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

And Now What? / Somos+, Jose Presol

Somos+, Jose Presol, 18 January 2017 — We expected it for a long time and it happened, but when we weren’t in the line for the ration book. I am referring to the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. We all knew that it would end, but what we least imagined was that it would be now and done by the current president, Barack Obama.

It had to be sooner or later. The American people are leaning toward a policy of protectionism and focusing on their own problems and stumbles, and there are many Cubans in exile who affirm, “I am not politically persecuted, I came to resolve my economic problems.”

At the same time, there are constant complaints that old and current repressors and collaborators with the Cuban political regime are also in the United States, and whether or not they are still collaborating with the tyranny is not clear. This had to come. continue reading

Obama, who not so long ago seemed wonderful to so many people, now has thousands of defects. No friends, his message was clear, “Cuba’s problems must be solved by Cubans.” One more thing we have heard and interpreted according to our own convenience.

That was a way of saying, among other things: Gentlemen, the American taxpayers have no obligation to indefinitely finance the immigration of citizens of other nationalities, especially when we are not sure of their ideology and when these funds are needed, for example, to improve the conditions of our own veterans.

Few governments in the world are not aware that these resources are not unlimited and that this problem is not solved by “minting money.”

The fault belongs to us, Cubans. We all know, we are not fools, that the problem is not that there is no food, the problem is those who have made it so that there is no food. We have found it more convenient to confuse the symptoms with the disease. We have found it more convenient to deny reality. We have found it more convenient to say, with clenched teeth “over there,” that it is an economic problem.

But yes, it is an economic problem, but please, haven’t we been under a constant bombardment of Marxist doctrine for 58 years? Have we not listened to a single word? Hey guys, they say it themselves, “The economic problems are political problems.”

I am not a fortune-teller and I don’t know what the evolution of the problem in Cuba will be, but I am sure that there have already been two things: 1) a bucket of cold water for those who hoped to “escape” the situation, and 2) the disappearance of the escape valve from the current situation in Cuba, which does not please the regime, despite their saying otherwise.

As I said, I do not know how the subject will evolve, but I have hope that it will end up radicalizing the postures inside Cuba and clarifying them outside Cuba, and vice versa.

I hope that we Cubans, once and for all, will face our problem, trying to provoke quantitative changes (so they will understand me, I use Marxist terms) that, in accumulation, end up producing qualitative changes.

And those quantitative and qualitative changes begin with ourselves.

First, we have to think about who our real rival is and face it, without palliatives; finding all the cracks in the system and enlarging them, analyzing their contradictions and denouncing them.

Second, recognize that the problem of Cuba belongs to Cubans, all of us without exception, and that Cubans must solve it, and forget about remedies, collective or individual, that come from outside.

Third, we need to focus on programs and lines of action to conquer our rival; focus on weakening everything that benefits it; focus on highlighting the weaknesses and errors of the system.

Fourth, these programs and lines of action should focus on Cuba’s real needs. We must not return to situations that we often yearn for and fail to recognize that they were the reasons for what we have now. We must build a New Republic, with the ideals of freedom and democracy from our early founders.

Fifth, around these programs and lines of action, we have to create the necessary unity (and, why not, organization) to gather forces instead of dispersing them, not looking for some leader to solve it for us.

Sixth, these programs and lines of action must be peaceful, we are children of a nation that has not known peace and tranquility since October 10, 1868, it is high time that we also address that.

Seventh: Cubans, think. You are the children of the people who fought for 30 years for independence, who suffered 4 years of American occupation, people who have had 57 years of a false republic and more occupations (material or mediated) and another 58 of tyranny. We have fallen many times and many times we have risen, even mistaking and getting it wrong again. So get up at once and contribute with your effort and imagination. This is your opportunity. Do not let it pass.

Translated by Jim

Leadership and Dissidence / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 6 January 2017 — The leadership and the dissidence seem more and more the same to me. Is it coincidence or lack of experience?

