Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]

Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]

Street vendors are the last card in a clandestine business deck whose purpose is pure survival.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice: “Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne.”

Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles, as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait. Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat the inspectors and the police.

They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines for “hoarding.” The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur debts because they get the merchandise from a “wholesale” supplier to earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.

On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any supermarket, together with the “mules,” each day more hounded, who manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities. The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. “We live daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live for food you can’t buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can’t eat,” they contend.

She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her identity card places her at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get hired as a nurse in the capital: “I think that from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country.” But she does not complain: “The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy myself, for example, a pair of shoes.”

For his part, he has a tailor’s license and is authorized to sell homemade clothes. “The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices that they fix for raw materials. That’s why we have to buy and sell on the black market,” he explains. The earnings for selling homemade ready-made clothes are minimal.

In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor’s license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready to run from the authorities. “I get these glasses at five CUC for two, sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me about three times.” In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful reason to continue going out to sell: “If I lie down to sleep, we die of hunger at home.”

Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. “The whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or the surveillance cameras.”

According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is watching them. The girl indicates a column: “That wall covers the camera that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black blouse, which can be me.” In this atmosphere of tension and fear of being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.

The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally. That’s why so many young people want to leave the island.

Translated by MLK

Four Cubans Among the 50 Most Influential Latin-American Intellectuals of 2014 / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana/November 19, 2014

The Spanish political magazine Esglobal has included four Cubans in its list of 50 most influential Latin American intellectuals of 2014 published this Wednesday: historian and essayist Rafael Rojas, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, blogger and manager of 14ymedio Yoani Sanchez, and the writer Leonardo Padura.

The ranking, developed in collaboration with the Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLASCO), has as its objective “highlighting the enormous talent and variety of viewpoints that are generated in Spanish and Portuguese, as languages capable of offering alternatives to the hegemonic English in the contemporary world’s dissemination.

To select the intellectuals, the magazine used some basic criteria, like choosing living and active people who perform at least part of their work in Spanish or Portuguese with influence in the Latin-American or international setting.

Among the other intellectuals chosen by Esglobal are Chilean writer Isabel Allende, Pope Francis, Mexican economist Jorge Castaneda, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, Mexican activist and journalist Javier Sicilia and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Translated by MLK

Raul Castro’s Migratory Reform Falters / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Cuban passport (CC)

Cuban passport (CC)

14ymedio, ELIECER AVILA, Las Tunas/November 15, 2014 — Officials, opposition and public opinion in general have recognized as positive the implementation of the Migratory Reform (covering emigration and travel) promoted by the Cuban government at the beginning of 2013.

In spite of the fact that the trips for many dissidents continue to be marked by abuse, delays and confiscations by Cuban customs authorities, the truth is that until now, only people subject to some kind of legal process, whether invented or not, have been prevented from travelling.

But this may be starting to change. Signs of a sudden regression, in regards to the new rules, come to us from the eastern part of the country.

Two officials, the Major “Oliver” and the Lieutenant Colonel “Vilma,” from State Security Management and Immigration and Alien Status Management (DIE), respectively, have communicated categorically to young Hanner Echavarria Licea that “it has been decided that you are not going to travel.”

To that end, today they retain his certified criminal record document, which the Peruvian embassy demands, so that he cannot participate in the conference “Civic Conscience and Citizen Participation” which will take place in Lima.

The youth, a teaching graduate, self-employed and son of a retired official of the FAR, is a serious and educated young man who enjoys high standing in his community. Precisely the kind of person that State Security cannot bear to see fighting for profound change in Cuba.

Echavarria Licea joined the political movement SOMOS+ and was elected by its members to be its leader in Las Tunas. This seems to be the reason for the current reprisal of not letting him leave the country.

His case could be palpable evidence that even today, someone without prior criminal history or any legal entanglement whatsoever, may be prevented from exercising his right to leave the country. Which would mean the end of the more or less serious application of the Migratory Reform.

Translated by MLK

Some Seven Thousand Cows ‘Disappear” in Villa Clara Province / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cows in Cuba (CC)

Cows in Cuba (CC)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Villa Clara, 15 November 2014 – Around 7,000 head of beef cattle were presumed disappeared in the space of a year during a count carried out in ten cattle ranches in the province of Villa Clara, according to a report by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The inspection, carried out by the province’s Department of Livestock Registration and revealed by the official newspaper, was carried out in a group of agricultural production cooperatives where 51 animals were found missing, whereas the State sector counted around 6,900 “not found,” which means the loss of practically the total inventory of these ranches.

Among the explanations the ranchers offered their inspectors are: deaths that could not be reported for lack of a veterinarian to issue the relevant certificate; statistical errors; and – not ruling out! – the possibility that the disappeared cows were victims of theft and illegal slaughter.

To add a touch of science fiction to the matter, as if it had to do with some kind of abduction carried out by extra-terrestrials, the possibility was mentioned that some of the vanished cattle might reappear, maybe because it will be less dangerous to get them from their hiding places without much explanation than to face up and confess where the innocent animals were kept.

Most of the missing heads of cattle were from the townships of Manicaragua, Encrucijada and Sagua La Grande.

Translator’s note: Cows in Cuba belong to the State and it is against the law to kill and eat them. This post from Miguel Iturria Medina – Is Killing a Cow Worse Than Murder – discusses the relative penalties for murder of a human being versus slaughter of a cow. This post from Yoani Sanchez — Male Heifers and Cow Suicide — discusses a creative ways to get around the law.

Translated by MLK

Exodus, “Modernization,” Solutions and Demands from Democratic Socialism / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

We democratic socialists have made many proposals for overcoming “State socialism.” We are ignored in spite of our disposition towards dialogue. The past is not the solution for the present, nor for the future.

14ymedio, PEDRO CAMPOS, 4 November 2014 — It is no secret to anyone that in the last year, Cuba has experienced a considerable increase in departures abroad, particularly to the United States, by all possible avenues and, unfortunately, by the most dangerous, in improvised vessels through the Florida Straits and cross-country through Central America, crossing Mexico to arrive at the northern border. Some time ago the topic was broached by the independent and international press. In Cuba…silence.

The problem is, and it must be said loud and clear: The Raulist “modernization,” which offered hope and an interlude of awaiting better times, is not producing the economic, political or social results that it at first awoke among a good number of Cubans. And that is the fundamental cause that is provoking this exodus that threatens to become massive.

Raul Castro’s government itself, without clearly saying it, has recognized it with the announcement of that meager 0.6% growth in the first six months and with the measures taken in the last meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Cuban economists here in Cuba, including some who qualify as official, have publicly manifested their dissatisfaction with the limits and obstacles of the “modernization” measures. This is not about blaming or attacking anyone in particular. But any government, in any part of the world, is responsible for taking necessary measures to guarantee the well-being and contentment of its people.

This silent exodus requires all of us who are interested in the good of the Cuban people to think of solutions, throwing aside all prejudice, mottos, or slogans like that of “without rest but without hurry,” in order to try to find and apply quick, practical and effective solutions.

The Cuban government again blames the imperialist blockade for all ills. But it does nothing even to support the anti-embargo campaign that the New York Times is leading.

The practical measures that it takes do not wind up freeing productive forces, as Raul Castro himself has called for, and they maintain all kinds of obstacles against self-employed work, against the expansion of small business, and especially against autonomous cooperatives, without which post-capitalist society, socialism, is an illusion. Continue reading

Cuban-Spaniards Demand Their Rights to Social Security / 14ymedio, Ferran Nunez

Spanish passport (CC)

Spanish passport (CC)

14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 7 November 2014 — It was the month of November 2007. A group of seven Latin American countries led by Spain decided to sign a historic agreement that never came to be, so far, a mere bureaucratic anecdote. In effect, the Multilateral Spanish American Convention on Social Security offered a legal solution to the Hispano-American workers who moved to a Spain then in the middle of a real estate boom. Similarly, it dealt with former refugees from Chile, Uruguay and other states who, after a life of work in Europe and once democracy was re-established in their countries of origin, wanted to return home with their acquired retirement rights.

Naturally, this movement of workers is part of the wider trend of globalization which, as we know, accelerated the displacement of workers from the poorest regions to richer ones, thus creating an ever greater interdependence among countries. Specifically, among Hispanic nations where there is “a common cultural, economic and social framework,” this agreement is intended to become an instrument to coordinate the disparate national laws so that migrating workers and their families, in the always possible case of return, “could enjoy the benefits generated by their work in their host countries.” In this way, the agreement has facilitated the return to their country of origin of many workers hit by the current financial crisis.

The Cuban Case

The Spanish Law of Historical Memory permitted the children and grandchildren of Spaniards to claim the nationality of their ancestors. The current global crisis that the island is experiencing has caused many descendants of those Spaniards, among whom are included the children of Fidel Castro himself, to welcome the benefits of this law in order to be able to emigrate. According to the latest official consulate data, half a million applications were made, of which 190 thousand have been accepted and 100 thousand are pending. In the end Cuba will have the greatest colony of Spaniards of all the Americas.

Thus, many fellow countrymen, looking for a better future, have managed to install themselves on the Spanish peninsula and in other countries. Spain, through its seventeen administrative authorities, is devoting considerable resources to organizing the return of these families. However, the arrival of new Spaniards to the peninsular territory may be traumatic since there exist no agreements between Madrid and Havana for recognizing the retirements, among other deficiencies, as pointed out by lawyer Pedro Luis Sanudo from his blog DobleR, where he advises waiting for “better times” to try the return adventure.

Based on these realities, an affected group above age 50, residents in Spain, headed by the returnee Cuban-Spaniard Alvaro Miralles, has gathered signatures (ten thousand) on the platform Change.org. The object of his demand is simple: Cuba’s inclusion in the Multilateral Spanish American Convention on Social Security. He intends to send this petition to the King and to the Foreign Relations Ministers of Spain and Cuba during the next Spanish American Summit which takes place in December in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

For Miralles it is not only a problem of basic justice and equity among all Hispano-American countries. The protection of Cubans abroad should be a priority, and he concludes his petition saying: “Cuba has just received great support in the heart of the United Nations for the lifting of the economic embargo of Cuba; we believe this is a good opportunity to also lift another embargo that exists between Spain and Cuba as regards social security.” The next visit of the Spanish Chancellor to Havana, announced for next November 24, could be the best occasion to complete this agreement.

——-

Ferrán Nuñez has published the book “Historia de Cuba y de España para tontos” (The History of Cuba and Spain for Idiots).

Translated by MLK

Orphans of the Wall / 14ymedio, Bernard de la Grange

alemanes-emprenden-muro-BerlA-n-CC_CYMIMA20141108_0067_16

Germans tackle the Berlin Wall, 1989 (CC)

14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange, Madrid/November 8, 2014 — Prensa Latina devoted only ten lines to news that stunned the world. Below a detached title – “The GDR Announces the Opening of its Borders” – the Cuban agency related on November 9, 1989, that the German Democratic Republic had just made an administrative “ruling” by which “citizens will be able to take private trips without the need to explain their reasons.” The word “wall” did not appear in the teletype. Such moderation reflected the prevailing confusion in Havana.

The transcendental event that western media celebrated was a catastrophe for the allies of the Soviet Union in the Americas. Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua were in mourning. The guerillas still active in the region, above all the Salvadoran FMLN, the Guatemalan URNG, and to a lesser extent the Colombian FARC, saw their logistical and diplomatic space reduced with the weakening of the communist bloc.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s trip to Cuba, some months before, had made evident the gulf that separated the Soviet president from the then Maximum Leader who held tight to ideological orthodoxy as a detractor of the Perestroika economic reforms, which were seen by Havana as an imitation of capitalism. “We have seen sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things,” Fidel Castro would later say in reference to the changes that took place two years after the collapse of the USSR, with its devastating consequences for the Cuban economy, totally dependent on subsidies from Moscow. Continue reading

Defections by Cuban Doctors in Venezuela Double / 14ymedio

Cuban doctors before leaving on a “mission” (EFE)

Cuban doctors before leaving on a “mission” (EFE)

14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — Some 700 Cuban health professionals defected from Venezuela between September 2013 and September 2014, according to data published Sunday in Caracas by the daily El Universal. The majority went to the United States and reported the deterioration of their work conditions.

This figure doubles the number from the same period a year earlier, when some 300 professionals left their missions, according to information from Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), an organization with headquarters in Miami that helps Cuban health professionals looking for a better future.

“The worsening of conditions in Venezuela is causing an increase in defections. The lack of safety, low pay, worker exploitation and control over private life continue to be the big reasons,” said Doctor Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of the organization, to El Universal. Continue reading

Cuban Doctors Are Enslaved Says ‘The Wall Street Journal’ / 14ymedio

The Column ‘Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors’ in ‘The Wall Street Journal’

The Column ‘Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors’ in ‘The Wall Street Journal’

14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — In an article published Sunday, the Wall Street Journal lashes out against the “doctor diplomacy” carried out by the Island by sending health personnel abroad. The newspaper compares the system with the “slave trade” in spite of international praise.

Columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, however, asserts that the doctors who travel to poor countries “are not a gift from Cuba,” since the Island earns some 8 billion dollars annually at the expense of the workers through the payments it receives from the host country – as in the case of Venezuela – or other countries who send funds to the World Health Organization. O’Grady reminds readers that the medical personnel do not receive their remuneration directly and that this money goes to the coffers of the state which only dedicates a small part to the salaries. Continue reading

Education on the Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Start of the school year at the University of Havana, one of the education centers that would offer export of education services

Start of the school year at the University of Havana, one of the education centers that would offer export of education services

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana/November 8, 2014 — Although missing from the opportunities portfolio, “the exportation of academic services” may be a considerable field for obtaining foreign currency given the presence of more than two thousand Cuban helpers in some 14 countries, according to what Doctor Aida Terrero Lafita, director of International Relations for the Ministry of Education, set forth in a press conference.

Although the amount that this would represent for the country was not made public, the official emphasized that among those programs most in demand abroad are a literacy teaching program known as Yes, I Can, and another called Teach Your Child, intended for early childhood, and those that focus on special education.

Dr. Terrero specified that on the African continent there is a growing trend of seeking Cuban collaboration in technical and professional education, especially as related to jobs in the fields of electricity, construction and agronomy. Continue reading

Between the Renovated and the Pathetic / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

News from Cuban television, with Rafael Serrano at the front

News from Cuban television, with Rafael Serrano at the front

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana/November 5, 2014 — In recent months, an attempt to renovate the look of Television National News has been noted. They have changed the set, adding colors and trying to infuse dynamism and spontaneity into the reading.

It is clear that the directors of that news program have been inspired by the style of TeleSur, their only “competitor,” which combines the visual quality of the big television companies with its spokesman mission for the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. In order to carry out their political influence and consolidation of power, TeleSur has created a broad platform of opinion.

Faced with the effectiveness of TeleSur, the “cable” news programs and the packets, the directors of National News have no option but to put on a little makeup or they won’t even watch themselves. Nevertheless, we see how the newscasters fail to adapt to the new format: They feign dialogue, and it comes out wooden; they try to be spontaneous, but fear of making a mistake makes them rigid and stuttering; they want to give the impression of analysis but they wind up reading the raw, pre-conceived note.

They do not have a single journalist who really knows what he speaks of or can form intelligent questions or comments about events. Let’s see about today: They talked about the plenary session of Popular Power in Havana, where Esteban Lazo called for taking measures; about a national meeting of Protestant churches, where its president asserted that “in other places, no, but here we live in a society of dialogue;” and finally, about the president of the European Parliament who leaves his post when “the terrible social situation that exists in Europe” worsens following austerity policies.

With that news, lacking all objectivity, disconnected from reality and useless for any member of the public, they will never be credible even if they dress the newscasters in Halloween style or give Rafael Serrano an Afro.

Translated by MLK

A Management Success: The Butcher Shops without Flies / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

A client leaves The Golden Pig (14ymedio)

A client leaves The Golden Pig (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana / 6 November 2014 — It’s ten in the morning, and the Golden Pig is packed with customers. On entering, one detects the intense odor of smoked meat mixed with the aroma of ripe guavas. Two salesmen work behind the counter, and a third places fruits in their boxes.

They almost have no time to assist the journalist who is interested in knowing how they have managed to start this business. This is not just any market; there are electronic scales, vertical refrigerators, air conditioning and — most surprising – the cleanliness and organization are infinitely superior to those of the typical farmers’ markets of Havana, those built hurriedly under zinc plates where flies swarm and mud has stained everything.

Here it is different. This is a small shop inside a building at the corner of Linea and 10 in Vedado. They threw cement on the floor and oiled it, installed dark windows and put an attractive label over the glass. “We took two months to prepare this,” says one of the workers when he can finally answer some questions. “You already saw that it is full,” the man continues. “In December I imagine that we are going to even need a doorman!” Success has come to them quickly since they have only been open a few weeks.

The Golden Pig functions as a cooperative. On one of the walls, over the counter, hangs the license that the State grants for this form of private activity that is gaining momentum and opening new businesses at several locations in the city.

So, for example, there is also El Barrio market, close to the embassy of the Czech Republic. It is easy to pass by if you are not familiar with it because, seen from outside, the closed garage does not have much paint for being a business. Inside, the presentation of products is even more attractive than the previous place. They possess a big refrigerated counter with all the offers in view, already packaged and with labels printed in Cuban pesos. They have a shiny machine for making slices at the customer’s request and an area in back where they prepare the packages. There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC (hard currency).

There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC

In El Barrio a saleslady explains how a business of this type can be pulled off. The required license is “retail seller of agricultural products” and is sought in the municipal offices of the Ministry of Work and Social Security. “It took us five months to take the necessary steps for the permit, but the advantage of this activity is that we do not need a health certificate like our suppliers,” she says before assisting another recently-arrived customer.

“Although we have to pay a lot in taxes, we manage to profit,” says a staff member at the Golden Pig. The prices on the boards are well above what the pocketbook of the common man can pay, although similar to those found elsewhere. “Our advantage is that we have made a different presentation, and people like that,” say the workers of the other store.

Mind you, it will never be possible to find beef in any of these businesses. Not even cow’s milk or its derivatives. The yogurt they offer in one of these butcher shops, where they sell several types of foods, is made with goat’s milk. Neither are they permitted to trade in imported products.

In spite of the administrative tethers and the enormous limitations that the government places on the offer of products, private initiative little by little paves the way in this economy that insists on calling itself “socialist” and “planned.” Nevertheless, the paltry purchasing power of the population means few Cubans can give themselves the luxury of entertaining their families with a pork leg – a month’s average salary – and some mouthwatering fresh lettuce leaves wrapped in clear plastic.

Translated by MLK