Did He Disappear, Or Was He Gotten Rid Of? / Cubanet, Jose Daniel Ferrer

Camilo Cienfuegos
Camilo Cienfuegos

cubanet square logoCubanet, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Santiago do Cuba, 29 October 2016 — The top headline in the nightly news on the Castro family’s private television — the only television permitted in our country – on October 28th this year, was: “Cubans are paying tribute to Camilo Cienfuegos on the 57th anniversary of his physical disappearance.” Then we see leaders, the military, workers and students, all of them in the service of the family who own the television and who also own everything in Cuba, – when a few people own everything, the rest don’t even own their own lives – scatter flowers in the sea or in rivers in homage to the brave and much-loved guerilla. Lázaro Expósito, Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in the province of Santiago de Cuba, and his entourage, distributed their flowers in the contaminated Santiago Bay.

Was Camilo lost at sea? Or, did Fidel Castro make him disappear? For most Cubans, the second possibility seems more likely. My father, Daniel Ferrer, fought in Column 9 under the command of Huber Matos, and, with me still in primary school, he told me that Camilo hadn’t fallen into the sea, that that was just a story. He never explained to us why he said that. Since I was a kid I have never wanted to be deceived or used. From the 5th grade on, I never again “threw flowers for Camilo.” They haven’t found any trace of the light aircraft which, supposedly, crashed into the sea. Will we need a diver like the one who discovered the wreckage of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s plane? Continue reading “Did He Disappear, Or Was He Gotten Rid Of? / Cubanet, Jose Daniel Ferrer”

If Camilo was, and I think it is true, a brave, intelligent and sincere man who fought for the restoration of democracy to the Cuban people – the great majority of Cubans who fought against Batista thought that they were fighting to restore the 1940 constitution, never imagining that they were fighting for one family to become owners of the whole nation – it is logical to think that, when he saw the disastrous road along which Castro was leading the Revolution, he would have expressed his disagreement, or, at the very least, Fidel and Raúl would have imagined that it would not be easy to manipulate him and, in either case, would have decided to get rid of him. And if that is what happened, he certainly does deserve flowers, respect, admiration and justice. But not that we should participate in the Castros’ farce of casting flowers on the sea.

If, on the other hand – and I don’t think it’s true – Camilo was another docile instrument in the hands of the Stalin of Birán (Fidel Castro’s birthplace), always ready to obey orders, even though the orders converted his country into a nation of slaves, and he really disappeared in an airplane accident over the sea, after Huber Matos’ arrest, then it’s the best thing that could have happened to him. In that way, he died clean, without having on his shoulders the weight of the tyranny’s subsequent grave and continuous crimes And, if that’s how it was, he deserves neither flowers nor admiration.

But, I do think that he deserves flowers, respect, admiration, and justice. And for that, I do not throw flowers into the sea. One day, we will know where his remains are. I don’t know why, but whenever they speak of Camilo, or of other friends and victims of the Castros, even inluding the Argentinian communist who executed so many Cubans in Havana’s La Cabaña fortress, I remember Lev Trotsky, Sergei Kirov, Lev Kámenev and Gregory Zinoviev, among other victims of Joseph Stalin’s purges.

They say there is no proof that Stalin ordered Kirov’s assassination, or that Castro got rid of Camilo. But what we do know is that Stalin did not like to be upstaged by anyone, and that the Castros even stick people away and out of sight if they seem to be the slightest bit “difficult.”  Kirov and Camilo seemed to be malcontents. Those who want to have everything, do everything to control everything, and then they tell whatever whoppers suit them. But, in Stalin’s time, there was no internet.

Translated by GH  

Why Do We Cubans Put Up With All This? / Cubanet, Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces

Cuban protester arrested by State Security officials, December 10th, 2014. (AP)
Cuban protester arrested by State Security officials, December 10th, 2014. (AP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces, Guantanamo, Cuba, 3 November 2016 — In talking to fellow countrymen and foreigners, the question comes up: Why do we Cubans have put up with so much abuse from the Castros?

The question is raised because of the discrimination to which we have been, and are still subject, to the existence of a dual currency system, excessive prices for goods and services, and the indiscriminate repression at the slightest sign of dissidence.

But those who ask this question are forgetting inescapable historic circumstances, because the anthropological damage caused to the Cuban people by the Castros has its origins in the Sierra Maestra guerilla warfare and in secrecy. We also should not forget that the Cuban Revolution enjoyed the overwhelming sympathy and support of the people because its political and economic programme was backed up by the restoration of democracy. Measures which, with obvious popular impact in a country where the people, up until then, had been seen as an entelechy, guaranteed an extraordinary level of support for Castroism. Taking advantage of that, it was able to convert the slightest criticism into a counter-revolutionary act, thus legitimising repression “in the name of the people” although those who are repressed are a part of the people. Continue reading “Why Do We Cubans Put Up With All This? / Cubanet, Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces”

In April 1961, a group of excited militiamen accepted Fidel Castro’s proclamation of a socialist revolution, “in the name of and on behalf of the Cuban people”, without which nobody would have conceded that right, on the corner of 23rd and 12th (opposite the cemetery in Vedado, Havana). A typical example of manipulation of the masses.

Absolute control of education and the media, subjugating everyone to surveillance, ranging from telephones and correspondence, up to their private lives, making all family or individual advancement indissolubly linked to loyalty to the regime, was, among other practices, sufficient to establish Castro’s rigid control of society. When, in October 1965, the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party was created, another leftist dictatorship was politically formalized, which had, de facto, existed since 1959.

Those who dare to stand up to the totalitarian regime pay for it by death in combat, being lined up and shot, thrown in jail, sent into exile, or ostracized.

In the 70’s, the advance guard of a peaceful opposition made itself felt. It began to knit together a new awareness and, although the regime continued to enjoy popular support, the discontent was evident, as was demonstrated at the Mariel embassy and what happened afterwards. (The April 1980 occupation of the Peruvian embassy, the confrontation with the Castro government, and the subsequent mass exodus from the port of Mariel of some 125,000 Cubans to Miami.)

The Special Period was another turning point. (the extended economic crisis from 1989, through the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union). Progress in the independent civil society was still going slowly, although more visibly. Its protagonists contributed to the revealing of another Cuba, which did not exist in the Cuban official media. Radio Martí, broadcast from the United States, made an enormous contribution to that.

Fidel Castro’s posture, which was to refuse to admit the de facto failure of socialism, which he was faithfully copying, and which was going hand in hand with shortages, the exodus from the country of important cultural, sporting and political figures, the strengthening of the mass exodus of the Cuban people, the emergence of marked social differences and phenomena such as tourist apartheid, decriminalization of the dollar and prostitution, increased popular discontent.

From then on, the civil society began to grow rapidly. The ground they had gained was thanks to their courage and persistence. Repression increased, but because of that, the people know that the police beat up and lock up men and women whose sole offence is to peacefully demand the observance of the human rights, which the Castro regime repeatedly violates on a massive scale.

All of this occurs with the complicity of the State Prosecutor’s Office and the tribunals. The Cuban opposition lacks any rights. Along with the complicity of the state institutions, can be added the no less shameful connivance of numerous governments whose latest cynical act has been to approve Cuban membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Some ask, how much longer? Forgetting that to be a peaceful opposition requires a large dose of humility and courage. Anyone can shoot a policeman in the back, as did the members of Castro’s 26th of July movement, dedicated to overthrowing Batista, or place a bomb in a cinema or public place. If the peaceful opposition started to do that, if they took up arms – if they obtained them even though one of the first measures of the dictatorship was to eliminate arms factories – then Castro and his inevitable front men would go crying to their accomplices in the UN to denounce the “terrorists” and put an end to them with the consent of the governments who praise democracy while they support Castroism.

But it’s just one day at a time. In spite of the defamatory campaigns, the discrimination and abuse, the people are watching. It’s a long-term struggle, but at least the opponents don’t have the death of any other Cuban on their consciences. Their achievement is that they are fighting peacefully, even for the cowards who hit them, discriminate against them, and penalize them.

Translated by GH

Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García

In Santa Clara, as in the other cities and villages in the interior of the island, the horse and cart has become one of the main means of transport. Taken from Carol Kieker's blog.
In Santa Clara, as in the other cities and villages in the interior of the island, the horse and cart has become one of the main means of transport. Taken from Carol Kieker’s blog.

Iván García , 3 November 2016 — Situated between sugar cane fields and with the Escambray mountain chain visible in the distance, at the side of the old Central Highway is the village of La Esperanza, part of Ranchuelo, one of the 13 towns of Villa Clara province, some 290 km east of Havana.

It’s an unpretentious village, similar to thousands of hamlets and little groups of outbuildings deep in the heart of Cuba. Smelling of molasses at sugar harvest time, a parish with commercial and neighbourhood life going on in the village park. A place where everybody knows everyone else. They know every family’s ins and outs, and outsiders live the life of Riley. Continue reading “Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García”

“The smaller the town, the worse the gossip. When my husband and I want to drink a few beers, we go to Santa Clara, the province capital, 16km from La Esperanza, because otherwise the comments start up right away: ’Look at that, those guys have money’. Here, people just have enough to get by, says Dianeye, 36-year-old mother of two children and wife of Servando, who has a 1936 Harley Davidson and is probably one of the most important guys in the village.

In La Esperanza, people count their centavos. In the El Colonial restaurant, at the side of the park, a lunch of white rice, pork chops, red beans, plantain chips and seasonal salad for 2 people costs 34 pesos, less than two dollars.

The currency exchange shop is empty. Two bored assistants chat about the current TV soap and one shows the other one how to connect to the internet via wifi on her cellphone, in order to sign up to Facebook.

“So that I can make friends”, says the girl. “She’s trying to get a boyfriend”, says her friend with a smile. And in these villages, getting married always affects the family’s future.

Dianeye knows it only too well. When she was fifteen, she married Servando, the father of her children. Often she rides pillion on the old Harley Davidson to get to out of the way places on the island. “Yes, once I wanted to move to Santa Clara or Havana, but I got over it. My husband built a good sheet metal house. After spending so much money we’re not going to leave the village, which isn’t very entertaining, but it is peaceful”, says Dianeye.

Peaceful and boring. In La Esperanza, minutes seem like hours. The clock stands still. You can chatter forever, and only four minutes will have passed. And the time also passes slowly if you decide to walk the two kilometers round the village.

The kids who have finished with high school, give each other moral support in the park. The pensioners read their single-focus national newspapers and talk about baseball, while they yawn. The drunks share a litre of Ron de Caña (Flor de Caña rum, made in Nicaragua) and when they are completely pissed they sleep it off on the red-painted iron and wood benches.

The bus that takes you here and there passes at certain times. If you want to go a short distance, you take a small horse and cart. A noisy out-of-date Girón bus (a type of bus introduced in the ’70’s to alleviate the transport problems of the time, also known as “aspirinas” — aspirins, because they helped a bit but didn’t cure the problem ), which has Cuban-made bodywork and a Soviet-era engine, and an exposed roof showing the metal structure, takes you the 16 km separating La Esperanza and Santa Clara.

Santa Clara, capital of Villa Clara province, is something else. Although still nothing to write home about. But it’s Cuba’s third or fourth town. In the avenues, there are more than enough slogans commemorating Che Guevara, a cantankerous Argentinian who occupied the town on New Year’s Eve 1958, during Fidel Castro’s guerrilla war.

Santa Clara has impersonal architecture. Self-built houses, groups of Socialist Realism buildings, same and ugly and planned without parks or leisure facilities. Some were built with ancient Yugoslavian technology, which town planners should not hesitate to knock down some time in the future.

Just as in La Esperanza, but  occupying a larger space, you will find Leoncio Vidal Park, surrounded by baroque or classical-style buildings and a modernist-looking hotel, the Santa Clara Libre.

There are several excellent privately-owned restaurants. You can have a generous portion of prawns for 4 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, about 4 dollars) and a medium size red snapper for 3 CUC. La Terraza is one of these eating places, located in a narrow alley close to Vidal Park. It’s always full of foreigners passing through Santa Clara.

There’s a wifi point in the park, where youngsters chat to their friends, suitors or family members, on their cellphones, using the IMO app. The older folk, with their portable radios, discuss the Villa Clara baseball team’s performance, play by play, in the National Series. The fans get their hopes up over their national team.

“It’s two years since Villa Clara qualified for the second round.  Now we have a chance to put up a good show. I’m sure Alexander Malleta, reinforcement for the Industriales (a successful Cuban baseball team) will perform well”, says Mario, a total baseball fanatic.

The young people in Santa Clara, just like in the rest of the country, prefer football. And in the afternoons they get together in a cafe on the ground floor of the Santa Clara Libre Hotel to watch the Real Madrid or Barcelona Champions League games.

You need to be comfortably-off to go to this cafe. A beer costs 25% more than in other bars and it has a satellite tv channel. Around 11 at night, a dirty and half-naked crazy man begs for money from the regulars.

A security guard throws him out into the street. The number of beggars in Santa Clara is rocketing, just like in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.  They are referred to as ’itinerants’ in government-speak.

There seem to be three things which can’t be dealt with in Cuba. The future, the invasive marabú weed, and poverty. Santa Clara is not exempt from any of these.

Translated by GH

Cuba: Journalists, That’s All / Iván García

Cuba Internet Freedom Panelists
Cuba Internet Freedom Panelists

Iván García, 25 October 2016 — Erasmo Calzadilla, a columnist for the Havana Times digital newspaper, is a controversial chap who listens to opposing arguments but but hangs on doggedly to his own opinions.

In a forum on Cuban journalism, organised by the IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) in Miami, Calzadilla ran into Luis Cino, an openly anti-Castro reporter, who lives very near to his house, in the the Eléctrico neighbourhood in south Havana.

In the panel discussion groups they came together with different political opinions,  but united by the same aim — to improve journalism in a country where the government tries to transform it into an exercise in loyalty and bending the knee. Continue reading “Cuba: Journalists, That’s All / Iván García”

The IWPR forum was a complete success, as much as the Cuba Internet Freedom conference was, which took place the week before, also in Miami, and which was attended by reporters, bloggers and communicators from the island.

Nothing new was said they nobody knew before at the two events. But it is always good to point to the closed and locked doors which exist in Cuba in order to exercise free expression and write away from state controls.

Elaine Díaz is a journalist of the people and former professor of the Communication Faculty of the University of Havana, and now Director of Periodismo de Barrio (Neighbourhood Journalism), a freelance project which tries to publicise the thousand and one environmental problems suffered by Cubans living in remote communities. In the IWPR forum she summed up the discussion about independent and alternative journalism in one phrase, coined by ex-official journalists: “Journalism is journalism, and that’s all.”

Elaine, along with Carla Gloria Colomé, reporter for El Estornudo (the Sneeze), a nearly-new digital medium on the internet with an entertaining and relaxed angle on the national reality, and Marita Pérez Díaz, the editor of the digital On Cuba Magazine, goes for refined reporting, with light literary touches, when she comes to describing the daily life of ordinary Cubans.

There is also talent on the other side of the street. Men and women born in different provinces, seasoned reporters from the barricades, with experience of reporting from the streets and writing op-eds. There were Ernesto Pérez Chang, Regina Coyula and Augusto César San Martín, politely greeting each other.

Standing on the periphery of the media they were representing,  the participants passionately defended their points of view and journalistic priorities. At the end of the debates, they chatted, took photos and talked about their future projects.

A newspaper column pointing out the repressive nature of the Castro brothers’ regime, can be as effective as an article or report written in the east of the island, particularly following the passage of Hurricane Matthew through Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, among other towns in Guantánamo.

Taking their different routes, each one transmits a message there and back. Cuba needs to change, depoliticising differences of judgement, accepting the rules of democracy, and respecting freedom of expression.

Of course, it isn’t a perfect objective, particularly when we look at the Latin American panorama with its dysfunctional “democracies”, galloping corruption, and governments coming and going, plundering public funds, and where democracy is sometimes a dirty word. It seems to me that one way or another the reporters present at the IWPR forum and at the Cuba Internet Freedom conference, were agreed about respect for differences.

Apart from the participation of prestigious journalists such as Verónica Calderón, who writes in Spanish in The New York Times, and the editor of Political Animal, who always provide interesting material for Cuban reporters, the most important thing, in terms of the meeting supported by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was different writers getting together under the same roof, without any hysterics, or anyone being verbally attacked or being kicked out.

Nothing like the government’s stance of physical attacks or intolerant comments to those in opposition or reporters who speak out. Right now, there are bad times ahead for the profession in Cuba.

Opinion pieces from reporters writing under orders, and official ventriloquists, paint a dismal picture. They have gone back to frenzied attacks, some of them directed at colleagues from the state press, just because of a wish to depict Cuba in flesh and blood.

There are even reporters who have preferred to abandon their calling, before they become conspirators in carrying out their work in a way which they would find uncomfortable. That is what Yarislay García Montero did, who is now selling coffee and croquettes in Matanzas, where he was born. “Media analysis was going off in one direction while real life was going off in another. I think our journalism is merely partisan, working in an infantile manner, avoiding any conflict, in spite of the quantity of it which occurs on the street”, he says on the El Toque website.

The spiral of threats, malicious lies and repressive methods can put off many journalists from reporting the national reality with all its nuances. In a system like the Cuban one, the word is mightier than the bullet. That is why the regime is trying to silence them.

Photo:  Panel working on independent Cuban journalism, at the Cuba INternet Freedom conference on September 12th and 13th in Wynwood, Miami. Right to left: Miram Celaya, Ignacio González, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Rachel Vázquez, Iván García and Luis Felipe Rojas. Taken from Babalú Blog.

Translated by GH

Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García

Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.
Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.

Iván García, 6 October 2016 — One week. Perhaps two. That’s the shelf-life of news in Cuba about the recovery process after a hurricane has passed through. You can read information, which has a slight smell of triumphalism, about  the various teams of linesmen who re-establish communications and power.

A gallery of moving photos of the disaster provoked by the hurricane in Baracoa. The account is always related in military terms. As if it were an epic battle. If you can believe the newspaper headlines, the olive green big cheeses and first secretaries of the Communist party in the eastern regions really got down and touched base with the people.

While they are inspecting the devastation, they promise to build strong new houses, and they ask the people in neighbouring areas for more work and sacrifice, and tell them they can be absolutely sure that “the revolution will never abandon them”. After that, the news focus fades. Continue reading “Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García”

Then the state scribblers turn to concentrate on the starting of the new sugar harvest or in the “innumerable production successes”, which can only be effectively conveyed in the black ink of the national and provincial press.

The human drama starts up precisely on the day after a natural catastrophe terminates. Ask any of the 35 families who are surviving in precarious conditions in a big old dump of a place in the town of Cerro. The run-down development, number 208, is located way down in Domínguez Street.

The authorities declared the building uninhabitable in 1969. Its occupants have seen a dozen hurricanes pass through. As a result of the floods of April 29, 2015, caused by torrential downpours, Raúl Fernández lost all the electrical appliances his wife brought from Venezuela. “I am 46 and I was born in this place. I have spent years asking for an apartment so I can leave here and, up to now, my requests have been in vain. The town council is well aware of the situation of the families here and they do nothing”.

Some tenants say that the only things they have received have been foam mattresses. “But, if we wanted them, we would have to pay, in cash or installments. It is 900 pesos for singles and 1,400 for the bigger ones. Government corruption. Because insurance doesn’t work, or works badly in Cuba, people have to pay for the fuck-all that they give you — a mattress, a rice cooker and a packet of spoons and cups, says Magaly, who has lived in Domínguez for 20 years.

In 2015, by way of Resolution no, 143, The Ministry of Finance and Prices put out a regulation containing the procedure for valuing, certifying, setting prices, accounts, finance, fees, and risk and damage management in cases of natural, health and technological disasters.

That’s to say a family which loses its possessions needs to pay for what the state can give it at the commercial retail price level. If it can’t, they authorise a credit which has to be repaid in accordance with the terms set out by the bank.

Also, based on analysis of the economic situation of the victim’s family, the Peoples’ Council, or Defence Zone, can propose to the Municipal Council or the Municipal Defence Council, if it considers appropriate, that the bank loan interest be partially or wholly assumed by the public purse.

Olga, aged 71, retired, and resident in a poor area of Havana, lost an ancient cathode ray tube television, refrigerator, saucepans, rice boiler and all her clothing.

“After an interminable paper-chase and standing in queues for hours, where I had to demonstrate that I only have my pension to live on, they gave me an airbed, some extra-large size used clothes, a half-broken rice boiler, a refrigerator motor, for which I had to pay a mechanic 500 pesos to install. For a year I have had to listen to TV soaps on the radio. And the number one item in the political propaganda is about Civil Defence performance, which is good for saving lives, but as for repairing the damage suffered by the victims, the government does nothing”, says Olga.

There are families like Jorge Castillo’s, who live in a shabby room in an old lodging house in the south of Havana, turned into a hostel for victims, who have put up there for fourteen years waiting for a home.

“That was the time of the tropical storm Edward in 2002. Imagine waiting until the people came from Santiago, having lost their homes in Cyclone Sandy in 2012 and now the people from Baracoa after Matthew passed”, says Jorge.

On 25 October, 2012, Barrio Rojo, in Mar Verde, Santiago de Cuba, nearly 1000 km east of Havana, was wiped off the map by the destructive 175 kph gusts of wind of Hurricane Sandy.

“Mar Verde is a community which has been officially recognised since 1981. It is located on the beach of the same name, forms part of the Agüero-Mar Verde Peoples’ Council, which covers 62.5 square kms and is District 47 out of the 277 which constitute the town of Santiago de Cuba. There is no postal service there, shops, farmers’ markets, pharmacies, schools or grocery stores. Only a family medical consultancy offering a basic service, reports the journalist Julio Batista in a shocking article published in Periodismo de Barrio last February.

Thirty one families, 85 persons in total, who lost their homes during Hurricane Sandy, live in little shacks in a poor old campsite where the water comes through the pipes only every 10 or 11 days.

The authorities have promised to let them have a group of new houses. But it’s a never-ending tale. First they said in December 2014 they would hand over the keys to 56 of the 250 homes. Then, in December 2015. Now, according to Julio Batista’s report, they are talking about finishing the works in December 2016.

But the people living in the Mar Verde campsite are sceptical. The people who lost their properties through natural disasters, whether in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo or Baracoa, feel they have been misled by the government. Or that it has not been frank with them. As if the tragedy they are living through is nothing much.

Diario Las Américas, 7 October 2016.

Translated by GH

"Work is rewarded according to its quality and quantity" / Cuban Law Association

Cuban Law Association, Egar Luis Arozarena Gómez, 10 October 2016 — This article’s title is taken from Art. 45 of our Constitution, which is a clear reflection of the socialist principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

For work reasons I visited a production centre, concerned with exporting Cuban products, and I couldn’t help noting that in just one month more than 70 workers went off sick. Why? Low salaries, and union discontent with the payment system introduced by the company management.

How is it possible that there are such problems in a sector like this, which is so important to the economy? Men and women working 12 hour shifts, covered in grease, dust, working outside in sun, rain, heat and cold, not being paid a reasonable salary for what they are doing?

In different speeches and out of the mouth of one of our leaders I have heard the call to the workers to produce more. We have to produce more, because it is the only way to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban society, but I don’t agree with the working class being urged to produce more, without motivating them. I am not talking about paying people who are not producing, but paying people in accordance with the work they are doing, because it is painful to see the conditions in which most of our workers have to work, and the quality of the snacks and lunches they receive.

People like me, who were born and brought up in the countryside and have a family member or friend who cuts cane, operates farm machinery, or who works in the sugar industry, live with these conditions every day and it affects us closely.

It is time to put in place the well-known “inverted pyramid” and pay attention to our “Supreme Law,” as José Martí always wanted,  in the interests of an ever more just Cuban society

Translated by GH

Two Aspects of the Reintroduction of Flights to Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 5 October 2016 — With the landing in Santa Clara of an Airbus A-320 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood on August 31st, Jet Blue restarted commercial flights between Cuba and the United States, which were suspended in 1962.

To accompany the general travel permissions, the increase in the level of remittances, better access to communications, the arrival of cruise ships, and North American hotels, the US Department of Transport, approved the launch of 110 flights to Cuba. Of those, apart from Jet Blue, American Airlines will fly 56 times a week to Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero. And at the end of the year, other companies, such as Frontier, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines will start up. Continue reading “Two Aspects of the Reintroduction of Flights to Cuba / Dimas Castellano”

Nevertheless, not everything is positive. The reintroduction of flights has twin aspects, both good and bad.

The good bits are that they are the result of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries — the most important political event in Cuba since 1959 — the evidence of the failure of the Castro regime and the embargo, and the continuing arrival of North American cruise ships and hotels. An opening which will keep widening out. We can also add that the price of one-way tickets with medical insurance* included will not exceed $100.

In the face of the chronic inefficiency of the Cuban economy, clearly shown in the disaster of the reforms, the decline in GDP, and massive emigration, doing tourism business deals with with the greatest economic power in the world, located just a few miles away from our coast, looks to be an essential component in Cuban development.

The bad part is that, after a lost half a century, we are going back to our starting point, in the worst conditions, for two reasons.

The first one is that the Cuba of the 1950’s was tied up in the development of the hotel industry, international flights, and the arrival of tourist car ferries. Havana had become an obligatory destination for foreign tourists. The clearest evidence was the opening of the Capri, Deauville, Riviera and  Havana Hilton hotels between the spring of 1957 and May 1958, with more than 1300 rooms. That plan, interrupted by the 1959 revolution, is starting up again now after about seven decades’ delay.

The second one is that Cuba is the only country in the region  where its people don’t enjoy the elementary right to participate as entrepreneurs in their country’s economy and to contract directly with foreign companies, in spite of having more than adequate professional training.

Because of those reasons, among others, getting out of the profound crisis in which the country is immersed will be impossible without removing the obstacles preventing Cubans from exercising their right to participate  in the opportunities now opening up.

The ball is in Cuba’s court. Flights starting up again should not only serve to consolidate the normalisation of relations, but also to give Cubans back their rights seized from them over fifty years ago. Without that happening on the Cuban side, the moves taken by the White House and the reintroduction of flights will not have a positive effect on Cuban society.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government has made medical insurance is mandatory for visitors to Cuba

Translated by GH

Source

Zika Reveals the True Character of the Cuban Health Service / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 August 2016 — While wards 3-A (they have also prepared 3-B) and 4-A, on the third and fourth floors of the  “Lucía Iñiguez Landín” Clinical Surgery Hospital in Holguín, notable for their absence of basic health care requisites, welcome Cuban patients with confirmed and suspected cases of Zika, Dengue Fever and Chunkunguya, ward 5F of the same hospital accommodates foreigners with similar symptoms, in very different conditions.

“The photos I sent you reveal that this is a health service focussed on showing a face which is acceptable to international opinion, and that the enormous difference between the service received by sick foreigners and Cubans has nothing to do with the everlasting claims of lack of resources due to the blockade, but rather the indifference of the government, the state, and MINSAP (Public Health Ministry) toward the health of Cubans.” I have copied the exact words written to me by of one of the doctors working in that hospital.

“The laboratory tests, which are carried out on each patient who is admitted with suspected Zika, Dengue Fever or Chikunguya, are sent to the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) in Havana, because,” he added, “it is the only place where there is the technology to confirm, or not, the existence of Zika. And this, along with the constant holdups in transport and institutional bureaucracy, means patients have to stay too long in hospital waiting for the results.”

“But the most bizarre part,” adds the doctor indignantly, “is that the unexpected increase in patient admissions, and the time they are there waiting for results, have generated a lot of extra work at Lucía Iñiguez in Holguín, especially cleaning, which is, inexplicably, being covered by female prisoners, who have, basically, been tried for prostitution, with the service contracted to the provincial office of the Ministry of the Interior Prison Directorate.”

Translated by GH

The Country of Mari­a la O / Rebeca Monzo

The country of María la O (Spanish musical comedy dating back to 1930)

Rebeca Monzo, 29 August 2016 — In this city, incorrectly named Maravilla (Wonder), because in reality it is a nightmare, any ordinary person’s life is like that of María la O. You get dressed, eat, sell your car, tidy the house, wait an hour for a bus, or walk … and so on and so on.

I have some friends who, having got to a certain age, and having realised they don’t have enough money to improve their quality of life, have found themselves obliged to sell the family car, which they could hardly afford to run and used only for urgent trips, due to the high cost of gas in convertible currency (CUC), and the cost of parts and tyres.

Many retired professionals who were in senior positions in companies and organisations, and who sacrificed a lot to buy a Russian-made Lada car, have also found it necessary to sell it in order to be able to afford to do up a room in their house, rent it out to strangers, and so be able to live on this modest income, because their miserable pensions in Cuban pesos (CUP) hardly allow them to buy food. Now they worship María la O — you either walk, or you don’t go anywhere.

Translated by GH

40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas

José Lezama Lima, Cuban author. (Image from YouTube)

Luis Felipe Rojas, 9 August 2016 — He was the son of a colonel in the army, but was born to be the literary father to several generations. José Lezama Lima departed this life on 9 August 1976, and left a vast canon of work in which he wanted to embrace literary criticism, poetry, and narrative (stories and novels). The fat Lezama Lima continues to spell trouble for the Cuban government, because the much-vaunted post mortem promotion does not fit  with the ostracism in which he was obliged to live the last ten years of his life.

With his novel Paradise and his posthumous book of poems Fragments to his Idol, he left tracks in both genres. The giants Julio Cortázar and Octavio Paz prologued (and possibly prolonged) both works and in each explanatory text they set out their admiration for the writer who had created a different subsoil. Continue reading “40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Every type of literature has to be started by someone, a bricklayer who contributes to building the wall of the “great literary house.” Cuba had them in Villaverde and Martí, in Casal and La Avellaneda (Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, 19th century Cuban-born writer). Lezama was a kind of restorer of that wall, on which we recline today to read a country. The Cuban narrative canon is made up of three fundamental novels: Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World, Cabrera Infante Three Trapped Tigers, and Lezama, with Paradise.

His poetic work is jumbled and inscrutable, based on insinuations and taking obscure liberties with good sense. Nevertheless it is in Fragmentos a su imán where Lezama seems to have taken a break from all his running about, and pushing to unsuspected limits the force of his literary searching.

The secrecy which he boasted of, including the evil they accused him of on many occasions, was left behind in Fragmentos …: “I am reducing, / I am a point which disappears and returns / I remain whole in the alcove. / / I make myself invisible / and on the other side I get back my body / swimming on a beach, / surrounded by graduates with snowy banners, /by mathematicians and ball players / describing a mamey ice cream.” (El Pabellón del Vacío).

He died alone, behind the backs of groups of intellectuals who attacked him when the Castro epic was started up as a new and highly polished epoch of an ancien regime, and decided to eliminate the bourgeois vestiges of the Republic. 1959 was the funeral of Lezema and of a literate republic. What came in the ’70’s was the opening and closing of the grave into which had fallen the intellectuals who had gone into obligatory exile or had stuck themselves in Cuba, never again to leave, as happened to Lezama; although the false recognition of the ’80’s had dazzled some and served for others to wash the vile hands of the censor.

Lezama raised himself with his own work, evaporated in the gossip of the island, which at that time was acclaimed as socialist and just, in order to make itself important and internationally recognised. His absence for years from national bookshops and the stupid limited space that Cuban universities now dedicate to him is an example of an official stoning.

To silence him is unforgivable. To lift him up as a false cultural policy is no more than throwing mud at his gravediggers.  Long life, maestro.

Translated by GH

The Peace the Castros are Looking For / Luis Felipe Rojas

Patrols keeping the Ladies in White headquarters in Havana under observation. Photo: A. Moya

Luis Felipe Rojas, 13 August 2016 — Now, in the second week of August, dozens of members of the Cuban opposition have been trapped in their houses. The Cuban political police have been instructed to close off the streets and mount patrols to prevent dissidents from going out to protest.

The photos published by the ex-political prisoner Ángel Moya Acosta let us see the Lawton area in Havana, where police patrols, olive-green forces and members of the Rapid Response Brigade harass Cuban dissidents, especially the Ladies in White, to stop them going to Sunday mass or arranging the monthly Literary Tea (monthly meetings with discussions and speeches on current social/political situation in Cuba, attended by opposition group representatives).

A police patrol keeping watch over the Havana office of the Damas de Blanco. Photo: A. Moya

The peace that the Castros are looking for: with plastic handcuffs, rubber truncheons and fetid prison cells.

Translated by GH

Between Analogue and Ideologue. Internet Access in Cuba / Regina Coyula

Ideas shared at the Internet Governance Forum events of the Internet Society of Latin America and the Caribbean, which recently took place in Costa Rica.

Regina Coyula, 5 August 2016 — Now recognised as a human right by most people and most governments, internet access in Cuba has been a bumpy road. Cuba connected to the internet in September, 1996. The first dial-up internet access, by telephone, was via government information offices, although some users could access email .cu from their homes.The speed of the noisy connection through a modem some three or four years ago, hardly got to 50-56 kbps.

In 2010 news came out of the extension of a powerful underwater fibre optic cable, from Guaira, Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba. According to the report, this cable would be the solution for data transmission speed; we would no longer depend on satellite connections. When the cable reached Cuba, for nearly four years its use was a mystery – something was happening, therefore there must be something there. The last mile, most of us thought, was the expensive technological challenge which was delaying access for the public. But a solution was found in the form of wifi connections. Continue reading “Between Analogue and Ideologue. Internet Access in Cuba / Regina Coyula”

In a little under three years, they opened internet rooms in diifferent parts of the country, at a charge of 4.50 cuc an hour. That availability did not increase until 2015 with the provision of wifi points in principal town centre locations. ETECSA (Government-owned Cuban Telecoms Company) only offers services at home to foreign residents in Cuba, to officials and to certain personalities and journalists.

There are various information networks which make up the internet (Informed, Cubarte, Rimed, Upec, etc.). The great majority of their users don’t have internet access in their homes. Those who do, have an access packet of 25-100 hours a month.

Universities, and some colleges, offer access. Students have an increasing allocation (250 Mb a month in their last year of study).

When you hear talk in the press and in international forums about percentages of access to the internet, above all they are referring to the above-mentioned Internet which is generally limited to .cu sites, to an email provider and some news sites.

Cuba, with illiteracy erradicated, free education, and with a high percentage of university professionals, technicians and skilled workers, has the lowest level of internet penetration in the region.

One hour of connection now costs 2 cuc, and the average salary is about 20-25 cuc a month. People use their connection time mostly for communicating with family and friends. Use of mobile data in the CUBACEL network costs $1.00 CUC for every MB and is only available by going into the email service @nauta.cu.

In the broadcasting media you often come across references to negative aspects of the internet, such as child porn, racism, violence, loss of privacy, which influences people who only know the internet by hear-say. The government is the only IT service provider  and importing routers, hotspots and other digital tools for private use is prohibited by law.

People don’t know about the power of social networks to help them get organised and achieve consensus about things which matter, from local issues up to the desire to elect the President of the Republic. In fact, many people imagine that Facebook IS the internet.

The internet has not been free from profound ideologisation. If the terms of the embargo laws imposed by the US government have particularly impacted IT, it is our duty to insist on the importance of eliminating the internal blockade on information and vindicate the open and democratic character of the internet, wihout any censorship of the contents or personal opinions inside or outside of the web.

An additional factor in Cuba is that video gamers, prevented from gaining access to the real internet, have put together a cable connection which is free but contributory, which nowadays is not used just for games but also for online chat and the notorious Weekly Packet, which the authorities prohibit  but cannot sanction as it is not for profit.

Priorities

  • Lower access cost
  •  Improve the quantity and quality of connection locations
  •  Attack digital illiteracy

Objectives

  • Initial public discussion on the Media Law
  • Public education by way of courses on browsers, digital business, social networks, cyber security, ethics, etc. In Council computer clubs for kids.
  • National education channel
  • Open access internet
  • Transparency over payments for internet connections in order to improve public access
  • Permit private connections at market price with equal transparency and for the same reason as the above.

Make public internet connections, where you now have to pay, free.

Translated by GH

Traffic Accidents: The Fifth Highest Cause of Death in Cuba / Iván García

The state of a Transtur bus, carrying 30 European tourists, after a crash. The crash happened on April 2, 2016, at the Jatibonico exit going towards Ciego de Ávila, leaving 2 dead and 28 injured. The two who died were the driver, Alkier Barrera Medina, a 36-year-old Cuban national, and an Austrian tourist, Johnn Eberl, aged 63. Photo by Vicente Brito, Escambray newspaper from Sancti Spiritus.
The state of a Transtur bus, carrying 30 European tourists, after a crash. The crash happened on April 2, 2016, at the Jatibonico exit going towards Ciego de Ávila, leaving 2 dead and 28 injured. The two who died were the driver, Alkier Barrera Medina, a 36-year-old Cuban national, and an Austrian tourist, Johnn Eberl, aged 63. Photo by Vicente Brito, Escambray newspaper from Sancti Spiritus.

Iván García, 11 July 2016 — Fernando, owner of a private business to the east of Havana, bought his ancient black Moskvitch during the difficult years of the Special Period, when the proprietor, a national labour hero, found himself obliged to sell his cane cutting business to feed his family.

The Soviet era car should have gone to the scrapyard years ago. Moreover, the Russian factory which made the vehicle went bust in 2002. But in Cuba, the obsolete Moskvitch refuses to die. Continue reading “Traffic Accidents: The Fifth Highest Cause of Death in Cuba / Iván García”

“At that time, I was in charge of a store in a tourist centre and earned a lot of money with the ’contraption’. I bought it for $7,000”, says Fernando.

It was a miracle the car went anywhere. The handbrake didn’t work, the steering was faulty, and it didn’t have any windscreen wipers. But, the magic power of discreetly slipping a 50 cuc bill to a transport official, who had to inspect the vehicle, saw to it that the clapped-out Mokvitch passed its technical inspection.

Fernando used the car to purchase food and raw materials for his business, after driving through different parts of the capital. Its disastrous condition was an accident waiting to happen.

“Sometimes I took my family in it, and occasionally I drove it when I was drunk, but only short distances, along back streets”, Fernando added, justifying himself.

In spite of the fact that the island declares a low rate of traffic fatalities (7.8 per thousand inhabitants*), half the world average (17.4), and also lower than in Europe (9.3), according to the 2013 data of the World Health Organisation, few countries like Cuba include lack of maintenance as one of the principal vehicle risk factors.

In 2015, on average, there was a pedestrian-related accident every 47 minutes, and a death every 11 hours, according to a meeting of the National Road Safety Commission. Fatal traffic accidents are the fifth highest cause of death in Cuba.

Ricardo Alonso, Director of Automobile Security and Inspection at the Transport Ministry, announced that, according to the last year’s accident statistics, an adult over 70 years old was killed every three days, and an injury was reported every hour, most of all in the provincies of Havana (152), Camagüey (83), and Santiago de Cuba (80).

Havana, a city of more than two and a half million inhabitants, presents a highway picture ranging from fair to disastrous. Although the main arteries are tarmacked, the poor way this is done produces potholes and unevenness in the streets.

“There are no streets in the city which don’t have lumps and bumps. With the exception of Fifth Avenue and 23rd, the rest are land mines. We are not talking about back streets. In some areas the streets have lost their asphalt surface. Driving in such conditions damages your car. Every two months I have to take it to the garage because of problems caused by the poor state of the streets,” says Saúl,  who spends 12 hours a day driving a shared taxi between El Cotorro and Parque de la Fraternidad.

When you ask private drivers what are the principal causes of accidents in Cuba, most of them point to the bad state of the roads, animals wandering in the streets, poor road signs and little or no lighting on the highways.

“Driving at night along Ocho Vias or the Central Highway is pretty well suicidal. When you least expect it, you come across cattle crossing the road, or a pothole as deep as a swimming pool wrecks your car”, according to Reinaldo, who drives a “semi-bus” (a truck converted to carry passengers) from Havana to Santa Clara.

Many drivers ask what is the government doing with the money it collects from taxes applied to small private businesses. “The government rakes in thousands of millions of pesos from taxes. Why don’t they repair the streets and highways and put in street lighting?” asks Norberto, a private taxi driver.

According to the official press, 76% of the roads in Cuba are in fair or poor condition. Most drivers interviewed blame the government for the high prices of auto spare parts.

Ninety percent of the ancient American cars running around the country conceal powerful Hyundai or Mercedes motors underneath the hood.

Modernising them, only in terms of the labour, can cost up to $1,000, a luxury few can afford in country where people live on an average salary of $25 a month.

In a state-owned chain of shops, which are generally out of whatever you want, private drivers have to pay a fortune for parts. In the Fiat dealer, a stone’s throw from the Malecon, an engine costs between $4,000 and $8,000, three times the average cost in any other Latin American country.

People who have the money and patience to get through the slow processes involved, import spares from Panama or Miami, but the black market continues to be the main supplier.

But other causes of hundreds of fatal accidents are down to the drivers. Driving while drunk, talking on their mobiles while they are driving, speeding, and using vehicles unsuited to carrying passengers, are some of the factors leading to traffic accidents.

Eighty percent of Cuban vehicles have been in use for 30 years, or more. Ancient Soviet era cars, and Frankenstein American models built six or seven decades ago, run on the imagination of their mechanics, and also bribes to corrupt Ministry of Transport officials to get their operating licences.

“There have been examples of cars running on cooking gas and even kerosene. More than a few are rolling bombs. If the government sold cars at affordable prices, the problem would not be so serious”, says Carlos, a bus driver.

In Cuba, the price of a used car varies between $14,000 and $30,000 in government dealerships. And a new Peugeot 508 is approaching $300,000. Nearly as much as a Ferrari.

According to Fernando, talking about his beat-up old Moskvitch, “a little while ago, I was offered 9,000 convertible pesos [roughly the same in US dollars] and I thought of selling it.” It would be a circular business. Only in a country like Cuba would a Soviet era piece of rubbish still have a market value.

From Hispanost, June 27,  2016.

*Translator’s note: Vehicle crash rates on a per capita basis are meaningless because they do not take into account different rates of vehicle travel. The commonly accepted measure in the industry is “per capita vehicle kilometers/miles traveled.” For obvious reasons, including exceedingly low vehicle ownership rates, Cubans presumably log much fewer kilometers/miles in vehicles than do people in other Western Hemisphere countries. While the Cuban government cannot be relied on to provide accurate data, world comparisons of death rates per number of vehicles owned place Cuba (133.7) well above the United States (12.9), Europe (19.0) and the Americas as a whole (33).

Translated by GH 

Poor Quality Teaching in Cuba Leads to Expenses and Bribes / Iván García

Photo by Calixto N. Llanes, taken from the blog Siluetas de Cuba. Primary school pupils with their satchels and lunch bags on the first day of classes of the academic year 2015-2016.
Photo by Calixto N. Llanes, taken from the blog Siluetas de Cuba. Primary school pupils with their satchels and lunch bags on the first day of classes of the academic year 2015-2016.

Ivan Garcia, 20 June 2016 — The choice facing Yolexis was simple. Either he studied teaching, or he would have to do two years in the armed forces. At the age of 18, he couldn’t think of anything worse than putting on an olive-green uniform and marching around for hours in the hot sun.

So, he decided to study to become a teacher in the  east of Havana. “To be a teacher in Cuba is the last card in the deck. My parents told me that, before the triumph of the Revolution, to be a teacher was a source of pride in society. Now, to be a teacher is just shitty”, says Yolexis, who, because of the shortage of primary teachers in the capital, gives classes without proper academic training. Continue reading “Poor Quality Teaching in Cuba Leads to Expenses and Bribes / Iván García”

In order to add to his meagre 425 pesos a month salary (about $19), Yolexis offers tutoring lessons in the living room of his house. “I charge 20 pesos a lesson. Doing that I get over a thousand pesos extra, double my teacher’s salary.

If there once existed an ethical limit which ensured a teacher’s observation of certain rules and commitments, for quite a while now many Cuban teachers have been just jumping right over those precepts.

It is normal now to see directors of primary, junior high and high schools, giving private classes or tutoring for topics which then appear in the exams.

Let’s call her Olga. She is an assistant director of a Havana primary school. After 6 in the afternoon, she is providing tutoring classes to half a dozen pupils from her own school.

She charges 6 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) a month for each child, and in the neighbourhood she is well-known for covering the material which is almost exactly what then comes up in the final exams. “It’s a kind of hidden fraud. But what can we do? With such poor education, what every parent wants is that their kids get good grades” is what I am told with an air of resignation by Oscar, a father whose son is in the sixth grade.

Academic fraud on the island is old news. You could analyse different reasons for that detrimental behaviour. But let’s be blunt. It is Fidel Castro who is to blame for the fraud in Cuba, in whichever form it takes.

In his eagerness to set up a model system of public education, he established weird standards which encouraged academic fraud as a tool to promote the highest possible grades for students.

Let’s leave to one side the highly doctrinaire education, subsidised by a silent tax on incomes. The structural distortion of Cuban education started at the same time as Castro designed the system as a display cabinet to highlight his work.

Elsa, a retired teacher, remembers that time of schools in the countryside, in which “if a teacher did not pass more than 95% of his pupils, he was being troublesome, and even counter-revolutionary. On the day of the exam, I shamelessly whispered the exam answers to my pupils. That was when the fall in the quality of education started.”

Although there are more than a million university graduates in Cuba, Eugenio, professor of higher education, considers that quality standards leave much to be desired.

“There have been cases of fraud in the University, but not as serious as in primary, junior high, or high schools. The problem with university education is quality. More and more well-trained teachers are leaving the country. Our universities are not listed in the 300 best in Latin America. The recruits we are getting now have clear gaps in their knowledge of maths and grammar”.

In an article published June 3rd in the Vanguardia de Villa Clara newspaper, it was revealed that, out of the 3,300 applicants who sat the university entrance exam in that province, 1,200 failed in mathematics.

Eugenio repeated that, “There is a lot of talk about the poor standard of primary and secondary teaching, but there has also been a big drop in the quality of higher education”.

According to pupils studying for their degrees, some teachers sell exam papers for 20 CUC. “The final exams cost up to 40 CUC. On exam day, the teachers tells you the answers and then charge you outside the school. Those who are screwed are the pupils whose parents don’t have the money to pay for tutoring or the exams,” says a female student in the third year of High School.

Caridad pays between 25 and 30 CUC a month to a retired teacher who helps her two children do their homework. “It isn’t easy. After they have spent 8 hours in secondary school, many adolescents pass another hour and a half studying, because in school, with the teachers’ deficiencies, they find it difficult to take in their lessons. On top of that there is the money for a snack and lunch, which in my case is 50 CUC a month, quite apart from ’presents’ for the teachers and directors to get them to look after my kids”.

Maria Elena has lost count of the money she has spent on gifts and favours for her daughter’s teacher. “Those extra expenses started in the first grade. I usually bring her lunch, buy her clothes and cellphone cards. The more parents do for their childrens’ teacher, the better the grades that they get”.

René, father of an eighth grade student, complains about the number of requests made by the school. “They’ve got a cheek. They ask you for fans so that the students are not too hot in the classrooms. In my son’s secondary school, the parents have provided detergent, paper, curtains, electric sockets … and then the government says the education is free”.

The final exams are coming up, and more than a few few families open their wallets to pay for extra tutoring, or give subtle bribes to certain teachers. Juan Carlos recognises that perhaps it isn’t the best way to motivate his kids to be interested in their studies, “but what we are talking about is them getting good grades so they can get into a good university course. If I have to pay, I pay”.

What with gifts for teachers, English classes and tutoring, Yolanda spends a hundred of the two hundred dollars sent to her every month by family members living in Miami. “What is important is that my daughter learns and studies English in a private school. If she works hard she could get a scholarship to a university in the United States.”

After the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, many families have started to value the teaching in Cuban schools as a first stepping stone.

They see their kids’s professional future outside the island. And they are thinking big. University of Florida, Harvard, or perhaps the Massachusetts Intitute of Technology. It doesn’t cost anything to dream.

Photo by Calixto N. Llanes, taken from the blog Siluetas de Cuba. Primary school pupils with their satchels and lunch bags on the first day of classes of the academic year 2015-2016.

Translated by GH 

Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Panama Papers confirmed that Cuba controls the Venezuelan passport system (courtesy)
The Panama Papers confirmed that Cuba controls the Venezuelan passport system (courtesy)

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 6 June 2016 — In recent weeks, the world has taken a great interest in the scandalous revelations of the Panama Papers. Millions of documents have revealed the  shady side of celebrities, politicians and leaders in every region and of all political colours.  And, of course, a government as chameleon-like as Cuba’s was not going to be an amazing exception, the missing condiment in this soup.

The very serious revelation that the Castros’ government and its Venezuelan counterpart contracted the services of a German business, by way of the Mossack Fonseca law firm — trying in that way to not appear tied in with such unsavoury accomplices — to arrange the production of the current version of the Venezuelan passport, and the subsequent control over the distribution of this document since then by Havana, has been the most embarrassing thing that has been revealed by these documents about the island’s government. Continue reading “Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Although many people are waiting avidly for new revelations which incriminate high Cuban officials, this writer would not be surprised, nevertheless, if absolutely nothing of the sort happens. This certainty derives from a total conviction in a long-established truth, which is the most obvious and elemental of all: none of the Castros has ever needed to deposit his fortune or cover up his activities in tax havens, simply because they have never needed to avoid any kind of audit. They alone are their only auditors, judges and participants in their shady activities, in which nobody else can stick their fingers in — period. Or, in fewer words, both dictators have always considered Cuba to be their exclusive private tax haven.

In order to back up this accusation, let’s look at the most widely-held definition of what is a tax haven. Normally it is considered to be any territory or country which complies basically with the following conditions:

If the jurisdiction levies no taxes, if it permits non-residents to benefit from tax breaks, even when they in fact carry out no activities in the country.

If there is no transparency, if there are strictly private bank accounts, and the personal details of owners and company shareholders do not appear in public records, or indeed they permit formal representatives, called nominees, to be employed.

If the laws or administrative practices do not permit interchange of information with other countries or international organisations for fiscal purposes in relation to taxpayers benefitting from exceptionally low tax rates.

In order to understand the present analysis, we have to start off from the incontrovertible premise that the same geographical space is cohabited by two antagonistic Cubas. One of them is the Cuba of the dictators and the regime’s historic “sacred cows,” and a whole entourage of opportunists, high level executives, managers of important companies, all of whom are absolutely tied in with the government, and the highest level officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the armed forces, as well as Cuban ambassadors overseas. Their respective families and lovers also belong to this elite, along with good friends, and the cream of this Cuban neo-bourgeoisie, the emerging upper middle class, and also — and why not? — all those businessmen and foreign diplomats resident in the island.

A completely different totally opposed reality, is the life lived by the ordinary Cuban. 90% of us Cubans live in this lower class Cuba, and this is where I live, with my family and all my friends, just like the overwhelming majority of Cuban professionals and everyone who works for the state. It is the Cuba of miserable salaries and the everyday pursuit of your daily bread. It is this Cuba, which is poor and hopeless, that wave after wave of Cuban young people are fleeing.

So we have the upper class Cuba convinced that it has no obligation to account for anything to lower class Cuba. If we consider these realities, only apparently overlapping, as two separate countries, which in practice is what they are, we are then able to understand why it is not hyperbole or gratuitous to say that the Castros have for more than 50 years enjoyed the advantages of having their own tax haven.

But, finally, why should we consider Cuba to be a tax haven? Very simply, we are talking about a country without the most basic legal or civic mechanisms to indict the most corrupt, because it is precisely those people who call the shots. It is a country without division of powers, which guarantees the total impunity of those people.

There has never existed in post-revolutionary Cuba either an official press which denounces anything, or a police authority which investigates anything, or a public prosecutor which accuses any one of the most corrupt people in the government, because — get this — you cannot take at face value the the periodic purges of disgraced officials, because in these cases the order always comes from the current dictator’s executive, and never from the judicial system which should naturally deal with it. There are far more than enough examples of investigations which have faded away into nothing when they have been countermanded from above, which no-one dares to question.

When you check it out, there are all the elements here of the above-mentioned definition. We have a caste which doesn’t pay any taxes on their informal or illegal businesses, or if they do pay them, they are just a token in relation to the real level of their income.

We have a government which has always practised the most absolute and systemic secrecy in relation to the private lives and real incomes of its most important chiefs, and also a rigid censorship over whatever may be produced to evidence their over-the-top schemes, managed by unscrupulous front men, referred to above as nominees. And finally we have a body of law, for the most part in violation of the most important human rights, but made to measure for the aspirations of the elite to maintain their power and influence.

Cuba is still today a tax haven for the untouchables, with all institutions in submission to this privileged class which lives like kings on the Olympic heights, disconnected from the reality of the people who live beneath them in poverty and want.

In fact, if you asked a thief or corporate tight-wad who want to fill their bank accounts on the margins of any tax responsibility, what would be the country of their dreams, they would definitely say that that country would have a government which didn’t waste its time on listening to useless pleas from its people, which was hard-line and keeping a grip on its power — it would be ideal if, by the way, it was the only one legally recognised in the constitution — and which would guarantee that it would leave me in peace to get on with my business dealings, sorting out unionists and trouble makers. That is to say, a government keen on the most profitable exploitation of whatever you can come up with.

Our hypothetical crook would say that in that fantasy world, I would have a monopoly of all markets, which would practically make me a God who could order, to my heart’s content, the fate of millions of consumers who would have no choice apart from what I offer, which would allow me to speculate by selling dear whatever cheapo thing I imported.

I would love to carry out my activities, our respondent would continue, among serious, upright people and businessmen who understand that the best business is the one which generates the most profit in the shortest time possible, no matter who may be hurt.

I would like a country to have no division of powers, in which every judge, right up to the Supreme Court, was subordinated to a powerful man, an arch-calculator, through whom everything flows, as smooth as silk, and protected from indiscreet gazes.

Just think, dear reader, whether that elite country, the above-mentioned Cuba, with its life-long privileged class, where greed and opportunism reigns, the Cuba of despotic generals and criminals who go unpunished, should not be considered to be a genuine and very exclusive tax haven. If such a country could not be classified as such, then a guanábana is not a spiky green fruit. Needless to say,  whatever similarity to real life here would not be a coincidence. Draw your own conclusions

Translated by GH