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

The Future of Cuba, According to the Regime / Iván García

The future of Cuba according to the regime: "Here we have to throw stones without looking ahead."
The future of Cuba according to the regime: “Here we have to pave the way without worrying about what is ahead of us.” Taken from the blog of Carl Montgomery.

Iván García, 24 June 2016 — “Twenty minutes. Neither more nor less,” says Emilio, a civil engineer. This was the time he took at work to “analyze” a document replete with jargon, approved by the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, celebrated this past April in Havana.

“Imagine: The boss had authorized us to carry out a ’motivation’ for Father’s Day. We took up a collection and bought three bottles of rum and two cartons of beer. But at noon, a guy from the union showed up for a meeting with ’the agents of the municipality,’ to discuss the economic model and the future of Cuba,” comments the engineer. Continue reading “The Future of Cuba, According to the Regime / Iván García”

With this mechanical way of functioning that the much-extolled participative democracy trumpeted by the olive-green Regime has, two Party functionaries from the municipality of Cerro, together with the secretary of the union from the business, quickly read the introduction of the new Castro evangelism. “Then it was put to a vote,” says Emilio.

As usual, all the workers of the business voted unanimously in favor of everything in the tome, without knowing or analyzing its contents. Then the party continued, listening to Reggaeton at full blast and drinking alcohol like pirates.

On June 14, in the editorial, “A debate for the future,” published that day in the newspaper, Granma, the organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, the process of consultation for the “construction of a prosperous and sustainable socialism” was kick-started. The debate will extend up to September 20.

It deals with — and here the jargon starts — the “Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development” and the “National Plan of Economic and Social Development up to 2030: Proposal of the nation’s vision, ideas and strategic sectors.”

In the editorial it’s argued that the texts, of “transcendental importance (…) are not the fruit of improvisation but are the result of a collective elaboration, under the direction of the Party, in which university professors, academics, researchers from the economic and social sciences and officials of the Government and the Party participated.” And it underscores that “they [the texts] were debated in meetings of the Political Bureau, in two plenary sessions of the Central Committee, submitted for consult to all the deputies of the National Assembly of People Power, to several thousand more people, and then exhaustively examined in the Congress.”

According to Granma, after the Communist conference “approves in principle both documents,” it will “order the Central Committee to carry out a consultation process, with the clearly defined proposal to enrich and perfect them.” And it stresses that “they are comprehensive documents of great complexity that will mark the course of the Cuban revolutionary process, the Party and society,” looking to the future.

The main Cuban State medium clarifies that “680,000 copies of a 32-page tabloid were printed,” destined for “the organizations of base and the collectives where they will be debated.” Another 200,000 copies were sold to the population and also are available on the Party’s digital sites, in the newspaper, Granma, and the portal, Cubadebate, so they can be “studied in a society that is more and more computerized.”

As if that weren’t enough, the first Vice President of the Council of State and Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel, announced a “novel application created by professors and students of the faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Computation, belonging to the Marta Abreu Central University of Las Villas.” The application was qualified as an “instrument of extraordinary value,” since it would facilitate discussions about the documents in question.

In its editorial of June 14, Granma predicts that “these steps will contribute to making the discussions fully democratic, rich in content, concrete in ideas and projections.” It explains why the Seventh Congress “won’t be able to finish the elaboration of the National Plan of Development up to 2030, owing to its great technical complexity,” an objective that “it should attain next year.”

And it reminds us that “as Congress ordered, this version will be submitted to the Central Committee for its definitive approval and sent for analysis to the National Assembly of People Power, the legislative body that will make it legal.”

The Communist Party of Cuba, through its official organ, “invites the active participation of millions of Cubans, militants or not, convened for this consultation, essential for consolidating consensus about the future of Cuba.”

Before the beginning of what it defines as “ample national discussion,” the editorial already predicts the intervention of “enemies, skeptics, doubters, those who echo the campaigns of detractors from the Exterior against the Party and the Revolution, and those who dream of returning to a society subject to Yankee desires and pretensions.”

I don’t think any larger amount of delusions can be condensed into a newspaper article. Although it supposes that the future of Cuba might interest Cubans, such verbal alienation frightens even its followers.

In Sueño de pais [Dream of a Country], the journalist, Giselle Morales, in the newspaper, Escambray, from Sancti Spiritus, writes: “You don’t have to give it so many twists: the tabloid that is being submitted to popular consultation this June 15 and up to September 20, with two texts coming from the Seventh Party Congress, is a dense document. Dense and difficult to understand for a citizen who isn’t seasoned in abstractions and strategies.”

Probably, for their mental health, a wide segment of compatriots aren’t reading the State press, or they turn down the sound of the national news about “science fiction politics” when its presenter, Rafael Serrano, starts to spout nonsense.

Believe me. I tried to converse with friends and neighbors to get their opinions about the Party document that designed the future of the nation. But no one wanted to give an opinion. Or they didn’t read the tabloid; or it simply didn’t interest them to comment about what they consider an absurdity.

I ran into Ramona, retired, in a tobacco shop in the slum of la Víbora buying several copies. “No, man, no. I’m not going to read this crap. I use it to wrap garbage or as toilet paper.”

Ricardo, a driver of a collective taxi from La Palma to the Parque Fraternidad, commiserates with me: “Brother, it’s really hard to be a journalist in Cuba. People don’t want to give an opinion because they know that all this is a joke. We’ve had almost 60 years of the same devil. Write something else,” he counsels me.

Among those who are reading and analyzing the new official Bible are dissidents, alternative journalists and political analysts of diverse tendencies. “It’s still too soon to give an opinion,” an independent press colleague told me.

I would like to be objective. But to pick apart, point by point, the incongruencies and the colossal absurdity that Raúl Castro’s government is selling us as a future promise requires time and patience.

“The document doesn’t even have validity as a bad joke,” affirms Ricardo, the taxi driver. For that reason, a majority of Cubans on the street aren’t bothering to read it.

Martí Noticias, June 22, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba: Where is the Money? / Iván García

“50 years of communist rule have yielded an unlikely product – unspoiled beachfront property and world-class golf.” A quote from a promotional site about the new Carbonera Club project in Varadero which will be dsigned with advice from British golfer Tony Jacklin and British design guru Terence Conran.
“50 years of communist rule have yielded an unlikely product – unspoiled beachfront property and world-class golf.” Quote from a promotional site for the new Carbonera Club project in Varadero which will be designed with help from British golfer Tony Jacklin and British design guru Terence Conran.

Iván García, 18 July 2016 — Two retirees, a strolling detergent vendor and a vacationing doctor, kill time in a park in south Havana, debating the surprising Portuguese victory of Cristiano Ronaldo in the European Cup. They also comment on the Regime’s new austerity measures, which presage another season of “skinny cows” [shortages].

Neither the shade of a carob tree nor a soft breeze relieves the sleep-inducing heat of July. When it seems that the topics of conversation are exhausted, a grey-haired man, a now-retired civil engineer, asks: “Does anyone know where the money in Cuba is going? And what the Government does with the millions of dollars it receives from family remittances?” Continue reading “Cuba: Where is the Money? / Iván García”

No one has an answer. On the Island, the topics of hard-currency income and defined expenses are State secrets. It’s supposed that in a normal country the government officials offer this information to its citizens.

But Cuba isn’t a normal country. It’s an anachronistic autocracy ruled by the military and a gang of friends who, 57 years ago, descended from the Sierra Maestra promising to restore the Republic and rescue democracy.

Neither one nor the other happened. For decades, the calculations on the Island have never added up. Hypothetically, taking as a reference the economic growth beginning from 2000, the national economy has shown a numeric chain of progression in its GDP that not even the so-called Asian tigers have achieved.

If we add up the growth in GDP of the last 16 years — which in some years was greater than 10 percent — we arrive at a simple conclusion: If we believe the official report, Cuba has been the nation that has grown the most on the planet.

Into what accursed black hole has this “growth” fallen? A specialist I consulted bored me with figures and macro-economic data. And finally, as always, he blamed the Yankee “blockade.”

Okay. So we can’t have highways like those in Germany, or as many cars as the United States or a State of Well-being like Norway. But according to Eduardo, an ex-official of foreign commerce, “from the concept of exporting products and services, [and the receipt of] donations and family remittances, the Government, each year, brings in around 14 to 16 billion dollars.”

“So, where is the money?” I asked him. His answer is an invitation to do the math.

“In 2015, Cuba earned 2.7 billion dollars from tourism. Although the exact figures for the export of medical and professional services is not known, it’s calculated that it must be above 9.0 billion dollars. The exports of nickel (we’re going to discount sugar, since its production has been rickety for five years), tobacco, coffee, shrimp, vegetal charcoal, bee honey and other sectors, would round off to some 1.5 billion dollars. And as far as remittances, 3.0 billion. The result adds up to some 15 billion dollars,” emphasizes the ex-official.

But it doesn’t add up. The State earns hundreds of millions of pesos in taxes just on the more than 500,000 private entrepreneurs. Add the tax on cigars and alcoholic drinks, the silent tax on the salaries of State workers and the tax — between 200 and 300 percent — on products that are sold in convertible pesos in the dollar stores.

To all these taxes we must add the petty milking of the pockets of Cuban emigrants, who must pay hundreds of dollars in order to renew their passports, the inflated price of flights from Cuba and the abusive customs fees. And although this past March the Cuban foreign minister announced that the 10 percent penalty on the U.S. dollar would be eliminated, this “revolutionary tax” once decreed by Fidel Castro continues in force.

Nor is this the only way of taxing hard currency that the Government has. If a relative abroad sends a package that weighs more than one and one-half kilograms, there is a tax established by the General Customs of the Republic, and when you go to pick it up at the post office, you have to pay 20 Cuban convertible pesos [roughly $20] for every kilogram over that weight. A veritable robbery.

Being conservative, the sum total of all these taxes in both monies surpasses 20 billion pesos. And I believe I’m cutting it short.

And the expenses? Of course, as in every country in the world, the three hungry lions that devour an important part of the GDP are education, public health and defense.

But since Raúl Castro assumed power in 2006, few new schools have been built, and the existing ones are poorly repaired. Salaries for professors and teachers don’t exceed 20 dollars per month.

Healthcare is self-financed from the export of medical services. The amount of money it generates permits the design of an efficient health system. But it doesn’t happen that way in most of the hospitals. Some well-equipped clinics exist for ministers, high-ranking military officers and foreigners.

But the majority of hospitals and polyclinics need thorough repairs, and there’s a deficit in the supply of equipment and medications. A doctor earns a salary equivalent to 60 dollars a month, and many live in precarious conditions.

For 27 years, the Government hasn’t invested in buying combat weapons. But it wastes an enormous sum maintaining the colossal apparatus of repression and social control. The Regime never offers details about this.

The hypothetical expenses for defense, education and public health can reach the sum of 6 billion dollars, another 2 billion to buy food and some 5 billion for investments in tourism and industries that generate hard currency.

For 10 years, General Raúl Castro’s administration hasn’t spent its millions on public works or on the construction of housing. Any serious calculation that would be done would always reveal a surplus.

Where does all this money end up? There are two possible scenarios. The evil-minded one is that it goes into a Swiss bank account or a fiscal paradise. If we give the Government the benefit of the doubt, we can suppose that a good part of the money goes to create an important reserve of hard currency.

Not included in the national budget is the resale of some 25 percent of the petroleum sent by Venezuela to Cuba, which can reach around 8 billion dollars a year.

With the income from exports that the Government admits it has, and the studies on the income from family remittances, about which the Regime never informs us, it’s not understood how it spends 1.9 billion dollars a year to guarantee the annual supply of petroleum.

Nor can it evade the issue of donations made by millionaires from Middle Eastern countries for renewing the networks of aqueducts and sewers, and credits from China, Russia and other countries for constructing industries, hotels or golf courses.

Cuba, financially speaking, has achieved considerable guarantees. In spite of the embargo, since 17 December 2014, after the diplomatic renewal with the United States, a dozen nations have forgiven a substantial part of its debt.

Like the retired civil engineer, many Cubans wonder what the Cuban government is doing with the money. Any hint would be very valuable.

Diario las Américas, July 16, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

A Conversation with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo / Regina Anavy

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo with his most recent book, Del
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo with his most recent book

Regina Anavy, Reykjavic, June 27, 2016 — Crossing paths with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in Reykjavic, Iceland, on June 27, 2016, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with him.

Iceland And Future Plans

Regina Anavy: I understand you are here on a special two-year grant from ICORN [International Cities of Refuge Network].

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: Yes. ICORN is an NGO based in Norway. They make contact with city governments. They believe that working with cities is better than working with countries. Maybe there is a conflictive immigration policy, but the cities are happy to have you. So in Europe they have dozens of cities, and I think in America now Pittsburgh is becoming an ICORN city and maybe Las Vegas. But after a year [in Iceland], I will be going back to the U.S., to enter a Ph.D. program in comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

RA: Are you going to be teaching or doing research?

OLPL: Mainly I will be a teaching assistant in the second year. Continue reading “A Conversation with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo / Regina Anavy”

RA: Will you be teaching comparative literature in Spanish?

OLPL: I don’t know yet. I guess in both English and Spanish.

RA: Is that a five-year commitment?

OLPL: It could be up to five years to get a Ph.D. in comparative literature. It’s a special track, like a pilot program. It’s called “International Writers Track,” and writers are invited to the department. They know that we are not academics; maybe we don’t work or think as an academic, but somehow the purpose is to give us tools to understand the codes of literary criticism or academic essay. I write literary criticism, but it’s not with literary rigor; it’s my impressions. So it could be very interesting.

RA: So that will give you a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature?

OLPL: If I manage to get through to the end. There are several universities there; this is the one they call “Wash U” because it’s Washington University. I was there for a conference in January 2015. It was like a marathon. I went to an event for human rights in Chicago. There was a lady there, a professor from Poland, who had been following Cuban affairs, so when she found me on Facebook, she told me, “You need to come here. It’s a one-hour flight, and we will pay for you to go back to Brown University” [in 2015, OLPD was an Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at Brown University]. I went there for a couple of talks, and she asked me about my future, and somehow she had the impression that my future was lost because I was not an American, and she said, “Maybe we can help you here. There is a new initiative going on.”

Finally they nominated me. I didn’t apply for this Ph.D. I mean I sent the documentation but only after I was nominated. Other universities had shown interest, but always you need to start by the phone consult, then the GRI test for mathematics, and maybe somebody assesses you there. But this process circumvented all that, and they were very kind.

They understood that I was here [in Iceland], so there is already one year deferred [for the Ph.D. program]. This is why I cannot defer any longer. So everything came together for Reykjavic and St. Louis, and I was “lost” but then suddenly had two options. I was able to manage, talking openly, to both parties. “I have this option, can I do this? Maybe not for two years, maybe for one; now’s the time to go there [Wash U.] and be a good student after being a bad boy.” I think I will be able to keep on with creative ideas for both these options and at the same time add some discipline, and the writing will be good.

The Future Of Cuba

OLPL: You know I was in Arizona, in April, at the Sedona Forum, with John McCain and the Director of National Security. I saw that they were mainly politicians, people with different positions regarding Cuba, people who have been traveling to Cuba. Usually you talk in front of human rights people who agree with you in a way, but these were people who can really change things.

I was happy to talk there on a panel with plenty of dissidents, and there were Russian dissidents and the realities were terrible, really terrible, and I was somehow trying to put some ideas into this “new cake” about Cuba and how it is not about the embargo but to make sure that we are moving into freedoms in one way or another, not just trying to make money, or like China – the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Are we moving into that or are we making sure from the beginning ….?

RA: Well, that’s what it should be, the human rights situation.

OLPL: Sometimes I become really skeptical and sometimes I push very hard.

RA: Because it’s all about business. It’s all about making money. And “Oh, the Cubans can be entrepreneurs now.” Yes, as long as the Government lets them. It could be taken away tomorrow. There’s no law.

OLPL: The legal space is very limited. Technically, you are not even an owner of your business. You have a license, and you pay a tax. But it doesn’t give you any judicial personality. You’re not registered as a trademark; you don’t have a lawyer for your business, and basically you have no rights. So you are a citizen, who maybe is making a lot of money now, because paladares [private restaurants] in Cuba are making a lot of money, but money is not [the same thing as] rights, and this is why when they close a paladar, nothing happens. Nothing. You’re not a person. But, anyway, it’s a process that is starting now.

RA: The other thing is that the money you earn in Cuba – where do you spend it? It all goes back to the Regime.

OLPL: All of it. You know, even remittances. We all need to help our relatives. We are talking of billions a year.

RA: I know. It’s one of the main things keeping the Government going.

OLPL: What is the option? There is no boycott.

RA: Are there other Cubans here besides you?

OLPL: Yes. That’s another story. The island has been conquered, completely conquered. Maybe there are over 50. I haven’t met them all, but there are stories, and, of course, not all of them are good stories about Cubans here. Legal troubles, violent troubles, our fellow countrymen. But I have met two or three families; some of them have family in Cuba. So there are beautiful stories. There is a young girl here who just had a baby, and she lived 50 meters from my place in Havana. I haven’t met her but my mother knows the family.

RA: How is your mother doing?

OLPL: She’s eager that I return to America so she can visit again, because she came once last year. She has a visa now. It’s a multiple entry visa, so she only needs to buy a plane ticket. Now it seems that shortly she will be able to buy one on American Airlines, maybe for $200. Because the prices are going down; capitalism is bringing down the prices.

RA: Did you request asylum in the U.S.?

OLPL: A green card. Let me mention something about that. The word “asylum” – I have entered America twice, since I left, before the six months, to keep the green card active, and also I have a reentry permit. It’s like a passport for non-U.S. citizens, that allows you to stay even up to a year, but I have been reentering every six months, less than six months, to avoid the bureaucracy.

And both times, it happens sometimes to residents, you are stopped; you are asked more questions. It seems when I show the reentry permit there is no problem, but suddenly something happens. Immediately they come and say, “Come with me, please.” I go to a room. That’s what I’m curious about. They ask no questions. They type all my information again.

I’m almost sure it is very governmental, like tracking a possible political activist, and then once, more than two times, there was a young girl there, a young officer. And I was trying to be gentle with her; it was a little like Cuba, and then I said to her, “May I do anything here while I am in America, because I will be reentering the country several times? Maybe I can save your time; you can save my time, if a document is missing…”

“No, no, no, no, no.” Very Latin, maybe she was telling me a little more than what she had to tell me. “It’s very likely that you will be stopped every time you reenter, but there is no reason; there is no problem, and that’s okay. Because you are a political refugee, no?” I said, “No, not at all.” But that was a bit of information. I am a normal cubanito. I didn’t know what to say so, I just said, “No, no, no, I’m a resident.” I was surprised, and maybe there is some kind of…”

RA: They’ve flagged you.

OLPL: Yes, like “This is a trouble-maker…”

RA: But why don’t you just get in and…?

OLPL: Maybe. But it was not about that. When I was in America, I obtained my residency in 2015.

RA: So you’re a resident.

OLPL: Yes I am. I have a green card. I’m not requesting…

RA: But you don’t want to become a citizen?

OLPL: I cannot do it until 2018. So Cuba will change; I will change. America will change. I don’t know exactly how. I haven’t made up my mind.

RA: Do you think Cuba’s going to change enough by 2018 that you would want to go back?

OLPL: I don’t know.

RA: I doubt it, frankly.

OLPL: Yes, but there is always a biological solution.

RA: Even so, they’re still going to be in charge.

OLPL: I know, I know. It depends also on – I mean, I have been looking for a kind of empowerment, I hate the word because it’s been used now to empower society, but, let’s say I am trying to position myself, not only as a Cuban blogger or dissident, but as something else. Let’s say I’m waiting for a book to be published or to be well-known, maybe something like a Ph.D. or this fellowship for a Ph.D. scholarship, something that makes my name known – a prize, a literary honor, so that when I decide to return, their lowest price is to ban me from reentering, but if they allow me to reenter and harass or detain me, that will have a high political cost for them.

So I am trying. I don’t know how exactly – but in my mind, the scenario is that I think Cuba is not likely to be democratic in two or three years, but I am thinking that the political cost will be high, and then I will be willing to do it, to get a ticket and be stopped. I can even do it without an entry permit. I have a passport, and my passport is good for the next four years.

RA: But you have to keep renewing it.

OLPL: Renewing is like a stamp. Not a passport, I mean. You understand that the expiration in my passport is 2020. But what they call renewal is like a stamp that you pay for, a visa for two years. I need a visa for my country with a valid passport. But even that – I can apply for it, but I am afraid that – another consideration is that you need to deliver the passport.

And Tania Bruguera [Cuban installation and performance artist] three years ago delivered her passport, and they kept it for one year before she could travel to Cuba. So when they gave the passport to her, somehow they felt, “Now you are tamed. You are low profile.” But she was one year without a passport. So I maybe need to go without any stamp and be stopped like that and show the Americans in line, or maybe they will allow me to enter. And then I will be safe from Cuba. If I can do it, every Cuban can do it.


RA: Is there a Cuban Consulate in Reykjavic?

OLPL: Fortunately, not. I feel very, very, very happy. First of all, I met Cubans here, including the one who created a group Cubano Islandia. When the Ambassador comes from Cuba on holidays to visit beautiful Iceland, they prepare dinner. And one of the girls here, in one of my talks at the University of Reykjavic, was very critical. At the end she said, in English, “Okay, I know very well what I am talking about, because I am Cuban!”

When I am in public I’m not completely truthful, because somehow I know this is all about the repercussions – there were many professors there – and I said, “I’m so happy to find you, another Cuban. I wish that we could have this talk at Havana University. For five years I haven’t been invited; I haven’t been published, and you were not claiming for that right of a Cuban. We can have this conversation here, with all that anger; we can quarrel here and then shake hands and go back to our places. And nothing happens. There are no political police out there.”

So that was my answer, because you are talking in English in Iceland, and I really was surprised when she said, “I’m Cuban!” Oh my god, like “I’m Cuban, too!” And then some other friends told me that she had been organizing a dinner with the Ambassador. Everybody wants to be on good terms with the Cuban authorities.

RA: Oh, I think you gave that up a long time ago. Have there been any repercussions for your mother?

OLPL: No. Around the first year, maybe when I was making the decision to finally stay, they went to my neighborhood, to the block. They interviewed several neighbors but not my mother, of course, but my mother knew. “Maria, what’s going on with Orlandito? Something happened.” And my mother was very nervous that day, and they even pressured the young man and my friends who took me to the airport in 2013, to see if he was illegally renting the car. So it was this kind of stupid pressure; I don’t know what the purpose was.

RA: To scare them.

OLPL: And that was a tough conversation that I had with my mother, because when she called, very nervous – maybe that time they were listening – and I said very strongly, “Even if somebody shows you a piece of paper saying Orlando is dead, you don’t believe it, because you are in the hands of Evil. Where they print fake newspapers, where they talk to fake friends.“ I was very strong, and somehow she was more encouraged.

“So you say, ‘If he’s dead, he’s in the hands of God. I don’t care about any information from the Cuban Government.’ like that: ‘No, thank you!’ “ Because she was saying, “Something must have happened to you because they’re here asking.” After that, she was happy to be in America. I took her to conferences, and she was very happy to see a good environment and good people.

RA: Does she understand English?

OLPL: Very little. But at the end she was talking in the supermarket. She likes to buy stuff, food and things, and she was asking for something, and I was buying something else, and she went to a girl and said, “I want rice, white rice.” So she was getting more courageous. She doesn’t know anything, no, but she knows the word “rice,” and she said, “I want rice.” So when it comes to buying food, she was able to use English.

RA: Is there a large arts community here in Reykjavic?

OLPL: Yes, of course. And I would say everybody writes; this is crazy. Poetry, chess, readings.

RA: Are you learning Icelandic?

OLPL: Very little. I was trying to learn more but my time…. I mean, to read 10 hours a day and translate for a course I was taking, and then I said, well, I will not have one year of scholarship, I will have half a year, because I was putting a lot of energy into that, and then I quit. Maybe if I knew that I was going to be here for two years I would make an effort.

RA: It seems like it would be a difficult language to learn.

OLPL: Once you get the rudiments and you know the codes, you understand what is a verb and what is a noun. And then at some point you can incorporate new words very easily. At least I bring them from English, a lot of words. And even they don’t look like language. Many words, on the highway, the signs, because the bridges are only one-way. I don’t know the origin, the etymology.

RA: But you play with language anyway. That’s one of the things you like to do.

OLPL: Yes, I like to do that.

RA: You’re very good at making up words.

OLPL: Maybe in five years I can come here and work on a farm and teach Spanish. I wouldn’t mind being more like a hermit. Once having positioned myself in the literary field as an academic, or maybe publishing my novel that I’m finishing here, I will be more secure, and I wouldn’t mind being here for one year helping on a farm, making a little money. It would be like a spiritual experience, really, living with the landscape, but in a more permanent way than now.

RA: With this fellowship you have now, from ICORN, don’t you have to teach?


RA: Do you have to produce a certain amount of work?

OLPL: The “certain amount of work” can be one word. The application deals with reference letters and why you cannot do your work in your own country. So it is also a human rights organization. ICORN had a Congress in Paris in March this year. Some cities seem very active and push the writer to participate, but here, at the beginning, they told me, “No, you can be quiet.” I have been traveling in Europe because I have arranged that myself, but mainly I am forgotten here. They tell me, “Anything that happens, you call us; we can help.” They gave me some cards to go free to cultural centers, not all of them, but the ones that belong to the City Hall. They facilitate things here.

But I can be here for two years, and they will not be asking me to formally deliver 50 pages, even if it’s been written before. So it’s really a space and also a responsibility, because you are taking the place of someone else, and it’s a privilege. So it’s a good opportunity to move forward, even if I know that at the beginning I will be a little depressed, to be again in a city, surrounded by deadlines and people, but so far I have liked the people I have met here, and there are many reasons to remain.

RA: Is it easy to meet the local people here?

OLPL: Yes. They have a different code, but Reykjavic is really like a small city. So they are very willing to help with anything. At the same time they set limits. They help you and at the same time they say, “Okay, now it’s time to go.”

RA: Did ICORN help you find a place to live?

OLPL: No; it was granted to me. The house belongs to the City Hall. I like the place; it’s very nice. It has one room, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and a bathroom, just in front of the City Hall.

The New Book

RA: I know you’re leaving for Spain soon to do presentations for your new book.

OLPL: Yes, Del clairín escuchad el silencio, a book of chronicles, some of my writings, my blog writing during the last five years. All of them have been published, but I rewrote every poem. I haven’t seen the book yet, because it’s very expensive to buy it and ship it to Iceland. The book costs $15 on Amazon, and then [I would] pay $30 for shipping [to Europe]. So I’ve decided to wait, but I’m very eager. I want the book.

RA: Can you buy it digitally?

OLPL: Not yet, but I want to talk to the publisher about that. It’s a very small publisher. Believe it or not, I had to buy a number of books. I managed to arrange four presentations in Spain. The publisher is Print on Demand. I said, “Maybe very few people will show up.” They said, “No, it’s vacation, maybe we can get 20 people there, maybe 30, 40.” I don’t know. But we can run out of books. This is very Cuban. So, I bought more books with my savings and forwarded them to the publisher, and those are my books, and so now I have now a packet of books that I will be moving from city to city.

RA: When are you leaving for Spain?

OLPL: Midnight. Tonight. And I will also be in London at the end of this trip, because there is a literary magazine, Litro, that is publishing a dossier of Cuban literature, and they included me. So I am little by little trying to regain the literary spaces that I lost because of politics and my blog. There is a short story by me, a very political story, fiction, and the magazine includes writers from outside and inside the island.

RA: Are you in touch with writers in Cuba?

OLPL: Many of them.

RA: I read Cuba in Splinters. Were those writers all from the island?

OLPL: There are three living mainly abroad. As time flows, that’s one of the things you can plot. You have this center of points within the island, and as time flows, they are scattered, you know? It’s a tendency, no?

RA: You write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and you do photography.

OLPL: What I feel like writing is fiction, even if it looks like nonfiction. But I also like to write chronicles. Maybe sometimes I like to fictionalize them, or put some opinions there within the chronicle, so they are not pure chronicles.

RA: By “chronicles” you mean novels?

OLPL: No. Chronicles are like a journalistic genre, which is that you write a story, but it should be 100 percent true. I also write here and there some poetry but it’s mainly not really poetry, more like short stories, very small short stories, very narrative, but I don’t take an exalted or high tone. I do not pretend to become lyrical or create a poetic image; I try to be narrative. But the beauty is that it’s short, very well-selected and sometimes has contradictory points between the persons, and that creates an atmosphere of surprise or something that is a little unique like, what’s going on with this voice? It’s a little crazy.

RA: You’ve been compared to Cabrera Infante.

OLPL: I hope so! You know there is a tradition of Baroque writing with masters like Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Alejo Carpentier and José Lezama Lima. After them, together with them but not so well known as the Baroque writers because he wrote many things, Reinaldo Arenas, because with his novel, El mundo alucinante, The Delirious World, he mastered language. He was a guajirito, a country boy, who came to Havana, writing with grammatical and orthographic mistakes, and he wrote many things. He wrote poetry, theater; his first novels were very Baroque, and he’s part of that tradition.

So somehow my tradition is closer to those writers than to other writers that I also love, more realistic ones. So who knows? You start by imitation, by imitating what you love, and maybe little by little I will find a different point. But they used to tell me, when they wanted to criticize me, provoke me or make me nervous, “He’s like Guillermo Cabrera Infante without the talent of Guillermo Cabrera Infante.” I say, “Of course not!” What else can you say? Don’t compare me to Cabrera Infante.

RA: It’s because of the word play, the way you make up words.

OLPL: Yes, of course. Sometimes it’s anonymous commentary, but sometimes I receive that reference from writers in Cuba, who are not friends, and then I say in my mind, Yes. But when Cabrera Infante was alive, and that was until 2005, the Master was not published in Cuba. You were not defending your Master. So it’s better not to have the talent. Because if you have the talent and you are Cabrera Infante, you are talking about him now that he’s been dead for 10 years. And that’s hypocrisy. Forty years without being published in Cuba, and he’s not a genius, he’s a gusano [literally, a “worm,” what the regime called Cubans who left). He was very hated by the officials In Cuba because he was a great intellectual.

RA: I hear you have an article coming out in Smithsonian magazine.

OLPL: This is a story of the famous photo of Ché Guevara and what Ché Guevara means for Cuba. He’s become a symbol for everything, and if you go to Havana you have to take a picture with the photo in front of the Ministry of the Interior, like Obama did with a selfie. But I also tell the story of the photo, and I had to find some information about it, crazy things that happened. How Dr. Korda was not paid during decades for the photo – he managed to get some money at the end – and also about the discovery of the photo. The photo of Ché Guevara is a beautiful image, but it also represents violence and hatred.

The Exile Cuban Literary Movement

RA: How do you feel about being part of the exile Cuban literary movement? What does this mean to you?

OLPL: The last five years in Cuba, I was feeling completely exiled, and, consequently, I was feeling completely and dangerously free. It’s not only about courage, that we were brave. We were really scared of everything. But suddenly, as I started to be censored, not publishing any more with the publishing houses in Cuba, not being invited any more to publish in magazines or to be part of a literary jury, I realized that they couldn’t take anything else away from me.

And then I discovered my blog, which was like a bottle tossed into the sea, and I thought, they’re not going to read this, and I could be as provocative as I wanted, and people would be reading me. I love to be the center of events, but there is no Internet in Cuba. They [State Security] will not be reading the blog. But I got into more trouble because of the blog, thanks to the visibility that civil society and the blogosphere was having, thanks to Yoani Sánchez, so suddenly I found myself writing like an exile and living like an exile.

All my money came from donations or publications that I published abroad, 100 dollars that could last for three months. So my life depended on email, in a country without the Internet. I was trying to find a pirate connection, trying to go to hotels. I was trained to be part of an exile literary writing.

When I came outside I stayed for three years. It was not the original plan. So I have been lucky enough to organize and recover a sense of belonging that I didn’t have in Cuba. The anthology, Generation Zero, certainly needed the distance from myself in order to make the contacts, to push, to sell the story of a non-political generation to an editor in New York. It now has been published as Cuba: Année Zero in Paris, and it’s going to be published in German.

RA: Is any of your work getting into Cuba?

OLPL: Maybe. I tried to publish an anthology in Cuba, and they told me that the publishing houses were not publishing “group aesthetics.” If I wanted to organize an anthology it could be an anthology of new writers, but in many ways these anthologies, Generation Zero and Cuba in Splinters are ghettos, barricados. It’s a place were we are not censoring anyone. We are declaring ourselves and taking a position, and it’s allowed to make war against the Castros, literary war, and so this kind of political literary movement in Cuban cultural fields is not possible.

Now I have been feeling I belong and am able to help my friends and be part of this literary phenomenon much more than when I was inside the island. And besides, when I was inside the island – and this is sad – many writers somehow were considering me a political activist. I mean, State Security declares me a dissident and oppresses me, and my friends know that I am a writer.

I was even a member of the Union of Writers. Instead of saying, “Well, Orlando, I don’t know what you’re doing about politics, but I consider you a writer.” No. They are subdued by the narrative of the State that said I was a dissident, so I was feeling less close and had some hard feelings against writers when I was on the island, and now, from outside, everything goes better with those writers, because they feel safe from me, and on my side I can promote their works – not only the ones in the anthology but other writers.

RA: But can they read you in Cuba?

OLPL: No. It’s difficult. I have been sending the anthology with some of them when they travel, but it’s very limited. With this new book that I have just published, I am very proud. I think it’s our little baby, and it is not only my book but also the book of the blog, so it belongs to all of us, including translators, although it is in Spanish.

Many of these columns are already translated, and this book, although it’s not being commercialized digitally on Amazon, is going to be sent, free of course, to other contacts, including NeoClub Press and Hablemos Press. It’s going to be distributed in Cuba. So it’s a way of putting together my blog, with a cover, with my picture, and distributing it. My expectations are to re-conquer the island, and more than that: My plans are to be born again in Cuba in 2016.

There is a short story of mine in Litro, the literary magazine that is going to be published in London, together with some short stories of writers in Cuba, so when these writers take the literary magazine back to Cuba, they are taking my story there. So I am trying to recover a space that was a little lost and revive my narrative and my way of expressing myself, and my impact or influence. I want to do it again. I disappear for two years, a couple of years. Now I’m back. That’s the headline: He’s back!

RA: So the UNEAC writers will accept you?

OLPL: No, no, no. But that’s good. Let them be in conflict with me. Let Omar Pérez, a poet, take the magazine back. “Why is Orlando in here?” Why? Because he writes here; he belongs here. So it’s a movement. I’m dealing with a feeling of nostalgia, with pain and the feeling of loss. I do not project that, but it’s there. It’s a way of easing, soothing, like an act of a baby with a knife in my hand. I’m writing, I’m cutting people and cutting narrative….

RA: With a pen!

OLPL: Yes, a pen, but a penknife, with ink. So it’s dangerous. Beware: It’s dangerous. Not like the pen of an angel or a bird. It’s the pen of a bird, but with a sharp beak, ready to be a dart at some point. So I’m back. Not an angelic return. It’s like a devilish return, in a literary sense.

The Work In Progress

OLPL: By the way, I have been finishing my novel here.

RA: Yes, tell me about your novel.

OLPL: It’s going to be brief, because I believe in brief form – the post, the blog. I don’t believe in a big work. It’s about me, very biographical. I don’t believe now in the construction of characters. I don’t know what I’m going to do in the Ph.D., but I don’t believe so much in the construction of characters in literary procedure. I believe in writing about myself, even when I fictionalize myself, so it’s not biographical in a way.

I’m talking about Fidel Castro; I’m talking about Oswaldo Payá; and there are very delicate scenes there because I am narrating what happened to Oswaldo Payá. Of course I don’t know what happened. But I was at the funeral, and the novel moves from that point. I was there, and I approached the coffin only very late at night, not at the moment of mourning and giving condolences. I didn’t approach the family. At midnight, I approached his coffin, and the moment I looked at him, he started to bleed.

RA: It was an open coffin?

OLPL: You could see through the glass. And so the moment I approached at midnight, the church was empty. The next day everyone went back and the Cardinal gave a mass; so this was like a very personal moment. I was almost sure before Rosa Maria [Oswaldo Payá’s daughter] said anything. I was almost sure that certain things had happened to that man. I didn’t know what.

And then at the moment I approached, he started to bleed, red. From here, from the left of his face. And I understood that as a sign saying that something unfair, something unjust has happened. I don’t know what it is. I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but something has happened, and I can see here the traces of violence.

So it starts from there. I am trying to project the vision that if a man was killed, then a man killed him. And the man that killed him may be alive or not and is a Cuban or a foreigner.

So there is a certain issue that goes into the novel, and then the novel moves, and I move with the novel: Miami, New York, and it will end in Reykjavic. So I want it to be like a large chronicle. It was going to be entitled Alaska but now it’s not going to be like that. I don’t know exactly. I was thinking of using one Icelandic letter. Guillermo Cabrera Infante entitled once of his books “O,” only “O,” and I was thinking to use the thorn, which is a letter. It’s unpronounceable in Cuban. It’s a runic sign; it’s not commercial.

It’s almost finished. But I don’t understand the ending. I don’t know what the ending is. Or maybe the point is that there is no ending. It’s a fragment, because it’s not a thesis. Because I’m saying that I don’t know what happened. I don’t know, but it’s in my heart. So maybe I can just make the opening and the ending more diffuse. This is one chapter of 200 pages, of a novel that will never be written.

Aesthetically I’m interested in the fragmentary, in the unbalance, so let’s see, and it’s almost finished. And the last part is about Reykjavic and Bobby Fischer, the chess champion. I know he ended his life very full of hatred. He was exiled here; he’s buried here, so I have been able to go to his grave. When I was five, six, maybe seven years old in Cuba, my father talked to me about Fischer, an American hero, who had been in Russia and here in Reykjavic, and the word “Reykjavic” meant something to me as a child. So there is also something karmic.

I didn’t apply for this city. I applied to ICORN, the NGO. You don’t know where you’re going. And they were like, “Well, there aren’t too many options. There are very many applications. We have something, but I promise you won’t like it. It’s at the end of the world.” “What is it? Tell me.” “Well, there is an opportunity now in Reykjavic.”

RA: And they didn’t know that you like cold weather. Why would a Cuban want to go to Iceland?

OLPL: When I arrived the first time from New York, at 6:00 a.m., I was in tears. Now I think I will be returning to this country. Not to a city, as I told you, but to a farm, to help an old family there. I will be happy. But to do that I will need some ground under my feet to be able to have money, to be able to have a profession, to be able to publish more. At least that’s what I think right now. It’s very beautiful, and the winter was very beautiful. Twenty hours at night. I love it. Everybody was warning me: depression.

RA: Well, you sounded depressed.

OLPL: I was posting about depression, but it’s not the same. I was sad for a time. It was the distance. I was channeling that. But not because the darkness was crushing me.

RA: I thought you were having seasonal affective disorder.

OLPL: It’s logical, yes. But I didn’t feel so much like that. I mean, you read my posts and they’re schizophrenic. It’s on purpose.

RA: I won’t take your posts that seriously any more.

OLPL: I spent three days without seeing the sun. I was sleeping during the day, and I would wake up at night, but after that I felt renewed, and I walked almost all day. I was happy, euphoric. Reykjavic is still very new to me. I don’t know the city at all. And I have been traveling a little in the country and saving a lot of Iceland for the future. And in America, too. It will be more repetitive in a way, but the challenge of reading, learning, and writing will be new for me. I don’t have a humanistic education; I was trained as a biochemist. And I’m happy.

Note from Translating Cuba: Regina Anavy has been supporting this project to translate Cubans writing from the island from its earliest days, in 2008. She has translated well over 300 posts (including many that appeared on earlier sites) and has supported and continues to support the project in other ways, not least of which is hosting us in her home.