At this very moment, if suddenly there were free elections on my planet Cuba, supervised by the United Nations or other countries, I would not know who to vote for.

Lately, what I see and hear most among the dissidents is about travels abroad and buying things cheaply and so-and-so “stayed.” I don’t hear much talk about organizing and meeting to raise awareness among neighbors and friends, with the goal of winning supporters. continue reading

The Cuban people, in general, don’t know any of the leaders from the many existing groups. Not even their neighbors know who they really are and what they do, unless State Security visits them to alert them against the dissidents and presents a false picture of them. Of course, the government takes full advantage of the lack of internet that it has intentionally imposed on us.

Increasingly, sadly, the dissidence is more divided. Everyone aspires to be the “head of the mouse” but they are not resigned to being the “tale of the lion.” The heads of the groups are those who receive economic support from abroad and distribute it how they wish, along with the courses and trips to different events in distant countries, the content of which is shared with no one.

This, without counting those who have a police file on their “dangerousness” and then, at the first opportunity, leave the country for good. Apparently, without realizing it, they are giving the government what it wants.

How is it possible to change the destinies of a country if the opposition groups within the island are distancing themselves from each other and, therefore, it is so difficult to effectively dedicate themselves to spreading democratic ideas among the people?

It is time to reconsider and smooth things over and try to become united, ignoring differences, then denounce the most acute problems suffered by the Cuban people, and try to find solutions to them.

Being divided pleases the government, whose policy from the beginning has been precisely that: divide and conquer.

Translated by Jim

To All My Readers / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 2 January 2017 — I wish the best for you in this year of 2017.

For several days I have been without internet, thanks to the “induced mourning” and the holidays. I look forward to the small government changes, which happen very slowly, as this year accelerates and shows the truth of the huge economic changes the country needs to get out of the stagnation and depression it is submerged in.

A hug for everyone and good health, peace and prosperity.

Translated by Jim

No Right to Breakfast / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Bread rolls in a Cuban ration market bakery

Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, Havana, December 12, 2016 – When in 2006 Raul Castro took power, one of the first things he said was that he would give a glass of milk a day to every Cuban. He knew very well the importance that the people gave to the strong tradition of having breakfast with coffee with milk and a piece of bread with butter. Even during the years of the Republic years it was within reach of the poorest in any cantina, inn, kiosk, or cafeteria.

Starting in 1991, with the collapse of Soviet communism, Cubans’ breakfast disappeared. In this way, Fidel’s permanent teaching failed, when he had said: “Yes we can.” continue reading

It was simply not possible for dairy industry to supply enough milk, although in a speech in December 1966 Fidel predicted that he would fill Havana Bay with milk because “in 1970 the island will have 5,000 experts in the livestock industry and around 8 million cows and calves, good milk producers.”

A little history

The Cuban dairy industry began its great development in 1927, under the government of Gerardo Machado. A few years later, when our population was 6 million, the island had one head of cattle per person and the price of meat was one of the lowest in Latin America. Cuba’s annual milk production was 1,014 million quarts, equivalent to 157 quarts per person per year.

Canned condensed milk and packaged skimmed milk.

According to economic data of those years, and as we Cubans of the third age remember it, in Cuba an excellent butter was produced, as well as good cheese, condensed, evaporated or powdered milk, and a quart of fresh milk could be acquired daily And at modest prices, thanks to private companies and modern factories, which disappeared practically at the beginning of the Castro dictatorship, when in 1960 Che Guevara was appointed Minister of Industry.

What the future says 

Just a few hours ago, on the occasion of the visit of a senior Russian leader, General Raúl Castro offered great news: The government of Russia would participate in the island’s economy! ¡Madre mía! I hope it’s not so that they will again send us Russian canned meats swimming in water instead the meat of good native cattle.

The future of the domestic industry, especially of food products, is uncertain. It is an industry that is unable to participate actively in resolving the country’s shortcomings. One of its problems, Commander Ramiro Valdés said recently, is the exodus and the lack of discipline of the workers and, above all, the bad technological and risky conditions in plants and factories.

Just to give one example, in 2014, a factory, the only one of its kind for dairy products, began operating in Ciego de Avila at a cost of 800 thousand pesos in hard currency. Its commercial director, Pérez de Corcho, informed the newspaper Granma in February 2015 that: “The factory does not work at full capacity because for months there has been low milk production in the territory, even though what is produced was destined for the tourist-focused cities of Jardines del Rey, Venezuela and Ciego de Avila.”

The current reality 

Today, even with all the juggling they do, Cubans cannot have breakfast. In order for a family consisting of couple and two children, for example, to be able to afford their daily breakfast, they would have to have about 50 Cuban Convertible pesos per month, equivalent to more than one thousand Cuban pesos, in a country where the average wage of a worker does not exceed four hundred pesos in national currency. (That is, two-and-a-half monthly salaries, just for breakfast.)

Ready to serve chicken with sauce.

This is because the imported products — milk, coffee and butter — come from very distant countries, although they can also be seen in Latin America, with the exception of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, from where we get no foods, neither expensive nor cheap.

The privilege of having breakfast is enjoyed only by Cubans who receive family remittances, principally from the United States, so they can buy things in Cuban Convertible pesos. The ordinary Cuban, which is almost everyone, has irretrievably lost this right.

Our food industry, we are faced with an irrefutable truth, thanks to Cuban communism has gone to hell in a handbasket.

 Translated by Jim

What Fidel Castro Left Us (Part 2) / Iván García

Volunteer teachers (see longer description at end of post).

Ivan Garcia, 19 December 2016 — According to Luisa, 76, a former prostitute, the first time she collected money for sex, she bathed herself three times trying to remove the smell of an old man who sweated over her body.

“I was once young and pretty. The dawn that Batista fled from Cuba, I was in bed with an businessman who was my lover. Then everything changed. The Revolution made plans to integrate the prostitutes into society. I was in a school for women in Marianao. Several of my friends had courses on cutting and sewing, others to be taxi drivers,” says Luisa, while she eats a ration of rice, peas, and boiled egg in a horrible state-run restaurant that sells food to low-income people. continue reading

But necessity obliged her again to barter of sex for favors. “They say that the bird always returns to the mountain. The fact is that in 1970, after the Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest, with three children and divorced, I went to bed with a FAR officer who in exchange gave me cans of Russian meat and condensed milk, among other canned food, and gave me money to support the children. Fidel Castro did not encourage prostitution, but mi’jo, the country has never worked, and when it is not one problem it’s another. People cannot live on speeches or promises,” says Luisa.

One of her daughters was a jinetera — a prostitute — at the end of the ’80s. The oldest granddaughter inherited the “office.” When night falls, she goes to a bar south of Havana and hunts for customers.

“It seems we carry being hookers in our blood,” emphasizes Luisa with a grimace that pretends to be a smile, but reflects shame. The olive green autocracy tried to change the customs of society, to dignify women and those who never had anything and to build a New Man immune to the vices of consumerism.

The goal was to achieve a citizen loyal to the Revolution. Atomic bomb proof. Who was circumspect, almost a saint, who drank little, did not practice sex too much and was able to recite from memory excerpts from important speeches of the Maximum Leader.

Like their efforts in crossing cattle breeds or experimenting in a laboratory with guinea pigs, Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara set to work. The first thing was to create a political commitment and a culture of hatred of Yankee imperialism.

The state propaganda apparatus and the party commissars were in charge of carrying out the task. It was an ideological war of high intensity on radio, television and in literature.

The shelves of Cuban bookstores overflowed with classics of socialist realism. The novels of Corín Tellado were forbidden. The directions for being a future communist passed through “No One is a Solldier at Birth,” “August of ’44” and “Panfilov’s Men,” among other works of Soviet war literature.

At that time, control over the media was absolute. Internet sounded like science fiction, a shortwave radio was something subversive and don’t even dream about a computer, something very large at that time.

The regime dominated the information flow at will. This allowed it to easily rule. In the 1970s, says Gerardo, an ex-combatant in the Angolan civil war, “We Cubans all believed that the Ku-Kux-Klan lynched blacks in every corner of the United States and that that nation’s days were numbered. Our mission was to build socialism first and communism later. The future belonged to us.”

Gerardo still remembers the litany of slogans they repeated every morning in the military camps. “Many believed that we were breeding a new future. We did not learn about, or we looked away from the abuses of power against those who thought differently. I came to know of the harassment of opponents and homosexuals and the creation of UMAP — internment camps for homosexuals, religious, dissidents and other “inconvenients — in the 90’s thanks to the internet. We lived in a bubble.”

Thousands of men and women were separated from their families with the mission of evangelizing Castroism. The journalist Tania Quintero, 74, says that in 1960, after listening to Fidel Castro talking about the creation of volunteer teachers, who would prepare in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and later would be destined to rural schools, she decided to leave her job as a typist in the People’s Socialist Party offices, and become a teacher.

“I enrolled in the third and final contingent of volunteer teachers. From March to June of 1961 I was in La Magdalena, in Las Minas del Frio. Along with elementary notions of pedagogy we received classes in political indoctrination. We did not have a radio and every day the press came to us, that’s how I heard about the Bay of Pigs invasion,” Quintero recalls, adding:

“We young women who had better records were selected to take a course in revolutionary instructors, newly created by Fidel Castro and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). It was a one year study and work plan. From Monday to Friday we lived in residences in the old Havana Biltmore, renamed Reparto Siboney by the Revolution. The professors were University of Havana graduates in teaching, but the subjects were not limited to mathematics, Spanish, history, geography … We also had to study Marxism-Leninism and its creators: Marx, Engels and Lenin.”

Tania studied in the morning and afternoon and at night gave classes in “revolutionary instruction” — that is, in commenting and discussing Fidel Castro’s speeches — to former maids, prostitutes and housewives. “Fidel spoke almost daily, but it was not easy for those students of low academic and cultural level to express themselves freely. And I confess that I succeeded because I ignored the dense paragraphs of his speeches. At that time, one of his mono-themes was artificial insemination and that allowed me to give animated classes. I remember one student saying to me: ‘I do not know why Fidel wants to do away with the zebu cows, if those are the ones we have always had and until 1959 they gave us a lot of meat and lots of milk.’ ”

Carlos, a sociologist, can not demonstrate that the new social essay, including the plan of study and work created in 1961 by Fidel Castro and the FMC was scientific. “I think that it was an empirical plan and gave its results, because, if I am not mistaken, it spoke to thousands of women, old maids and peasants. But there were well-defined codes with regard to the evangelization of Castroism and the creation of a new Cuban. It was a well-structured protocol for achieving the purpose of transforming the human being into a zombie. The result of designing a laboratory man is now being collected. Simulator, liar and generally rude.”

The great adversary of the regime of Fidel Castro, first, and of his brother Raúl later, has been the new information technologies. What the anti-Castro insurrectionist strategy in the 1960s could not achieve, and what the subsequent peaceful activism of dissent also failed to achieve, the Internet and social networks are achieving now.

Despite the fact that an hour of internet costs the equivalent of two-and-a-half days of a worker’s wages, facts can no longer be hidden. The information highway has made evident the failures and the proverbial manipulation of the state press.

The network of networks is the weapon that has destroyed the outlandish project of building the New Man on a Caribbean island. For the autocracy, the internet is a Trojan Horse. That is why they try to censor it.

Photo: Members of the Second Contingent of Volunteer Teachers who graduated in Havana on 23 January 1961. The first contingent graduated in April 1960 and the third and last in June 1961 in Holguin. About 10,000 young people from all over the country were trained as rural teachers in makeshift and rustic camps in the Sierra Maestra. As a culmination of each course, the young people climbed Pico Turquino, which at 1,974 meters is the highest mountain in Cuba. The photo was taken from the newspaper Granma (TQ).

Translated by Jim

Barcelona-Real Madrid: Also Mourning in Cuba / Iván García

Benzemá, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, before starting the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona, at the stadium of the latter, Camp Nou of Barcelona, on Saturday 3 December 2016.
Benzemá, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, before starting the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona, at the stadium of the latter, Camp Nou of Barcelona, on Saturday 3 December 2016.

Iván García, 4 December 2016 — There are three things in the spirituality of the island. Rumba, Santeria, and baseball, which for a decade has been replaced by the passion for football (soccer) among Cubans, especially the youngest generation.

But Fidel Castro is overwhelming. When the cedar casket reposed in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, about 600 miles east of Havana, and the funeral is over with complete coverage by the media, perfect amanuensis of the Communist Part, is when people can find out what is happening in the world. continue reading

For nine days — something unprecedented in the cuntry — we Cubans have been disconnected from the events and sports overseas. A real media blackout.

Mourning, hymns and slogans rining in the ether. Also the mourners and exalted eulogy. In these nine days, Cuba smelled a little bit like North Korea, its ideological partner.

At this point, after 60 years of autocracy, the public applauds, fakes loyalty to the regime and signs whatever the government proposes [during the mourning period Cubans are being asked to sign a loyalty oath]. hallucinatory as it seems. But under the table Cubans continue to live in this stronghold of the real Cuba ignored by state media.

In that Cuba, people speak with fractured words, reinvent themselves every twenty-four hours, and clandestinely buy everything from cocaine to a yacht.

In the terrestrial island, not in the virtual or the delirious one that the Castro regime authorities sells us, after eliciting some tears on Via Blanca with the passing of the caravan with Fidel Castro’s remains, Oneida, on arriving at the shabby filthy room where he resides in the Luyano neighborhood, went to see the list-keeper who collects the money from the illegal lottery known as la bolita, and bet 200 pesos, around ten dollars US, on number 64, which stands for “big death,” according to the list that assigns a meaning to each number.

The funeral rites of the “big death” recalled that stage of the not so distant Soviet Cuba, full of prohibitions and a press worthy of Charlie Chaplin. It seems like a backward Middle East nation.

Now, from 26 November to 4 December, by state decree, there is zero alcohol. Zero films, zero soap operas, not even the news. The olve green mourning prevents Cubans from learning about Stefan Curry or LeBron Hames, paralyzes the insipid national baseball series and the fans missed the game of the year, between Real Madrid and CR7 and the Barcelona team of the flea Messi.

Spanish journalists who covered the funeral figured out where they could watch the game. “I hope in a hotel in Santiago de Cuba I can see the match,” commented a reporter from a Catalan newspaper.

In hotels and bars in Havana, where the fans usually gather with their scarves in the team colors — very hot in this climate — and wearing T-shirts with Leo Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez, Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos, were closed, complying with the official ukase of maximum mourning for the death of Castro I at the age of 90.

But in Cuba, there is always a Plan B. Those who have powerful shortwave radios try to get the signal from Spain’s Radio Exterior. Others, paid for an hour of internet connection, 50 pesos, the equivalent of two-and-a-half days pay, to follow the crucial game on line in the pages of El Pais or El Mundo.

At the end of the game, tied at one, Julian, who had connected in Cordoba Park, located on the border between the Sevillano and La Vibora neighborhoods, some crestfallen Barça were leaving: “33 games without losing, now we’re at eight points, goodbye league for you.” A friend asked him to speak softly: “Pal, keep it down with all this going on, the police are waiting to pounce.”

With the disappearance of Fidel Castro, the last guerrilla of the Third World, has deployed an dense ideological paraphernalia in Cuba, asphyxiating, that has brought back the animal fear among many Cubans.

Those who daily put their elbows on the bar do it in secret, so that the snitches and the intransigent followers of the regime don’t think they celebrating the death of the “great world leader.”

All the music has been shut off, and quinceñeras, weddings and anniversaries are postponed until  further notice. Also cancelled were dances and religious festivals, like the night of 3 December, the eve of the day of Saint Barbara, who is also Changó in the Yoruba religion, one of the most venerated deities for Cubans.

“Fidel Castro owned the farm and the horses. There must be calm until his ashes are deposted in Santiago de Cuba,” said the peanut seller who was once a political prisoner.

The dissidents are also quiet. The Ladies in White didn’t go out into the street to protest on the last two Sundays, as a sign of respect and not to provoke the repressors.

On his way to paradise or hell, according to your viewpoint, Fidel Castro pounded the table with authority to demonstrate that even as dust, he generates absolute respect in the population.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Havana, in a big mansion about to fall down, but with an illegal satellite connection, the owner spent the whole game keeping a dozen young people quiet so they could see the match, each one paying 2 Cuban convertible pesos, a little more than two dollars.

“Gentlemen, don’t shout so much, we don’t want to go to jail,” he told the boys. But the joy could barely be controlled when Sergio Ramos, scored in the last minute of the game. Result: one to one.

And when it’s about Fidel Castro, even a football game can be an offense.

Translated by Jim

Public Services in Havana: Real Chaos / Iván García

Source: Misceláneas de Cuba.
Source: Misceláneas de Cuba.

Ivan Garcia, 27 October 2016 — The state aqueduct brigade came to La Vitoria neighborhood on Friday morning and using sledgehammers destroyed the sidewalks to install water meters on every home.

The October rains transformed the open ditches into quagmires. Many of the connections were gushing water. Six days later, after the complaints and phone calls from the residents, another brigade arrived from the capital city’s Water and Sewer Company in a rickety truck from the Soviet era, to repair the leaks and fill in the ditches.

The work was bungled. The cement patches on the sidewalks caved in and some of the water meters continued to leak. Leaks of sewage water and drinking water are nothing new in Cuba. continue reading

According to reports from the official press, half the drinking water in Havana is lost through leaks in the pipes. Some 50% of the water and sanitation networks in the city are in fair or poor condition.

State media broadcasts commercials targeting the population, urging people to repair the own leaks. But a simple faucet costs a third of a worker’s monthly salary.

Fermín, an official from the Housing Institute, recognizes that between 40 and 60 percent of the multifamily buildings in Havana have problems in their water and sewer lines.

“From leaks to poor installation in the waste networks. For lack of maintenance, the majority of pipes have leaks. Many of the pumps [which pump the water up to tanks on the roofs] are old and are big users of electricity. The tanks of almost all the buildings in Havana haven’t been cleaned for years, which can cause outbreaks of illnesses. The repairs are on the residents. The state, for lack of money, doesn’t repair the city’s buildings,” says Fermín.

The infrastructure of the Cuban capital is lamentable. The trash collection services are insufficient and people throw out their garbage and even broken toilets on any corner. In the streets where tourists don’t generally walk cleaning is conspicuous by its absence.

Only the electricity networks have been repaired, so there is less loss of electricity and the voltage has improved. The same can’t be said about the telephone lines.

“When ETECSA [the state phone company] was a joint venture business with Italian capital repairs were routinely programmed. But now that the Army owns it, it’s painful to observe the working conditions of our technicians. They have to work tying together old wires and many of them are screaming for repairs to be done,” says Delia, an ETECSA engineer.

On a scale of one to ten, the assessment of public transport is a zero. Getting from one place in the city to another can take two or three hours.

In Havana there is a network of articulated buses designated with the letter P. There are 16 routes that, in theory, run every five to ten minutes during rush hour. But most of the time they don’t run any more often than every fifteen minutes and often it’s every hour. The six existing terminals should have a fleet of 540 buses.

“The ideal is that every one of the 16 routes would have 30 buses. But the terminals are outdated or incomplete. There are terminals like Calvario or Alamar, with three routes each and only 35 buses,” says a drive on the P-6 route.

Also planned was a network of buses circulating through the neighborhoods and secondary streets of the city. But there is also a deficit there. That’s the case with the routes 15 and 67, and now people don’t even wait for them, as it’s usually three or more hours between buses.

Taxi service in Cuban pesos is a calamity. In the ’80s Havana had a fleet of almost 3,000 taxies. Today there are fewer than 200. They have to serve the taxi stands at the hospitals, funeral homes and train terminals. Then, when they meet their quota, they run illegally and are more expensive than the private taxis.

There is a fleet of taxis in hard currency, but they are too expensive for most people on the island. They run modern air-conditioned cars. And the prices are at the discretion of the driver.

For three years the hard currency cars were rented to the drivers by the state. According to Manuel, “even though now I can earn 200 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $200) a month, we have to work like slaves for fourteen hours a day to pay the fee imposed by the government, 55 convertible pesos a day. That’s why you don’t see any of the taxis using the meter. The people are greatly affected. If, before, the ride from Vedado to La Vibora was 5 CUC, now it’s 10 or 15 CUC.”

The regime turned its heavy guns on the private taxi drivers, capping prices and threatening them with big fines or the confiscation of their licenses for any who violate the state decrees.

But the official media keeps its mouth shut when it’s time to criticize the prohibitive prices of the hard currency taxis. If getting around the city is a nightmare, having to deal with the bureaucratic red tape is worse.

In Cuba, for anything you want to do there is always the bureaucratic red tape. Since a change in direction, getting a passport or paying a phone bill. The lines are hours-long and the officials, with their crabbed faces, treat us like we’re criminals.

Despite a fourth-world infrastructure, some absent-minded Swiss named Havana a “2016 Wonder City.” Of course its promoter lives in Switzerland.

Translated by Jim

They Married Us to a Lie… / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 26 September 2016 —  It is a sign of lack of civility and decorum on the part of the Cuban regime to blame to the so-called US blockade for the shortages and difficulties, whose real cause is the inability and mismanagement of the economy, wealth and and riches of our country, by the leadership of the island. It is extremely well-known that they have “thrown everyone overboard,” dedicating their efforts and money to propaganda and proselytizing abroad, to present a completely untrue image of the internal situation. continue reading

When the Soviet “pipelines” were open to Cuba, in the media here, especially on television, there was an abundance of caricatures and ads where a popular character mocked the blockade, throwing all kinds of taunts at it.

Why now this exhausting campaign against the blockade, that exceeds all limits of popular assimilation and acceptance? Why not have the civility and honesty to recognize the inability to lead and the squandering of the income obtained from the government’s share of the family remittances from the United States and the huge business established by the government to “rent out” doctors and professionals to other countries, which bring juicy dividends to the regime and from which our doctors and specialists receive only a pittance?

In the face of this so-called “solidarity” it is the people who suffer the consequences of the lack of medically qualified professionals and specialists remaining in Cuba, in schools and hospitals. “Candle in the street, darkness in the house,” as the popular saying goes. That is, we put on a big show for the outside, while we lack everything at home.

They married us to a lie… and forced us to live with it all these years.

 Translated by Jim

Ay, Momma Ines! / Regina Coyula

foto: OLPLI adore coffee, I stopped smoking years ago, but my early morning small coffee can’t fail me, if I don’t have it I pass the day lying down with a headache. A few years ago a package of four ounces of mixed coffee, acquired through the ration book cost ten cents. I can’t be exact, but it was not any more than three or four years ago that they announced that the coffee would stop being mixed with other ingredients and the same package of four ounces came to be worth five pesos. It was so-so coffee, Vietnamese they said, but still it was coffee. Now, in February we brought back mixed coffee again. However, there was no change in the price and for five pesos I am drinking an ambiguous brew, and it is what I offer to whoever visits me. At least it does not give me a headache.

Translated by Jim

February 18 2011