Conversion / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

It was a bright and well nourished blue ferret. He belonged to Carlos Enriquez‘s magic lineage, dressed with a guayabera made of talent, was giving and making life, art and beauty… creating, in short. But he got sick when they took off his clothes, oversaturated him with doctrine, vilified him with betrayals and adulations and put him in a tank. Such was his frustration that he felt trapped in the words’ coffin, the wings’ tomb. He made vows of silence and apathy and ended up being a gray mouse.

Translator’s Note:
Carlos Enriquez Gomez (1900-1957) was a Cuban painter, writer and illustrator. He named his home “The Blue Ferret” and it now functions as a meeting place for a small group of Cuban artists, under the same name.

Translated by : Adrian Rodriguez

August 12 2011

Raul Castro: Five Years in Power / Iván García

Last July 31st, Raul Castro completed his first five years in charge of Cuba’s destiny. Unlike Fidel, he speaks little and isn’t too inclined to self-adulation. He knows the Cuban economic model is a fiasco and bets on a miracle.

The old conspirator, now president of the Republic, has drawn his master plan. It relies on various cardinal sectors. And it isn’t the dream of a visionary or the fatherland’s little founder. If there is something he knows how to do, it is listen to those who know how and let them do it.

Of course, he is not a democrat. He is an old school Communist dinosaur. He is surrounded by a clan of military-entrepreneurs who have put away their striking uniforms and Spartan life in the barracks, and now they wear white guayaberas. They are informed on the latest innovative methods of business administration and finance.

The General has seen how the central planning of Marxist Socialism has failed. Therefore, he looks to China and Vietnam, two nations that still opt for the bizarre ideology, but are economically growing using capitalist methods.

He doesn’t want to improvise as his brother did. The sole commander got used to conceiving plans as if they were strings of sausages and, when they didn’t work, blamed others for it and turned the page.

Castro II, 80, knows that his principal enemy is time, and not the local dissidence or the lethal Creole bureaucracy.

But if he makes changes too fast he may lose the reins of reforms and become the Caribbean Gorbachev. The Revolution’s gravedigger. That idea terrifies the General. Therefore, his reforms go at a danzon pace. Slow, methodical and safe.

He doesn’t want surprises. When things get stuck, he shifts gears while the car is running. He knows how to improvise. As in the case of self-employment.

The gypsy cab drivers were unhappy about the taxes. He didn’t think twice, and made a tax reduction from one thousand to six hundred pesos.

The same with the paladares*; rumors and dislikes. He enacted an ordinance raising the number of seats in private restaurants from 20 to 50 chairs. With the land leases he has made ​​amendments. The number of private trades have been expanded to 181. If necessary he will make other changes, according to the circumstances.

Raúl Castro doesn’t stick to a dogma or fixed ideas. Publicly, he speaks of a planned economy. A speech to toss some bones to and provide pleasant music for the ears of the party orthodox wing. And also for his brother who looks on puzzles, from his bedside, at the chips that his successor has been moving.

Many think that Fidel Castro is abandoned to the mercy of God. We can not forget that the legendary partisan has an important asset in his hands: Hugo Chávez.

If Raul steps out of the script, Castro could convince Chavez to close the oil tap to the island. With this blackmail, he controls the excesses of the ‘olive green technocrats’ and their ambitions of founding state capitalism.

The Bolivarian is Fidel Castro’s wildcard, his counterpart. An unconditional. Because of these honors and attention, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias feels strong. And at times, with hidden criticism, sends his hurtful remarks to Raul’s followers.

The General needs oil from the infamous Chavez. And to play on both sides. Like the conspirator he has always been.

Do not forget that Raul was the “Machiavelli” behind the episode of sectarianism in the Communist Party in the ’60s, known as ‘the microfaction’. He and his intelligence apparatus were those who managed the children and carried out purges in the armed forces, in 1989-90, at the time of the Ochoa and Abrantes cases.

While Fidel was interested in enhancing his image as a world-class statesman, Castro II was conspiring in the shadows. Since the mid ’90s, the real power in the island has been held by the General. The intrigues and political maneuvers are his favorite sauce.

Raul Castro has drawn his master plan facing the future.

One of his pillars is the water hydraulic resource. For two years, he has been building a major water transfer system across the eastern municipalities of the island. The port of Mariel is one of his ventures for an economic resurgence. Some scholars think that when the embargo becomes history, this harbor could be the largest in the Caribbean, outperforming the port of Miami.

Another strategy is to expand tourism and especially to attract travelers with money to spend. Today, the tourists who visit Cuba are using all-inclusive packages and, on average, spend $ 36 a day which its too little.

The General aims for the wealthy and the businessmen to make their trips to the island. Therefore he has launched the construction of hunting grounds and 18-hole golf courses. There’s also an increasing lobby to resume real estate construction.

