Theft of €œElectronic Waste€ From Telephones Is a Business in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 April 2016 — In 2008, General Raúl  Castro, showing signs of an “extraordinary benevolence,” allowed Cubans to have access to cellular telephone service.

The number of these devices created an elevated and accelerated boom that was not foreseen even by the most seasoned economists. But, according to sources in the office of the General Prosecutor of the Republic, such a vertiginous increase runs parallel and proportional to an increase in certain types of crime. Continue reading “Theft of €œElectronic Waste€ From Telephones Is a Business in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida”

ETECSA (Cuba’s telecommunications company) began operating in 2003. At that time there were only some 43,300 cell phones on the island, distributed among diplomats, foreign businessmen and Cubans linked to foreign businesses. Today, a high percentage of the national population has cellular coverage, and with that comes the proliferation of pickpockets. They scour the provinces like birds of prey in search of these devices.

But this method of small-time thievery is the first link in a criminal chain that not only implicates known private workshops (cuentapropistas) [self-employed businessmen] or certain agencies of ETECSA where they buy, modify and sell this type of equipment. It also implicates State Security and other businesses of MININT [the Ministry of the Interior] that pursue, track and even buy these telephones.

For what reason? According to someone who’s a business owner, it’s for removing the most precious thing we keep in our phones: information.

The same thing happens everywhere, but each country has its own particularities. As a general rule, in Cuba, this type of device isn’t stolen in order to decode it and sell it in other countries, but rather to dismantle it and sell it for parts, on and off the island.

The General Prosecutor says that, although it’s working on several cases, it hasn’t managed to discover the matrix of such a complicated network. The National Revolutionary Police recognizes that there’s a black market where you can find the displays, speakers, headphones and batteries of stolen cell phones, but it hasn’t been able to find the authors of the crime.

Both entities appear to ignore, on purpose, that power, in addition to being an instrument, is a more underhanded and more dangerous vice than drugs. As happens with criminal gangs, when their members converge at some moment, the same happens with the rest of the pieces of the stolen cell phones and many of the phones confiscated in ports and airports by the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba.

A young businessman of Lebanese origin, who is known as “the king of modern mining,” buys them. With a French passport, the alleged endorsement of the Government and the friendship of the “Grandson in Chief,” Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, he exports the stolen material under the Customs category of “electronic waste.”

This businessman sends everything by air to modern metallurgic plants located off the island (according to the gossip, in Europe), where the technology exists to isolate and recuperate valuable components like copper, cobalt, antimony, gallium and coltan. These are not precious metals, but they are rarely found in the world and are in such great demand by the industry that they sell by the gram and cost more than gold.

I hope that this note helps the National Police.

There aren’t many businesses in the world that are capable of recuperating part of these materials among the electronic garbage. And I venture to say that in Cuba there are no more than four Frenchmen (of Lebanese origin) who are friends of Raúl Guillermo.

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

MININT Colonel In The Vortex of The Theft of Papers From MININT / Juan Juan Almeida

Ministry of the Interior Colonel Emilio Alejandro Monsanto

Juan Juan Almeida, 20 June 2016 — Carlos Emilio is a pseudonym. He has the rank of Colonel, and his real name is Emilio Alejandro Monsanto. He’s detained in Havana, in an elegant house converted into a military prison, accused of being the possible intellectual author of the theft and sale of information from the eighth floor of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), and of having organized a series of operations to launder more than 100 million dollars in Panama, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, the Dominican Republic and the United States that implicate General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra (“Furry”), Iraida Hidalgo (Furry’s wife), General Carlos Fernández Gondín; also, General Román, Commander Ramiro Valdés, various members of the Commission of Defense and National Security, families of the deceased General, Julio Casas Regueiro, a daughter of the present President of the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Raúl Castro, and other less important elements of the olive-green Cuban jet set.

But of course, as my grandmother, who was the queen of street smarts, said, “The wolf will always be the bad guy because it’s Little Red Riding Hood who tells the story.” Continue reading “MININT Colonel In The Vortex of The Theft of Papers From MININT / Juan Juan Almeida”

The information that arrives in drips and drabs from Havana about the hermetically sealed case ensures that, hidden under a tangle of joint stock companies, those who are implicated in the almost impenetrable investigative file expatriated Cuban capital through a series of operations of doubtful commercial coherence and ended up raiding the national budget.

Sources with supposed access to the case surmise that:

1. They laundered the money in financial entities, such as:

  • Financiera Ricamar S.A.: Calle 18 super 99, Monte Oscuro, Panama.
  • Financiera Eurolatina S.A.: Paitilla, Plaza Bal Halbour M-38, San Francisco, Panama City.
  • Financiera Bescanvi Occidental S.A.: Ave. Federico Boyd, Cond. Alfaro L-48, Bella Vista, Panama City.

2. With the alleged political influence of President Daniel Ortega, they invested in the construction of Galerías Santo Domingo, located on the Boulevar de Los Mártires. Today, it’s the most exclusive commercial center in Managua; rather, in all of Nicaragua.

3. With an injection of money that was suspicious due to the inability to demonstrate the origin of their funds, they created a corporation located on the Avenida Hispanoamericana de Santiago de los Caballeros, in the Dominican Republic, which now reports accountable losses.

4. With the mediation of straw men (their names are already being leaked, because all materials burn if you apply the adequate spark), they bought properties in Barcelona, Madrid, Marbella, Murcia, Galicia, Miami, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and New York.

I’m not saying more for the protection of my informants, because we live in a society where it’s easy to judge, and because it’s not fair to use or punish a scapegoat as an excuse for the accuser’s ends. It’s that, as usual, the truly guilty, those who lost their sense of time, space and decency, continue to be free and sovereign. It wouldn’t be the first time; we saw it in the judgment of Cases 1 and 2 in 1989*, which some water down, many restate and, in reality, few understand.

Being an accomplice or a collaborator of a group in power grants certain advantages; but it’s inconvenient for life and liberty.

*Translator’s note: A reference to the execution of General Ochoa and others, after being found guilty of drug smuggling and treason.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Without Eusebio Leal, Habaguanex is Controlled by the Military / Iván García

Eusebio Leal. Taken from Habana Nuestra [Our Havana].
Eusebio Leal. Taken from Habana Nuestra [Our Havana].
Iván García, 9 August 2016 — The sun illuminates the Plaza Vieja, and a humid heat transforms the place into an open-air sauna. When you set foot on the cobblestones, the sensation you have is one of walking on burning embers.

At the entrance of the planetarium, dozens of kids accompanied by their parents get in line to see this piece of Havana geography from a black-box camera.

The tourists, as always, relaxed and absent-minded, are drinking beer or taking photos of the Plaza Vieja, dressed in bermuda shorts and leather sandals, always accompanied by a bottle of mineral water. Continue reading “Without Eusebio Leal, Habaguanex is Controlled by the Military / Iván García”

In this tropical inferno, seated in an uncomfortable plastic chair, I chatted with José (name changed), the manager of the Habaguanex chain warehouse*. “Now everything is fucked up. They broke Habaguanex into pieces. Last weekend there was a meeting, and they removed Eusebio Leal as the head of the firm. You could see that coming. It was a methodical and studied escalation. At the end what they wanted was to control a business that earns hundreds of millions of dollars. Those soldiers are predators. They aren’t satisfied with what they have.”

