest building in the world, after the Pentagon in Washington.
Fidel Castro won’t leave any timeless architectural works. He put up thousands of schools and hospitals, but, apart from the Instituto Superior de Arte, in the Playa Council area of Havana, the rest of his designs disfigure the landscape.
And forget about quality of construction. Most of the buildings put up after the bearded people came to power look older than many built at the beginning of the 20th century.
In Havana, capital of the first communist country in America, the architectural legacy will be irrelevant. You’d have to search with a magnifying glass to spot any high calibre work.
Among them would be the Coppelia ice cream shop, designed by Mario Girona in the centre of Vedado, or Antonio Quintana’s Palacio de Convenciones in the suburb of Cubanacán. You could also make an exception of Camilo Cienfuegos city, in East Havana, and Lenin Park, a green lung provided on the outskirts of the city.
But architectural design from 1959 onwards is, to say the least, odd. If you could demolish the dormitory suburbs of Alamar, Mulgoba, San Agustín, Bahía, or the twenty or so horrible apartment blocks built with Yugoslavian technology in Nuevo Vedado, you would partly put right some clumsy construction mistakes.
Havana, a city which is pretty and conceited with its several kilometers of gateways and columns, and a splendid esplanade among its architectural offerings, maintains the greatest variety of styles.
It was designed for 600,000 inhabitants. Today 2.5 million people live there. The regime has neither modernised nor widened its streets or avenues or a site as important as the Albear aqueduct.
They have only patched and asphalted the principal arteries. They have not improved the roads of Las calzadas de Monte, Diez de Octubre, Luyanó, Cerro, Infanta, Avenida 51 or Puentes Grandes to deal with the increase in vehicular traffic.
Some 70% of the side streets are full of potholes and water leaks. 60% of the buildings are crying out for fundamental repairs.
Let me give you a fact. According to an official of Physical Planning in Havana, 83% of works carried out are done privately. The urgent need for homes to be built has resulted in constructions all over the length and breadth of Havana without benefit of professional advice.
Thousands of home-made cast-iron windows with hideous grills make the capital look even uglier. The impression you get is of a large prison. Without any order or harmony, desperate families refurbish buildings and houses of great architectural value, trying to improve their lives a little.
The once cosmopolitan Havana, at the forefront of new technologies like the telephone, radio, or long distance TV transmissions, has now turned its back on globalisation.
The internet is a science fiction dream for many of its citizens. And what was once a beautiful colonnaded city, which would inspire Alejo Carpentier, is, in the 21st century, a heap of ruined buildings and ancient automobiles.
The Castro brothers haven’t even been able to leave any legacy in the city where they have been governing for years.
Photo: Taken from Juan Valdés César’s blog where you can see more images showing the current state of Havana.
Translate by GH
23 March 2014
According to the newspaper Granma, five directors of state-owned chains of shops have been suspended from their posts, and five others have been disciplined because of illegalities in the sale of cooking tools to customers and distorting the credit policy implemented by the Cuban government.
The disciplinary measures implemented by the Minister of Internal Commerce, Mary Blanca Ortega Barredo, were applied to executives of the CIMEX corporation, the TRD Caribe chain and the Union of Business and Cookery of Havana. Up to that point, everything’s fine. But I would like to know who punished the person behind the ridiculous national energising campaign, which obliged many Cubans to buy Chinese refrigerators which don’t refrigerate, electric saucepans which don’t cook, and hotplates which never worked. These people are now up to their eyes in debt. That is what, in Cuba, and in China, is called getting swindled.
Translated by GH
15 March 2014
This March 12th, commemorating Cuban Press Day, the ex-head of culture, Dr Armando Hart Dávalos (who a while ago went off his rocker) offered an award to the Cuban journalists. During the solemn proceedings, Señora Magda Resik, director of Havana Radio, came out with an over-the-top, “The most important obligation for Cuban journalists is the immense task of appraising the work of Jose Martí, and it is…”
I am sorry to interrupt the sentence, which is certainly very journalistic; but I think that the obligation of the press is nothing to do with Martí, but rather it is toward the Cuban people who, thanks to the disastrous work of the press, continue to be misinformed and have cataracts in their eyes.
Translated by GH
15 March 2014
Supported by this, and with the Cuban government as co-conspirators, he was able to put together a kind of Latin American integration, which turned into a monolithic, geopolitical and economic bloc, whose principal role was, and continues to be, to assist him in the regional context.
The cost of all this expansion, was national division. Partition which he master-minded using his well-known ability to confront internal problems with arrogant creativity and the power to manage people.
After he died, Maduro’s big objective, as successor, was to reunify the nation; but it’s a difficult job, Venezuela has turned into an apparent democracy within one of the most unequal societies in America, with the added twist of having lost all sense of tolerance.
The time bomb exploded. The official forces repressed, and the young people were not afraid. Venezuela is splitting again, and expresses it in demonstrations, many against and a good many others in favour of Nicolás Maduro’s government.
The country’s situation is critical, and it is shameful to see how some social network pyromaniacs and followers and “likers”, making out to be heroic “patriots”, try to avoid dialogue and with total irresponsibility (from the comfort of their homes), with a coca-cola in hand, encourage confrontation, as if the followers of Twitter and Facebook were more important than the victims of the conflict.