In his economic design for the coming years, offshore drilling on the Cuban shelf is crucial. If the geological survey has the desired results, the dependence on Venezuelan oil will be cut short. And he would not have to bear Chavez’s subtle insults.

Among the Castro II projects is future participation in the businesses of Cuban-Americans who haven’t been too critical of the regime.

Raul Castro wants to go down in history as the statesman who laid the foundations for economic development in Cuba. Many are wary of him. He looks like a bad guy. But there are bad guys, like Pinochet in Chile, who sometimes do good things.

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Translator’s note:
Paladares — literally, palates — are small private restaurants, where actually you eat in a home’s dining room.

Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez.

August 1 2011

Economic Embargo: a Burden for Cuba’s Future / Iván García

The United States embargo is relative. If Cuba had fulfilled its economic duties, it could buy merchandise in any other place without worrying about the shipping freight cost.

In spite of the embargo, Raul Castro can afford the luxury of buying Humvee jeeps – a United States army vehicle – to travel Cayo Saetía’s virgin prairies, in Holguin province, when the top brass goes hunting.

Therefore, who suffers the consequences of the embargo most is the average Cuban, not their rulers. Right now, the Cuban-American political lobbyists are exerting strong pressure in order to enforce the embargo restrictions.

As in any conflict, there are supporters and detractors. There is a phenomenon associated with the embargo of the utmost importance. It is the future compensation or restitution for those affected as a result of the massive nationalizations of American companies and Cuban citizens by Fidel Castro’s “olive green government” in the first years of the Revolution.

According to the Helms-Burton Act, even if there is a future democratic government in Cuba, the embargo would continue until the victims of the expropriation have been compensated. For many, it’s something simple. They naively believe democracy is a magic wand that will turn into gold all the shit accumulated after 52 years of economic disasters.

But it is not like that. See for yourself: Cuba owes money to everybody. We are the most indebted country in the world on a per person basis. To Russia we owe 25 million rubles. To Spain, China and the Paris Club, billions of dollars.

Add a few more billions to the Cubans, now U.S. citizens, who lost their properties. In fact, there are a significant number of legal suits in the United States on the issue of compensation.

It is known that the Castro brothers are not going to pay. Therefore, the huge debt will fall on the shoulders of a future democratic government. The more time it takes, the more money will be accumulated. And the Cuban government will have to pay. Or sit down and negotiate.

The changes in the island can be delayed from ten to fifteen years, but they will come. The design drawn up by the current government is based on military corporations that accumulate large investments. They have been distributing the nation among themselves. A real pinata.

A future administration will be bankrupt. Even with deep cuts in social services, encouraging foreign investment or implementing flexible laws and low taxes, it won’t be able to accumulate enough capital to pay the national debt.

Antonio Rodiles, economist, from one of the think tanks who resides in Havana, has looked deeply into the subject and addresses the issue in an article entitled “Liberalization of vacant land and dilapidated properties, a necessary step to initiate a recovery process”. It’s founded on the experience of the Eastern European communist countries.

According to Mr. Rodiles, a future Cuban democratic government could compensate by selling bonds, businesses, lots and vacant land to foreign companies or citizens affected by expropriation.

In this article, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, dissident economist, rationalizes that “in regard to the refunds, the Cuban reality advises other methods. With regard to housing, we are in favor of a massive granting of these properties, along with all the responsibilities inherent to the current onerous usufructuaries.”

Espinosa Chepe believes that the fairest approach could be the return of these properties to their former owners. “But because of the time elapsed and the transformations of these properties, some of them already destroyed; the best solution would be to pay the original owners, which could be done through bonds”.

To undertake the payment of the debts incurred by the Castro brothers, a future government would have to auction the businesses and draw up a severe adjustments plan. Wilfredo Vallin, attorney at law, believes it’s probable that many countries, the United States among them, will forgive the Cuban national debt.

But a real policy is not articulated on the basis of assumptions. It wouldn’t be a profitable strategy for a new government in Cuba to disburse huge expenses to pay for an inherited debt due to Castro’s economic anarchy.

If the Castro brothers, as it’s supposed, have no intention whatsoever of compensating the property owners, then it would have to be negotiated with a future transitional government. Lifting the embargo now is a good way to save time.

The businesses and economically affected citizens should be financially compensated, without affecting Cuba’s development, and without fiscal adjustments that provoke social unrest. After five decades, plus any extended delay to end Castro’s dynasty, it is not advisable to require more sacrifices from the people.

Now, without another word, Cubans have to make a new holes in their belt. But when they get used to living in freedom, at the first change, outraged, they will throw themselves to protest on the streets. Those are the benefits of a democracy.

Video: Cay Saetia. Located in the Bay of Nipe, north of the province of Holguin. Despite being considered Raul Castro’s “private island,” the town lives off of tourism, which it is controlled by Gaviota S.A, a group run by the military. One of the main attractions are the safaris, where tourists can see camels, deer, antelopes, water buffaloes, boars, horses and parrots among other species.

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Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

July 27 2011

Vacations in Cuba / Iván García

Yosuan is a sixteen year old high school student who has a special plan for his summer vacation: beach and reggae. His father is in jail. He got an eighteen-year sentence for killing cows. When his mother can afford to she gives him some hard currency, and then he can go to a high-class discotheque.

“But for sure I will ride a crowded bus toward the beaches to the east of Havana in order to take a dip, go to the movies with my girlfriend, and most important of all, dance reggae in one of those “on the left”*(1) (illegal) parties organized in my neighborhood,” says Yosuan.

In Havana, with the arrival of summer, the number of ‘house’ parties (private) increases, as do the Mettalica or Pop ones. They are improvised in a trice, and always with the desire to make a profit.

Rodney, 35, disc Jockey by experience, rubs his palms together. “Four times a week we put on a party in a friend’s house. We charge 10 pesos per person (0.50 US cents). We sell ham sandwiches, mayonnaise, roast pork, bottles of soda, rum and Parkinsonil*(2) pills so people can get ‘high’. When the party is over, we share between $1,500 and $2,000 pesos (65 to 85 US dollars)”.

Affordable recreational options in the capital city are rare. A nice discotheque charges between 7 and 10 dollars: the bi-weekly salary of an engineer. This is just the entry fee. In order to drink a Daiquiri, Cuba Libre or Ale, you should have more than 20 dollars in your wallet, and don’t even think about cocktails.

It is not easy being a Romeo In Havana. A wad of money is more useful than a pretty face. The pretty boys can only date someone from the army of camouflaged hookers who swarm the city, promising them marriage or a USA visa. After leaving the bar or nightclub, if you weren’t cautious enough to keep 10 convertible pesos to take a taxi, either state or private, you risking getting home at dawn. The early morning public transportation service is almost nil.

The children of workers and doctors who live without stealing from their jobs, rule out recreational options in foreign currencies. Better off are the descendants of the generals, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and musicians who travel abroad.

Those who receive dollars from across the puddle can also go to a nightclub. Although the thing is ugly. The crisis has the relatives abroad paddling upstream and making phone calls to their family in Cuba asking them to stretch the dough. People who, last season, were bragging about being spendthrifts, now are counting even the pennies.

This is what happens with Ismael, 40. “In 2010 I could do a full itinerary on children’s facilities. But this year my parents lost their jobs. I had to make cuts. I told my daughter: plays, books, amusement parks, beaches in the outskirts and carry snacks. Everything in national currency.”

Cuba is a country difficult to understand. The roof is falling in on a lot of people. They eat little or poorly, with an excess of carbohydrates and fats. Their breakfast consists of black coffee mixed with peas as a filler.

However, they are able to spend $200 US dollars on buying the latest iPhone sold in the underground market. Diesel jeans or Nike sneakers. Or a five-day stay at the Melia Las Americas in Varadero beach, paying $600 cash.

According to Alberto, manager of an office that offers all-inclusive packages on different circuits in the country, with the arrival of summer the number of domestic tourists is expected to double.

There are no exact figures, but since 2008, when Raul Castro authorized that those born in the island could stay in the foreign currency hotels, hundreds of Cubans have paid a year’s salary to spend three days enjoying the first class tourism facilities.

Despite the stationary economic crisis that Cuba has been living for 22 years, in the months of July and August the number of tourist from our own yard increases. But most people still see the tranquil blue waters of Varadero beach on postcards. Ordinary Cubans will have to settle for watching American films or Brazilian soap operas in the TV.

They are lucky if they go camping. In families where the dollars are slippery, the vacations are a headache. In addition to an extra meal, they drink more water and consume more electricity. And at night, when the boredom is killing them, they want to buy a bottle of rum. And that’s the bad news. There is no money for such luxuries.

For those who live from day-to-day, the main issue is to feed their family; summer vacations become a true torment. Add to this 90 degrees in the shade, and an old Chinese fan that when you need it most, stops running.

Photo: Stuart Kane, Picasa. If you only have 10 Cuban pesos, then you go to ‘copelita’ and ask for ten scoops of ice cream, one Cuban peso per scoop, although the only flavor is strawberry. Like these two young men did, photographed in Bayamo. Wouldn’t it have been better to be served five scoops on each of two plates rather than ten scoops in ten cups? (TQ)

*Translator’s notes:

*(1) In Cuba “on the left” means illegal, as the black market .

*(2) Trihexyphenidyl HCL, is an antiparkinsonian agent. Alcohol may increase drowsiness and dizziness while taking this medication.( Extracted from Wikipedia.)

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Translated by : Adrian Rodriguez.

July 25 2011

Gilipolladas* of Etiquette / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

The realities imposed on us during the time of the “Special Period”*[2] and the foreign investments, brought with them new forms of expression that involved part of the Cuban society. Those nationals linked to the tourism, to the diplomatic community and those working with foreigners and their currency or the exchange market, integrated into their language words such as “sir, madam, or miss” to address someone — As if the “comrades”*[3] of so many years, men or women, had emigrated — and other Anglicisms such as “llámame para atrás” (call me back) or verbal crutches such as “tú sabes” (you know); and the spanish ones, “¿vale?” to agree or assent to something, the “gilipollas” (idiot) in substitution of the ultra-Cuban “comemierda“*[4] (shiteater). I didn’t find an etymological dictionary to check whether or not the origin of this word is Cuban, but it is an image that reflects how much identified we are in our slang with such vulgarism. Also, due to the presence of Spanish businessmen and tourists in recent years, and our interaction with them, we acquired additional words of erotic content, that I prefer to avoid here.

The foreigners, who travel to Cuba as tourists, are seeking for “chicas“*[5] and “chicos” *[5]; not muchachas*[5] or muchachos*[5], young people, women and men to get involved with. People around the world have their own jargons and language traits and their customs which define them as a nation, even if we share the same language. The inclusion of foreign expressions and practices in a sector of our society is not a local phenomenon that has political overtones, as two friends argued recently, they are due to globalization, which is connecting us worldwide in various spheres of life; the internet, which allows us to interact in real time with many places of the world and to the opening to foreign tourism in our country after nearly three decades of staying stuck in snow crystals incubators “for better handling,” as the wolf of Little Red Riding Hood would say.

Therefore, it doesn’t worry me too much that our language is nuanced with foreign words. I can listen a youth calling another “brother”, assenting with a “that’s ok”, or leaving with a “see you…”, that does not wake me up from my dreams; what really concerns me is the frantic emigration with which we Cubans have been naturalized as world citizens. That’s more important and significant that the locutions of our vernacular spanish. Let’s leave those misgivings to more conservative specialists.

I disapprove of false behavior, such as those who, in their environment, uncork their repressions and unleash their own churlishness in their element and in others, laminate in plastic their attitudes and with this label places, as if they ignore that we should behave in an educated way, regardless of where we are.

That’s how we, a large portion of the Cubans living in our country, are going these days: the Penelopes weave their dreams — with imported yarn — while waiting for the democracy ship; the believers in religions of African origin don’t offer drums to their African pantheon ‘orishas’*[6], now they revere them using violins*[7] more often than before; and the majority still waits in frustration because “a malicious man” seized our rights and our freedom. With the permanent production chain of poverty that most Cubans inherited, they leave us also with the sad reality of the everyday ordinary fellow citizen who, to offset the economic hardships, is adorning his language with foreign gems to experience at least how the vocabulary is “being enriched.”

*Translator’s notes:
(1)- Gilipolladas is a Spain’s bad word meaning foolishness , idiocies, therefore a gilipollas is an idiot , a fool and can be use as an asshole etc…
(2)-The special period was the name given by the Cuban government to the economic situation after the fall of the USSR and the eastern Europe socialist governments.
(3)- Comrade was the usual way to address another person in Cuba since 1959.
(4)- Comemierda is a Cuba’s bad word for fool, idiot, asshole, etc.. although literally means shit eater.
(5)- chicos, chicas, muchachos and muchachas all have the same meaning: young men and women, but in Cuba muchachas and muchachos are used.
(6) An Orisha is a spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of Olodumare (God) in the Yoruba spiritual or religious system.
(7) violins are played to revere Oshun, who has been syncretized with Our Lady of Charity , Cuba’s patroness.

Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

July 20 2011

Migrations / Fernando Dámaso

Migration, the movement of people from one place to another for economic, social or political reasons, as well as the periodic traveling of some animals in search of food and for other needs, is as old as the emergence of life on earth. These motions have always occurred. In some countries the population is practically formed by immigrants and their descendents. The cases abound and are well known. No one, in principle, is against it.

However, when talking about migration, it must be undertaken legally, meeting the requirements established by the country or countries that are going to receive the immigrant. People allow those they please to enter their homes, and establish rules of conduct. It should happen the same way with countries. The immigrant should understand, accept and respect this.

You may wonder: where does this free lecture comes from? The reason is very simple: in my country, which by the way doesn’t welcome immigrants, the authorities have become advocates for those who emigrate to other countries, demanding for them, whether they are legal or illegal, fair treatment and respect for all the inherent rights of human beings.

To speak of the noose in the hanged man’s house has always been considered in bad taste. This is what bothers me about this attitude of solidarity. Considering that it is not adding fuel to the fire, or in a malicious way, to help towards the solution of the emigration problem which, it’s important to say, will always exist. In the first place, the responsibility belongs to the countries whose citizens, for one reason or other are forced to emigrate (Cuba stands out in this). If favorable economic, social and political conditions are created, there will be fewer people emigrating. Cuba was never a country of emigrants, quite the contrary, it has been one of immigrants. Here, Spaniards, Chinese, Japanese, African, Lebanese, Americans, Syrians, Hebrews, French, Haitians, Latin Americans, and even Russians and other nationalities settled and founded families and created wealth. It must have happened for a reason! Today, Cuba is a country of emigrants: there are Cubans in all the corners of the world. It happens for a reason!

The country that receives emigrants and, therefore, has immigrants, has every right to establish how many laws and regulations it deems appropriate to achieve peaceful coexistence and national security. It is assumed that somebody, in an illegal way, will try to stay in order to benefit from the national laws. Here–the source of rants in defense of legal or illegal immigrants in other countries–discriminatory measures are applied, and citizens are not allowed to reside in a locality or province, or to relocate elsewhere, without proper government permits. Moreover, they cannot even temporarily visit their families without such permission. This, not to mention family members living abroad (be they children, siblings, parents etc.) who, when they stay in their family’s house when they come to visit, must have authorization from The Office of Immigration and Foreign Affairs, paying 45 CUC (hard currency) ahead of time for each visit (regardless of whether it is for babies or elderly). A complicit silence is maintained over these national aberrations. As it more or less says in the hit song: I have a telescope to see far away. Perhaps I need another to see up close!

Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

July 19 2011

An Adolescent is Killed for Trying to Eat Genips* in Havana / Laritza Diversent

On the afternoon of July 15, 2011, the town of Mantilla, on Havana’s outskirts, was shocked by the death of Angel Izquierdo Medina, a 14-year-old black teenager, who died from a gunshot to the femoral artery by Amado Interian, a retired police Major.

According to the victim’s family members, three boys, including Angel, entered the property of the ex-police officer, to take genips, also known Spanish limes, from a tree. When the ex-cop caught them in the act, he fired two shots from his pistol. Before retiring, Interian had been a police chief in the area.

The child’s body was laid out in the Mauline funeral home, at the entrance of Santa Amalia residential neighborhood. More than 500 people attended the viewing, most of them fellow students, in shock from the news, and also teachers and neighbors.

“Oh my God he was the same age as my son, because a mischief, that only can be done by an extremist”, said one of the spectators sobbing, while passing by the coffin.

Agents of the State Security Forces dressed in civil clothes took over the funeral home because the mourners had been threatening to protest. Around midnight there were incidents reported at the site, without arrests being made. The burial was on Saturday July 16, 2011, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, in the Christopher Columbus cemetery.

Mantilla is a Havana suburb, with a low income population and high levels of dangerousness. It belongs to the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, the most violent and poor of the capital city.

So far, we don’t know if the ex-police officer will be prosecuted because of the adolescent’s death. As is usual in Cuba, when things of this nature happen, the official media prefers to keep silent and not to report what happened.

Photo: Mamoncillos. With its sweet flesh, it is one of the most preferred fruits in Cuba. But as with so many fruits, after 1959 they were scarce in the market and could still be consumed only by those who have a tree of Melicoccus bijugatus (its scientific name) in the backyard. The genip along with the sugar apple, soursop, custard apple, cashew, canistel, loquat, plum and apple banana, is listed as one of the extinct fruits after Castros took power. Years after this barbaric event — one of the tasks of the ‘famous’ Che Guevara’s invasion brigade was to uproot fruit trees from the fields where it passed by — little by little the fruits started to reappear again — mangoes, guavas , mamey and avocados — among others fruits that have been always been greatly eaten by Cubans. With the only difference that before the bearded men, with 10 or 20 cents you could buy a mamey or an avocado and now days you cannot find them for less than 10 or 20 cuban pesos. (Tania Quintero)

*Translator’s note: Melicoccus bijugatus, commonly called Spanish lime, genip, genipe, quenepa, mamoncillo, limoncillo, it is a one-inch, round fruit with a green leathery skin at maturity. Each fruit has a large seed inside, the same ovoid shape as the fruit itself , the seeds have a fleshy tan-coloured edible sweet and juicy seed coat.

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Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

July 19 2011

From Paternalism to the Other Extreme / Fernando Dámaso

Máximo Gómez, the great Dominican promoter of our independence, said that Cubans either don’t reach far enough or reach too far, and without a doubt, he was right. As you can see he knew us very well! Now with this new issue of eliminating  paternalism and gratuities, the correctness of his opinion is ratified one more time. Let’s look at it piece by piece, but first is necessary to make clearthat the so called paternalism and gratuities are undisputed fallacies, which served to mask the miserable wages that Cubans have been receiving for more than fifty years: the government supplied through the commonly named ration card some products, increasingly fewer, at lower prices (subsidized), as well as some services provided free of charge, in order to not raise the salaries and pay the workers what they really should have been paid. Therefore, everything has been paid for with the salaries that the workers didn’t receive.

Today the minimum monthly salary does not exceed $240 pesos national currency (equal to 10 CUC* or 9 US dollars) and the median monthly salary is $440 pesos national currency (20 CUC* — equal to 18 US dollars). If we convert this to a daily basis the wages will be 8 and 16 Cuban pesos national currency, respectively (in either case less than 1 CUC or 1 dollar a day). This is important in order to establish comparisons.

The prices of products that were supplied before as subsidized, now are supplied as “released” (that is unrationed) items (it seems they were in jail), but at a huge price (maybe because the cost of the bail bond). Here are some examples: rice, from 40 to 90 cents a pound, increased to 5 cuban pesos; refined sugar, from 20 cents a pound  to 8 cuban pesos; brown sugar, from 10 cents a pound  to 6 cuban pesos; washing soap, from 20 cents a bar, to 6 cuban pesos; bath soap, from 40 cents a bar to 5 cuban pesos, and liquid detergent, from $3.50 a liter to 25 cuban pesos. If the State truly subsidized these products, how much were the subsidiesequivalent to? Nobody can believe that sugar (the primary national export product back in its heyday) could possibly be subsidized at 7.80 cuban pesos a pound, nor liquid detergent at 21.50 cuban pesos. This is totally absurd.

The question would be, why these exaggerated prices on essential goods? The acquisition of one of them represents a citizen’s salary for a day’s work or more. Is this part of the economic model updating? For these price raises there was no need for any kind of meeting, nor discussions in the social base, neither in the National Assembly: They were just implemented and that’s it. About raising the salaries, which should be the right thing to do, nobody says absolutely anything. The most you can hear is that, it will be done when we are able to produce and increase the production. In other words: Wait for the Greek Calends.

These, unfortunately, are our realities, and it calls attention to the fact that there are still dreamers, who believe we are on the right path towards the solution of our problems. So far, it has only produced a redistribution of the load: Move even more cargo from the imaginary shoulders of the State (in reality it has always been on Cubans shoulders ) to the already overloaded citizens.

*Translator’s note: CUC is a Cuban Convertible Peso, one of Cuba’s two currencies, the other being Moneda Nacional — National Money — or the Cuban peso.

Translated by Adrian Rodriguez.

July 10 2011

Cuba, a State in Liquidation Sale / Iván García

Cuba’s fate will be decided in 10 years. Or less. By that time Fidel Castro, will be 95 years old. If he is still alive then, a nurse will try to feed him with puree or apple compote with a spoon.

His brother Raul, around the same, will turn 90 years old and I don’t think he will have the strength to blow the birthday cake candles. If God’s grace lets them live, they will be two boring grandpas. A piece of Cuban history prostrated in wheelchairs.

In 2021, probably before, those who rule the nation’s destinies would have been adjusting the itinerary on their political sextant. If the ship still being captained by the olive-green entrepreneurs, Cuba will be a mix of a virtual communism and state capitalism enthroned in the principal economic sectors.

Maybe by that time Cuban intelligence will have designed an obedient and nice opposition. And, not to be outdone, they will hold elections every five years. There will be two or three political parties with pompous names that will preach the same, but using different formats.

Of course, the military magnates will have the complete control of the economy and the political life. They will let  private enterprise and will encourage and reward it with lower taxes. And the powerful Cuban-Americans, will be compensated for the expropriated properties during the first years of the revolution.

If by then, the commercial firms such as Bacardi, Fanjul and other millionaires of Cuban origin would prefer to invest and leave aside “those absurd ideas like democracy and human rights,” the doors to doing business in Cuba will be open.

Those annoying political activists and independent journalists who step out of the script will have to  be careful. When a honeymoon with the Florida’s wealthy fellows exists, the embargo will be a relic, and from time to time the United States president will spend his vacation in Varadero, it won’t be necessary to set up political circuses against the dissidents.

The trouble makers will end in a grave. They will be buried three meters under, with a shot in the neck. Like in Mexico or Colombia. Nobody will want to know who killed them.

Cuba is a State in liquidation sale. The subsidies are already being dismantled and the creole mandarins now talk about profits and loss. To work, damn it! It has been said in all assemblies.

On the economy side everything is figured out. The preservation of the planned economy is to appease Fidel Castro, who hates the free market. But there are areas, such as real estate, crude oil extraction or tourism advocating  for mixed enterprises.

Many generals-turned-businessmen, dressed in white guayaberas, will give the welcome speeches at some golf tournaments. The black caddies will return to carry the golf clubs and the cash registers will be ringing with so many stunning greenbacks.

The Mariel seaport will be a goldmine. It will make Miami look small. In the Chinese factories the people will work for two dollars a day. And they will be satisfied. In a State enterprise they would only receive fifty cents of a dollar.

So this, more or less, will be Cuba’s outlook after ten years.

To put in place or not a two-headed system, combining the worst of the capitalism along with the totalitarian society’s repressive brutality, will be left in the hands of a dissidence that must mature and gain political conscience.  Otherwise, they will be blatantly bought with hard currency, in order to get a slice and keep their mouths shut.

The future looks ugly. I may be missing details. But not too many.

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Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

July 15 2011

I am guilty of… / Intramuros

By Sironay Gonzalez Rodriguez

How good I feel when knowing that I am doing the right thing, even when the majority contradicts me or avoids any comment so as not to be implicated. I like to be on the opposite side, I feel good being apart from the mass.

My biggest commitment is with the truth. With it I walk with my head up and I am not afraid, because the fear is for those who are attached to dogmas and live in the obligation of being servile although they don’t understand a thing. I give myself to a noble cause, justice, and for it I will be fighting with all the known peaceful means while God gives me strength.

I believe in the power of the small, in the capacity that people still have (although they don’t notice it) to love.

Sironay Gonzalez Rodriguez
San Cristobal, Artemisa. 1976

Translated by Adrian Rodriguez

June 30 2011

Pedro Pablo Oliva and Henry Constantin: Two Examples of the Blockade on the World of the Cuban Culture / IntraMuros, Dagoberto Valdes

By Dagoberto Valdes and the Editorial Board

In editorial No. 14 of Convivencia Magazine ( of March-April 2010, we said that:

“In the last year there has been a visible increase of the natural diversity of expressions of men and women in Cuba. This plurality has been manifested, mainly, in the cultural world. This world has been always a very multicolored one. And in the last fifty years, it has been treated more with subtle censorship and exclusions than with more direct methods. Thus, the cultural and educational world was expressing itself, more and more, in a peaceful way, critical, punctual and persevering. Instead of more room for debates; instead of opening the existing paths to the diversity of opinion and action, the answer has been the growth of violent repression, direct, without a mask nor subtleties as before.”

The last two milestones with this sad reality have been: The closing down of Pedro Pablo Oliva’s studio in Pinar del Rio last May 14, 2011 and the “cancellation” of the enrollment and grades earned over two years, by the blogger from Camagüey Henry Constatin, who is also a member of the editorial boards of the magazines Voces and Convivencia and who participates in the preparation of the serial Citizens’ Reasons, an audiovisual space for independent debates that address different aspects of our national life. Both decisions damage noticeably the spirituality and creativeness of the Cuban nation. So we expressed in the afore-mentioned editorial only a year ago.

“Those who blockade the cultural world, those who gag the arts, those who uglify beauty and turn off the lights of letters and the truthfulness of dreams for freedom, for justice and for love in Cuba, are crossing a very dangerous red line: Not only are they repressing the artists’ creativity, and the honesty of the intellectuals, or the sincerity of the communicators, but also they are repressing the nation’s soul. Those who repress the soul of the people in order to try, unsuccessfully, to smother the motions of the human spirit, are inflicting the greatest of anthropological damage on their citizens, fatally wounding the spiritual stability of the nation and executing it by means of the irreparable slope of violence, which nobody wants.”

On the now closed door of Pedro Pablo Oliva’s house, the greatest living artist of Pinar del Rio, there’s a phrase that speaks clearly of his great soul: “strictly prohibited to stop dreaming”. So responds this Cuban who loves so much his motherland, who gave so much for it and who did so much good, discreetly, to Pinar and to Cuba. All artists, intellectuals, cultural or civic animators, know that Pedro Pablo, his home and his help, has been always in favor of the realization of the best dreams of each one of us. His moderation, his humble life and his desire for a universal inclusion of everything good, right and beautiful, mark his attachment to the homeland and his indelible contribution to the culture. Reading the exhortation to don’t stop dreaming, I couldn’t avoid recalling the end of the number 14 editorial of Convivencia which is another way to say the same thing and to dream of a better future for Cuba and its culture.

“This world is upside down. And one day will be straightened. And the artists will create and express in free public spaces, respectfully and participative. And the bloggers will write and launch to the world their blogs without gags or blockades on the internet. And the musicians and composers will say, with their free musical notes and free lyrics, what their souls want for the good of all. And the writers and artisans will let fly in the air letters and shapes as free as they are responsible. And the educators and students, methodologists and directors of education, will not fear students expressing themselves, or gathering freely without the surveillance of their custodians with teacher faces. And every one, men or women, will contribute, express or intervene in the public spaces, in the cultural environments without the horrible nightmare of being labeled as a worm or a mercenary.

This world will come, nobody doubts it, and then Cuba will stand up and will close the door on the gag. And the threatening arms of brother against brother will be lowered. And the offenses between lifetime neighbors will end, and fear and the threats from our phones and squares will end. And families divided by all these will be reunited. And, then, it won’t be a day for revenge, or for hate, or rancor. Cuba, every Cuban man or woman, will brick up the door to violence and repudiation. And we will open between all of us, with the beauty of the arts and the letters, with the truthfulness of the ethical and civic education and with the kindliness of the peaceful coexistence, the ample door, diverse and fraternal of the National Home that it is and it will be forever this Cuba that still navigates in hope.”

Pedro Pablo and Henry, you know you can count on the solidarity, the affection and respect of many people in Cuba and overseas. Even the silence of fear speaks by itself. It’s only a matter of not sinking in hopelessness. It is only another big blackout. Let there be light.

Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

May 26 2011

Who Benefits From the Cuban Embargo? / Iván García

What I always admired about the United State policies is their pragmatism. It has an unmistakable capacity to dump in the trash can the strategies that don’t work. And to overcome the errors.

But regarding the Cuban embargo, the Americans show a notable stupidity. Let’s see it from its supporters’ angle. Its advocates think that if the United States lifts it, Castro and his olive green entrepreneurs, will be lining up their pockets with dollars.

They will keep on governing for decades. So the democrats and the human rights activists on the island will continue to be harassed or beaten by the mobs egged by the political police. With the embargo, they say, the United States tries to asphyxiate the regime, promote people’s discontent and provoke the angry Cubans to start a protest on the Havana waterfront.

But neither one thing nor the other happened. In 52 years, the common people didn’t throw themselves on the streets. Or maybe. On August 5, 1994, not to change the status quo, but to make Castro open the gate and to throw themselves into the sea heading to Florida using any floating object.

Of course, the embargo is pure gold for Castro’s propaganda. According to the official media, the Cuban economy is walking with crutches because of the “blockade’s” effects. I don’t think so.

The reality is that the system adopted by the brothers from Biran doesn’t work. All the ill conceived authoritarian ideas, where several essential human rights are suppressed, didn’t take off coherently in any nation.

Only under the boots and the tackling of the secret services is the system maintained. Actually, the commercial embargo affects common citizens. Sufferers of cancer or AIDS cannot afford the latest generation medicine patented in the United States. A regular Cuban can not make bank transactions with United States based branches.

Cuban Americans and foreign tourists can not use American credit cards. The trite excuse used by the embargo supporters, that if it didn’t exist the Castros would be a kind of rich guys, falls by itself.

Long ago, the Castros became the McDucks. I don’t think that the embargo’s toughening will turn them into panhandlers. The embargo is an authentic mirrors game. Its defenders didn’t achieve nothing. The authoritarianism and the lack of freedom continues. 

Of course, the ones who blame the embargo for all the misfortunes that have been happening are also lying. Cuba’s bad situation is the fault of the government. And if you decide to visit Havana, with hard currency, you can buy Coca-Cola, Dell computers and Motorola mobile phones.

Ninety-five percent of State computers use Windows programs. The buses running on the Cuban streets have General Motors components. The foreign currency pharmacies sell American antibiotics and Johnson and Johnson syrups.

The embargo is a real sieve. It has more holes than a Swiss cheese. Add the fact that the United States is one of the Cuba’s main food providers .

Through donations to the island, previous generation medicines and antibiotics come to the island. More than a billion dollars annually are received through remittances. And another billion dollars in equipment, electric appliances and shoddy textiles, sent by Cubans living overseas.

What embargo are we talking about then? A policy or a rule is efficient if it works. But the Cuban embargo has not been working. In addition, it is not politically profitable.

Every year, a majority of countries vote against it in the UN, and for the record, many of the countries condemning the embargo are also critics of the island dictatorship. When the president of the United States decides to abolish the embargo, he will put the Havana regime against the wall.

Because the Cuban economy will still be a disaster. The people won’t live better. Nor will the pantries will be replenished with food. But there will be no excuses or emotional fuel to harangue the masses. The people governing will be naked to the world’s public eye. And therefore will be forced to change.

Who benefits from the Cuban embargo? Fidel and Raul Castro. No one else.

Photo : In his blog the HoboTraveler, the journalist Andy Graham wrote that on Saturday December 6, 2009 he went with two Norwegians to the Jazz Café of the Gallery Paseo, a mall located at Paseo and Malecon, Vedado. Once in the interior, after paying 10 convertible pesos to enter, he asked for a Coca-Cola and they brought a 355 ml can of Coke which he decided to photograph, surprised that in Cuba they were selling the soft drink — a symbol of the USA. In his blog he also posted the picture of the back of the can, where you can see it is a Mexican coke (Tania Quintero)

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 Translated by Adrian Rodriguez

July 12 2011