Probably the best-informed person about the business of Eusebio Leal, the Historian of the City, who created an authentic empire with the intention of renovating buildings that are emblematic of Old Havana, is Juan Juan Almeida García, residing today in Miami.

This past June 13, he wrote a note on the website of Martí Noticias, “The Military Conquest of Eusebio Leal’s Empire,” where he detailed the strategies of the olive-green business group, GAESA, directed by Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the ex-son-in-law of President Raúl Castro. [See Also: The Military’s Coup d’état…]

Juan Juan pointed out: “Continuing a very well-plotted plan that includes taking advantage of Dr. Eusebio Leal’s illness to strengthen, even more, the dominion in the chain of commercial and business supremacy in every corner of the island, next October 30, Habaguanex, the tourist company that once belonged to the Historic Center of Old Havana, will be completely in the hands of the greatest of the Cuban predators, the Business Administrative Group of the Armed Forces.”

Much has been leaked about the audit done by the General Comptroller and the Council of State of the business that bears the name of the first Havana cacique**. Even today, missing millionaires and presumptive cases of corruption in the central warehouses are being revealed.

“It’s common practice among corrupt officials to revise, write-off and sell outside Cuba the new equipment recently installed in hotels, hostels, properties, shops, restaurants and cafeterias of the business; but to make Habaguanex dependent on Gaviota is one of the most audacious and malicious measures that this military corporation, directed by Rodríguez López-Callejas, has taken,” according to a source of Almeida’s close to the publicized inspection.

Idania, an architect on Eusebio Leal’s project, visibly disgusted, considers the administrative transfer to be an error. “They told me in the Saturday meeting that Military Counter-intelligence applied security measures so that nothing would be leaked. They prohibited mobile phones, and those who aren’t discreet, in addition to being separated definitively from their work posts, can receive penal sanction. The soldiers are like an elephant in a toy store. I can tell you that it’s not going to work. The armed forces control a sector of tourism and ETECSA [Cuba’s tele-communications company], and that hasn’t brought a better performance. On the contrary.”

Many workers think that their salaries will be affected. “We have a special salary regulation designed by Eusebio himself. We earn higher salaries in our jobs than in the rest of the country. If now the guards start applying Resolution 17 [which stipulates that company profits be linked to wages], our salaries can be reduced by half. I was earning a monthly salary of 2,000 Cuban pesos and almost 100 convertible pesos. If this is lowered with the new administration, hundreds of workers will lose their leave,” says Osvaldo, a mason who works on the restoration of the Capitolio Nacional.

The offensive of the military entrepreneurs isn’t new. In September of last year, a scrapping brigade, in a little more than two hours, dismantled the aluminum pipes and awnings of three open-air bars on the Avenida del Puerto, where hundreds of habaneros and tourists were drinking beer or eating fried chicken among ambling musicians and prostitutes on the hunt for clients. In one blow, it put a halt to two dozen workers, and others had to relocate, causing important salary losses.

But the real interests are elsewhere. Let’s call him “Mario,” a bureaucrat of the Habaguanex corporation. He tells us that “the businesses adjacent to the port are already controlled by military companies, from the rent and liens on the old warehouse of San José, now converted into a crafts market, up to hostels, cafés, restaurants and shops. There’s a master plan to convert the port into a tourist plaza that offers recreation and services for cruise excursions.”

Nicolás, an accountant at Habaguanex, recognizes that “as in all the sectors of the country, corruption in business was brutal. There were warehouses where the entrance and exit of commodities didn’t comply with the loading cards. But the work of restoration of Old Havana and other historic sites is, perhaps, the one thing that works well in Cuba. No other State institution has been able to save or maintain the old buildings in the city.”

In the last months, there’s been a withdrawal of the Government to avoid facing new economic reforms. The most conservative sector of the Party is at the front of the country’s direction. Among the recent changes in the “furniture” are the replacements of the Minister of Culture and the czar of reforms, Marino Murillo, who was at the front of the economic portfolio.

According to what can be known, General Leonardo Andollo Valdés, the father of the swimmer and diving instructor, Deborah Andollo, will be the head of Habaguanex.

It’s not known what new functions Eusebio Leal Spengler will perform. Will he act exclusively as the Historian of Havana or will he pass to the “pajama plan” [i.e. forced retirement]? In an autocracy of command and control, anything is possible.

Translator’s notes:

*The Habaguanex Tourist Company, a Cuban corporation, belongs to the Office of the Historian of Havana City, directed by Eusebio Leal. It owns hotels, shopping and cultural services. Its sustainable development generates income that is used to restore the Historic Center and to improve living conditions for the local population. 
**Habaguanex was the chieftain who ruled the area where Havana is located today, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Military’s Coup d’Etat Against Eusebio Leal’s Empire / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 August 2016 — The principal sources of income of the business, Habaguanex, and the Office of the Historian of Havana, are now officially part of the Group of Business Administration [GAE] of the Revolutionary Armed Forces; and the rest are removed or scrapped.

After a long process that ended in this expected adjudication, the intervention was announced this Saturday, July 30, early in the morning, in the elegant salon Del Monte, located on the first floor of the famous hotel, Ambos Mundos, in Havana.

The military interventionist, neither more nor less, was Division General Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés, who, among his distinctions (and he has more than the number of cheap wines), is the Second Head of State Major General of the FAR [Revolutionary Armed Forces], and the Second Head of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of Perfecting the Economic and Social Model of Cuban society. Continue reading “The Military’s Coup d’Etat Against Eusebio Leal’s Empire / Juan Juan Almeida”

“Can you imagine! According to what General Andollo said, the GAE has the control of accomplishing a more efficient function,” commented an ironic assistant in the mentioned meeting, who, upon kindly requesting he not be identified, added, “The soldiers do more harm to the country’s economy than Reggaeton does to Cuban music.”

At the pernicious conference, which, for almost obvious reasons, Dr. Eusebio Leal didn’t attend, GAE officials and officers of State Security and Military Counter Intelligence ordered that cell phones be removed from all the participants.

On the dispossessed side were the heads of the business section of the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana and its adjunct director, Perla Rosales Aguirreurreta, plus the present directors of the Tourist Company Habaguanex S.A. and all its managers of hotels, bars, cafeterias, shops, restaurants and hostels.

“This seems to be a coup d’état. An abuse of Leal’s efforts. Not to mention the hours of work that many of us have put in on the recovery of this part of the city that remained forgotten. Speaking in economic terms, Habaguanex has grown much more than Gaviota, TRD and all those military businesses together. No one can deny the efficiency of our work and our marketing strategy. Yesterday, this was a marginal, stinking zone on the edge of collapse; the reality is that today, there is no tourist, whether a head of State, diplomat or celebrity in any field who comes to this capital and doesn’t visit Old Havana,” argued one of the principal restorers of the so-called Historic Quarter, with feeling.

“Bit by bit we’re being dismantled – and I repeat: the park of the Maestrana, the museums and the shop of the Muñecos de Leyendas [mythical creatures], continue, for the moment, in the hands of the Office of the Historian, until, it’s also whispered, we pass under the direction of the Minister of Culture.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Top Official Of The Ministry Of The Interior Implicated In Contraband Case: Crime Or Reckoning? / Juan Juan Almeida

José Martí International Airport

Juan Juan Almeida, August 8, 2016 — This past July 18, in the Cuban capital, Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Mujica, the head of the Capdevila Special Command of Firefighters, Boyeros municipality, and of the prevention unit of the José Martí Havana Airport, was detained.

