Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Taken from Habana Live.

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era. With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. “When I stop driving, it’s felt in the house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that’s not true,” says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad. continue reading

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. “There are two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each year, by using some ruse,” he comments, and he adds:

“The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren’t working are erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us for, is something that they haven’t resolved. If my business is one of supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices. It doesn’t concern the State. If they want to improve public transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can see how low prices have fallen,” says Pastor, who, as we’re chatting, becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the conversation.

“This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State doesn’t give a shit about helping us. They don’t give us so much as a single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed prices on a route,” says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will note their barely-contained irritation. “It’s simple: If the government continues fucking with me, I’ll surrender my State license tomorrow and work under the table. Actually, there’s a ton of people who are doing that. They don’t have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal taxi drivers,” says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his accounting. “I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban pesos daily. But I don’t have any rest. I kill myself working.”

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of the authorities. “What would it cost the government to meet with us and negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It’s true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State, but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force it on people, an old government custom.”

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8, the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in Havana. “The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they’ve had the balls to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución, but don’t try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the passenger,” comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de la Fraternidad.

“The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who’s really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. “It’s an undeclared war on private workers. Why don’t they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs.”

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the State as a leasing fee.

The government isn’t stupid. They’re not going to start a battle with taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García

Caricature by Pinilla taken from Diario Las Américas.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — As if by magic, the irreverent and prosaic Donald Trump is the man of the hour for Cubans who have plans to emigrate. “He’s the guy; there’s no one else. If he orders it, the United States will open its doors,” says Miguel, emphatically, while he drives a ramshackle collective taxi down Infanta Avenue.

His comment intensifies the polemic of five passengers who shout above the odor of gasoline that filters through the old car’s patched-up exhaust pipe and the unbearably loud music.

“Obama is a real son-of-a-bitch. If Cubans allow their Government to step all over them it’s because they have the possibility of hauling ass out of Cuba. Tell me who here doesn’t have a family member in the States?” asks a corpulent mulatto. continue reading

Everyone wants to talk at once and give their opinion on the subject. Some analyses are puerile; others border on political science fiction, like that of Magda, a primary school teacher, who, from the back seat of the taxi, advises Trump to “accept all the Cubans who want to leave. Most will work at anything. You think there isn’t space in the U.S. for 11 million Cubans?” she says, and the other passengers smile.

Right now, the fashionable subject in Havana is the repeal of the wet foot-dry foot policy. A collection of sad, crushed people react to the announcement as if they received a direct blow to the chin by a heavyweight.

“Listen, brother, I sold my house to go to Guyana. My plan was to cross the Mexican border and enter the U.S. Now it’s impossible. But I’m going to get out anyway I can. Even through Haiti, I’m telling you,” says Jean Carlos, a veterinarian.

At Christmas time, Diego flew to Uruguay with his wife to travel to Laredo and cross the border into El Paso. “I’m devastated. I didn’t leave with much money. Now I’ll look for a job in Uruguay and see later where to go. But I’m not returning to Cuba. I have nothing there. I sold everything. If I’m going to start all over let it be in any other country,” he says by Internet.

The same thing happened to Yosvani and his wife, Mildred. The couple flew to Rome in November, on a tourist package. With a one-month visa they crossed the border and settled in Spain.

“Here we’re together with a group of illegal Cubans. My wife found a job taking care of an old man. I worked for a week cleaning a bar, but the owner paid me only four euros. My mother already sold my apartment in Havana and sent me the money that I wanted to use to go to Cancun, Mexico. But now with this news I have to stay here. My hope is that Trump will reverse the measures that Obama approved,” he says, through Instant Messenger.

The new panorama, presumably, will not put the brakes on those who have plans to emigrate. “It can change everything. But then people will try their luck in another country or will come to the U.S. through marriage or by other tricks. I have my eye on Panama. I liked the city and the people when I went to buy junk to sell in Havana. The one place I can’t be is Cuba. You can’t do anything here. You can’t move. The last person who leaves, please turn off the lights in El Morro,” (the castle fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay) confesses Maikel in a wifi park in Vedado.

Even those who have relatives in the U.S. don’t think they have enough patience to get there by family reunification. “My father has been in Miami for five months and is already working. When he has his residence papers he’s going to claim me. But how long will all this paperwork take? Three, four years can go by. If I can, I’ll leave before. Here in Cuba I have no future,” comments Germán, a university student.

Obama has passed from being a hero to being a villain. From that president, who 10 months ago in Havana gave a memorable speech, saying that Cuba should change and bet on democracy, to being persona non grata.

It’s the opposite with Donald Trump. The Cuban who drinks only coffee for breakfast, indoctrinated by the international press, always saw the wealthy New York businessman as an extravagant weirdo. A rich guy who by pure caprice got into the world of politics.

“The guy’s a time bomb. When he explodes, no one knows what’s going to happen. Trump thinks that politics is a reality show. It would be a miracle if in the next four years the world equilibrium doesn’t change. He’s poorly educated, an egomaniac with the soul of a tyrant; and thousands of Cubans who are thinking of emigrating are placing their faith in him,” says Norge, a political science graduate.

Like in an Agatha Christie crime novel or a suspense film, the roles have been reversed. Goodbye Barack Trump. Welcome Donald Obama. The world has been turned upside down, and not only for Cuban emigrants.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cubans Don’t Have Big Plans For 2017 / Iván García

Photo: Taken from One Step 4 Ward.

Iván García, 6 January 2017 — When you live on the edge of an abyss, you lose your capacity to think about the future. Just ask Giraldo, who works as a plumber for Aguas de La Habana, what his plans are for 2017, and you’ll see an expression of surprise on his face.

He takes off his faded New York Yankees cap, which once was blue, and takes a few seconds to think. Before I tell you his answer, I’ll give you some details about his every-day existence.

Giraldo lives in a tiny, one-room apartment, but because of overcrowding, he had to enlarge it with a “barbecue” — the name Cubans have given to a makeshift platform built in an existing room between the floor and the ceiling (see page 7 of this document). Now seven people of three different generations live together. continue reading

They have coffee for breakfast, when there is some, and spread a mixture of cooking oil, crushed garlic and salt on a 2.8-ounce bread roll, which, for the price of five centavos, the ration book gives by right to all Cuban-born citizens.

In the living room you see an outdated, cathode-tube Chinese television, and on a wood and glass shelf, a half-dozen empty bottles of rum and whisky serve as decoration.

The Haier refrigerator, also Chinese, granted to them 11 years ago, has still not been paid off. “And we’re not going to pay it,” says Giraldo’s mother, calmly, while she rocks on a chair of springs.

The apartment needs work. But the money is only enough to give it one coat of paint. They don’t have money in the bank, they don’t dream about having a modern car with GPS, and they have never thought about spending their vacation in Varadero or Cayo Coco.

Their lives are made up of working eight hours a day for the adults, studying Monday to Friday for the kids and, after they have dinner, sitting in a patched armchair to watch the current soap opera or a national-series baseball game.

Probably, like in a movie, these images passed through Giraldo’s mind before answering a question that any other person would find easy. Now, with his speech armed, he answers, without drama:

“For people like us who count their money by the centavo, every year is more or less the same. Some less bad than others. But none are good. I think it’s unfair that the Government doesn’t resolve the problems of working people and fucks us over. My only plan is to get enough money to fix the roof, which is full of holes. It’s been that way for over three years, and I haven’t been able to get enough money.”

You should walk in his shoes before judging. I suppose that right now in Aleppo, Syria, or in a stronghold in Yemen being overrun by warlords, a crust of bread or not hearing the howl of mortars is a good sign that you’ll still be alive the next day.

But Cuba isn’t in a civil war. The plans of Julio, a Cuban who arrived recently in the United States, are different. He was put in prison on the Island for embezzlement when he was the manager of a State cafeteria. Then alcohol and a lack of future sent him into a self-destructive cycle. But when he crossed the El Paso international bridge in Laredo, he swore that he was going to start anew.

Now he lives in Kentucky, where it’s unbearably cold. Two times a week, by instant message, Julio communicates with his friends in Havana, who wait for a connection from a wifi zone. And he tells them how things are going in la yuma, and that, really, you have to work hard in the United States to move forward.

Cubans are emigrating precisely in order to move forward. They know the difficulties, what it costs to adapt to other customs and to learn a new language.

“The problem is that to hold onto an option, it has to be achievable, however distant it is. That when you pass by a store or a car dealership, you can say, ’Look at that car; if I work hard, I’ll be able to buy it. If I make an effort, I can improve my quality of life.’ Everything good that can happen in your life depends on you. Here things don’t depend on you,” says Sergio, who clandestinely sells clothing he imports from Panama out of his home.

It would be very pretentious to paint a picture of Cuba as monolithic. There are too many realities superimposed on the Island. But if anything remains clear it’s that people have lost the capacity to think big.

“Every New Year’s Eve we set goals. And we tell our relatives and friends,’May you fulfill your dreams in the New Year.’ But what are our dreams? To get a better salary at work, to be able to become sainted (in the Yoruba religion), to win a big sum in the numbers game or leave the country. Very few have plans to increase their business or to buy a better house or modern car. Our goals are not big. To make a little more money and eat more meals. The Government has killed our hopes with ideology, anti-imperialist speeches and odes to Fidel Castro,” says Rachel, a lawyer.

When you ask Cubans, their aspirations for 2017 are not at all ambitious. Quite the contrary. Antonio, retired at 79 years, wishes for this year that “there won’t be blackouts, the quality of bread gets better, the State repairs the multi-family buildings and they increase my pension by 1,000 pesos.”

He says this with a joking tone, but it makes you sad and compassionate. And among the average Cuban citizens you perceive a skepticism, fatigue, unease and apathy that doesn’t seem to have a cure.

It’s not that they don’t aspire to live better. It’s that they don’t find the way to do so.

Translated by Regina Anavy

So Did Havana Go Back To Laughing, Singing, Dancing? / Iván García

Acosta Danza company, directed by the Cuban, Carlos Acosta – See details below (Source Ana León from Cubanet)

Iván García, 13 December 2016 — The heat returned to the city along with the Reggaeton, the bustle and the alcohol. There’s nothing that bothers Danay, 26 years old, more than the drops of sweat running down her cheeks, mixed with the unbearable smell of kerosene of the old cars used as taxis in Havana, and the scandalous Reggaeton of Micha booming in her ears.

“Turn yourself around, tight and on your toes,” echoes the husky voice of Micha, an ex-slum dweller converted into a singer, coming from the audio equipment of Luis Alberto, 56, a self-employed taxi driver who drives a hybrid racing car 12 hours a day. It has a 1948 Chevrolet body, a German Mercedes Benz motor, a Japanese band-brake and a South Korean Hyundai gear box. continue reading

“I really missed the noise and the sandunga (a type of dance) of Cubans. Those nine days of mourning made Havana into one big funeral parlor. A magic trick. Rum wasn’t being sold, and if they saw you drinking a beer, you were pigeon-holed as a counterrevolutionary,” says Luis Alberto, while he tries to swerve around the collection of potholes on the streets of the capital.

Of the five passengers, no one mentions Fidel Castro. Nor the national mourning. Zulema says she got some bags of chicken at 24 fulas (Cuban Convertible pesos/dollars) each in a market at Carlos III and tells how she rations them out to her family.

“If I put them in the freezer, my children and my husband, who eat like pigs, will devour them in a week. I put five pieces of chicken in a little container inside the fridge. I keep the rest in a freezer under lock and key,” she explains to the passenger at her side, a sporty-looking black man who rides with his head shrunken into the back of the car and only knows how to nod, without commenting.

A young man with a bizarre hairstyle is living in another dimension. He listens to Jay Z with wireless headphones at elevated decibels. He doesn’t participate in the daily debate of the habaneros about the lack of money, food and a future.

He only looks out the car window and occasionally wipes the screen of his shiny Samsung Galaxy 7 with a cloth. Twenty minutes into the trip, Danay explodes.

The heat, the drops of sweat that are spoiling her makeup, the Reggaeton at high volume and the driver’s cigarette smoke, one cigarette after the other, like Marlon Brando in the Godfather saga, have gotten to her: “Please, can you turn down that music and stop smoking?”

The taxi driver looks are her like she’s an extra-terrestrial and answers, “Baby, although it doesn’t look like it, the car is mine. If you’re in a bad mood, you can get out. I bet anything that your boyfriend has left you,” and everybody laughs.

I’m left with this image. The laughing. In the last nine days, just to smile was suspicious. The habaneros were walking around like zombies, solemn and crestfallen.

When people talked about Fidel Castro, they threw out that automatic reproduction that many Cubans carry inside: “The greatest statesman of the twentieth century, the undefeated comandante, the man who escaped more than 600 attempts on his life by the CIA.” Something in that style. The commentaries were replicas of the official jargon.

People drank rum on the sly, the noise died down and a silence that brought more fear than calm spread throughout the whole city. Those who liked to tell tales about Pepito — the little boy who stars in so many Cuban jokes — in the corners, where Fidel Castro was the center of the joke, postponed the pleasantry until new notice.

The private bars sold only soft drinks, malt, fruit shakes and hamburgers. Neither mojitos nor wine. “You’re crazy, brother, if you think I’ll let the inspectors take away my license,” whispers the bar owner to a client. But before closing, he looks from one side to the other, and to those who remain in the bar he offers of drink of aged rum: “This is on the house, so you can celebrate what you want to celebrate.”

And so Fidel Castro’s death suddenly switched off the local customs, the proclamations in the street and that juicy and casual language of the Cubans. But Cuba is a game of mirrors.

Below ground they were betting on the numbers game and playing cards or baccarat in the clandestine casinos known as burles. The hookers worked exclusively door-to-door.

“In those nine days of national mourning it wasn’t wise to prowl around the outskirts of the private bars and discotheques,” says Zaida, who on Monday returned “to the fire.” “The clients were hungry. The mourning ended at 12 midnight on Sunday the 4th, and right away I began to have requests. Because the men were tense.”

Twenty-four hours after Fidel Castro’s ashes were placed by his brother, Raúl, inside an enormous rock that supposedly was brought from the Sierra Maestra to the Santiago cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, 900 kilometers from Havana, the chatting and the noise returned to the capital, and the drunks came back to uncork their bottles.

And the Reggaeton at high volume couldn’t be far behind.

Diarío Las Américas, December 9, 2016

Photo: Once the nine days of official mourning for Fidel Castro’s death was over, the habaneros not only went back to laughing, singing, dancing and making jokes, they also resumed their cultural life. On the night of December 7, many attended the Gran Teatro de La Habana to enjoy the premiere of four works from the Acosta Danza company, directed by the Cuban, Carlos Acosta, who, in addition to the National Ballet of Cuba, has been a dancer in the Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theater and The Royal Ballet, among other important companies. One of the works premiered that night, taken by Ana León, from Cubanet.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

"Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited" says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.
“Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited” says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.

Ivan Garcia, 29 November 2016 — Cintia will never forget the day Fidel Castro died. Not because she had affection for the old guerrilla or felt devoted to the figure of the ex-comandante in chief.

One month ago, Cintia’s parents had reserved a room, paid for sessions of photography and makeup, and invited some 100 people to a party to celebrate her 15th birthday.

No expense was spared. More than 2,000 convertible pesos, some 2,400 dollars, four years’ salary for a professional. The adolescent’s birthday coincided with the nine days of official mourning that the Regime decreed for the death of Fidel Castro. continue reading

In accordance with the provincial government’s regulations, bars, night clubs, shops and markets were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages.

Cintia’s parents had already invested around 500 convertible pesos in clothing and 400 in photo sessions and videos. The date of the birthday celebration, with plans for a dance group, a professional presenter and a bottle of aged rum on each table, was to take place on Sunday, November 27.

As a precaution, Cintia’s family, preparing for a shortage of beer, had already bought 15 cases of Cristal. But they figured they could buy the rum, which was always available on the shelves of the hard-currency stores, the day before the party.

The first problem came with the renting of the salon, a State center that was used at night as a discotheque. On Saturday morning the administrator returned their money, explaining that “because of the national mourning after the death of Fidel, recreational and cultural activities were suspended.”

Cintia’s family understood the reasons. “Look, here almost all the businesses are State property. So we decided to rent a private house. The trouble happened later, when we went to buy rum, red wine and champagne,” the mother says.

They went to dozens of markets and saw that black nylon had been put over the alcoholic beverages on the shelves, as a sign of mourning. “Señora, I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you. If they catch me selling alcohol I’ll lose my job,” a clerk told her.

When asked where this regulation came from, they pointed toward the roof. “From above, from the Government.” As always happens in Cuba, when you want to know the name of the officer or minister who approved an absurd law, the web of bureaucracy conceals the one who implemented it.

Telephoning departments of the Ministry of Interior Commerce, which administers the hard-currency shops, the answers were the same: “We’re in national mourning for the death of the comandante.”

So what do you do with those who wanted to celebrate their birthdays or their weddings between November 26 and December 3? Or the devotees of Santa Barbara who always celebrate on December 4?

Although the official press hasn’t announced it, the Dry Law is extended to the whole Island. The journalist Lourdes Gómez, in Diario de Cuba, reported that “strangely, you don’t see anyone drinking alcohol. A cafeteria worker said that they received a directive prohibiting the sale of alcohol for the next nine days, the period decreed by the Council of State for national mourning.”

We Cubans are used to getting silence for an answer. Right now, Fidel’s death is the priority. He’s a genius and an important figure up to the grave, after his death, built up with a gibberish worthy of a Cantinflas comedy.

The celebrated tenor, Placido Domingo, who was going to make his Cuban debut in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, on Saturday, November 26, had to pack his bags and leave until further notice. Those who love baseball or football in the European leagues have to spend the equivalent of two days wages to get on the Internet to find out the results, since the official press and other media like radio and television are only giving news about the trajectory of the Maximum Leader.

By State decree, the army of drunkards in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the provinces can’t drink beer or rum. “This would be in poor taste, to have people drinking and partying in the middle of national mourning. Where’s the pleasure in that? After December 4 they will have plenty of time to booze it up,” answers a police officer.

Those not suffering from the unexpected tropical Prohibition are the usual drunks. “Those people will even drink dog piss. The ones selling “chispa de tren“* are making a fortune now, since it’s not easy to spend nine days of this fuss without having a drink,” says the owner of a cafe on the outskirts of Mónaco, south of the Capital.

Private bars, restaurants and cafeterias can’t serve or sell alcohol either, but under the table, rum and beer are sold for consumption on the premises.

Coming back to Cintia’s family: At the last minute they were able to buy several bottles of rum and red wine. Of course they paid dearly for them. Finally they could celebrate her birthday, with the music at low volume. So as not to offend Fidel Castro in his national mourning.

*Translator’s note: Literally, “train spark,” referring to the sound made by train wheels on the tracks. A cheap, homemade rum, distilled from sugar and mixed mainly with kerosene or residue from petroleum refining. The toxic rum of the poor.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba Has Been Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 October 2016 — Under the alleged charge of influence peddling, Héctor Rodríguez Llompart, an ex-Cuban diplomat and the ex-President of the National Bank, was arrested.

“No one knows the motives,” said a source close to the Llompart family. “I think after the Ochoa case, the people running this country lost all the elements of inhibition in human conduct.” continue reading

Retired and 82-years-old, on August 8, 2016, there appeared in Granma an article that was later reproduced for the digital portal, Cudadebate. It was entitled “Viva Fidel,” in allegory to the 90th birthday of the ex-Cuban leader. However, in spite of his advanced age, his copious history and the laudatory writing about Fidel, Llompart was arrested at home, in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood, together with his wife, Patricia Arango.

Llompart, ex-Vice Chancellor, ex-President of the State Committee for Economic Collaboration (CECE), ex-Vice President of the National Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation and ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba, is known for depenalizing the dollar in 1993, and for the implementation of the Cuban Convertible Peso as the second official currency in 1994. Both measures had a significant impact on the economy and on living conditions for Cubans.

According to sources consulted, Patricia Arango, Rodríguez Llompart’s wife, after being freed and subjected to a search of her home, has been confined to her house.

Héctor Rodríguez Llopart is a native of Havana and did not join the Rebel Army during the conflict in the Sierra Maestra. He passed through the Cuban Chancellery, where he was Vice Minister, Minister-President of the CECE, and then the President of the National Bank of Cuba for 10 years.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Hidden Agenda Behind the Attack on Cuba’s Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 October 2015 — Some news outlets echoed the words of the Vice President in charge of the Council of Provincial Administration for Havana, Isabel Hamze, when she exposed the Havana Government’s reasons for temporarily suspending the issue of new licenses for paladares — private restaurants — and revising those that already exist. Look, this campaign isn’t a matter — like so many have repeated — of a war against the self-employed, the Cuban private initiative, the restaurants or the late-night bars. It’s much more: a field battle, subtle and personal, against some private entrepreneurs who brushed up against power.

It’s true. The municipal governments of Havana affirmed that they had several meetings with 135 owners of Havana paladares and conversed with them, implying a threat, about particular negative tendencies that have appeared in some private restaurants. But yes, according to official figures, in Havana there are more than 500 paladares and 3,000 cafes. So why didn’t they all attend these meetings? continue reading

At the beginning of this month, Cuban authorities ordered some private nightclubs to close, citing allegations of violations of the closing hour (3:00 am), not having parking, hiring artists without going through agencies, permitting the consumption and trafficking of drugs, accepting the practices of prostitution and pimping in the establishments, not respecting Customs regulations in the importation of goods for commercial use, acquiring and smuggling goods, money laundering and investing capital of doubtful origin, not abiding by contractual relationships as established in Law 116 or the Work Code, violating city regulations and evading taxes.

Doing so would be understandable. But they didn’t close Bolahabana or the Ashé Bar, the Shangri Lá and others, where incidents had been reported with some members of the Castro elite. Thus, the measure is simply a demonstration of power.

You remember that in August of last year, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, the bodyguard-in-chief (and Raul Castro’s grandson), now with a higher rank, because of a “skirt” problem, insisted on expelling from Cuba, with an indefinite sanction against entering the national territory, the Spanish businessman, Esteban Navarro Carvajal Hernández, owner of the Shangri Lá bar and the Up&Down bar-restaurant.

These particular restaurants are the most visible part of the economic reforms promoted by General Raúl Castro. No one in his right mind can believe that a “Vice President in accordance with a Council of Provincial Administration,” a Cuban official of the fourth category, sweaty, poorly coiffed and with an excellent aptitude for being a police officer, is the person in charge of informing the media that the Cuban Government is deciding to take a step backwards from such a trumpeted opening of the new economic model.

So, why did they do it this way?

The present socio-political situation and the historic advertising caused a considerable increase in the number of travelers that come to the island today. The images of the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew, although at a too-high price, helped the government monopolize the friendly view of the international community.

The moment is favorable for General Raúl Castro, but politically it’s not sensible to go back to landlord methods.

The day after tomorrow, in the next session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the presentation of the Cuba Report entitled, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba,” will resume the robbery of owners.

The Cuban government hopes that the majority of the countries’ representatives present will disagree with maintaining a law that they consider a violation of international rights. This is the same government that today hinders, harasses and blockades, without the least respect and in its own backyard, not useful enemies, but a group of entrepreneurs who have bet on private initiative and social improvement.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida

City of Havana Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2016 — As in the Greek epic, Eusebio Leal, the Captain of a small stronghold of Cuban historians, confronted Brigade General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas and the Business Administration Group of the Armed Forces (FAR) with lively and poetic oratory. We know that FAR has taken possession of Habaguanex and several business institutions linked to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana.

This past October 11, from the central patio of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, during an exhibit that began at 8:30 in the morning and lasted a little more than one hour, Doctor Leal Spengler inspired confidence in his troops, using phrases like: “The Office of the Historian is today stronger than ever”; “We’re facing the storm without any type of fear”; and, “Be calm and serene, let nothing perturb you; I am here.” continue reading

Self-taught and with more awards (national and international) than any other Cuban, Eusebio Leal met with the technicians and directors of the different museums, because – according to his explanation – “Of all the groups with whom I work, the one that shares my goals the most is the one dedicated to museums, the collections, and to that exercise of searching which becomes a necessity for each one of us.”

With vague insinuations of mutiny and not calling for obedience, Leal, a member of the National Assembly’s Commission on International Relations, the Committee for the Eradication of Poverty of the United Nations, the National Geographic Society, the Madrid Royal Academy of History and the Latin American Council for Human Rights encouraged his troops publicly to not allow anyone to intervene and put their hands even on one piece of the museum without being properly prepared, and to not accept “improvised directors although they have a wonderful curriculum of having done other things in life.”

“The inventory” — he harangued them — “to mention only the subject of furniture, needs the knowledge of an antiquarian who has studied the different styles, epochs and models. It’s not just a matter of a table with four legs.” And thus, dressed in his usual grey safari outfit that he wears like a uniform, visibly recovered from the illness that afflicted him and vaunting his oral skills, he answered with irony-charged words the discredited oration, “During the process of transfer, the important thing is the inventory,” that the General-Intervenor Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés gives in every meeting with imperial enthusiasm.

“I’m an attorney, and I know what corresponds to me,” he said solemnly, remembering, in an emotional moment, the sentence that the illustrious Cuban patriot and composer of our national anthem, don Pedro Figueredo, pronounced on that fateful afternoon of August in 1870, facing the military tribunal that condemned him to death by firing squad.

“To those like me who admire Leal’s work and the Office of the Historian, we are sad knowing that the final chapter in the struggle to govern Old Havana looks like it won’t go any further,” said a known worker who, having been present at such a restricted meeting, requested anonymity.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Negligence and Violations Opened the Door to Zika in Holguin / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almedia, 8 September 2016 — A commission put together by senior management from the Ministries of the Interior and of Public Health in Cuba has released a report that enters into evidence the origin of the entrance of the Zika virus into Holguín Province.

“Soldiers and Doctors,” a paraphrase of the title of the book by Carlos Loveira, matches a chain of avoidable oversights and violations, committed in the service area of airport security.

“There are videos from the airport cameras showing the guys who, instead of paying attention to the temperature scanner, left to carry luggage in order to get tips from the passengers on international flights.” An officer tells me this unabashedly, and, on cue, he prefers to remain anonymous. continue reading

“By doing this,” he continues, “they neglected epidemiological vigilance and Zika came into the province of Holguín. But, apparently, they already took the measures required by the authorities of the Frank País International Airport, and they expelled those implicated, who are at the disposition of the competent body, because their failure to perform their duties facilitated the propagation of this illness in the province.”

My interlocutor says, “The miserable salary that the customs agents receive and the lack of incentives for those in charge of looking after border security was what really provoked the failure or negligence in airport protocol, permitting someone infected to come into the Holguín region, and the later development of new ’autonomous’ cases that, as you know, are residents in the city of Holguín who have never traveled abroad.”

A doctor in the province with authority on the subject added, “Now what is most worrisome is controlling the vector, meaning the mosquito, Aedes Aegypti. Although they are taking precautions to identify the possible existence of new cases and are studying the viability of taking samples from animals and/or humans in order to develop vaccines, in addition to coordinating health actions with various institutions and raising the consciousness of the population with vigilance and vector control, all these things seem to be insufficient, because we still have it here and we know that the mosquito is changing its usual behavior.”

This past February, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a world health emergency.

From La Voz del Morro, by Juan Juan Almeida.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván García

Two men from the village of Paraguay, in Guantánamo, moving with their suitcases to a more secure place before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Taken from The Daily Times.
Two men from the village of Paraguay, in Guantánamo, moving with their suitcases to a more secure place before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Taken from The Daily Times.

Ivan Garcia, 5 October 2016 — Right now, it’s easier to get to Miami than to Santiago de Cuba. To visit the second largest city on the Island, there are two daily flights that are rarely on time; you have to take a train for around 20 hours, or buy a bus ticket, a whole adventure where you get a mix of satire, drama, and, of course, the chance to pay five or ten convertible pesos under the table as a bribe.

If anyone knows hardship, it’s the Cubans who live in the eastern regions. Living far away from the coasts of Florida, diplomatic headquarters and media focal points, their first step toward migration is to escape to Havana. continue reading

Havana is a city where, to their misfortune, the Cuban Adjustment Act doesn’t exist. Long before Donald Trump tried to enter the White House, with his primitive isolationism and huge stupidity, Fidel Castro advanced a project to build a legal wall: Decree 217, or the Law of Internal Migratory Regulations, which, since April 22, 1997, restricts those born in the east of the Island from living in the capital, which supposedly belongs to all Cubans.

The worst things in Cuba happen to easterners. Regulations, laws to put the brakes on their internal migration, being exposed to earthquakes, drought, and, in 2012 to Hurricane Sandy, and now, with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Matthew, they suffer more devastation caused by natural phenomena than the central and western provinces.

Their sing-song accents, extended mania for throwing down rum and for living in subhuman conditions, are the stuff of jokes with racist and xenophobic overtones made by habaneros, residents of Havana, who call them palestinos, Palestinians.

If you visit any of a hundred illegal slums set up in the darkness of night and constructed with recyclable materials in different districts of Havana, you will see that most of the residents are orientales, easterners, who are fleeing from poverty in search of better salaries.

Néstor is one of them. For seven years he has lived in a hut made of poorly arranged bricks with a tile roof, in a foul-smelling and dingy field that is a stone’s throw from the landfill of Calle 100, in Havana’s Marianao district.

He lives from garbage. He earns money by collecting raw material that has apparently ended its useful life, like shoes, electric appliances and sports watches, which, after a process of repair, are sold at low prices in the traveling stalls that are set up in Havana.

“The eastern part of Cuba is at death’s door. There’s no money or food. I worked as a custodian in a school and earned 225 Cuban pesos a month — around eight dollars — and when I went to a shop to buy a pair of shoes, the price was from 500 to 600 pesos. Havana is dirty, many houses are held up by a miracle, but you can find money there,” says Néstor.

Luis, a santiaguero, resident of Santiago de Cuba, living for 10 years in Santos Suárez, a neighborhood south of the capital, sells tamales. While driving his tricycle-trailer, he hawks his hot tamales as soon as they’re made.

“Not even in the distant past was nature in favor of santiagueros. Earthquakes, drought, and now we’re also threatened by this powerful hurricane. There people are butting their heads against the wall trying to invent money. Recreation is dancing reggaeton and drinking homemade rum. Things in Cuba are bad, but in the east everything is much worse,” points out Luis.

With the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, thousands of easterners who are settled in Havana worry about the future of their relatives. “Every evening I call my mother and brothers, and I pray that the hurricane won’t carry away their little house. We are from San Pedrito — a neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba — and we have more trouble than a slave working under the sun. It’s pitiful. As soon as they get up, people start drinking alcohol and gossiping about the neighbors,” says Lucila, a worker in an agro-market in El Cerro.

The disgust of many people from Havana toward easterners is provoked a little by the myth and by the rude behavior toward the citizens by the police, composed mainly by natives of those regions*.

“Easterners are known for being informers, bums, and alcoholics. It’s all the same to me if the hurricane goes through Oriente, and if it does, the orientales can piss off,” sneers Octavio, a habanero who kills time by talking nonsense on street corners.

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that many people have a real problem with Cubans born in the east. “What bothers habaneros the most is the terrible treatment by the police – their lack of culture, bad manners and inferiority complex. Probably they’re not pleased that most of the State officials, headed by Fidel and Raúl, come from the eastern provinces. There is the false belief that cheap whores and hustlers arrive by train from the east to create more problems in the capital. The State, with Decree-Law 217, opened the door to xenophobic feelings that have always existed below the surface in a segment of the population born in Havana. I don’t think it’s a serious problem. But more attention should be paid to the frankly pejorative attitude towards easterners,” indicates the sociologist.

Like any group of Cubans, Havana is only the first step for the easterners. The next trip, if they get enough money or are claimed by their relatives on the other side of the pond, is to land in Miami.

Iván García

Hispanopost, October 3, 2016.

*Translator’s note: Easterners are recruited to be police officers in Havana with the incentive not only of a steady job but also of the nearly-impossible-to-obtain permit to live in the capital city.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Making a Living in Cuba on Gambling / Iván García

Betting on a cock fight in Cuba. Source
Betting on a cock fight in Cuba. Source: Cubanet

Iván García, 26 September 2016 — Although the bleachers of the old stadium in Cerro are deserted, the overcast sky promises rain and the poor quality of the baseball game between Industriales and Sancti Spiritus invites a siesta, a chubby mulato with arms tattooed in Chinese writing — let’s call him Óscar — sits on the left side in the bleachers to place bets.

“Some years before, betting on baseball had more followers. But present-day baseball is so depressing that people prefer to see a European-league football [soccer] match. But there’s always something that comes along,” he says, agreeing to a bet of 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) with a gray-haired man who smokes a mentholated cigarette.

There are various types of bets, explains Óscar. “There are bets that cover you, which are when you see you can lose, and then you opt for what we call rapid bets. An example: Ten pesos that some player is out or that the pitch is a strike. It’s really a booby trap, since in baseball there are more outs than hits or men on base, and the pitchers have to throw more strikes than balls.” continue reading

Bets or gambling where money flows is an old passion in Cuba. In the Republican era, the average Cuban played the lottery and the bolita or charada.* And he bet on cock fights, baseball games, or a match of billiards or dominoes.

A sector of the wealthy class went to the casinos and the grand Havana hotels to play roulette, dice or cards, or they went to the Hippodrome, to bet on the best horses. After Fidel Castro came down from the Sierra Maestra and took power, betting was prohibited.

Opportunistic soldiers and diehard supporters of the bearded revolutionaries wrecked the billiard tables, slot machines and roulette tables in the casinos with baseball bats and meat cleavers.

The delusional aim of the Castro brothers and the Argentine, Che Guevara, to construct a laboratory man who would work for free without pay, obey the Regime and hate Yankee imperialism, would happen, among other things, by prohibiting betting.

Cuban laws punish, with prison sentences that range from three months to five years, those who facilitate or manage illegal casinos, lotteries or make bets.

But the prolonged economic crisis that has lasted for 27 years has postponed alienating social experiments and their corresponding punishments.

“Now the police don’t interfere with the betters or the fanatics who gamble for money. It has to be an operation in search of some criminal who goes to clandestine gambling houses. But when they get you, they give you a fine of 60 Cuban pesos (around three dollars); they confiscate the money and release you without opening a file,” says Mauricio, owner of a burle, an illegal gambling house in popular slang.

The burles sprout like flowers in Cuba. There are various classes. The authentic dens are set up in grimy quarters where poor people, pickpockets and rogues gamble a handful of pesos at cards or by throwing dice. But there are also comfortable residences where people go who have money from stealing in tourist centers or prostituting themselves with foreigners.

“In my burle, in order to sit down to gamble, you have to put 5,000 Cuban pesos or 200 Cuban convertible pesos on the table. We also accept dollars, euros, Swiss francs or pounds sterling,” indicates David, the owner of a clandestine casino in the old part of Havana.

According to Mauricio, the preferred games are “three with three, a Creole variation of poker, the longana, which is played with domino tiles, baccarat and Cee-lo, which came from the Orient and is played with dice.” And he says that Cee-lo as well as diverse variants of card games “surged in the prisons, where the prisoners, instead of betting with money, bet with sugar cubes, powdered milk or pornographic magazines.”

In some burles, they also hold cock fights, one of the oldest traditions in rural Cuba. After 1959, pens for fighting cocks were prohibited, but now they’re tolerated on the whole Island and involve a lot of money.

The furor for soccer has generated clubs that make discreet bets. In the absence of a betting game, Román notes in a school notebook the bets for the weekend matches in the European leagues.

“There are those who gamble 5 CUC. But there are bets of 500 CUC and more. It depends on the importance of the match. In the Madrid-Barcelona match, a lot of bills were flying around. People bet until someone gets a goal,” emphasizes Román.

New technologies have incentivized other forms of bets. “There are groups, above all of young people, who gamble in clandestine video-game networks and place big bets. It also pays to have five or six computers with video-games and rent them at one cuc an hour,” explains Ángel, who has set up an illegal business of video-games.

The owners of the burles earn 10 percent of the bets in every game. Films of car races, like The Fast and The Furious, brought to the destroyed Cuban roads the competition of cars and motorcycles for money.

There are no Ferraris, Toyotas or Lamborghinis in Cuba. The races are run, in general, with old U.S. autos, fabricated in the workshops of Detroit 70 years ago, and upgraded cars from the Soviet era. In the rural areas, they organize races of “spiders” or horse carts.

“In the car races, bets can go up to three or four thousand Cuban convertibles. They always choose the best stretch of the road. And every police patrol car is paid 20 CUC to ensure security for the area,” says an organizer of these races.

Other variants of prohibited games are dog fights and clandestine boxing. But the star game of betting in Cuba is the bolita, a local variant of the lottery.

Hundreds of thousands of people play it. From guys with bulging pockets to pensioners who earn nothing. For every peso bet, the bank pays between 80 or 90 pesos at a fixed number. Twenty-five pesos invested and 900 or 1,000 pesos in a trifecta or a combination of two numbers. You bet from one to 100, and every number has one or more meanings. The results come from the lottery in Miami, and there are two rounds of bets.

Any Cuban who hasn’t tried his luck in the bolita, raise your hand.

Iván García

Hispanost, September 8, 2016.

*Translator’s note: *”Little Ball” was a type of lottery which involved 100 small, numbered balls. The charada assigned names of animals to the numbers. This created a superstitious method for betting, often basing a choice on a dream or an animal seen during the day. The horse was number 1; this is why Fidel Castro was often referred to as el caballo.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García

Woman buying food
Woman buying food. (Source: Panamerican World.)

Iván García, 19 September 2016 — Let’s get to know Osmel, born in Havana, in 1968. You can smell his body three yards away. He’s a carrier of HIV; he drinks alcohol and makes trouble seven days a week and doesn’t have any known residence.

He sleeps on top of some cartons in a building that threatens to fall down. He eats little and poorly and makes some money collecting old things in the dump at Calle 100, west of the capital.

His skin looks scorched, and every morning he tries to sell things on the outskirts of the Plaza Roja in La Vibora: a pair of used shoes, pieces of second-generation computers or a collection of old Bohemia magazines. continue reading

He says that Social Security “because of my advanced diabetes helps me with 140 pesos (7 dollars) a month, which more or less allows me to get what I need from the store and buy meat and medicine.”

Undoubtedly, Osmel would like to have a family, sleep in a bed and have a daily bath. “I dream about this all the time. To eat hot food, have a wife and watch television with my kids. But how can I get that if what I earn in a month by selling old junk or cutting stone doesn’t cover my needs?” he asks, and he answers himself:

“So that’s why I have to get drunk. The money left to me goes for that. Maybe it’s the fastest way to kill myself,” he says and takes a sip of murky alcohol from a plastic bottle, filtered with industrial carbon.

Like Osmel, hundreds of indigents wander through the streets of Havana, trying to survive in “the revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble,” as Fidel Castro once described it, which in practice has been transformed into an incipient military capitalism that benefits very few.

The Cuba of the Castro brothers happened to have a functional Social Security, sustained by the blank check that the Kremlin provided, for limited aid to retired and sick people, among others, who receive a handful of pesos that isn’t even enough to cover a third of what they need.

The big losers of the tepid economic reforms undertaken by General Raúl Castro are the old people and those at risk of social exclusion. Not all of them are beggars without a roof, like Osmel, but many are obligated to sell newspapers, nylon bags, single cigarettes and cones of peanuts in the streets, or become night watchmen for private companies or State businesses to earn some extra pesos.

The worst isn’t the present; it’s the future. Keep in mind this date: In 2025, more than 30 percent of the Cuban population will be over 60 years. With emigration soaring, finances in the red and a lack of coherent politics that offers net benefits to women and men of the third age [retired], it’s evident that Cuba will not be a good place for old people to live.

Although the old are the most affected by the new economic direction, according to Argelio, a sociologist, “almost 40 percent of the citizenry lives below the poverty line accepted by international agencies, which is measured by those who earn less than one dollar a day. For those in extreme poverty, the figure on the Island hovers around 15 percent.

Specialists consulted consider that there are many reasons for the steep fall in the level of life in Cuba. “The prolonged economic crisis, which now has lasted for 27 years, an economy with ineffective structures, sluggishness in applying efficient models of business management, the circulation of two monies, low salaries and a decrease in productive and export capacity. Except for the sale of services and tourism, in most indices, Cuba has gone backwards,” says Jorge, a professor of political economics.

Raisa, an economist, blames the disaster on “poor governmental management, the decapitalization of the country by the dual currency system and low salaries, which distorts transactions, real productivity and the buying power of the population. There are three or four types of monetary exchanges in the export business and non-agriculture cooperatives that affect economic performance. Raising salaries without a productive base is counter-productive, but earning poor salaries is even more so. The dual currency should be repealed now, although it brings with it associated short-term phenomena that could trigger social conflict.”

In October 2013, the Havana Regime announced the unification of the dual currency and put into play a group of measures that would progressively culminate with the withdrawal of the Cuban Convertible peso (CUC), leaving only the Cuban peso (CUP). But the slowness and the new state of austerity made the autocracy think twice before initiating an in-depth monetary reform.

With an average salary that doesn’t exceed 27 dollars/month, the average Cuban must get by as well as he can to have one or two hot meals a day, get soap, deodorant and detergent and buy clothing and shoes. To reach a decent standard of living, Cubans need the equivalent of 20 minimum salaries of 300 Cuban pesos a month, which would add up to the equivalent 280 dollars per capita.

And probably this isn’t enough, since the accumulation of material hardships and lack of maintenance in the homes triple these figures. Although the Government doesn’t talk about the camouflaged inflation that affects, above all, the State workers who earn in Cuban pesos, the prices in the hard-currency shops — that require Cuban Convertible pesos — reveal the real state of the situation.

Three examples: If a worker wants to buy a flat-screen television, he needs a  salary of a year and a half. To furnish his house, a salary of five years. And if he dreams of owning a modern car, at the present price in State agencies, he needs a salary of 180 years.

If this isn’t inflation, let someone show me otherwise.

Diario Las Américas, September 9, 2015.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García

Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)
Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)

Ivan Garcia, 28 September 2016 — After passing the crossing of La Palma, two kilometers from the old bus stop of Mantilla, El Calvario is found nestled, a district of one-story houses, roads without asphalt and a multitude of dogs without owners.

At the end of a narrow alley the Cubalex Center of Legal Information headquarters is located, a two-story house constructed from private resources, that also serves as the waiting room for the public on the lower floor and housing on the upper floor. continue reading

There, in the summer of 2011, the lawyer, Laritza Diversent Cambara, 36 years old, founded a law office to give legal advice to citizens without charging anything nor caring about the person’s ideological position.

“The last year we dealt with more than 170 cases. Most of the people were poor and without resources, and they felt helpless because of the State’s judicial machinery. We advised on homicides, cases of violence against women, drugs, prostitution and also for any dissident who needed it,” indicated Laritza, seated on a small roofed patio at the back of her house.

The judicial illiteracy in Cuba is lamentable. Very few know the Fundamental Law of the Republic or the proceedings that the police force must fulfill during arrests, confiscations or when they give a simple citation.

Since 2009, lawyers like Laritza Diversent has given lectures to bloggers, independent journalists and the opposition, so they would know how to act at the moment of an arrest.

But the laws in Cuba are an abstraction. They are a set of legal regulations that supposedly should be respected by the authorities. But the repressive forces are the first to violate them.

What occurred on Friday, September 23 is an example. Lartiza says that “several neighbors had warned us about an operation that State Security was preparing. About 20 uniformed agents presented themselves in the office, some with pistols in their belts, as officials of several State institutions. They brought a search warrant that didn’t comply with the requirements established by law. When we let them know it, they resorted to force and invaded the entrance of the Cubalex headquarters, which at the same time is my home.”

They destroyed the door to the patio and came into the living quarters after forcing the kitchen door. Now inside, they took away five computers, seven cell phones, a server, six security cameras, three printers, digital media, archives and money.

“They acted with total impunity and arrogance. The authorities assume they are above the law. They filmed everything. Then they stripped us one by one and body-searched us in a degrading way. It was really humiliating,” said Lartiza.

They took away and detained the lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, and the activist Dayán Alfredo Pérez, whom they freed 12 hours later. Ferrer was confined in the Zanja and Dragones police station, very close to the Chinese Quarter of Havana.

Laritza assumes that the olive-green Regime could send Julio Ferrer to prison. “From his family we found out that in a couple of days, Julio will be presented in the Second Chamber of the criminal court. We will do everything we can to prevent this.”

Ferrer Tamayo, perhaps one of the best prepared Cuban jurists, was a prosecutor in Guanabacoa and later a defense attorney. He knows like few do about the corruption, nepotism and trafficking in influence in the sewer of the legal system.

He has proof that points to several judges. When he decided to become an independent lawyer, he suffered all kinds of harassment from State Security. And in an underhanded legal plot, they sentenced him to three years in prison. But his legal knowledge obliged the olive-green autocracy to free him, without completing his sentence.

Now, everything indicates that they are going to prosecute him and incarcerate him again. The coercion of Special Services has no limits on the Island. Marienys Pavó Oñate, herself a lawyer and the wife of Ferrer, has been confined since 31 July 2012  in the women’s prison, Manto Negro, in a case that he considers a conspiracy.

Cubalex, like other law offices and groups on the State’s margins, operate in a real judicial limbo. In one form or another, they have tried to enroll in the Ministry of Justice Association’s registry. But either they haven’t received a response, or they have been denied the right to associate themselves legally.

In that regard, Laritza says that this indefinite or semi-clandestine status was the perfect pretext to launch the violent operation against Cubalex on Friday, September 23.

“At the head of the search was Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Delgado Casanova and the prosecutor, Beatriz Peña de la Hoz. But to give it a veneer of legality, other officers participated, like the ones from the Institute of Physical Planning, the National Office of Tax Administration and the Integral Direction of Supervision, a body of inspection that forms part of the Council of Provincial Administration,” points out the lawyer from Havana.

The Cubalex team is worried about the legal actions that the State can take against Jorge Amado Iglesias, a collaborator of the office, since he has a license to work for himself and they can fine him 1,500 pesos. For her part, Laritza suspects that Physical Planning initiated a process in order to confiscate both the headquarters and her own home. Since it’s a process of investigation that can last for months, Cubalex cannot take on any cases.

Laritza Diversent is devastated. She believes that the operation suffered by the office, added to other cases of detentions and confiscations against opponents and alternative journalists, could be the beginning of an imminent repressive wave against the dissidence on a national level. “I never thought that by defending human rights I would have to go through all this,” she says.

And that new turn of the repressive screw brings back memories of the Black Spring of 2003. The only thing different in the modus operandi is the season of the year. To make it true, it would have to be in the fall.

Note: The photo of Laritza Diversent in her office was taken by Iván on Monday, September 26, three days after the police operation against Cubalex, which took place on the first floor of her house. In 2009, Laritza began writing as an independent journalist on the blog, Desde La Habana (From Havana). Her works from that period can be read in the folder entitled Las Leyes de Laritza (Lartiza’s Laws).

Translated by Regina Anavy

General Francis is Out of the Game and Raul’s Grandson Ascends / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 29 August 2016 — The most powerful of all the Cuban generals, Division General Humberto Omar Francis Pardo, was replaced in his job as Head of the General Direction of Personal Security (DGSP).

The position is now filled by Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who is known by various nicknames, like “The Crab,” “Grandson-in-Chief,” Raulito” and even “The Arnol-mal,” this last one from his frenetic addiction to steroids and exercise.

Before creating the Commission of Defense and National Security, which Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín directs today, the Direction of Personal Security was the invisible apparatus with the most power on the island. Under this nomenclature, like the current “Commission,” ministries, institutions and all the MININT (Ministry of the Interior) divisions were subordinated. continue reading

“After a long period of stress, and multiple disagreements, Francis suffered a cerebral stroke. He was admitted to the hospital but now is at home,” said a family member of the dismissed General.

The DGSP, intended to protect the force of the myth, the fiscal and moral integrity of Fidel Castro and the rest of the so-called leaders of the first level, has succeeded in amassing more cash than some armies.

The DGSP’s empire 

The DSP relies on a section of the transport police in order to review the fastest road or route for moving the leader. It has a film group, with experts in the art of photography, where they touch up the images of the “untouchables.” Another section is dedicated to documentation and migration matters and also functions as a trip coordinator; an anti-attack brigade consists of snipers and experts in every type of explosive; and a medical department, in addition to having a clinic for everything, has a fixed allocation of doctors, nurses, radiologists, physical therapists, laboratory technicians and other health workers.

They have a division of technology and telephone, workshops, diving masters, gymnasiums, coordinators; a very effective counterintelligence service that, in coordination with other State agencies, looks for, manages and controls all the information of that brotherhood, the family circles and friendships; a department of international relations that coordinates with other secret services the visits to Cuba of people of interest and personalities (friends or not), whether they are presidents, governors, heads of State, members of Congress, religious leaders, etc.; a purchasing group in charge of pleasing even the most bizarre tastes; a department that checks the news that should or should not be released about the Cuban leaders; and a unit to contract service staff (maids) who later work in the houses of those chosen.

With this new appointment, Raúl Castro, in addition to putting his grandson in a key post, captures a vital space reserved uniquely to Fidel, to control even the most insignificant thing, like the ruling class’s privacy in their homes. This method can have a possible boomerang effect, because it also assures the rejection from a good part of a strategic force that, older and in the military, were always faithful to General Francis.

Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, taking care of his grandfather in Panama.

All the body guards of this prestigious group belong to the DSP. Their work consists of taking care of them, protecting them and satisfying them even in their most quirky desires, in addition to spying, recruiting and blackmailing, in order to maintain, at any price, the “moral purity” of the Cuban politicians. This convoy is in charge of avoiding any type of problem of the leader and his closest family. And when I say “any,” it’s any, from the most absurd up to the most complex, whether it’s financial, political or legal.

In Cuba, nobody can prosecute, criticize or punish a bigwig or family member, without the authorization of the DSP.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García

Journalism on Demand
Journalism on Demand

Iván García, 27 August 2016 — I still remember that two-day trip to Pinar del Río. I stayed in a Communist Party hotel at the side of the old central highway. I visited the province’s outstanding factories, cooperatives and work centers.

Then in Havana, I wrote three or four sugar-coated articles about the excellent management of the Peoples’ Power and the “enthusiasm” of the workers’ collective at the Conchita factory after winning a banner of socialist excellence.

No one told me how to do journalism. I experienced it for four decades. I was studying primary education and during school recesses, at the request of my grandmother, my mother [Tania Quintero, now living in Switzerland], a former official journalist, took me with her when she had to do reports in the cities of the interior. continue reading

In that epoch – and now, according to what they tell me – journalists covered the subjects indicated by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which weekly dictated the guidelines to the communication media.

Most official journalists are scribes rather than reporters. They write on demand.

With the arrival of new information technologies and the transition from a personalistic and totalitarian society to an authoritarian country of incipient military capitalism, dozens of State journalists now publish with their names or pseudonyms in alternative digital media, generating a reprimand from their bosses.

It’s precisely in blogs and on independent sites that these correspondents can express their talent, tell their stories and pour out opinions that they never would publish in the dull, propagandistic Government press.

The most notorious case is Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), spearheaded by Elaine Díaz, ex-professor of the University of Havana Faculty of Communication and probably the best journalist in Cuba. After dropping the official ballast, Díaz published excellent research on communities and citizens that never appeared in the Party media.

Doing independent journalism in Cuba brings risks. You won’t get a pension when you retire; you will suffer harassment from State Security, and the Taliban hard-liners will try to assassinate your reputation with every type of crude accusation. But those who manage to do it are free persons.

In my case, I choose the topics and how I’m going to present them. The only censorship is that imposed by reason or by the sword of Damocles represented by the Gag Law, which obliges you to revise the content with a magnifying glass so you don’t get tangled in a crime of defamation or accused of denigrating the President of the Republic.

Certainly, the chief editors with whom I collaborate make recommendations. Up to now, they haven’t censored the content nor the style of drafting. Only on two occasions did they not publish one of my articles (a right that newspapers or websites have). Then I uploaded them to my two blogs.

That an independent journalist doesn’t write on demand means that inside the Island several opposition organizations and dissident leaders try to use you at their convenience.

It seems legitimate to me that a dissident project aspires to having the best media impact possible. That’s not what I’m referring to. It’s the deplorable obsession of certain dissidents who want to manage the work of a journalist.

They use different strategies. One is to invite you to meetings where they paint a superficial picture of their organization and their chimeric plans. The story is like that of the Government, but in reverse. They exaggerate the number of members and present a battery of proposals that are forgotten after a few months.

If you ask uncomfortable questions, they simply take you off the list of their meetings and press conferences. If you’re too critical of the dissidence, they prepare a reprimand.

They never tell you that they disagree with you. They start the discussion by pointing out that you’re wrong. If voices are raised, accusations begin: that you’re an undercover agent of State Security, a traitor to the cause, or you’re providing arguments to the “enemy” (the Regime) that later will be used to discredit the opposition.

Another strategy, in mode among certain opposition groups, is that in addition to “renting” a journalist, they enroll him in their cause. A huge mistake. Keeping a distance is the first rule of journalism.

If you are for democracy, that doesn’t mean you should march with the Ladies in White through Miramar. When that happens, the journalist misjudges the profession.

Sometimes the debates caused by a journalistic article are civilized. Other times they set up a “repudiation meeting” for you.

The Sunday of March 20, hours before Obama landed in Havana, I was with the Ladies in White in Gandhi Park, to write an article about the aggressions against the group of women on the part of the repressive bodies.

There I had to put up with the insolence of Ailer González, a member of Estado de Sats, asking me what I was doing there and refuting my assessments. I answered her briefly and told her that she didn’t have to read me.

This type of journalism by genuflection, habitual in Cuba, sometimes tries to pass itself off as freelance.

Everyone is free to have an opinion and reproduce it. Sometimes our commentaries or stories provoke controversy and irritate the local or exile dissidence. But at least I don’t write to please anyone.

If a handful of ungagged journalists have been able to defy an olive-green autocracy for 20 years, I don’t believe that the pride and intolerance of some dissidents should inhibit us.

Authentic journalism is always in search of the truth. Whatever it costs.

Photo: Elaine Díaz and Abraham Jiménez, directors of the digital media Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) and El Estornudo (The Sneeze). Taken from Brotes de periodismo cubano (Outbreaks of Cuban Journalism), an article by Pablo de Llano, El País (The Country, a daily newspaper in Spain), March 22, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy