Discontent is Growing on the Island / Somos+, Sandy Perez

Somos+, Sandy Pérez, 7 January 2015 — Every day that passes, the Castro dictatorship loses more followers, which was demonstrated in the past elections for delegates to the Municipal Peoples Power Assemblies. The official press supervised by the regime published the results of the polling stations on April 25, in the Juventud Rebelde paper. It’s clear that the figures are made up but, even so, they reflect the growing popular discontent of the now-exhausted Cuban people.

Some 11.22 percent of the electorate didn’t bother to pass through the colleges where they were supposed to vote; that is to say, there are 850,314 people who don’t believe in the political system that has reigned in Cuba since 1959. If you add to that the 343,430 voters who left their ballots blank, and the 372,351 who made them invalid, there are now 1,566,095* non-conformist Cubans, a figure that should worry Castro.

There are several motives for the disinterest showed by the electorate: the very low salaries for workers and pensioners; the lack of housing for young couples and the impossibility of renting, which provokes instability in marriages; the deficiency of the basic basket (ration book) and the low purchasing power.

In the case of young Cubans, most of them are obliged to vote by their parents, who have been indoctrinated since they were little and implant the same fear in their kids. These days you hear things like: “You have to go vote or I’ll be fired from my job!” That’s the sad reality for Cuban youth.

*Translator’s note: The 2013 voting age population in Cuba was reported to be about 8.87 million, with about 8.66 million registered to vote.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Closed Game / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 29 December 2015 — The year 2015 ends, and stagnation seems to have sat squarely on the Cuban authorities. Entrenched in dogma and their absurd demands to the U.S. Government, shielded in the supposed defense of sovereignty and independence, something they forgot when they delivered the country to the Soviets for 32 years, they aren’t moving any political domino tiles, closing the game with the double nine.

The 12th Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and the work in the commissions, prior to the sessions of the National Assembly, not for the first time repeated the existence of the same problems presented in similar, previous activities, without the appearance of real solutions that would improve the country’s situation or that of its citizens. The talk is of multiple pretenses in all the sectors of production and services, which now form an habitual part of the content of these meetings, where the deputies unanimously approve all agreements without the least disagreement, giving an irrefutable demonstration of totalitarian unity.

The year 2016 is gloomy, with little hope for important changes, at least while the current historical leadership holds power.

Translated by Regina Anavy

A Glance at Cuba in 2015 / Ivan Garcia

Reading_Newspaper_Gerry_Pacher-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2016 — Joel Castillo, 19, passed from expectation to frustration in 12 months. After graduating in 2014 in electronics from a technology school south of Havana, he still hasn’t been able to work in his specialty.

“With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, I thought there would be better options for people. But things remain the same. And I haven’t gotten a job that fits my profile,” says Castillo.

It’s precisely the youngest who are the most disillusioned with the inertia of the olive-green Regime. A government with almost six decades in power and an executive faction whose combined age adds up to more than 300 years should have better policies for its youth. Continue reading “A Glance at Cuba in 2015 / Ivan Garcia”

The Dollar Gains Strength in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

Photo: A branch of Western Union on Obispo Street, Old Havana. According to a manager of this company, 62 percent of Cuban homes receive remittances from the United States. Western Union has offices in 140 of the 158 municipalities in Cuba.

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2016 — José Manual Cordoví keeps his savings in a rusty cookie tin. He runs a business forging windows, doors and iron in a suburb of low hovels in Arroyo Naranjo, a municipality 40 minutes by car from the heart of Havana.

Cordoví has no relatives or friends who are close to the olive-green mandarins who could give him information. But incessant rumors have encouraged him to change his savings in convertible pesos (CUCs) into U.S. dollars.

“I think that in December or January, those people (the Government) will unify the money and the Cuban convertible will disppear into thin air. They say they’ll respect the money that people have deposited in the bank. But those of us who do business under the table or keep our money under our mattresses could be screwed with a unification of money if it’s accompanied by a depreciation of the CUC,” says José Manuel. Continue reading “The Dollar Gains Strength in Cuba / Ivan Garcia”

More “Counterrevolutionary” Artists Speak Out For Their Freedom (Part 3) / Angel Santiesteban

Screen capture — A Cuban filmmaker with the black tape of censorship literally covering his mouth.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 21 December 2015 — In order to complete my personal impression about the G-20* assembly in the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Film Center this past November 28, I must recognize the solidarity and support of the filmmakers for their colleague, Juan Carlos Cremata, who, through writing, like Enrique Colina among others, showed their disgust and rejection of the assault dealt by the State against the artist, restricting his thinking and his work.

The abuses and injustices committed by the officers and political police have been the last straw for the patience of the unionized filmmakers who — with new verve — have come together with their claims showing that they have matured as people, a society and artists.

The wolf, who for more than half a century has sunk his teeth into the sheep that don’t abide by the rules of the fold, has paused now to wonder why, for the first time, the job of making them submit has been made difficult, and he waits, hoping that they will show some weakness or divide themselves in order to make his job of the bogeyman scaring the children easy.

The dictatorship prefers us to be alone.

I was amazed at the existing cohesion among the constituents of the G-20*, the clarity of their demands, like the Film Law that is indispensable to them in order to continue creating, but, above all, how well disposed they are to continue struggling until they achieve what they demand.

They are not naive, they know that in the eyes of the dictatorship they have been converted into rebels who should be drowned, and if a crack exists, it would be inside one of the columns that integrate the group; and then, beginning with secret conversations with State Security, it would cede before the pressure and would begin to distort, scare, divide and misconstrue the objectives presented from the outset.

Let’s hope that intelligence reigns over fear and serves to save this force that conveys their demands as artists, converts itself into a national necessity and triggers a new pattern in the country’s history.

Their laudable, noble and courageous abilities are the preamble of a new era in which artists recover the dignity that has been lost for more than five decades, letting them be devoured and beaten by the totalitarian Regime for not receiving their punishment.

It is new times, and democracy is the only system possible for any government; now there’s no space for authoritarian regimes (totalitarian) as, for example, Argentina and Venezuela, countries in which the opposition has just won the elections.

Later will come those that are missing, and of course the Castro clan’s dictatorship will have no other option but to cede. With the arrival of freedom, Juan Carlos Cremata and all Cuban artists will recover the cultural spaces that they should not have lost through censorship and prohibitions. Juan Carlos Cremata deserves that space for his talent, strength and commitment.

Let’s hope that without more delay, the Film Law gets approved for the benefit of the seventh art.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, November 2015, under conditional “liberty.”

*Translator’s note: A group of Cuban filmmakers who demand the approval of a Film Law in Cuba. They defend independent production companies. At this meeting they debated censorship and analyzed the case of Juan Carlos Cremata, whose play “The King is Dying” was censored. Cremata was denied the right to stage another play in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Nauta vs. Gmail, and the Stupid Strategy / Somos+, Javier Cabrera

Somos+, Javier Cabrera, 30 December 2015 — As a result of the Paris attacks, many governments have put growing pressure on the technology companies to have “backdoors” in order to access users’ information without needing a judicial order. In the U.S., the debate is at its highest point, openly, with the citizens aware of the fight and the technology companies giving their opinions. Such is the case with Apple and others that have announced they won’t deliver users’ data for an increase in security, and the government isn’t taking it easily.

China also is trying to take advantage of the debate, although with a focus a lot more twisted and behind the backs of its citizens, wanting to compel by law all the technology companies to give them whatever information they request, and threatening grave consequences for the economy and the competition. Continue reading “Nauta vs. Gmail, and the Stupid Strategy / Somos+, Javier Cabrera”

Cuba, One Year After December 17, 2014 / Ivan Garcia

Mujer-en-balcon-y-banderas-620x330

Ivan Garcia, 14 December 2015 — In a basement blackened by humidity and soot, Leonardo Santizo and two workers make cookies, candy and peanut nougat, as a private enterprise.

At the back of the room, piled up in nylon sacks, are hundreds of kilograms of unroasted peanuts, bottles of vegetable oil and all-purpose flour. On a damaged and dirty table, a thermos of recently-made coffee. While they work, they chain-smoke.

“We’ve been on our feet since five in the morning and we work until four in the afternoon. Every day we make 600 cakes, 100 packages of biscuits and 400 tablets of ground peanuts. The average pay is some 400 pesos daily. Sometimes a little more. We sell the cookies and sweets for the most part to private retail businesses,” says Leonardo. Continue reading “Cuba, One Year After December 17, 2014 / Ivan Garcia”

How to Lose Friends / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, Havana, 23 December 2015 — These days I’m immersed in the culmination of my next novel, which I should deliver in February for its possible publication; for this reason, I have dedicated the last two months, in a tireless way, to improving the prose, born from the heat and emotion of the most recent creation. I’ve barely taken time for cultural recreation, repressing — now that it’s possible — going to the theater, movies, ballet, among other spaces of my personal consumption, after having yearned for it for two and a half years, because the dictatorship that considers thinking differently to be dangerous, especially if it involves an artist, decided to send me to prison.

It’s indisputable — and the reason for this post — that I haven’t been able to visit and comply with the demands of some friends, brother masons and political activists, who would like to see me more frequently. Continue reading “How to Lose Friends / Angel Santiesteban”

Padura and the Face of Cultural Context / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 18 November 2015 — On October 31, in the Museo Napoleónico de La Habana, the book, “The Faces of Padura: Work and Life of a Writer, ” a compilation of texts about Leonardo Padura, was presented. Padura was recently awarded the Princesa de Asturias de las Letras Prize.

At the event, Padura shared the thank-you speech that was read in Oviedo before Spain’s royal family; words that should have been published by the Cuban press. But not only did they not publish them, but also in the official media it was completely ignored that for the first time a Cuban writer was given credit for such a prestigious award. Continue reading “Padura and the Face of Cultural Context / Angel Santiesteban”

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. Continue reading “No Other Country Has Treated us Like Costa Rica / Ivan Garcia”

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

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

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

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 “Press Workshop with Raul Rivero / Ivan Garcia”

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 Stampede Continues / Rebeca Monzo”