I believe the prospects for the Venezuelans are predictable, and I can’t imagine that there will be–in the very short term–a national move back toward democracy. All the more so following the delayed and timid OEA (Organisation of American States) resolution adopted by a 29-3 vote, and not a consensus, because, as expected, the ALBA bloc countries and CARICOM had a majority and opposed the adoption of a stronger and more effective resolution.
Thanks to the sophistries of the then president Hugo Chávez, with the benefit of advice direct from Havana, the senior secretary general of the OEA, José Miguel Insulsa, without detracting from his demonstrated experience in affairs of state, lost part of his leadership within the organisation he presides over.
It has become evident that the OEA has structural problems, that it needs an overall review, has ceased to be an entity for valid dialogue for this hemisphere, and today is simply the governments of Caracas and Havana, which, without belonging to it (Cuba was suspended until 2009) and, like María Ramos’ kitty [a Cuban prostitute’s cat, which she blamed for the death of her pimp], have a majority of votes among the member states of this organisation.
Insulsa, as an additional post-diplomacy move, should ask, even if his request is rejected, to visit Venezuela to see personally on the spot what the situation is and in that way be able to avoid the different very biased versions of what happened put forward by one side or the other.
In this crucial moment, the important thing is not the cruelty of some, but the indifference of many. Politics is very serious, and we are all responsible, and cannot just leave it up to the politicians.
Translated by GH
11 March 2014
We don’t yet know what the price of the installation will be. What has come to light in a document which we have seen are the different tariffs for national and international internet surfing.
The document, put out by Ibis Díaz Silva, commercial executive of ETECSA’s Oficina de Pequeños y Medianos Usuarios (Office of Small and Medium Users ), indicates that the 20 hour internet package will cost 10 convertible pesos a month, 50 hours 15 cuc (Cuban convertible currency), 100 hours 30 cuc, 180 hours 50 cuc, and 220 hours 60 cuc. There will be a 90 hour package, usable between 8 pm and 7 am which will be offered at 20 cuc. They will sell additional hours at 30 convertible pesos.
Additionally, starting from September, they will market the local intranet network at a lower price, where you can find official media. The connection speed will be between 2 and 4 megabytes.
Gradually, Raúl Castro’s government has taken some steps forward to provide internet access for Cubans. On 4th June 2013, ETECSA opened 116 navigation rooms in 15 provinces of the country.
Up to this month, according the ETECSA spokesman, about 600,000 customers have connected to the network. Last February 25th, the Gaceta Oficial de la República (Official Gazette of the Republic) announced new cellphone internet tariffs. And from 2013, ETECSA workmen have been busy putting in place wireless networks in different parts of Havana.
The prices of these new services have generated a lot of controversy. The point is that the Cuban man in the street, with an average salary of $20 a month, can’t afford the luxury of connecting to the internet while he has no chicken, fish or meat in his pantry.
One way or another, nearly everybody is complaining. Whether they are unknown citizens, like the private shoemaker Alfonso Ayala, who has never surfed the net, or official journalists like Elaine Díaz or Alejandro Rodríguez, who have criticised the excessive prices in their blogs.
“One hour at 4.50 cuc (Cuban convertible currency) is equivalent to 112 Cuban pesos. Repairing shoes, I make between 80 and 100 Cuban pesos a day. All my income is for buying food and supporting my wife and kids. As far as I can see the internet continues to be out of my reach,” says Ayala.
As far as the regime is concerned, the internet is an invention of the US special services with the aim of colonising information and culture. Only the inescapable necessity of not continually putting the brakes on Cuban professional development has forced the government to authorise access to the internet.
It all started in 1998, when the island was connected up, via satellite, more slowly and with a narrower band than a public university in New York. The official press blamed the technological backwardness on the trade embargo imposed by Washington, which forbids connection to the underwater cables owned by US companies, which surround the green Cayman Islands. And we know that Cuba and the USA are continuing with the Cold War. And truth is the first casualty of any war.
According to the ETECSA spokesman, in 2010, some gringo companies located in Florida were authorised by the Obama government to negotiate with Cuba to recommission an old unused underwater cable.
“The project was viable. It cost $18m with a bandwidth right for our requirements. But the government preferred to bet on the so-called digital self-government and designed a project jointly with Venezuela called ALBA1, stated the source.
At a cost of $70m, the submerged cable connected the twin cities of La Guiara and Siboney in the east, in Santiago de Cuba. There is a spur off it which goes off to Kingston, Jamaica.
There is a structure of corruption around the cable in the upper echelons of the Ministry of Communications and Information, which led to the desertion of a high-up manager of ETECSA in Panama in 2012.
There was no news about ALBA1 until 4 June 2013, following the government decision to open new navigation rooms. There is no doubt that the famous cable clearly improved the connection speed.
Before that, in a five-star hotel like the Saratoga, where Beyoncé stayed last year with her husband JayZ, the connection speed was slow and expensive. At best it didn’t get past 100Kb. And 2 hours of internet cost a bit over $15.
From September 2014 on, things are going to change, according to specialists I have spoken to. It could be that not many Cubans will be enthusiastic about the new provision, on account of its irrational pricing. But the ETECSA functionary referred to is optimistic and considers that the opening up of cyberspace will bring more positives than negatives.
Photo: A Cuban surfs the net in one of the cyber cafes opened by ETECSA all over the island in June 2013. Taken by El Universal.
Translated by GH
9 March 2014