He’s accused of being the brains behind a hypothetical illegal operation — in addition to being a millionaire — involving trafficking and contraband: exploiting an advantageous privilege, like having free access to restricted areas of the upper terminals of the Havana airport, in order to charge passengers for taking out and/or bringing into the country prohibited articles without passing through the correct customs and migration controls. They also impute to him the supposed use of firefighter unit inspections to put obstacles in the way of projects and foreign investments and then accepting the ubiquitous bribe to release the permits. Continue reading “Top Official Of The Ministry Of The Interior Implicated In Contraband Case: Crime Or Reckoning? / Juan Juan Almeida”

Sources who claim they’re close to the case, and who prefer to remain anonymous for their own protection, reveal that at the moment of the arrest, the authorities were alerted about another individual, nameless for the moment because it hasn’t been leaked, who managed to escape the country recently, with an unknown destination and false documents, and who could be the possible co-author of these continued crimes.

“What’s bad about that?” asks someone who then answered himself. “It’s one of the ways, secretly but with previous government authorization, that Cuban intelligence uses to bring in or take out of the country merchandise and people. They taught the formula; he learned it and used it.”

Part of the airport security is built over the firefighting unit, which Mujica directs, and is located at one side of the 4,000 meter runway of the Havana aerodome, between terminal 3 of the José Martí airport and terminal 5 of Guajay, where Aero Caribbean and other charter airlines operate commercially. It’s a special location, where, supposedly, packages stolen from the wagons that transport luggage could be taken out without touching the airport, and material and people could enter the airport without the least fear, violating all the legal regulations.

“I’m not saying that Rafael is a saint. The greed of Cuban officials is a notable phenomenon. They all feel the need to grab property in order to face a future that appears uncertain, that seems to offer no shelter. So it’s more than a case of corruption. It looks like a settling of accounts,” says someone here in Miami who identifies himself as a friend of the detained soldier.

“The Cuban military class to which he belongs has turned its back on him out of fear. But doesn’t it seem strange that Mujica, today presumed corrupt, hasn’t created bad memories among anyone who knows him or his subordinates? Doesn’t it seem equally strange that, having so much money as they supposedly say, he lives in a modest home wth the roof falling down, in the neighborhood of Lawton?”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Hookers Will Increase With The Tourist Boom And The Economic Austerity / Iván García

Photo taken from My Wall Paper Top.
Photo taken from My Wall Paper Top.

Iván García, 5 August 2016 — In the middle of the empty bottles of aged rum and the Presidente Dominican beer washed down on the patio, five people are drinking and talking about sports and business. From the back comes the sound of the Reggaeton, Hasta que se seque el Malecón, [“Until the Malecón dries up”] of Jacob Forever [a Reggaeton star].

Meanwhile, four girls are taking turns with a chipped soda can, inhaling a mix of cocaine and a bite of cigar, known in Cuba as cambolo. Continue reading “Hookers Will Increase With The Tourist Boom And The Economic Austerity / Iván García”

The party can very well cost the equivalent of 200 dollars. Eduardo, a mid-level official in Foreign Commerce, sums up the expenses: “Forty-eight convertible pesos [CUC] for two boxes of beer, 40 CUC for five bottles of aged rum, 25 for four kilos of chicken and two tins of tuna for snorting, and 100 CUC for the drugs and whores.”

And what are they celebrating? “Nothing special. In Cuba you celebrate anything. A success is the same as a failure. We’re not going to resolve the economic crisis by struggling. When you have a little bit of money, that’s synonymous with a party, sex and pachanga music. There doesn’t have to be anything more,” comments Armando, the owner of a private auto repair business.

Now it’s common, at least in Havana, for a group of friends to rent a swimming pool or a house and bring in food, Reggaeton music and prostitutes to have fun. In the summer, hookers like Elisa take advantage of the prosperity to fatten their wallets.

In private bars, discos and central areas, the hookers prowl around without much discretion. They stand out: very short, skin-tight skirts and strong perfume.

“The clients are drawn to us like moths to a flame. There are nights when you can make up to 250 CUC. In the morning, an Italian; in the afternoon, a Spaniard; and at night, an old Cuban,” says Elisa.

And the economic crisis? The new stage of austerity? “That’s for those who work for the State. Those who have private businesses, who work in tourism or make money under the table continue enjoying life in style. They break open a can and a heap of hookers appear. There are more of us every time,” says Elisa.

And the prognosis points to continued growth. At least that’s what Carlos, a sociologist who lives south of the capital, thinks. “In periods of economic hardship, people opt for the easiest way to make money. During the Special Period, only between 1993 and 2000, prostitution in Cuba took off and expanded. They weren’t only in the tourist sector. They began to operate among that portion of Cubans who have businesses, and now you can see them in poor neighborhoods where entertainment consists of drinking alcohol and flirting with cheap hookers.”

The number of prostitutes in Cuba is unknown. The sociologist beleives that the figure “is greater than 20,000 women on the whole island. If we add the men who prostitute themselves, the level could reach 30,000 people. To that you have to add those who live off the business, like the pimps, corrupt policeman, tourism employees, owners of rental houses, taxi drivers and photographers, among others. We’re talking about an enterprise.”

The tourist boom on the island is a very tempting treat for many young girls whose families are a living hell. “Although most of those who prostitute themselves belong to dysfunctional families, cases of young people from decent families without economic problems are growing. They are dazzled by the good life, easy money or the possibility of getting a visa,” clarifies Laura, an ex-social worker.

It’s probable that, in 2017, the number of foreign visitors will surpass four million. And if the U.S. Congress authorizes tourism, the figure could round off at five million.

American tourists are very much sought-after in Cuba. They are known for being generous with tips and for paying by the hour to go to bed with a woman or a man.

Yaité, an ex-hooker, now married to a German, considers that “prices could go up. In the ’80s it was 100 CUC. Then, because there were so many hookers and because the tourists who came to Cuba weren’t very rich, the cost went down to 30 to 40 CUCs for a night. Now it can go up. And an American could pay up to 200 CUC for a young, pretty prostitute with a good body.

Elisa, a hooker, prays to her saints that this prophecy comes true.

Hispanost, August 1, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Trading With the United States is a Task for the Cuban Military / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 July 2106 — On April 22, 2016, the U.S. State Department revised Section 515.582 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which now establishes that goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs on the island can be exported to the United States. The Government of Cuba has had for a while, as an experiment, a clever strategy that applies today and is baptized with the emphatic name of “Associative and Cooperative Operation of Productive Troops.” It’s not transparency; it’s a matter of publicity.

The American Government’s method is to offer new and better business opportunities to the Cuban private sector. The response of the island government is to distort the scheme and confound U.S. institutions. As already noted in the preceding paragraph, now they have to do the paperwork. The plan is simple: transform the military corps that is part of the productive ground troops of the Cuban Armed Forces into small, false groups of independent producers. Continue reading “Trading With the United States is a Task for the Cuban Military / Juan Juan Almeida”

One thing that stands out among the skilled actions that the Great State of the Armed Forces of Cuba is implementing to make political currency from its exports is the change in cooperation between the Army and “Plan Turquino.” This development program, founded in 1987 and alluding to the highest elevation in Cuba, gave priority to the economic, political and environmental development of Cuba’s mountainous zones. The emphasis was on the production of coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, various crops, cattle development, forestal activities and services. These have already been transferred to fictitious civilian entities, created under the profile of private cooperatives but clearly directed by sergeants and/or lieutenants from the different provinces.

Concrete examples of this shiny disguise are a coffee plantation of the El Salvador municipality, two of Yateras and one of Maisí, which, until yesterday, belonged to the Territorial Military Headquarters of Guantánamo Province, and presently appear registered as farming associations.

The same thing is happening in Santiago de Cuba. Two coffee farms of the III Frente municipality and two of the II Frente are in the phase of documental masking in order to demonstrate and convince the U.S. of their “entrepreneurial independence.”

In Granma province, various coffee farms are in a similar process of subverting the documentation: four in the Buey Arriba municipality, two in Guisa and one in Bartolomé Masó. And in Cienfuegos, the same thing is happening with two coffee fields in the Cumanayagua municipality that pretend to pass from the olive-green cap to the yarey sombrero.

It’s curious to hear, from morning to night, that these new entrepreneurial economic organizations, which supposedly function independently from the State, count among their assets such top technology equipment as coffee pulping machines (recently imported), bulldozers and trucks, in addition to the disinterested collaboration of the army camps that, “voluntarily,” are ready to replace the deficit of the coffee workforce on the island.

What they’re after with this idea is to camouflage squads of soldiers under a very-well-designed facade of worker associations with management autonomy to export the product to the United States, without any “ifs, ands or buts.”

For the time being, Cuban soldiers have placed special interest on the subject of coffee.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba Continues Sending Doctors to Brazil and Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

Doctors in Brazil with (now ousted) President Dilma Rousseff

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 July 2016 — In spite of certain comments, important desertions, crises, adjustments and a new renegotiation, the Government of Cuba will continue sending doctors to health programs in Venezuela and Brazil.

Cuban health authorities scour the island, from end to end, affirming in every corner that they are prepared to interrupt or cancel these two medical missions. In this coming and going, they also announce a new strategy to redirect cooperation, increasing the health service on the island for tourism, and they emphasize that they’re not going to close the mission in Venezuela or any of its states. Continue reading “Cuba Continues Sending Doctors to Brazil and Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida”

So yes, they’re going to reduce the work-force, because the agreements between the Cuban and Venezuelan governments were signed when a barrel of oil had an exuberant price, and today it has another.

According to official information, published in the digital portal of the Cuban News Agency, 98 Cuban doctors, recent graduates of the University of Medical Sciences of Havana, will leave soon for the Bolivarian Republic, but the notice doesn’t mention that they’ve reduced the number of collaborators who aren’t doctors.

The agreements are readjusted, and the number of workers not directly related to healthcare delivery is reduced. The same thing is happening in the Andean state of Táchira, where, owing to the renewed contract, every collaborator (non-medical professonal) has to travel in a minibus to distant and dangerous zones daily, to care for up to four of the 25 Centers of Integral Diagnostics that exist. A Cuban-style agreement: multiply the work and the responsibility, not the salary.

In Brazil something very different is happening. The mission enjoys better health and the impact of the “More Doctors” program is greater. There the coverage for primary health care is growing — this is already a reality — and it certainly grew more in the last two years than in the seven previous ones.

One significant detail is that during the journey of the Olympic torch through the Brazilian states, it was a Cuban doctor, Argelio Hernández Pupo, who carried the flame in the northeastern city of Lagoa Grande.

Brazil will receive athletes, tourists, celebrities and the press. So, because of the Olympic games, and the danger from the outbreak of Zika, the Cuban authorities have made provisions to curtail the vacations of the medical and non-medical missionaries for the months of July and August. They will begin returning to the island beginning September 15.

However, “Cuban health personnel will increase there. It’s programmed that this month some 250 doctors will go to Brazil with the mission of filling in the gaps,” said a terrified source who declined to be identified, although, worried, he added, “The truth is I don’t know what ’the gaps’ means.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

They’re building houses for Cubans deported from the U.S. / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 4 July 2016 — The Cuban authorities are preparing to receive, in a short period of time, a bonanza  of Cubans with deportation orders in the U.S. They’re constructing for them, in an undeveloped area, what many call a “polyfoam” neighborhood.

Judicial and police matters are subjects that both governments discuss with a view to normalizing and perfecting relations. In agreement with official data published in July 2015, they have mandated the deportation of 35,106 Cuban nationals in the U.S., of which, at this moment, 162 are detained and 34,944 are at liberty.

One of the lawyers for the Office of Housing said that this ward, located in the Havana municipality of Boyeros, very close to Avenida Vento, just on the border that separates Capdevila and Altahabana, which has been conceptualized as “Popular Council Capdevila 1,” was conceived to shelter and/or isolate the Cubans expelled from the North.

Continue reading “They’re building houses for Cubans deported from the U.S. / Juan Juan Almeida”

The deportees will come together, in this one-of-a-kind district, with a “thousand beings.” Some have spent years, by the grace of God, without housing, because their houses collapsed; some are ex-prisoners whose conduct is still marginal, and certain families are “special cases” whose homes were expropriated, by force and without claim, for different reasons.

How to bring snow to the desert 

With an acceptable and misleading image that falsifies its real and flimsy character, the area is composed of small, multi-family buildings constructed of polyurethane foam boards. For the time being, and it seems that even later, they won’t have numbers on the front doors. The streets still haven’t been paved and there is no adequate signage. But, as a Mexican move star said, “This doesn’t have the least importance or the greatest transcendence.”

Accommodating a new neighborhood with different concepts can be confusing. I’m speaking of hospitality, housing and prison.

I managed to talk with someone who works there constructing these buildings, a specialist in the material cited, and who identified himself as the architect for the community.

The professional explained that polyurethane foam offers total thermal and water-repellent insulation. It’s easy to handle, doesn’t contaminate the environment, contains no insects or rodents, doesn’t need any special care, doesn’t decay, doesn’t rust or become moldy; it’s light, flexible, elastic, waterproof; the chemicals are inert, and it serves as an excellent insulator from noise. But here’s the thing: It’s not designed for the load to which it’s being subjected. Then he stopped talking and in a subtle transition, mixing honesty, disillusion and imprudence, he concluded: “We’ll see how it holds up when the first hurricane starts blowing. I’ll let you know.”

 

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba and Venezuela: Stormy Weather / Iván García

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in a "proof of life" photo with newspaper. Source: Toronto Star, November 14, 2011
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in a “proof of life” photo with newspaper. Source: Toronto Star, November 14, 2011

Iván García, 1 August 2016 — Whatever serious prophecy is offered, Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, has very few options. It’s an uncomfortable liability even for the followers of chavismo [the politics of Hugo Chávez, who preceded Maduro].

No one knows the interior of the Palace of Miraflores better than the Havana Regime. It’s an undisputed merit that the Castro brothers have conquered Venezuela without firing a shot.

Thanks to Fidel Castro’s charisma and his ideological narrative, the Island holds the reins of power in Venezuela. Of course, the intelligence reports that land on the desk of President Raúl Castro detail with surgical precision that Maduro’s government is numbering its days. Continue reading “Cuba and Venezuela: Stormy Weather / Iván García”

And farsighted as always, with the almost genetic capacity that the Cuban autocracy has for surviving political storms, they look for a new departure gate.

