Meaningless Nonsense About the Flag / Fernando Dámaso

The flag, better “well adjusted” some think. (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 24 April 2017 — The “official experts” continue talking and writing about the “correct” use of the national flag. Some of the arguments they trot out are laughable. The problem is not so much the rejection of the use of the national flag on clothing, as criticising the use of the American flag by many, mostly young, Cubans. It is something ideologically unacceptable  for fossilised minds. Let´s take ít one bit at a time.

In the United States, from when it was born as a nation, the flag has had an important place in the life of its citizens. Honoured and respected, it can be seen in government institutions and in front of many houses, as well as on the facades of many buildings. It is also everywhere in sporting and leisure facilities, and framed ones adorn the rooms of young people and adults alike and even the walls of commercial organisations. As if that weren´t enough, it appears on clothing and different consumer goods, with original and bold designs. It has never been idolised, but forms part of the daily life of every American. Something similar, though to a lesser extent, happens with the British flag.

In Cuba, the flag accompanied the Mambisas (a mixture of Cuban, Dominican and Filipino fighters for independence) who fought for independence in the 19th century but, when the republic was established, it became an official symbol of state, on display only in state institutions from dawn to dusk. It never featured in peoples’ day-to-day lives, apart from certain patriotic dates, like 10th of October, 24th of February or the 20th May.  During the years of the Cuban republic it was an object of respect, and its use was well regulated.

After 1959, the flag began to be used in a thoughtless way by the authorities, often without worrying about the established norms for its use, for any kind of political event and, over time, for many people, losing its emotional impact. And more than that, they put other flags next to it which had nothing to do with it, and that compete with it for importance (which is what happened with the 26th of July flag).

This totally anomalous situation changed it, for many, into more of a symbol of a government which had appropriated it, rather than of the Cuban people. In other words, the flag had become “official”, like the guayabera (a kind of mens’ shirt similar to what barbers wear), “safaris” and checked shirts that government officials are in the habit of wearing.

Nowadays no Cubans wear such clothes, least of all young people. They appear to be repudiated. Also, very few Cubans are interested in putting up a flag in their home or displaying it as a part of their clothing. The problem does not have to do with regulating, or stimulating, its use, as some suggest, but in honestly pointing out why many young people, and some not so young, wear clothing with the American flag on it.

Listen, you brainy ideologues,  don’t you understand that it’s a subtle way of demonstrating a preferance for a different system to the one we have here?

It isn’t, as you think, a problem about “trashy merchandise”, nor about “imperialist aggression”. Test it out, design some clothing with the flag, or parts of it incorporated, and you will see how few people actually buy it.

Translated by GH

The Bolivian Circus / Fernando Dámaso

Map of Pacific War area. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Damaso, 31 March 2017 — Although hardly anyone is surprised at the clowning about by the person who calls himself ” the first indigenous president” (in fact, there was another one before him), now, with his going on about “a sea for Bolivia” he is becoming news again.

Bolivia lost Antofagasta, the Atacama desert and the sea coast in the Pacific War or the “Saltmine War”, [trans. note: The full alternative name was the Birdshit and Saltmine War] which went from 1879 to 1883. It was ended in 1883 with the signing of the Treaty of Ancón. In the Treaty, Bolivia lost land to Chile, and also Peru and Argentina. Peru, which annexed the Bolivian territory of Tacna and Arica, returned the saltmine provinces of Tarapacá and Arica to Chile. Argentina kept hold of the territories it had annexed.

To try to change present-day frontiers between countries, which have been settled by treaty and agreements favouring the winners, following wars and occupations, is not really doable. It would mean changes pretty much all over the world, which is absurd.

Also, Paraguay doesn’t have an ocean outlet either, just as, for example, countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which hasn’t held back their development.

The ambition of the “Bolivian indigenous man who became president”, rejected by Chile, seems to be more a response to his “indigenous jingoism” policy, intended to gain support for his intention of putting himself forward again as a presidential candidate, something which was turned down in a referendum. Everything seems to indicate that the “indigenous” has enjoyed power so much that he wants to perpetuate it, intending to arrange a new referendum on something which the Bolivians have already decided.

Translated by GH

Talking With The Enemy / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 29 May 2017 —  Yes, General, on this point I entirely agree with you: “The enemy uses ever more sophisticated information weapons”. He clearly is the enemy; the one who stubbornly opposes all my people’s progress; the one who brazenly deprives them of their rights; who obliges them to live in misery; who lies to them with empty slogans, and without any sign of embarrassment, who embezzles their resources and squanders them on sectarian whims; who forcefully suppresses dissident voices, and who stoops to the vileness of dragging and hitting defenceless women without even respecting his own laws.

Thanks to terror enforced by brutality, firing squad and prison, these accomplished villains managed to take all the levers of power from the beginning of the 60’s, ending up ruining a country intended by nature to be prosperous, and today we can see how these awful people are sharing out what they have looted from my country. continue reading

Those terrible enemies of my people, General — used to their monopoly of lies — are the ones who  tremble with fear when light is thrown on the truth. But when things change — not thanks to them, but in spite of them — and there is something called progress and something inherent in human nature called free will, neologisms have appeared which don’t fit with absolutist jargon — words unintelligible to them, unpronounciable in the mouth of an enslaved people. Fully accessible, uncensored internet? OMG! Freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association? Never! Among other licentiousness permitted by that cruel international capitalism which  surrounds us.

Because of the egotism, paranoia, cowardliness and stiffening of the mental joints on the part of those public enemies you mention, my country has just seen a string of excellent opportunities pass it by, offered by a North American president who broke with the approach of all his predecessors. Therefore, we can see how those same immoral people who yesterday barricaded themselves in, aluding to non-existent sirens of war, today climb back into the same trenches, hiding from the pipe of peace. When, in their arrogance, they decline to similarly hold out their hand, they show themselves once more to be against my people, like the incorrigible opportunists they have always been.

It’s precisely because of the pigheadedness of these enemy nonentities sitting in judgement over the Cuban people, General, that half of our harvests are still left to rot before they get to our tables, that a significant part of our fields continue to be covered by African marabú (a plant which is widespread in Cuba and seen as an intrusive pest) and another unjustifiable percentage left uncultivated while my country unnecessarily imports more than 1,700 million dollars worth of food a year – including, incredibly, part of its sugar requirement, while, as is well known, when these useless people arrived sixty years ago, Cuba was a net food exporter and the world’s biggest sugar exporter.

But it couldn’t be any other way in a country where two thirds of its businesses and corporations are run by military people who know nothing about the economy, but who, on the other hand, have been decorated, with honours, for their swindles and embezzlement. What I say, General, is that if an independent journalist can be imprisoned in Cuba because, according to the political police, “He does not have a degree in that profession, is not authorised by the government, nor registered in any agency recognised by the Cuban government”, then the same logic should be applied to those people, and all the Cuban military should be relieved of all civil positions and responsibilities, and should stick to their armed forces activities, the only area of influence they should exercise, given their exclusively military training.

All in all, General, it doesn’t happen very often, but this time you are quite right: right now, the best technology in the country is in the hands of the absolute enemy of the Cuban people. These people, wanting to firm up their unscrupulous strategies, have got broadband, every imaginable satellite connection, the latest cellphones, and unlimited resources for supplying legions of subnormal trolls / agents trying to create currents of opinion favourable to the dictatorship which supports them.

These enemies are the ones who control the ETECSA monopoly (Cuban telecoms company), which is seated like a merciless giant on the doorstep of all the poor people, and which imposes sky-high tariffs for poor telephone service, slow, expensive and censored internet, which is only accessible in the tropical sun on those sidewalks where you can get wi-fi. It’s the same people who bug and listen in to every conversation and message sent from and within Cuba, the same people who wipe your email intray, hack embarrassing websites and censor controversial pages.

But, can I tell you something, General? The fact remains that, for the enemies of my people, your time is up. And you know we can see your fear. The wave of uncontrolled violence against the peaceful opposition in my country during the last year shows your desperation. You know that my people have long since stopped loving you – if that’s what you can call something cooked up by lies. Now, definitely, they just hate you and fear you. That’s why this riff raff launches wave upon unmerciful wave of repression, because they know that fear is the only and last weapon they have left.

Fortunately, fear is a feeling which is phony, fleeting, and fades with time. Now, an ever-increasing part of my people has stopped being afraid of their tormentors and has decided no longer to bow down before the tyrants. But this personal liberation emits a dangerously contagious aura and the enemy knows it. And, although you try to look imperturbable, nevertheless your nervousness betrays you.

I deduce that you yourself have enemies like that. If you happen to bump into them, please tell them, in the name of the Cuban people, that this is the time for them to get out of our way. It’s necessary, and for your own good, General, that you know it too.

Translated by GH

Censorship / Regina Coyula

The filmmaker Miguel Coyula shooting. (Personal file MC)

Jorge Enrique Lage interviews Miguel Coyula (extracts) 6

[Miguel speaking]… I am against censorship, as we’ve seen what happened with that film in the Havana Film Festival in New York; it spreads beyond the geographical limits of the island for extra-artistic interests. I mean, politics touches everything.

The worsening of the position goes back to the censorship of the film El Rey se Muere (translated into English both as “Exit the King” and “The King is Dying”) in 2015. Many people defended Juan Carlos Cremata’s work, saying they did not believe that the censors would interpret the king as being Fidel. That is, they used the language of the government to try to address the problem, when it was clear that the reference point was him. What they should have said was “Yes, it’s Fidel. And what of it?” continue reading

To the extent that artists draw up their mental blueprint to go “as far as they can” there will never be a truly independent art form. It ends up affecting not just the content, but also the form.

Liberty has to be absolute, in order to be able to take risks, and to take off. Nothing can be sacred. At least, that’s how I see art. I’ve never been interested in being part of the political game, of religion, of the consumer society, or of drugs. It seems like a nothing, but a film-maker, interested in social or political issues, who cannot have one of his characters say “when are Fidel and Raul going to die?”, which is a such a common thing to say in Cuban homes, along with much more agressive variants on the theme, is symptomatic of a dysfunctional whole.

The artist documents his time, but, looking at Cuban films made in the island over the last seventy years, you’d think that no Cuban had ever asked that sort of question. Recently I was told, by way of advice: “You can fiddle with the chain, but not with the monkey, otherwise you are out of the game”. To which I replied: “Who said I see it as a game?”

It is essential that film producers are ready to completely defend their work,  because a half-assed attitude only gets you a slow-motion impact, which is inevitably reflected in subsequent works. You can’t give an inch.

But, returning to your question, the most recent case of censorship had to do with Nadie (Nobody), April 15th just gone, when the State Security and the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) blockaded the entrance to the El Circulo Gallery where they were going to show it. This censorship is not an institutional arrangement but a blatant governmental act, a complete invasion of a private space by way of a show of police force.

Many people outside Cuba ask me how can it be possible that no Cuban intellectual living in the island made any public protest about what happened. The film had its international premiere in the Dominican Global Film Festival, where it was awarded the Best Documentary prize, but it has been ignored by the island critics.

We don’t know if it’s good, or bad, or they were left feeling indifferent to it, or if, simply, they were afraid of writing about it, as it’s difficult to make a critical appraisal of Nadie without mentioning Fidel Castro. And, to this day, that’s the line almost no-one has dared to cross.The rock group Porno para Ricardo is one of the few who have dared to confront it, and, well, the price they have paid is that they are not allowed to play in Cuba.

Translated by GH

Cuba, Elections and Electoral Reform / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 4 June 2017 — The “electoral” process which will take place in Cuba between October 2017 and  February 2018 lacks any relevance. Raúl Castro’s replacement as president does not mean he is relinquishing power, as, up until 2021, he will occupy the position of Secretary of the Communist Party, which is, constitutionally, the top man in the society and the state.

For the elections to have any influence on social progress you would need an electoral reform which would re-establish sovereignty of the people and, although in February 2015 a new electoral law was announced, it was not mentioned in the meeting of 14 June 2017.

According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from the joining together of those who wish to defend and protect their property emanates a general will to convert the cooperating parties into a collective political body.   The exercise of this general will is known as sovereignty and the people who do it are sovereign. continue reading

In Cuba the republican constitutions of 1901 and 1940 endorsed sovereignty as residing in the people, with all public powers flowing from that. In 1959, with the emerging of revolutionary power they promised they would hold elections “as soon as possible”. Seventeen years later, they enacted a law abolishing the sovereignty of the people. As long as this situation goes on in Cuba there will be no true elections.

In the year 2003, the total share of Cubans who did not go to vote and destroyed their voting papers was 6.09% of the electorate. In 2008 it went up to 7.73%, in 2013, 14.22% and in April 2015 was over 20%. That is to say 1,700,000 Cubans. In a totalitarian country without civic and political rights, these statistics demonstrate the need for a law that satisfies this part of the Cuban people. You can add to that those Cubans inclined to vote for opposition representatives – not legally recognised – as happened in the 2015 elections, when the opposition put up candidates in the Havana districts of Arroyo Naranjo and Plaza.

According to the Secretary of the unicameral Cuban parliament, in 2014, during the fourth round meetings where delegates give the electorate an accounting of what they have accomplished,  there were over 600 assemblies with fewer than half the electors present.

The present law limits the electorate’s direct voting to the Delegates of the Municipal Peoples’s Power assemblies, which may not exceed 50% of the total number of candidates. The other half is nominated by the Candidate Committees – made up of leaders of peoples’ organisations with the authority to include unelected people. Then, candidates for provincial and national positions are directly appointed by these committees. Therefore the Cuban parliament and government are the product of the decisions of these Candidate Committees, which are subordinate to the Communist Party, which cuts out the sovereignty of the people.

Transformations are needed in terms of rights – such as the right of association and a multi-party system – so that Cubans can take an active part in determining where their lives and the nation is going. Until that occurs, you can’t talk about true elections in Cuba and there is no indication that that will happen in the upcoming elections.

The absence of peoples’ power and the non-existence of the citizen as legal entity have been, and are, determining factors in the structural crisis of the Cuban model, which is reflected in  inefficient production, insufficient salaries, uncontrollable corruption, hopelessness and an unstoppable exodus.

Published in El Comercio, Lima, Peru.

Translated by GH

Without Water in Havana / Iván García

Photo: Havana Times

Iván García, 10 June 2017 — The heat is terrible. Not even a light breeze in the wide entry to Carmen Street, by Plaza Roja de la Vibora, thirty minutes from Havana centre.

Reinaldo, an old chap, depressed, seated on a wall facing the water tank of the building where he lives, waits for the water to flow.  “On the Havana Channel news they said that we will have water from six in the morning on Wednesday May 31st, until six in the evening”, he says without taking his eyes off the tank.

All his neighbours passing by ask him the same question. “Rey, has the water come on yet?”.  With a weary voice, the self-appointed water guard replies: “Not yet, but I’m sure it will in a minute”. continue reading

The neighbours don’t hide their ill-humour and vent their annoyance insulting the government’s performance. “These people (the government) are pricks.  How long do us Cubans have to put up with having our lives screwed up?” A retired teacher considers that “if they had kept the water pipes maintained, there wouldn’t have been any leaks”.

The official press tries to be positive. As always. It talks about “the efforts of the Havana water workers who are working 24 hours a day to repair the leaks”.

And they blow a smoke screen. “After the repair work the water pressure across the city will be a lot better”, says a spokesman on the radio in a tenor voice. But the man in the street is sceptical.

“When the government takes something from us, that’s the cherry on the cake. They snatched a pound of rice from each of us to give to Vietnam during the war. The Vietnam war finished 42 years ago, and now the Vietnamese are sending rice to us. The government never gave us back the pound of rice. That’s how it always is, they take us by the hand and run off. I am absolutely sure that, because of the fuel shortage and the drought, they will extend it to a three day water cycle in the capital”, is the angry opinion of a man who tells us he has a friend in Havana Water.

The negative rumours fly about. Some worse than others But few of them are good news. Emilio, from Santiago, visiting Havana,  tells us: “it’s worse for us in Santiago, my friend”. In the city centre it’s every eight days and on the outskirts every thirty or forty. All we’ve been able to do is learn to wash ourselves with half a bucket of water and walk around in dirty clothes, which get washed every two weeks.

Juan Manuel, a hydraulic engineer, explains that “the water problem in Havana is pretty complicated. Instead of new pipelines they have put in 748.6 km of old tubing. The company repairs one section, but then the water pressure damages a section which has not yet been repaired. On top of that there is the fact that their workmanship is not of the highest quality. And their old fashioned technology along with years of no maintenance complicate things further. It’s a complete waste of time.

A pipework and drainage specialist considers that “the government wants to improve the water quality and the pipe network. But they did no maintenance for decades. 60% of the water distributed through the capital leaks away. That figure has now fallen to 20%. It’s a complex task which needs millions of dollars and the government hasn’t got any money”.

In the last seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have between them donated about 50 million dollars.  “But it’s not enough. Don’t forget that the problem of out of date water pipes and drainage is not only in Havana. It affects the whole country. It’s obviously the government’s fault. When things were going well, they didn’t provide the necessary resources. And now, with the economic crisis, the reduced quantity of oil coming from Venezuela, and the drought, have made it more difficult to sort out the problem”, said our specialist, and he adds:

“Ideally we need to completely change our water management strategy.  Introduce renewable sustainable recycling methods for the water supply and for dirty water. Build a new aqueduct for sea water desalination and increase the existing capacity.

There are various water distributors in Havana. The main ones are  Albear Aqueduct, opened in 1893, the Conductora Sur, and El Gato. But, because of the deterioration of various sections of pipework, there are frequent fractures.

The water supply varies from one part of the city to another. In some parts they get water every day, at specific times. In most other places, on alternate days. And in different districts on the outskirts you get a three or four days’ supply.

The deficit in the precious liquid leads the Habaneros to increase their  water storage capacity by using tanks constructed without worrying about technical specifications or guaranteeing its drinking quality or ensuring they are protected against becoming breading zones for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which spreads dengue and chikungunya.

“If you extend the water cycle in Havana, you increase the extent of stagnant water without adequate protection and increase the risk of insect-spread disease and get more rats. With less hygiene and reservoirs containing contaminated water you open the door to epidemics “, is the point made by an official of Hygiene and Epidemiology.

But the biggest worry for families like José’s, with his wife and three children, is having enough water to take a shower and run the toilet. In this heat, their mother has to wash with half a bucket of water and she cant flush the toilet”, José tell us.

Some places have it worse. Regla, a pensioner who lives in a run-down room  in a plot in Old Havana, the same as 170 thousand families in the capital, hasn’t received drinkable water in her home for years. “I pay 100 pesos to a water seller for him to fill two 55 gallon tanks which I have in my room. That lasts me a week usually. But with the water crisis, the man put up the price to 160 pesos. And I only get a coupon book for 200 pesos”.

The price charged by the water tanker trucks  has also shot up. “When there are no supply problems, a tanker charges 30 CUC. Now you have to pay 40 or 50 CUC. But you don’t get any, even for ready money,” is what the proprietor of a cafe selling local specialities tells us.

Food business owners have had to shut at certain hours because of the lack of water. “I hope they sort it out quickly, because sales have gone up 200%, as many people prefer to eat in the street so as to save water in their houses” says the self employed man.

According to the government media, water distribution will be back to normal on Thursday June 1st. But lots of Habaneros don’t believe it. ” They have lied to us so often that when they tell the truth, you always doubt it”, says Reinaldo, the guy living in La Vibora, who, from early morning on waits by the tank for the water to flow.

On June 1st precisely, the government announced an extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Cuba’s parliament. The Cuban in the street suspects that there will be more economic stringencies and they will be obliged to tighten their belts. Again.

Translated by GH

The Cuban Government, Complicit in Corruption and Peddling Favours / Iván García

Cuban bodega (ration store). From AvaxNews.

Iván García, 26 MAY 2017 — Ideology is no longer the most important consideration if you want to get an administrative position in Cuba’s chaotic business and commercial network. They only ask you to do two things: fake support for the autocracy and show loyalty to government business.

If you have both these qualities, they will remove any common offences from your work record. Nor is it a problem if you frequently beat your wife or drink more rum than you should.

Human qualities are no longer a priority if you want to have a job in a company management team or join the ranks of the Communist Party. continue reading

Let’s call him Armando. He has always worked in internal trade. “It’s all been run down. Starting with the beginning of the Revolution. In the food and internal trade sector, the biggest wastes of space have occupied key positions. The employment culture is asphyxiating, like being in a prison. Money, extortion, nepotism and witchcraft are more important that professional qualifications and personal qualities”.

After letting his life go down the drain, what with getting into trouble, involving knives, robberies, public disorder, Armando decided to get himself back on track when his son was born. “I spent most of my youth and adolescence in the clink. With a family to support, I have to look at things differently. I have no family in the States who could get me out of here. I had to learn how to play the system. With the help of a friend, after paying him 300 chavitos (CUC), I got a bodega [ration store] for my wife and managed to include myself in the staff as an assistant to the storekeeper”.

After a year and a half, his wife started the process of joining the party. “She knows nothing about politics, but in Cuba having a red card opens doors for you. My next goal is to ’buy’ a bodega just for me.”

According to Armando, for 400 CUC you can get a bodega with lots of customers. “The more people buy things in your store, the more options you have to make money. In six months or a year, depending on your contacts with truck drivers and people running warehouses, you can recoup your investment”.

Although the neighbourhood bodegas have seen a reduction in the distribution of goods being issued through the ration books, various storekeepers have said that, in spite of that, they are still making money.

“It’s not like thirty years ago, when we had 25 different products delivered to the bodegas. You don’t get rich, but you can support your family. You can do two things: cheat on weighing, and buy foreign made things and sell them on to owners of private businesses or direct to customers”, admits a storekeeper with forty years’ experience.

If there is a robbery in a state-owned food centre or bodega, the boss or storekeeper has to meet the loss. “A little while ago, they stole several boxes of cigars and bags of coffee. I didn’t even report it. I paid about 4 thousand pesos for the loss and coughed up nearly another 200 CUC have new bars fitted and improvements to the security of the premises”, said a storekeeper

An official dealing with these things emphasises that, “When a robbery occurs, the first suspect is the storekeeper. It’s an unwritten law of business. If you get robbed, you should pay up and shut up, because police investigations usually uncover more serious problems”.

Naturally, in high-turnover food stores and markets you pay weekly bribes to the municipal managers. The manager of a state pizzeria explains: “The amounts vary with sales level. The more you sell, the more you have to send upstairs. At weekends I send an envelope with 1,500 Cuban pesos and 40 CUC to the municipal director, as I sell in both currencies”.

This hidden support network, of mafia-like construction, at the same time as it offers excellent profit on the back of State merchandise, also generates a de facto commitment to the government.

“It’s what happens in any important government activity. Whether it’s tourism, commerce, or import-export. The money comes from embezzlement, irregular financial dealings and corrupt practices. One way or another, the present system feeds us. It all comes together, as a kind of marriage of convenience. I let you do your thing, as long as you let me do mine”, is a sociologist’s opinion.

Raúl Castro has tried to sort things out, and designated Gladys Bejerano as Controller General of the Republic. “Successes have been partial. They get rid of one focus of corruption but leave others or change the way they work. If you were to arrange a thorough clean up of the network of government-run businesses, the system would break down. Because, like the bloodsuckers, they feed off other peoples’ blood”, explains an ex-director of food services.

Essentially, what is left of socialism in Cuba is a pact. In its attempt to survive, Castroism violates Marxist principles and, in place of loyalty, accepts that Catholics, Santeria priests and masons can enter the Communist Party.

In the business sector there is a different idea. Embezzlement in return for applause. In that way, not much is being stolen – kind of.

Translated by GH

Cuba: Forbidden Fruit / Iván García

An old building in Old Havana is the view you get from one of the boutiques in the Hotel Gran Manzana Kempinski. Taken from the article The New Luxury Hotels in Cuba try to attract a swarm of tourists, by Ali McConnon, published in the New York Times in Spanish on May 10, 2017, with photos by Lissette Poole.

Iván García, 11 May 2017 — Scarcely a block away from the majestic Grand Hotel Manzana Kempinski, whose inauguration is expected next June 2nd, next to the Payret cinema, a state-owned cafeteria sells an acidic and insipid hamburger with bread for the equivalent of 50 centavos. Workers in the neighbourhood and beggars who survive on asking foreigners for change, form a small queue to buy the inedible hamburger.

The hotel, built by Kempinski, a company started in Berlin in 1897, stands in the place of the old Manzana de Gómez, the first shopping mall on the island, at Neptuno, San Rafael, Zulueta and Monserrate streets, in the heart of Havana. Opened in 1910, throughout its history, the Manzana de Gómez housed everything from offices, lawyers’ chambers and commercial consultants to businesses, cafes and restaurants and other enterprises. continue reading

Very near to Manzana Kempinski, the first five star hotel there, will be the Cuban parliament, still a work in progress, which will have as its headquarters the old National Capitol, a smaller scale replica of the Congress in Washington.

The splendid hotel, owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military corporation, and managed by the Kepinski organisation, can boast of having the old Centro Asturiano, now the home of the Fine Arts Museum’s private collections, the Havana Gran Teatro and the Inglaterra, Telégrafo, Plaza and Parque Central hotels as neighbours.

Apart from the recently-built Parque Central Hotel, the other three hotels are situated in 19th century or Republican era buildings, and are among the most beautiful in the city. In the centre of these architectural jewels we find Havana Park, presided over by the statue of the national hero, José Martí.

In those four hotels, you will find shops selling exclusively in convertible pesos (CUC), a strong currency created by Fidel Castro for the purpose of buying high quality capitalist goods.

Incidentally, they pay their employees in the Cuban Pesos (CUP), or national currency. In the tourism, telecoms and civil aviation sectors, their employees only earn 10-35 CUC as commission.

The chavito, as the Cubans term the CUC, is a revolving door which controls the territory between the socialist botch-ups, shortages and third rate services and the good or excellent products invoiced by the “class enemies”, as the Marxist theory has it, which supports the olive green bunch which has been governing the island since 1959.

21st century Cuba is an absurd puzzle. Those in charge talk about defending the poor, go on about social justice and prosperous sustainable socialism, but the working class and retired people are worse off.

The regime is incapable of starting up stocked markets, putting up good quality apartment blocks, reasonably priced hotels where a workman could stay or even maintaining houses, streets and sidewalks in and around the neighborhoods of the capital. But it invests a good part of the gross domestic product in attracting foreign currency.

José, a private taxi driver, thinks that it’s good to have millions of tourists pouring millions of dollars into the state’s cash register. “But, the cash should then be reinvested in improving the country. From the ’80’s on, the government has bet on tourism. And how much money has come over all those years? And in which productive sectors has it been invested?” asks the driver of a clapped-out Soviet-era Moskovitch.

Government officials should tell us. But they don’t. In Cuba, supposedly public money is managed in the utmost secrecy. Nobody knows where the foreign currency earned by the state actually ends up and the officials look uncomfortable when you ask them to explain about offshore Panamanian or Swiss bank accounts.

In this social experiment, which brings together the worst of socialism imported from the USSR with the most repugnant aspects of African style capitalist monopoly, in the ruined streets of Havana, they allow Rapid and Furious to be filmed, they tidy up the Paseo del Prado for a Chanel parade or open a Qatar style hotel like the Manzana Kampinski, in an area surrounded by filth, where there is no water and families have only one meal a day to eat.

In a car dealer in Primelles on the corner of Via Blanca, in El Cerro, they sell cars at insulting prices. The hoods of the cars are covered in dust and a used car costs between $15-40,000. A Peugeot 508, at $300k, is dearer than a Lamborghini.

For the authorities, the excessive prices are a “revolutionary tax”, and with this money they have said they will defray the cost of buying city buses. It’s a joke: they have hardly sold more than about forty second-hand cars in three years and public transport goes from bad to worse.

For Danay, a secondary school teacher, it isn’t the government opening hotels and luxury shops that annoys her, “What pisses me off is that everything is unreal. How can they sell stuff that no-one could afford even if they worked for 500 years? Is it some kind of macabre joke, and an insult to all Cuban workers?” Danay asks herself, while she hangs around the shopping centre in the Hotel Kempinski.

In the wide reinforced concrete passageways, what you normally see there is amazing. With his girl friend embracing him, Ronald, a university student, smiles sarcastically as he looks in a jewelry shop window at some emeralds going for more than 24k convertible pesos. “In another shop, a Canon camera costs 7,500 CUC. It’s mad.” And he adds:

“In other countries they sell expensive items, but they also have items for more affordable prices. Who the hell could buy that in Cuba, my friend? Apart from those people (in the government), the Cuban major league baseball players who get paid millions of dollars, and the people who have emigrated and earn lots of money in the United States. I don’t think tourists are going to buy things they can get more cheaply in their own countries. If at any time I had any doubts about the essential truth about this government, I can see it here: we are living in a divided society. Capitalism for the people up there, and socialism and poverty for us lot down here”.

Security guards dressed in grey uniforms, with earphones in their ears and surly-looking faces, have a go at anyone taking photos or connecting to the internet via wifi. People complain “If they don’t let you take photos or connect to the internet, then they are not letting Cubans come in”, says an irritated woman.

In the middle of the ground floor of what is now the Hotel Kempinski, which used to be the Manzana de Gómez mall, in 1965 a bronze effigy of Julio Antonio Mella, the student leaders and founder of the first Communist party in 1925, was unveiled. The  sculpture has disappeared from there.

“In the middle of all this luxurious capitalism, there is no place for Mella’s statue”, comments a man looking at the window displays with his granddaughter. Or probably the government felt embarrassed by it.

Iván García

Note: About the Mella bust, in an article entitled Not forgotten or dead, published 6th May in the Juventud Rebelde magazine, the journalist Ciro Bianchi Ross wrote: “I have often asked myself what was the point of the Mella bust which they put in the middle of the Manzana de Gómez mall and then removed seven years ago, before the old building started to be transformed into a luxury hotel, and which seems to bother people now. Mella had nothing in common with that building. The Manzana de Gómez had no connection with his life or his political journey. Apart from the fact that from an artistic point of view it didn’t look like anything”.

Translated by GH

Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Iván García, 2 May 2017 — On an afternoon like any other, an underground seller of beef, living in the southeast of Havana, bought flank steaks wholesale from a slaughterer, to then sell them to private restaurants and neighbours who could afford them.

He filleted the chops and started to offer them for the equivalent of three dollars a pound. “They flew off the shelf. By night time I didn’t have an ounce of it left. If  any red meat comes my way, I can sell it immediately. The thing is, Cubans like to eat a good piece of steak with fries, washed down with a glass of orange juice. But, my friend, that dish has become an extravagant luxury in Cuba,” says the vendor, who knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Havana black market.

Even though a pound of beef costs three days’ of a professional’s salary, you don’t always find it in the profitable black market. continue reading

In the island there is a network of butchers, slaughterers and sellers which makes sufficient money selling beef. “Everything starts when someone spots a bullock or a cow not properly protected in some odd corner in the Cuban countryside. That’s when they start to plan how get it to end up as stew (kill it) and transport it to Havana, which is where they can sell it for the best price. They can get between 1,300 and 1,600 chavitos (CUCs) for a 1,000 pound bull, and the slaughterer, the transporter and the sellers get a few kilos of meat free”, according to a cattle slaughterer, a native of the central region of the country.

And he explains that they will just as happily kill a calf, a grown up cow, or a horse, “whatever has four legs and moves, gets what’s coming to it. Of course, a slaughterer who knows what he’s doing takes care not to kill a cow which is sick or has brucellosis, because if the police catch you, along with the twenty years the District Attorney goes for on account of killing a cow, he adds another five or six on top for endangering public health.

In 2013, the Granma newspaper reported that more than 18,400 cattle were dying of hunger or disease in the province of Villa de Clara. In April 2014, the Communist party organ highlighted that something over 3,300 cows died in the first three months of that year in the province of Holguin, and another 69,000 were found to be under-nourished. The authorities blamed the drought and, according to Granma, 35 thousand head of cattle were receiving water from water tank trucks in order to alleviate the effects of the months without rain.

According to Damián, an ex-employee of a sugar mill, who now survives selling home-made cheese on the Autopista Nacional, “what has happened to the cattle here is irresponsible and those officials should be behind bars. But they carry on like that, carrying their Party card and talking annoying rubbish”.

Mario, a private farmer, says, jokingly, that “Cuba is an unusual mixture of Marxism and Hinduism. Seems like a religious prohibition on eating beef, which is what Cubans like to eat. Although the leaders carry on eating it — just look at their faces and stomachs; they look as if they are going to explode. If you gave them a blood test, their haemoglobin would be around a thousand”.

During the time of the autocrat Fidel Castro, when people wore Jiqui jeans, Yumuri check shirts and very poor quality shoes, all made locally, the old ration book which, in March 2017, had been in use for 55 years, authorised half a pound of beef every nine days for people born in the country.

“Then the cycle was lengthened to once a fortnight, then once a month, until it was quietly disappearing from the Cuban menu. Along with many other things like milk, fresh fish, prawns, oranges and mandarines”, recalls a butcher, who made plenty of money selling beef “on the side” for four pesos a pound in the ’80’s. In the 21st century he survives making money from selling soup thickened with soya.

In the last week of February, some “good news” was announced. Because of poor agricultural output, the state started to sell potatoes through ration books again.

“It’s one step forward, one step back. Five years ago potatoes were rationed. Until one fine day, the bright sparks in the government decided that, along with beans, they should be sold by the pound. So that, everyone was fucked, with potatoes becoming a sumptuary good. If you wanted to eat potato puree or fries, you had to wait in a queue for four hours and put up with fights and swearing just to buy a bag of ten potatoes for 25 pesos. And now that it is rationed once more, the news channel tells you that they will sell you 14 pounds a head, two in the first month, and six after that. But in my farmers’ market they don’t give you a pound any more. Five miserable spuds and you have to take it or leave it”, says Gisela, a housewife.

If you fancy a natural orange juice, get your wallet ready. “Green oranges with hardly any juice cost three pesos, if you can actually find any. A bag of oranges costs between 140 and 200 pesos, half the monthly minimum wage.  I keep asking myself why it is that in countries with a Marxist government, or a socialist one, as invented by Chavez in Venezuela, getting food has to be such torture”, says Alberto, a construction worker.

In Cuba, you can’t eat what you want, only what turns up.

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Translated by GH

The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García

By Elio Delgado, from the Havana Times

Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn cobs.

From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork fillets and sautéed rice, to sell later in his small mobile shop positioned in a large car park, at the main entrance to the International Book Fair in Havana.

A line of kiosks with aluminium tubes and coloured canvas tops offer local favourites, like bread with suckling pig, ham and cheese sandwiches, jellies, mineral water and canned drinks. continue reading

“My kiosk specialises in dishes from San Miguel de Padrón.  But the truth is that in this particular fair, sales are sluggish. Mainly because the organisers prohibited the sale of alcohol. You can forget about books and all that intellectual shit, you have to give Cubans beer and reguetón if you want them to feel happy – the rest is secondary”, says Jesús.

Thursday February 16th started off rainy in Havana. Idelfonso, a self-employed clown, looks up at the overcast sky and mutters, “if it starts raining again, they’ll have to take the circus and its tent away, because no-one will bring their kids in bad weather. This fair has been pretty bad for us. No-one has any money, and those who do prefer to spend it on books and food”, he says, in his bear get-up.

In different parts of the car park, private businesses rent out inflatable toys for fifteen pesos for the kids to bounce about for thirty minutes, and five pesos for a quick ride on a horse.

“Many families don’t come to buy books. They would rather their kids enjoyed themselves playing with the equipment. There are hardly any amusement parks in the capital”, says Rita, who deals with charging for the horses.

Families and groups of friends lay towels out on the grass and picnic on a hill from where you get a unique view of the city across the bay.

Gerard, a young man with tattooed forearms, feels uncomfortable. He tells his wife to go off with the kid to play with the inflatable toys while he complains about the lack of any beer.

“These people are really party poopers. Whose idea was it to stop selling lager and nips of rum? I can’t imagine it was because of Fidel Castro’s death, as the bloke has been pushing up daisies for over two months now”, moans Gerard, knocking back a lemonade as a temporary solution to the matter.

Dora and Germán come from El Cotorro, in south west Havana, with two enormous bags to buy “fifteen or twenty boxes of drink. We have a cafe and we buy stuff here for ten pesos and then we sell them there for twenty. If we have time, we buy a few books for our grandchildren”.

The Book Fair always was a good excuse for thousands of Habaneros to amuse themselves. Kids skipping classes looking over displays of foreign books, inveterate bookworms, pseudo intellectuals who take the opportunity to come over as writers, the peripheral catwalk of hustlers and pickpockets selling tourists fake Cohíba cigars made in shacks in deepest Havana.

But this time the organisers decided to put a stop to “sideshows which have nothing to do with reading”, says Idalia, a Editora Abril bookseller, who adds:

“The fair has been turned into a mess. Like a strip club. Hustlers who came to pull foreigners and people with money who have never read a book and were downing beers ’til closing time. The number of people coming here has definitely fallen, as nearly two million people came here two years ago. Now the numbers have fallen to less than half” says Idalia, who, in exchange for offering her opinions for Martí Noticias, asks me to buy some books.

“The thing is, we get commission on our sales. And we aren’t selling much”, she emphasises. From the books on display, I choose the biography of  Raúl Castro written by Nikolai Leonov, an ex high-up in the KGB and personal friend of the Carribean autocrat.

The book, which looks good, costs 30 pesos, equivalent to three times the daily minimum wage in Cuba. According to the official press, it is the best selling book of the year.  Idalia thinks differently.

“You can put any rubbish you like on paper. They give the book, just like they did with Fidel’s, as gifts to lots of people who attend events, and then they record them as sales. And, being prioritised by the printers, they have gigantic print-runs, and are on sale in all the bookshops in the country. But, I haven’t seen too much enthusiasm among Cuban readers for Raúl’s biography. Foreign lefties certainly do buy books dedicated to Fidel”, she tells me.

Although the present Book Fair is dedicated to Canada and the tedious state official Armando Hart Dávalos, the dead Fidel Castro is the prime actor.

There is no lack of sets of Fidel Castro’s speeches on the local publishers’ stands, a revised edition of History will Absolve Me and cartoon books eulogising the dictator from Birán.

“God help us! Fidel everywhere”, says a lady walking through the Mexican pavilion looking for a diary she has promised her granddaughter. The foreign publishers are the busiest, in spite of the high foreign currency prices.

They also sell pirate Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar teeshirts, as well as a collection of Barcelona and Real Madrid posters. A Mexican bookseller tells us that “We take advantage of the fact that Cubans like football, and so we push this merchandise”.

At midday St Charles Fort looks just like an informal flea market. A few serious readers sit down, leaning against the ancient cannons which protect the fort, in order to read George Orwell’s 1984 or a Gabriel García Márquez novel.

The less serious fill up nylon bags with books on spritual advice or magazines about fashion and cooking. Then they form a little queue at the exit from La Cabaña, to get the bus going to the centre of Havana.

Few visitors know the dark history of the fort, an ancient prison and location of hundreds of firing squads for Castro opponents. The thing is that in Cuba the disinformation, fear of knowing the truth, and amnesia help people live apathetic and apolitical lives.

Translated by GH

"Fatal attraction" Magali Alabau’s Riddles / Luis Felipe Rojas

The poet Magali Alabau signs copies of her book “Fatal Attraction” (“Amor Fatal”) in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, Coral Gables, Miami.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 14 March 2017 — A poet writes to unpick puzzles, to sell and buy other questions.  The Cuban poet Magali Alabau came to Miami this Friday 10th March to give a reading from her book “Fatal Attraction” (Betania, 2016). She did it in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, which was founded and run by the poet Joaquín Gálvez in Café Demetrio in Coral Gables.

Alabau, a stage actress, who didn’t decide to write until she hit 40, has a voice which slides words around to tell a story which is forgotten here in the north, which all of us in exile are seeking – everyone in exile is seeking. Her sense of direction as she weighs every step becomes a necessity. “Poetry is the foundation through the word, and in the word”, states Heidegger when he embraces the poetry of Hölderlin, and it is precisely in that tone of voice that Magali Alabau has proposed to construct and name her domain, nomatter how small … or resonant … or large it seems to us. There is no other foundation which is not a word.

“This foreign body / which is, during the day, / only involuntary movements, prayer which starts / and doesn’t finish.” continue reading

What is praiseworthy in a poet who lowers her head to give herself to others, to not look back, and to follow those voices which will call to her all her life? Nothing, we can reply, if we understand the ancient profession rebuilt time and time again on the graves of other voices, of other authors.

The mistakes of friendship, the errors of custom, pseudo love, and violence, flow through this book like a flood. In Magali’s voice we encounter accidents and not human characteristics. It is a text without makeup, for which we should be thankful. “I can hear you behind me / harping on about supposed predictions. / I laugh at you, yes, I laugh”, she says to death.

Alabau lives in New York and is the author of a dozen books of poems, with a special mention for “Hermanas”, which won the Poesía Latina Prize in 1992; “Electra, Clitemnestra” (Ed. El Maitén, Chile, 1986) and  “Hemos llegado a Ilión” (Betania,, 19922), among others.

Translated by GH

Grow Food In Caves: The Latest Brainwave From The Ministry Of Agriculture In Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 March 2017 — Specialists from MINAGRI, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, tell us that planting seeds inside or near to the Cuban cave network could quickly guarantee food production, which would help to satisfy the ever-increasing requirements of the Cuban population.

Another insane initiative, launched by the Ministry of agriculture, focuses on sustainable solutions to environmental problems, optimising energy and water, improving productivity, and using human waste as compost.

It is not a new idea. Millions of years ago man took advantage of the humidity in caves and their surroundings. How is it possible that today, in the 21st century, the Cuban government is trying to return to the agriculture of the cavemen?

The insane move, which includes training and the creation of laboratories for studying the quality of water in each cave area of the island, emerged as a response to a presumptuous and pushy ministerial debate on the use of water in agriculture that took place last February, where Inés María Chapman, President of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources spoke about the serious situation regarding this natural resource, and Norberto Espinosa Carro, director of the Livestock Business Group, discussed the development programme being undertaken in the middle of straitened economic circumstances.

Anyone traveling to Cuba, even as a tourist, will know that the island has one of the largest cave systems in the world, 70 per cent of its territory, with the exception of Las Tunas, is composed of limestone and calcareous rock, natural phenomenon that leads to the formation of caverns. I doubt that farmers want to return to the caves, or that the MINAGRI can guarantee an underground irrigation system when, over more than 50 years, it hasn’t been able to guarantee even one-third of the national food requirement on fertile ground.

“It is called permaculture and it is a fashionable nonsense brought here by this new Minister from his trip to Europe. And that is exactly one of our biggest problems, the lack of organization, and Ministerial fantasies”, as we are told by one of the managers of the Institute of Agricultural Engineering Research.

“In Cuba”, he concludes, “the problem is not the water or moisture, but the poor support for the beneficial owner of the UBPC Cooperative, the absence of liquidity, the poor utilization of agricultural land, the very bad selection of water sources used for irrigation and drainage, the thousand and one legal restrictions which prevent farmers enjoying a better life, such as building their own home on the land where they work, the poor livestock management and shortage of cattle feed, the shortage of manpower and technically-qualified personnel, the scarcity of supplies and tools, the unavailability of machinery to prepare the soil, the lack of spare parts in the areas where they work,  the deficit of qualified technical staff and work force, the lack of inputs and tools, the non-availability of machinery for the preparation of the land, the lack of spare parts, and the long-running errors in allocating transport for agricultural marketing.  That’s all”

Translated by GH

Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García

AFP photo taken from Vivelo Hoy

Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the American Airlines’ departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of corridors and passages. That’s why Noahn, an American living in Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight’s scheduled departure time to Varadero.

He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son carried in an arm-sling, and a dog with long floppy ears. In his luggage, professional diving equipment and an electric skateboard. The couple speak in carefully enunciated Spanish, with a hint of a Colombian accent. “It’s because I worked for an American company in Bogotá,” explains Noahn. continue reading

To everyone who wants to listen to him, he describes his experiences as a tourist in Cuba. He knows the Coco and Santa Maria Keys, located to the north of Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara and Maria La Gorda, in the western province of Pinar del Rio.

“But I was enchanted by Varadero. It’s the third time in two years I’ve been there since the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. Neither Miami Beach nor Malibu can compare with Varadero, with its fine white sandy beach. The water is warm and there are hardly any waves. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro and The Bahamas may have just as good or better natural conditions,” he adds, while his wife gives the child some milk in a bottle.

Despite the prohibitions on tourism in Cuba, Americans such as Noahn travelled to the island by way of a third country. “Before December 17, 2014, I travelled to Cuba via Mexico. After that date it’s been easier. There are twelve quite flexible categories, which they call the twelve lies. You declare whichever pretext, and travel in a group or individually. “In theory you can’t go as a tourist, but I bet that’s what half of the American travellers are doing.”

Out of more than 200 passengers on the flight heading to Varadero, only six were Cubans going back to their country permanently or to visit relatives on the island.

Judith, a biologist living in Georgia, is going to Cuba for the second time this year. Why? “Half for professional experience, half tourism.” I’m interested in gathering information on the varieties of Cuban vegetation. Once I finish my research, I’m going to stay a week in a hotel full-board in Camaguey or in Holguin.”

Asked if she felt any harassment or if any federal institution has opened a file on her for violating the country’s regulations, she replies: “Not at all. Seems to me the wisest thing to do would be to openly permit tourism in Cuba, because that’s what in reality people are doing.”

After the re-establishment of relations between two countries that were living in a cold war climate, many more Americans are travelling to the Greater Antilles. In January 11, 2016, Josefina Vidal, an official working in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and responsible for relations with the United States, reported on Twitter that, in 2016, the island received a total of 614,433 visitors from United States (Americans and Cuban Americans), 34% more than in 2015.

Although on paper the Americans arriving are recorded as being part of a religious or journalistic or a people-to-people exchange, it isn’t difficult to spot well-built blonds or redheads downing quantities of mojitos in a bar in Old Havana or enjoying the warm autumn sun on a Cuban beach.

When at 8:30 in the evening, the American Airlines plane landed at the Juan Gualberto Gómez international airport in Varadero, after a quick check, half a dozen air-conditioned buses were waiting for the “undercover” tourists to take them to four and five star hotels along the Hicacos Peninsula coast.

“Yes, the Americans are tourists.” Many of them go to Havana, others pass the time in Varadero. They prefer to stay in hotels. About 400 or 500 come every week. And many more are expected at New Year’s,” said an official of the Gaviota chain, balancing on the stairway of a bus.

Private taxi drivers and those who lease vehicles from the state hang around the terminal. “There are gringos who come as individual tourists. I charge them the equivalent of $40 for the trip to Varadero, about 20 kilometers from the airport. Almost all give good tips. Unlike the Spaniards and Mexicans, who are complete tightwads,” says Joan, a private taxi driver.

The majority of Cubans are convinced that Americans are rich. And have more money than they know what to do with. They try to milk them as if they were cows.

At the currency exchange outside the airport, they exchange dollars for 86 centavos, less than the official rate of 87. “The rate goes down at weekends,” he says.

An employee in the terminal, says “Here everyone is doing business. “The lavatory cleaner charges, the café sells stuff on the side, and the customs people get things off the passengers.”

Tourism in Cuba is like a harvest. Everyone wants to squeeze the sugar cane. And you can extract plenty of juice from the sneaky tourists

Translated by GH

Informers Approved by the Cuban Government / Iván García

CDR Billboard: In Every Neighborhood, CDR 8th Congress. United, Vigilant and Fighting

Ivan Garcia, 10 February 2017 — Seven years ago, when the roar of the winds of a hurricane devastated Havana and the water filtered through the unglazed living room door of Lisvan, a private worker living in an apartment of blackened walls which urgently needed comprehensive repairs, his housing conditions did not interest the snitches on the block where he lives.

“When I began to be successful in my business and I could renovate the apartment, from doing the electrical system, plumbing, new flooring, painting the rooms to putting grills on the windows and the balcony, the complaints began. What is, in any other country, a source of pride that a citizen can leave his poverty behind and improve his quality of life, is, in Cuba, something that, for more than a few neighbours, arouses both resentment and envy so that it leads them to make anonymous denunciations”, says Lisvan. continue reading

So many years of social control by the regime has transformed some Cubans into hung-up people with double standards. “And shameless too,” adds Lisvan. And he tells me that “two years ago, when I was putting in a new floor, my wife brought me the ceramic tiles in a truck from her work, authorized by her boss. But a neighbor, now in a wheelchair and almost blind, called the DTI to denounce me, accusing me of trafficking in construction materials.”

Luckily, Lisvan had the documents for the tiles, bought in convertible pesos at a state “hard currency collection store” — as such establishments are formally called. But the complaint led to them taking away the car his wife was driving. In the last few days, while he was having railings put across his balcony, to guard against robberies, a neighbor called Servilio complained to the Housing Office that he was altering the façade of the building, and to the electric company for allegedly using the public electricity supply. Lisvan ended by telling me that “It all backfired on him, because everything was in order, and the inspectors involved gave me the phone number of the complainant, who, being a coward, had done it anonymously.”

According to Fernando, a police instructor, anonymous complaints are common in the investigation department where he works. “Thanks to these allegations we started to embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States.

“People report anything — a party that seems lavish, someone who bought beef on the black market or a person who drinks beer every day and doesn’t work. It’s crazy. Snitching in Cuba is sometimes taken to extremes.”

When you ask him what is behind the reports, he avoids the question.

“Because of envy or just a habit of denouncing. These people are almost always resentful and frustrated and tend to be hard up and short of lots of things. And not infrequently the complainant also commits illegal acts,” admits the police instructor.

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that large scale reporting, as has happened for decades in Cuba, is a good subject for specialist study. “But lately, with widespread apathy because of the inefficiency of the system, the long drawn-out economic crisis and the lack of economic and political freedoms, as compared to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, informing has decreased.”

And he adds. “It’s true that in the beginning the Revolution was the source of law. But it also smashed to pieces deep-rooted traditions and social norms. Fidel Castro justified launching the practice of informing on people by reference to Yankee Imperialism, class enemies, and as a way of protecting the Revolution.”

In Cuba, the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) are the basis of collective vigilance in the blocks and neighborhoods of 168 municipalities on the island. Those same committees provide information to the State Security Department about dissidents, that elevates unfounded gossip and marital infidelities to the category of ‘secret reports’.

“In the 21st century, when inequalities have increased, the most diehard Fidelistas, who are still to be found in blocks and neighborhoods, continue with their complaints. It’s a mixture of several things, from base instincts to failure to adapt to new circumstances. It will take years for this dreadful habit to disappear,” concludes the Havana sociologist.

Diana, an engineer, recalls the time when the State granted a week’s holiday on the beach, a TV, a fan or a coffee. “The ancient squabbles in the union meetings to decide who should get the prizes were a theatrical spectacle. It was embarrassing. Yesterday’s shit gave us today’s smell.”

It is likely that in Cuba, if we bet on democracy and are lucky enough to choose good rulers, we will make progress in economic terms, and the country will start to develop and progress.

But the damage caused to Cuban society by informants, as approved by the olive green autocracy, is anthropological. Recovering a basket of interpersonal values will take time. Perhaps ten years. Or more.

Translated by GH

Cubans Wanting To Emigrate See The United States As First Option / Ivan garcia

Cubans who want to emigrate prefer to go to the US

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — There are few things that spontaneously bring Cubans on the island together. For example, if the provincial team is crowned champion in the national baseball series, where, in between the infamous beer and a noisy reggaeton, in Communist Party-arranged pachangas, people celebrate at the tops of their voices.

It’s also a desire to live as well as possible in a country with the lowest salary in the third world and things for sale at the same price as in Qatar. And, God willing, to be able to travel abroad.

It’s all the same if it is for business, or a government mission, or an invitation from a relative, a friend, or a future fiancé or fiancée living in Europe. To emigrate for a fixed period of time or permanently, is an almost permanent plan on the part of many unmotivated young people or professionals who earn less than a hotel porter. continue reading

A wide cross-section of the Cuban population has it stuck in their imagination, like a postage stamp, that some foreign country ought to sort out their national disaster.

Instinctively and shamelessly, the government, Cubans in the street, trained intellectuals and dissidents, act the victim, and blame the mess on the trade embargo, the global crisis, tropical hurricanes, or the lack of help from the United States.

Any situation is held responsible for the economy not growing, not enough houses being built, the disaster area that is urban transport and waste collection and that the internet is not available everywhere.

With new measures adopted jointly by the White House and the Palace of the Revolution, abolishing the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, an inconsistent policy that Clinton enacted in 1994 which allowed Cubans who “touched dry ground” in the US to stay, the majority of Cubans have vented their anger at Barack Obama.

Let’s analyse it. Obama is a liar. He cannot publicly announce that certain migration laws exclusive to Cubans will not be changed, and then eight days before the end of his mandate, changed them.

And it isn’t that Barack is mistaken. No. He is right. Each sovereign nation designs its immigration regulations as it sees fit. The privileges for Cubans were at the very least counterproductive.

If being born in a country with a dictatorial communist government, where founding other political parties and the freedom of the press are prohibited, is a force majeure for the state which is the world’s greatest receiver of immigrants to offer an opportunity to Cubans, then it should not take any half-measures, and should defend its enacted legislation according to its ethical principles.

Democracy, opportunity and human rights are part of the pillars of American society. They should not find it difficult to safeguard them. Although, in the case of migration, it should be monitored.

A terrorist is not going to arrive from Cuba, and dangerous criminals rarely land. But sometimes there are scammers of Federal programs, people who bet on making money with the sale of drugs, or lazy intellectuals, accustomed to living in a parasitic state where natural human ambition is labelled as suspected delinquency, who abuse the support of the American government.

The wet-foot/dry-foot policy was a dangerous and badly implemented program. If you are going to receive immigrants, then receive them. Don’t make them go on a marathon by sea or land to reach the United States’ border.

That double standard of the American executive was absurd. If you want to help the hundreds of thousands, probably a million or two, who dream of emigrating, do it by safe routes.

Lotteries for visas, or, after analyzing the labour needs of different production and service areas, grant work permits. If you want to find out how many Cubans are fed up with the Castro military junta, I suggest that the White House grant a three-month extension and issue a visa to any Cuban who wants it and has no criminal history. The queues outside the embassy in Havana would be miles-long.

Sloppy regulations create a reckless mirage. Because what the letter of the law doesn’t prohibit is presumed to be permissible. That’s what happened to the policy repealed by Obama.

It’s a pity for his administration, which was certainly the most highly-regarded by the Cuban people, until it annulled the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. If you spoil a child, it will not behave reasonably later.

The United States federal government should allow the two or three thousand Cubans scattered throughout Central America and Mexico, to enter the US. Most of them burnt their boats. They sold their homes and valuable possessions. They cannot look back. They have nothing left.

The greatness of the United States is not its force, but its magnanimity. Those professionals, athletes and technicians, among others, who want to work hard to get on, should have a chance to emigrate safely from Cuba.

Some dissidents and exiles believe that after closing the immigration doors, many fellow countrymen would begin street protests demanding their rights.

It would be ideal. But I’m afraid that’s not going happen. Totalitarian States are whimsically different. If four generations of Cubans have left or have been expelled from their homeland, they can’t ask the rest to be heroes.

Most Cubans are peaceful people. They want the best for their family and to live in dignity. The Castro autocracy will fail because of its own inefficiency. But it has strength and will not hesitate to use it.

The silent mass of Cubans, who pretend to have loyalty to the regime and also yearn to emigrate, do not want to be cannon fodder. Patriotism and defence of their rights are not going to bring them together to challenge the regime.

It’s hard to accept, but it’s the way it is. They only want to emigrate. And to the United States as their first option.

Translated by GH