No Other Country Has Treated us Like Costa Rica / Ivan Garcia

Sanitarios-de-la-Cruz-Roja-costarricense-atienden-a-una-cubana-_ab-620x330Iván García, Costa Rica, 29 November 2015 — In the last two weeks, the authorities in Costa Rica have been forced to open new shelters to care for the more than 3,000 Cubans trying to reach the U.S. who are stranded on the border with Nicaragua.

Since November 15, thousands of Cubans have been sleeping in temporary shelters because of the decision by Daniel Ortega’s government to deny passage to Cubans, after an outbreak of violence between the Cuban “land rafters” and riot forces from Nicaragua.

In spite of this measure, the number of Cubans arriving in Costa Rica through Panama continues to increase. In general they arrive at night, in groups of 50 or 100 people, in a village named Paso Canoas, more than 600 kilometers south of San José.

There they stay in hostels that charge between 5 and 50 dollars a night. Those who don’t have money, after being fleeced by coyotes and traffickers in Colombia, sleep on a boarding platform used by interprovincial buses.

The number of Cubans who have entered Costa Rica by Paso Canoas now exceeds 3,000, and it’s said that more than 300 would be waiting in Panama to cross the border. The shelters in the towns of La Cruz, Peñas Blancas and San Ramon are spilling over with emigrants from the Island.

Days earlier, Costa Rican authorities, in cooperation with the Catholic Church in San Ramon, an hour’s drive from San Jose, decided to open another shelter with the capacity of 280 people.

Cubans arriving by bus from Paso Canoas must pay 15 dollars for the ticket. But at least three dozen migrants find themselves sleeping on cardboard on the floor of the bus station. The uncertainty is the biggest worry for the Cubans.

After 2:30 in the afternoon, an Immigration official returned passports to the Cubans who wanted to go to one of the shelters, where the authorities are guaranteeing them three hot meals a day. While some wait in hostels or outdoors for a decision that is out of their hands, others, who now are counting their money in pennies, decided to stay in a shelter set up in the parish of La Pastoral, in the county of San Ramón.

During the six-hour journey, through steep hills and a mountainous landscape crowned by dormant volcanoes, many of the Cubans were snoozing, listening to music on their cell phones or talking with family members in Cuba using the Internet from the telephone lines they access locally.

Halfway there, the bus was stopped at a checkpoint. A Costa Rican policeman reviewed the passports and, in a respectful tone, warned the group not to try to enter Nicaragua illegally.

The other bus stop was at a business on the side of the road. This allowed the immigrants to stretch their legs and look at the merchandise that few could buy because of the high cost.

Around 10:00 at night, local time, the group of Cubans arrived at the hostel. There, some 30 volunteers from the church, the Red Cross and the priest, Gravin Hidalgo, were waiting to take care of them and offer them a dinner (soup, white rice, scrambled eggs, salad, bananas, bread and orange juice). Then they were shown to rooms with four individual beds in each.

According to Father Hidalgo, they “want famlies and groups of friends to stay together.” But the unstoppable influx of Cubans escaping the Castros’ “tropical socialism” worries the Costa Rican pastor.

“We already have more than 280 people here. We’ve had to set up bunk beds in a room to be able to take care of them.” The exquisite treatment and the detail of locating an image of the Virgen de la Caridad, the patron saint of Cuba, brought congratulations on the part of the emigrants.

“Some, moved, have commented to me that they made the crossing with necklaces of the Virgen de la Caridad as amulets. One of the Cubans gave me a stone chosen by him in the Santuario del Cobre, in Santiago de Cuba. A very valuable gift for me. We hope to take care of them the whole time they stay in San Ramón. The civil society of the city, the Church and the authorities are happy to give this help,” the priest pointed out.

But good will can flood humanitarian assistance in a small country, which doesn’t count on an army and has limited financial resources at its disposal.

Meanwhile, in Paso Canoas, Cubans continue arriving.

Iván García, from Costa Rica

Translated by Regina Anavy

My Cable and I. Fiber Optics in My Town? / Somos+

SOMOS+, Frank Rojas Torres, 24 November 2015 — It was October 15, 2015, and a success that should be transcendental for all my compatriots turns out to be nothing more than a false alarm, one more of so many expectations that remains only that. Another promise to be fulfilled in the long-term, only because “the steps taken should be well thought-out in order to not commit errors.”

It’s true that weeks before the news spread by word of mouth, growing or shrinking according to what one brought to it or took from it, showing this writer that we all believed it would be a reality weeks later.

The so-much announced, glorified, dreamed-of and awaited fiber optic cable called ALBA-1 finally made its brilliant entrance onto the terrain of my little country town, opening a passage between the solid rocks that make up its subsoil, pushing us a little more while we try to shorten the tremendous gap, which on this subject as on almost all, separates us from a large part of the outside world. Continue reading

A Night in Paso Canoas on the Border with Panama / Ivan Garcia

Cubans at the Panama/Costa Rica border

Ivan Garcia, Costa Rica, 25 November 2015 — When Alex Sigler, 22, landed in the Quito airport in an African heat with thunderclouds that presaged a tropical shower this past November 11, he began his own journey to achieve the American dream.

In five days of passing through the Colombian jungle, Alex encountered hitmen of few words and with twitchy trigger fingers.

“The police, who supposedly are there to preserve citizen order, are the first to rob us. Almost all Cubans have been fleeced at Colombian checkpoints. The coyotes are frightening. They traffic cocaine the same as people. They talk about their criminal exploits like a group of friends in the neighborhood commenting on football and a penalty,” explains Alex, lying on top of some tattered cardboard in an inter-provincial bus terminal in the Costa Rican town of Paso Canoas, a stone’s throw from the border with Panama. Continue reading

Bucanero-Cristal Exploits Ties to Self-Employed and Palco and Habaguanex Executives / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 November 2015 — Just as the proceedings surpassed the scandalous total of 42 people indicted, the General Vice-Prosecutor of the Republic of Cuba, Carlos Raúl Concepción Rangel, imposed a gag order on the case and hid it underneath the trite mantle of “secret character,” because — according to sources in the Prosecutor’s office — he’s expecting the number of those involved to increase.

The investigation filtered down, and some of the people implicated hardened themselves and beat it out of the country. Others are hiding out; there is a border alert for them, and an order of search and capture.

Before such an emergency, and even without finishing the trial, they’re taking the accused out of the investigation center at 100 and Aldabó — the women to the western prison, El Guatao (known as Manto Negro), the men to Valle Grande or the Combinado del Este. The VIP accomplices, owing to their natural status as first-class citizens, were sent home and asked to be “low profile” until their names could be pulled from the file or, at least, their complicity silenced in a case that could paint them as crooks. Continue reading

Press Workshop with Raul Rivero / Ivan Garcia

Photo: Raúl Rivero in his house in Havana.

Ivan Garcia, 23 November 2015 — On these hot nights in Havana, when nostalgia, that silent thief that robs you of strength, strikes without warning, Raúl Rivero, the poet, sneaks through my window and offers me a workshop specifically on the latest news from modern journalism.

The art of teaching still doesn’t accept journalistic lectures by telepathy. But I confess that I have grown as a reporter by brushing up on the lessons of the poet from Morón, Ciego de Ávila.

I met him one day before Christmas in 1995. There was an unusual cold spell in Havana. The sun didn’t poke out, and the greyness made the streets simmer with grime. Continue reading

The Stampede Continues / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 20 November 2015  — One year after initiating conversations to reestablish relations with the U.S., the Cuban Government continues its immobile posture, without taking a step forward.

The raised expectations, with which the immense majority of the Cuban population gave itself illusions, have stagnated, and the stampede of Cubans, most of them young, continues making news in all the foreign newspapers.

A new Mariel Boatlift, but this time by land, is happening. So far this year, the alarming number of national emigrants by different routes and countries, with Miami the final destination, has risen to 43,169, surpassing the massive emigration of 1994. Continue reading

The Shipwreck of Havana / Ivan Garcia


Ivan Garcia, 19 November 2015 — One hour before noon, the bus stops on Calzada 10 de Octubre are flooded with irritated people who want to transfer to other neighborhoods in the capital.

Hundreds of old cars reconverted into collective taxis full of passengers roll in the direction of Vedado or Centro Habana. The autumn heat and sense of urgency cause those waiting to despair.

Public transport continues to be a popular subject in a magical and flirtatious  city, which, in spite of its grime and ruins, will be 496 years old on November 16.

Orestes, a bus inspector, receives a spout of critical resentment from citizens who are disgusted with the precarious urban transport. Continue reading

Censorship, the Vital Artery of the Cuban Regime / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 4 November 2015 — The recent termination of Juan Carlos Cremata as a theater director, the previous suspension of “The King is Dying,” his last work on the stage of the Theater Center, and the publication online some days ago of an inflamed letter from the prestigious critic, Enrique Colina, motivated by this fact, once more stoked the embers of the polemic on censorship in Havana. Affectionately remembered for 24 per Second, his excellent program — definitely a reformer of our cinematographic culture and to whom more than one Cuban owes his passion for the best of this art — Colina comes out this time in valiant defense of Cremata and, by extension, of all censured creators in post-revolutionary Cuba. Continue reading

What Can the Opposition Offer to Cubans? / Juan Juan Almeida

Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, voting unanimously, as it virtually always does.

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 November 2015 — Cuba is a country where polemics or its relative, debate, is the daily bread of artists, private entrepreneurs and intellectuals; an island where the majority of the young population are assured of being poor or having no possibility of fulfilling their dreams; a nation where the average professional suffers from a ridiculous salary; and a State where discontent between the politicians and the military is worrisome. Still, the opposition, which works for freedom and the right to establish a democratic government, has been incapable of building a plausible alternative.

Where exactly does our opposition find itself in relation to the other components of the Regime? Continue reading

The Havana Fair: Hookers, Heat and Beer / Ivan Garcia

Cuba-Feria-de-La-Habana-_ab-620x330Iván García, 12 November 2015 — Liudmila and Sheila are prostitutes and they don’t know about business or cutting-edge technology. But a colleague sent them a text message telling them, “Come here, the yumas (foreigners) are wild.”

They put on stunning high heels, tight clothing and perfume with an anesthetizing fragrance. Their plan was simple: to prowl around the stands for Canada, South Korea, France and Germany, and see how the fishing was at the International Fair of Havana.

“I can speak pretty good English. Let’s go to each pavilion and ask about the products on display or the possibility of working in a company. When we see some foreigner checking us out, we can go on the attack,” says Sheila, who has seven years of experience in prostitution. Continue reading

Cuba: Waiting and Hoping for the Cruise Ships / Ivan Garcia

Crucero-académico-M.V-_ab-620x330Iván García, 9 November 2015 — One warm evening in September, a scrapping brigade arrived from Habaguanex* and, in a little more than two hours, dismantled the aluminum tubes and awnings of three open-air bars on the Avenida del Puerto, where habaneros and tourists drank beer or ate fried chicken among the ambling musicians and prostitutes on the hunt.

The smell of fritanga** combined with the street-sellers’ cries and the nauseating odors from the contaminated Havana Bay. The spillage of waste matter was the pretext for the mandarins, who control the strongbox in the old part of the city, to disassemble the gastronomic shed, a couple of outhouses and, in passing, put some three dozen workers out of work. But the real reasons were something else. Continue reading

Cuban Journalists are in No-Man’s Land / Ivan Garcia

Foto-de-Elaine-Díaz-tomada-de-Periodismo-de-Barrio-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 31 October 2015 — It seems much time has passed since the ’80s, when a stern official from State Security, dressed in civilian clothing, solemnly intimidated us, a group of fresh youngsters, who were studying at La Vibora’s pre-university.

I was 16 years old. I don’t remember having felt more fear in my life than that afternoon, when the agent showed us his document with a red stamp and green lettering: DSE. The initials of the feared Department of State Security.

The guy manipulated our youthful fear like an expert. Perhaps he learned that in a KGB counterintelligence academy, or in the STASI of Marcus Wolf. Continue reading

Reimbursement is Important / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 23 October 2015 — In Cuba, unlike other countries, public services are totally centralized by the State through its different companies: electricity, gas, telephone, water and sewer, municipal and other.

Being part of the same thing, these entities are considered untouchable, and they do things and undo them at their own whim, without considering the effect on citizens and businesses, State as well as private. Thus, they connect and disconnect the electricity according to their interests. The same thing happens with the gas service, telephones and drinking water. Continue reading

Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“National Money” (Cuban pesos) in one hand, “hard currency” (Cuban convertible pesos) in the other.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 October 2015 — Without a doubt the most complex challenge Raúl Castro’s regime has in the short-term is monetary unification. The use in the country of two national currencies for the last two and a half decades has ended up generating an inestimable distortion in the internal finance system, which by itself would be enough to illustrate the chaos reigning in the economy, of which this is a sharp reflection.

The recent declaration of U.S. Senator Rodney Davis on the imminence of change awakened expectations on the subject, which has been strikingly absent in the speeches of the General/President and in the official Cuban press, in spite of the fact that its persistence converted it some time ago into something unique. If several contemporaneous countries once permitted the indistinct circulation of a foreign currency together with their own, I don’t remember one that used two national currencies together, like Cuba has done since the ’90s: to wit, the Cuban peso, the CUP — so withered, humble, poor — and the CUC, the all-powerful Cuban “convertible” peso*. Continue reading

U.S.-Cuba: Obama 3, Castro 0 / Ivan Garcia

Castro-y-Obama-en-Nueva-York-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 7 October 2015 — According to Francisco Valido González, 47, a dissident who works in a transit bus cooperative, his association, in theory, can ask for credit from a U.S. bank in order to acquire new buses.

His cooperative’s buses have more than 200,000 kilometers on them, and 15 years of use. In his narrow apartment, a stone’s throw from Calzada de Güines, in the municipality of San Miguel del Patrón in the southeast of Havana, he keeps the auto parts he bought in the informal market under the bed where he sleeps.

From overuse of the buses, breakdowns are constant. “Almost always, between 10 to 12 days a month, I have to stop because of a breakdown,” he told me in December 2014. Continue reading