For the second time, the Castro Regime is at the edge of a precipice. On both occasions, the crisis for the dinosaurs in Havana has not been provoked by the insipid internal dissidence. The key has been in petroleum and foreign money.

The Soviet years of Fidel Castro will pass into the annals of political science for the skill with which the bearded one sucked subsidies out of the Caucasus like a vampire.

At one sitting, Castro wasted twice the amount of money given by the United States to the Marshall Plan to rescue Europe after the Second World War.

When the Kremlin’s blank check ended, Cuba was thrown into a motionless economic crisis that extended for 27 years and had its worst moment in the 1990s.

But Fidel’s iron social control and delirious narrative, full of promises, was a dam that put the brakes on popular discontent. Raúl Castro, elected by a hair, doesn’t have the charisma or the eloquence of his brother.

Although on the international plane Castro II has gathered laurels that the old comandante never heard of: the reestablishment of relations with the United States, Enemy Número Uno, forgiveness of the external debt and managing to convert himself into an important actor in the signing of a peace agreement between the FARC and the Government of Colombia.

As for the economy, the Island hasn’t managed to take off. The Cuba of the ’80s, its best stage of economic bonanza, is different from present-day Cuba. Now more dollars are coming in through the export of medical services; more millions are received through family remittances, and foreign tourism has increased (and also national, because of the hard currency).

But the same as the last three decades, Cuba continues importing disposable diapers and even toothbrushes, and agriculture hasn’t managed to detach itself from debt, among other causes, from the destabilizing mechanisms of control.

Cubans eat what they can and when they can. Presently, between 60 and 90 percent of the family budget goes for buying food. Most people have coffee without milk for breakfast, and their future continues to be one big question mark.

So the solution is to emigrate. In the last 20 months 78,000 Cubans have emigrated in an irregular way. Another 35,000 have done it legally, under the U.S. program of family reunification.

From 2013, the year in which the Regime implemented a new emigration policy, the number of Cubans who fled poverty now surpasses the 125,000 that left by the port of Mariel during the migration crisis of 1980.

And the exodus doesn’t seem to be stopping, in spite of the limitations and restrictions of the region’s countries. But in these moments the biggest problem of the Castro Government is the Venezuelan chaos.

Because Cuba didn’t do its homework correctly, agriculture, ranching, fishing and industry don’t produce enough for Cuba to be self-sufficient. The decrease of 40 percent in deliveries of Venezuelan oil has set off alarms.

For the Government, which has privileged information about Venezuela, it wasn’t a surprise. And the inconvenience could be even worse. The rise of the Venezuelan opposition to power, something that could happen in a little more than a year, would cut off the pipeline of petroleum to the Island and the handling of credits in hard currency, from which Cuba obtains huge earnings as intermediaries for Venezuelan companies.

When Raúl Castro looked at the political map of the continent, he didn’t see good news. Some of his buddies are praying to the water for signs. Dilma is struggling to escape a political trial. As for economic problems, Rafael Correa has joined the recent earthquake. And Evo Morales couldn’t continue being hooked up to power.

ALBA, the movement created by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez for Latin American unity, based on economic exchange, fair prices and even a common money, is going the way of a shipwreck. China, Vietnam and Russia, allies of the Regime, never came back to offer blank checks.

The present “boom” in Cuba is more a media event than effective. A type of Jurassic Park where celebrities and nostalgic tourists want to visit the only redoubt of communism in the Caribbean before it becomes contaminated by capitalism and U.S. fast-food signs arrive.

What option remains to the Cuban Government? It’s difficult to foresee the reaction of a group of old men, ex-guerrillas and fossils of the Cold War. Their gang mentality could drive them to row forward or dig in.

While they remain in power, they’ll accept any rule. When they see themselves threatened, they’ll hibernate. Time is on the side of the hard nucleus of the olive-green autocracy. They have five or 10 years to resist; after them, the deluge.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana was a watershed. The most conservative line came out ahead. But the Talibans [hard-core] have a complex context ahead of them.

Maduro is a political cadaver. He stinks. You have to wait to see who wins the November elections in the U.S. To maintain Obama’s politics. Hillary would be a breath of fresh air. Trump is unpredictable and angry.

The Creole reformists will lament not having taken advantage of the hand held out by Obama. In a new scenario, in order to establish businesses and obtain credits from the U.S., Cuba will have to make reforms of major importance.

In any event, we have to wait. The reporter thinks one thing, and the Castro brothers, another.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Armando de Armas Shows His Cards / Luis Felipe Rojas

Armando de Armas, Cuban writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 30 July 2016 — This weekend — the end of July 2016 — Armando de Armas will open the Festival Vista in Miami. In the middle of the diatribes coming out of the U.S. elections, the Cuban novelist and essayist has given another twist to the torture with his gift of this corrected and expanded edition of Los naipes en el espejo [The Cards in the Mirror], Neo Club Ediciones 2016).

You don’t write books to get applause. De Armas knows this, so he came with the rigor that accompanies him in speaking of “an epochal change.” In this handful of essays, De Armas takes a brief run through the U.S. political swamps, from Andrew Jackson to Obama. De Armas sharpens his stylus to take us into a game of cards: the myths that surround a “progressive” and generous Democratic Party, and the poisonous venom that the Republican Party spouts on the public plaza. But he also skirts the imaginary public that remains undecided or doesn’t want to call a spade a spade, in a fight where they’re going to lose their dreams of a lifetime. Continue reading “Armando de Armas Shows His Cards / Luis Felipe Rojas”

The part about 2016 holds the political cards that are close to Obama and those following in the slippery footsteps of Hillary Clinton, and it ends with the ace unveiled on the U.S. political table: Donald Trump, a surprise for some, “a process that could be seen coming” for others, as Armando explained to me recently on the program Contacto Cuba, where I interviewed him.

“It’s possible that the world, facing fragmentation, returns to empires. Let’s not forget that in the past, empires came to impose peace, order, prosperity and freedom on vast regions of the planet dominated by chaos, desolation, poverty and death (a consequence above all of the coninuous wars and riots among the multiple tribes), and that, at the point of a sword, they were a decisive civilizing factor,” writes the Cuban essayist.

Perhaps this book won’t be one that draws applause. There are people who become serious when talking about politics…or when truths like these are thrown in their faces.

Armando de Armas will present Los Naipes en el Espejo [The Cards in the Mirror] on Saturday, July 30, at 4:00 p.m. on the panel, “United States: The Big Parties in the Election Season,” and will be accompanied by the journalist, Juan Mauel Cao, and the political strategist, Ana Carbonell. The location is the Miami Hispanic Arts Center, at 111 SW 5th Ave, Miami. 33130.

Los naipes en el espejo [The Cards in the Mirror], by Armando de Armas. Neo Club Ediciones, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Other Mariel / Iván García

Mariel, Cuba. Photo by Ivan Garcia
Mariel, Cuba. Photo by Ivan Garcia

Iván García, 28 July 2016 — A woman with outlandish eye-glasses, reading a book in the back seat, and a sinewy mulatto who is chain-smoking and chatting up the driver on the approaching economic austerity are two of the six passengers in an old collective taxi that the chauffeur drives, zigzagging along the ruined road.

With the salsa music at full blast, we head to the village of Mariel, some 55 kilometers to the west of Havana. Two passengers get off at La Boca, a grey and ugly one-horse town where minutes are hours. Continue reading “The Other Mariel / Iván García”

During the massive exodus of 1980, Mariel was one of the 19 municipalities of the old province of Havana. But now, with around 45,000 inhabitants, it’s one of the 11 municipalities of Artemisa, one of the two provinces that popped up on January 1, 2011 (the other is Mayabeque).

Among other installations in Mariel is El Morro, the old cement factory; a thermo-electric plant with Soviet technology, inaugurated by Fidel Castro in 1978; an export terminal for raw sugar; a shipyard, and the Occidental Naval Base of the Naval Marina of Cuba.

In the gloomy backstreets of La Boca, the asphalt shimmers and the stray dogs take refuge from the heat at a ramshackle bus stop. In the distance you can make out four enormous cranes, painted olive-green, and a container ship that’s being unloaded in the publicized Port of Mariel.

The anchorage, a stellar work of Raúl Castro’s government, cost 957 million dollars and was constructed by Odebrecht, the company implicated in various corruption scandals in Brazil that have shaken the foundation of President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers Party.

The residents of La Boca observe the port of Mariel as trespassers. “You can’t get in there. There are guards at the entrance, and inside the demarcation zone are soldiers who give orders. I have a daughter who works there. She earns 1,000 pesos a month, but the controls and the distrust make her take days off. The port is a prohibited zone, to be seen from afar,” says Pastor, who sells tamales for five pesos.

No one in La Boca has seen foreigners or sailors drinking like pirates in any local bar. “The truth is that very few ships come in. Right now there’s only one. It’s a sign that the country is in crisis. The port is more propaganda than anything else,” affirms Arsenio, who works at the cement factory.

Two years and six months after the inauguration of the Port of Mariel, the harbor functions at half throttle. A port operator says that in all this time fewer than 100 ships have docked.

“Forget the huge Post Panamax freighters that were promised. At the entrance to the Bay there’s an enormous piece of marble schist that impedes the access of deep-draft boats. They wanted to dynamite it and almost took that shit down. Now the port is more wrecked than the formation. At best they’ll solve the dredging problem, but they’ve already finished the expansion of the Panama Canal, and Mariel has been left behind in the war of the ports in the Caribbean and those on the north coast of the United States, which are designed to attract large ships,” comments the port worker.

The independent journalist, Pablo Pascual Méndez Piña, has investigated the technical problems of the Mariel port and its huge construction cost. In the report on the Mariel surcharge, published in Diario de Cuba on April 11, 2016, Méndez Piña points out:

“The big question is why it cost 957 million USD: a loading bay that, according to official reports, has a surface of barely 28 hectares, a docking bay of 700 meters, four STS super Post Panamax cranes, 12 cranes with RTG pneumatics, 22 tractor wheel wedges, two tugboats, a maneuvering basin of 520 meters diameter, with a mooring draft of barely 9.75 meters. Add to that the remodeling of a little more than 30 kilometers of roads, the construction of 18 kilometers of highways and 13 kilometers of railroad lines, plus the pay for a discreet group of civil workers together with the more than 6,000 national workers who participated in the construction. You arrive at the ludicrous sum of 20 million USD for three years of work.”

For Giordano, a construction contractor, “If we compare it with the expansion of other ports, like those in Costa Rica, Colombia or Miami, with more work machinery, higher prices for real estate and high salaries, the cost of the Port of Mariel probably doesn’t reach 500 million dollars. The other money was embezzled.”

But the cost of the port doesn’t interest most of the inhabitants of the municipality of Artemisa. Almost three kilometers from the shantytown of La Boca is the town of Mariel.

Cubans like Marcos, a worker, thought that moving a large part of the port operations to Mariel would bring with it an important added value that would benefit the people of Mariel.

“But it’s all been just talk. The municipal Communist Party officials said that in 20 years, Havana would grow up to here. And from Baracoa to Mariel there would be tall buildings, hotels and new cities. But I don’t believe that will happen with this government.”

The taxis that arrive from the capital end their trips in a desolate park in the heart of Mariel, a town barely five blocks long, which ends in a small pier. It’s a flat neighborhood of one-story, stone and wood houses with tiled roofs.

For 10 pesos, you can visit the town in 20 minutes in a bicitaxi. “Brother, tourists don’t come to Mariel, and I don’t know where they put the sailors, since they don’t come here. We have only one quality private restaurant; the rest are stands that sell hot dogs and soft drinks. The place is dead. There’s no money, no life,” says Oriel, the driver.

Mariel doesn’t seem like a dead, lifeless place. The same as in other places on the Island, and considering that it’s a work day, many people are walking up and down the streets, lingering for little private negotiations or standing in line to buy chicken by the pound, offered in a local market.

In front of a park that’s a stone’s throw from the bay, there’s a roundabout. A drunk guy sleeps in the shade. Nearby, several people drink cheap rum or beer. After going through an iron gate, facing the sea, there’s a narrow square with a Che sign in front of a small plaza, where there are parties with recorded music on weekends.

“There’s little in the way of entertainment here. You buy rum from the shop, and on Saturdays you sit on the bay wall to flirt with a chick, and then they kill the time by telling us lies. Whoever has money goes to Havana to wander around,” says Ridel, a shop manager, while he continues watching the large, far-away cranes of the port.

For its citizens, the Port of Mariel is foreign territory.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama / Iván García

Michelle Obama, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, pose together with a group of Cuban children after having planted two magnolia bushes, similar to the ones that bloom in the White House gardens, and after donating a wooden bench for the relaxation of visitors to the Rubén Martínez Villena library garden in Old Havana. Taken from Impacto New York. 
Michelle Obama, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, pose together with a group of Cuban children after having planted two magnolia bushes, similar to the ones that bloom in the White House gardens, and after donating a wooden bench for the relaxation of visitors to the Rubén Martínez Villena library garden in Old Havana. Taken from Impacto New York.

Iván García , 22 June 2016 — The park at Galiano and San Rafael is a beehive of activity. At one end, several teenagers play soccer, using a school desk as the goal, while 50 men and women are connecting to the Internet, sitting on wooden benches or the ground.

Conversations with relatives or friends mix together. Here the wifi is confined exclusively to talking with family through IMO or chatting on Facebook, the island’s new virtual drug. Continue reading “Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama / Iván García”

Of course it’s also used to flirt with a foreigner, commit camouflaged prostitution or request money from a cousin in Hialeah. Darío, an old man of indefinite age, among the hubbub and heat, sells salted peanuts at one peso a cone.

The peanut seller remembers that three months before, on Tuesday, March 22, a disproportionate police deployment in the park scared off the hustlers, prostitutes and marginal people.

“It was already known that Obama was going to give a speech in the Gran Teatro of Habana, on Prado between San Rafael and San José, beside the Capitolio. The whole zone was taken; I never saw so many security guards together. In the neighborhood they said that Obama was going to walk along the San Rafael boulevard and talk with the people. The police let pass only those who lived around there. They told people to remain at home,” recalls Darío.

Erasmo, who resells Internet cards, comments that “on that day the businesses were basically quiet. Throughout Central Havana there wasn’t a prostitute, drunk or beggar scavenging food in a garbage bin. I went up to the roof with a friend, and with my mobile phone, I recorded the moment when The Beast — Cadillac One — arrived at the San Cristóbal paladar [home restaurant], on San Rafael between Campanario and Lealtad,” he comments, and he shows his video as evidence.

“I’m never going to erase this from my phone. This was the most important day of my life,” Erasmo adds.

After crossing Galiano, the multi-colored, narrow streets of San Rafael are less agitated. Ruined shells of buildings, women always selling something and a swarm of private shops.

Roger, nicknamed “El Pali”, is an extroverted, talkative guy who sells bananas and meat in a State agro-market on the corner of San Rafael and Campanario. He confesses that he’s an “excluded.”

“I was a prisoner in the U.S. Then I was released, but I went back in the tank for a robbery in New Jersey. In any event, I’m more American than Cuban. Before they sent me back to Cuba I was in the U.S. for 22 years. I even have a son over there. The day the President arrived,” — his work buddies laughed their heads off — ” I planted myself on the balcony of a friend’s house with an American flag and yelled in English. I don’t know if Obama heard me, but before he went into the paladar, it looked like he saw me on the balcony,” said El Pali.

On the same block where the private restaurant, San Cristóbal, is located, there are seven small family businesses. Barbara rents out rooms, and in a narrow apartment which looks out on the street, Sara, an old retired woman, sells freshly-ground coffee. Just in a house next to the paladar, a poster indicates that the president of the CDR resides there.

“But the woman never does anything. She also was with the neighborhood people at the party, getting drunk with those who came to see Obama,” says a blond in denim shorts and rubber flip-flops.

In the doorway of the San Cristóbal paladar, at 469 San Rafael between Lealtad and Campanario, the doorman, a corpulent negro dressed in a red shirt and dark pants, is on the hunt for clients with a menu in his hand.

But his excessive prices horrify the average Havanan. A plate costs around 30 dollars. And a good mojito, six. “Eating there can give you a heart attack. But you have to go with a suitcase full of money,” says a neighbor.

The doorman, friendly and relaxed, was there on the night of Sunday, March 20, when Obama’s wife, two daughters and mother-in-law went to dine at San Cristóbal.

“There was tremendous intrigue in the neighborhood. The zone was full of police. In the morning some gringos came and told Raisa and Cristóbal, the owners, to reserve all the tables, that some American officials were coming for dinner that night. No one imagined that it was Obama. I saw him from the same distance that I’m talking with you. The President and his wife shook my hand. I went for a week without washing it,” he says, smiling.

Ninety days after Obama’s visit, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés’ business has benefited. “A lot of foreigners want to sit at the same table and eat the same meal as Obama. Thanks to Saint Obama, the paladar is always full,” affirms the doorman.

Walking in a straight line down San Rafael, leaving the boulevard and going down the busy street of Obispo up to Oficios, in a small garden at the back of the Rubén Martínez Villena municipal library, Michelle Obama, her daughters, Sasha and Malia, and her mother, Marian, planted two magnolia bushes.

“The magnolia is a shrub that survived the epoch of the dinosaurs. An American told me that the variety planted belongs to the Magnolia virginiana. On the morning of March 22, I had the luck to see the First Lady and her daughters when they came to plant the flowers. I was very happy, since in the late afternoon on Sunday the 20th, it rained a lot, and I couldn’t see Obama at the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral,” relates Alberto, a used-book seller in Old Havana.

Michelle Obama, a sponsor of the Let Girls Learn project, on Monday, March 21, joined a dozen students in the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, on Calle 26 at the corner of 11th, Vedado. The meeting barely was mentioned in the press, and it wasn’t possible to identify any of the young women participants.

Although the trivialities and the sensationalism caused by President Barack Obama’s travels throughout the world also affect the people of Havana, many think the most impressive part of his visit was the speech he gave in the Gran Teatro de La Habana. And they are sure that after March 20, 2016, Cuba will not be the same.

Martí Noticias, June 20, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Intense Rains Give Evidence of the "Wonder" of Havana / Iván García

Beneath the rain, Havana received the title of Wonder City of the Modern World. Photo by Elio Delgado Valdés, taken from Havana Times.
Beneath the rain, Havana received the title of Wonder City of the Modern World. Photo by Elio Delgado Valdés, taken from Havana Times.

Iván García, 9 June 2016 — Ask Luis Carlos Rodríguez, retired, his opinion about the designation of “Wonder City” based on an Internet survey conducted in the winter of 2014 by the Swiss foundation, “New 7 Wonders,” and you will hear a long list of complaints, sprinkled with insults, about the olive-green government that has governed the destiny of Cuba since January 1959.

The old man lives in a quarter where the wastewater runs through the cracked central corridor, a little more than half a kilometer from the area of colonial Havana, which wears makeup for the photos of dazzled tourists. Continue reading “Intense Rains Give Evidence of the "Wonder" of Havana / Iván García”

The rainy season has become a calvary for the residents of Havana who live in the low zones, where the housing is in poor shape, or in any of the 80 unhealthy neighborhoods that proliferate in the capital.

In a hot, windowless room with a half-dozen plastic buckets and junk, Luis Carlos tries to trap the drops of water that filter through the corrugated roof.

“On days of pouring rain, I pray to the Lord that the room doesn’t fall down on me. I’ve already sealed the roof twice, but it continues to leak,” he says, and with the help of a nephew, he tries to patch a hole.

When the rain pours down in Havana, the people who live in dilapidated housing or on streets that are close to the coast, become sailors, bailing out water inside their homes or escaping to safe places in precarious boats.

On Tuesday, June 7, at 7:30 in the evening, while Richard Weber, the President of the New7Wonders Foundation was unveiling the Wonder City plaque on the Esplanada de La Punta, a stone’s throw from the Malecón, Reinaldo Savón’s family was loading its furniture and electrical appliances into a horse-drawn cart, with water skirting the  middle of San Ramón, a neighborhood that suffers like no other from the rainy periods, for lack of an adequate infrastructure of drainage.

“I don’t know which wonder city those bastards awarded. I invite them to come live in San Ramón on days like these. After they see how peoples’ houses are flooded and how they lose their things, they will change their opinion. No one thinks about this part of Havana. It’s been more than 20 years since the Government promised us a solution, but everything stays the same, only promises,” Reinaldo says.

The Office of the City Historian, directed by Eusebio Leal, a regime official, who managed to save various valuable buildings in Old Havana from disaster, prepared a free cultural program. From June 7-11, you could enjoy, among other things, performances of the Teatro Lírico, the Ballet Folklórico, the Tropicana Cabaret, the Ballet Lizt Alfonso, a parade of singers, musicians and dancers on the Paseo del Prado, and a concert by the Orquesta Aragón on the corner of Prado and Neptuno.

But Havanans like Lourdes Pérez, a resident of a marginal neighborhood adjacent to the José Antonio Echevarría Technological University, in the Marianao municipality, isn’t much for parties.

Four years ago, Lourdes came to the capital from Santiago de Cuba with her three children and her husband in search of better luck. He sells corn tamales and clothing from Ecuador, and she takes care of elderly sick people.

Legally, Lourdes and her family are clandestine in Havana. They don’t have a ration book, and their hut, with a dirt floor and an aluminum roof, doesn’t have a bathroom or drinking water. They live poorly, eat little and drink cheap alcohol.

“We don’t have anything more. When we get a few pesos, they go for food and rum. The money isn’t enough to build a decent house. We barely survive with what we earn,” says Lourdes’ husband, who spends time gathering raw materials in the dump on Calle 100, west of the city.

Since December 17, 2014, after the truce with the United States, the old Cold-War enemy, Cuba, and especially Havana, has received a stream of famous visitors, investment projects, a runway of Chanel fashions, Hollywood filmings and even a mega-concert by the Rolling Stones.

Press passes are everywhere, but the benefits are invisible to the average citizen. The shortages sting like a whip; the infrastructure of the city is Fourth World; garbage is piling up in the neighborhoods; thousands of buildings threaten to collapse; public transport is chaotic, and finding something to eat continues to be the main preoccupation, not only for people in Havana but for all Cubans.

Orestes Ruiz, an engineer, can’t believe that Havana is a wonder city. “Too many shortages. Anyone who has traveled abroad will see that even the cities of Third World nations, to which they should compare us, have more hygiene, better Internet connection and more efficient public services.”

Nadine López, a university student, considers that it has to do with the excess of news in the international media, or it’s an operation of marketing or simply a joke in poor taste.

“You have to have a lot of imagination to reward Havana as a wonder city. I don’t know why there’s so much celebration. For those of us who live here it’s more of an offense than a recompense,” she says, while the rain dies down in a doorway on the Calzada Diez de Octubre.

Although the leaders promise a “prosperous and sustainable socialism,” and the media focus continues extolling Havana, a large segment of those who live in José Martí’s small fatherland wait for more palpable changes that will improve the quality of their lives.

For now, all that remains is soft music in the background. And press credentials.

Hispanopost, June 9, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Cuban Government Wants to Regulate Prices for Collective Taxis / Iván García

Photo from Cubanet
Photo from Cubanet

Iván García, 19 July 2016 — At the traffic signal on Infanta and Carlos III, in the heart of Havana, Guenady takes advantage of the red light to thirstily take a swig out of a half-liter of ice water that he keeps at one side of his driver’s seat.

Perhaps the cold water helps to appease his fury. He spends 20 minutes protesting what he considers an arbitariness of the Government that is trying to regulate the prices of the routes taken by the collective taxis [taxis that pick up people and travel set routes, often old American cars].

The man turns off the CD and replaces the Reggaeton with a rant sprinkled with curses and criticisms of the olive-greet autocrats. Continue reading “The Cuban Government Wants to Regulate Prices for Collective Taxis / Iván García”

“It’s a farce. Those insolent people (the Regime) don’t give us private taxi drivers even a nut and now they come to demand that we establish fixed prices. They have even put up a telephone number so people can snitch on us. Why don’t they put up a telephone number for people to complain about the high prices in the dollar stores and the low salaries?” says the driver of the ancient taxi.

“Where do they put the money that they collect in taxes? Look at how messed up the streets are (and he points to the road). The blame for the poor service of the transport is theirs. Now, the same as with the truck drivers and the middlemen for the agricultural products, they want to set us against the people. If the buses ran every three minutes and there were a flotilla of taxis at low prices, there wouldn’t be problems. They don’t resolve any damn thing, and all they know how to do is prohibit, raise taxes and fuck someone,” insists Guenady, and he takes a small drink of water from the bottle.

Let’s go step by step. The poor public transport service isn’t the fault of the private drivers. It’s been a pending subject since January 1959, when the bearded Fidel Castro arrived in Havana.

There are a few small oases, but in one way or another, urban transport is chaos in Cuba. In the country there is no metro, and the suburban train barely functions.

In the ’80s, a parking lot of more than 2,500 buses, 100 routes and 4,000 taxis didn’t satisfy the service. Later, in the ’90s, the great economic crisis arrived, and with it, the Special Period: blackouts, little food and inflation through the roof. Public transport collapsed. And the high cost of gas provoked owners into keeping their cars in garages.

With the arrival in Miraflores of the paratrooper from Barina, Hugo Rafael Chávez, luck changed for the dinosaurs of the Palace of the Revolution. They exchanged oil for doctors and sports trainers, and the Government began to receive around 105,000 barrels daily of petroleum.

They even began to export part of the fuel on the world market. When a barrel surpassed 100 dollars, the Regime never offered information about what they used that money for.

The owners of automobiles, excepting professionals, were allowed to obtain taxi licenses. Havana was flooded with old United States cars and those from the Soviet era.

Today, according to a transit agent, there are more than 12,000 licensed taxis in operation, circulating in the capital. “But there are about 2,000 that are illegal. With this campaign, it’s possible that there will be more,” he warns.

The taxes on taxi drivers have been increasing gradually. Also the obstacles. “In the ’90s, we paid 400 pesos. Between 2010 and 2013, from 600 to 700 pesos. Now we pay 1,000. And the ONAT [National Tax Administration of Cuba] is always looks for a way to get more money out of us,” points out Roger, a taxi driver on the Havana-Santiago de las Vegas route.

Seventy percent of private taxi drivers rent the cars from their owners. Orlando, the owner of several trucks and cars, gives more details: “There are 30 or 40 people, like me, who are proprietors of small flotillas of cars. And we have set up medium-sized companies with two work shifts. The business gives good benefits. In a month, clean, you can make 90,000 pesos. But we’re in a judicial limbo, because the Government doesn’t recognize us. When they want to fuck us, as you see now, they make us spread our legs.”

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that the Regime’s old trick of confrontation between private individuals and regular Cubans is now worn out. “The private owners are not to blame if a pound of beef, of pork, costs 40 pesos, or if to take a bus you have to wait an hour at the bus stop. The Government should negotiate with them so the people aren’t affected. Then, if tomorrow, for violating the ordinances for fixed prices, they take away the licenses of half the taxi drivers, the transportation crisis will get worse. They attack only one part of the phenomenon but don’t go to the root. And the worst is that they don’t have a short-term solution.”

After General Raúl Castro announced new austerity measures, the urban bus service cut back on their trips. “The P-10 used to have a frequency of 10 minutes; now it’s 25 minutes,” commented a driver at the Santa Amalia terminal, south of the capital.

Raquel, an office worker, considers that they shouldn’t “crush the ’boteros’ [taxi drivers of fixed routes] any more. The few State taxis that exist charge the same. And the dollar taxis have doubled their prices.”

Ricardo, who drives an air-conditioned taxi, says that “practically all the dollar taxis are leased. We’re modern slaves. We work 12 or more hours in order to be paid 55 CUCs daily that we must turn over to the Government. That’s brought with it the increase in prices. A trip from the airport can cost 40 CUCs. It’s as if we were living in the jungle, trying to survive, and the ones who pay for the broken dishes are the people who earn the shitty salaries.”

In the middle of the traditional crisis of urban transport, above all in Havana, the greed of hundreds of private taxi drivers irritates the population. Even the authorities have reactivated a telephone line, 18820, to receive complaints from people who have had to pay more than 10 or 20 pesos, the cost of a trip according to the distance.

Luis Carlos, a taxi driver, says that “we have always bought fuel under the table. Before, at 7 or 8 pesos a liter of gasoline. But, progressively, it’s been going up on the black market, and after the new savings measures, a liter costs 20 pesos. That impacts our pockets. If the State is so generous, I wonder, why is it selling a liter at one CUC when on the world market a barrel of oil costs 30 dollars?”

The summer promises a new struggle between private taxi drivers and the Government. A war, which beyond the victor, always has a loser: the Cuban on the street.

Iván García

Martí Noticias, July 18, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy