The Ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba Has Been Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 October 2016 — Under the alleged charge of influence peddling, Héctor Rodríguez Llompart, an ex-Cuban diplomat and the ex-President of the National Bank, was arrested.

“No one knows the motives,” said a source close to the Llompart family. “I think after the Ochoa case, the people running this country lost all the elements of inhibition in human conduct.”

Retired and 82-years-old, on August 8, 2016, there appeared in Granma an article that was later reproduced for the digital portal, Cudadebate. It was entitled “Viva Fidel,” in allegory to the 90th birthday of the ex-Cuban leader. However, in spite of his advanced age, his copious history and the laudatory writing about Fidel, Llompart was arrested at home, in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood, together with his wife, Patricia Arango.

Llompart, ex-Vice Chancellor, ex-President of the State Committee for Economic Collaboration (CECE), ex-Vice President of the National Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation and ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba, is known for depenalizing the dollar in 1993, and for the implementation of the Cuban Convertible Peso as the second official currency in 1994. Both measures had a significant impact on the economy and on living conditions for Cubans.

According to sources consulted, Patricia Arango, Rodríguez Llompart’s wife, after being freed and subjected to a search of her home, has been confined to her house.

Héctor Rodríguez Llopart is a native of Havana and did not join the Rebel Army during the conflict in the Sierra Maestra. He passed through the Cuban Chancellery, where he was Vice Minister, Minister-President of the CECE, and then the President of the National Bank of Cuba for 10 years.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Hidden Agenda Behind the Attack on Cuba’s Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 October 2015 — Some news outlets echoed the words of the Vice President in charge of the Council of Provincial Administration for Havana, Isabel Hamze, when she exposed the Havana Government’s reasons for temporarily suspending the issue of new licenses for paladares — private restaurants — and revising those that already exist. Look, this campaign isn’t a matter — like so many have repeated — of a war against the self-employed, the Cuban private initiative, the restaurants or the late-night bars. It’s much more: a field battle, subtle and personal, against some private entrepreneurs who brushed up against power.

It’s true. The municipal governments of Havana affirmed that they had several meetings with 135 owners of Havana paladares and conversed with them, implying a threat, about particular negative tendencies that have appeared in some private restaurants. But yes, according to official figures, in Havana there are more than 500 paladares and 3,000 cafes. So why didn’t they all attend these meetings? Continue reading “Hidden Agenda Behind the Attack on Cuba’s Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida”

At the beginning of this month, Cuban authorities ordered some private nightclubs to close, citing allegations of violations of the closing hour (3:00 am), not having parking, hiring artists without going through agencies, permitting the consumption and trafficking of drugs, accepting the practices of prostitution and pimping in the establishments, not respecting Customs regulations in the importation of goods for commercial use, acquiring and smuggling goods, money laundering and investing capital of doubtful origin, not abiding by contractual relationships as established in Law 116 or the Work Code, violating city regulations and evading taxes.

Doing so would be understandable. But they didn’t close Bolahabana or the Ashé Bar, the Shangri Lá and others, where incidents had been reported with some members of the Castro elite. Thus, the measure is simply a demonstration of power.

You remember that in August of last year, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, the bodyguard-in-chief (and Raul Castro’s grandson), now with a higher rank, because of a “skirt” problem, insisted on expelling from Cuba, with an indefinite sanction against entering the national territory, the Spanish businessman, Esteban Navarro Carvajal Hernández, owner of the Shangri Lá bar and the Up&Down bar-restaurant.

These particular restaurants are the most visible part of the economic reforms promoted by General Raúl Castro. No one in his right mind can believe that a “Vice President in accordance with a Council of Provincial Administration,” a Cuban official of the fourth category, sweaty, poorly coiffed and with an excellent aptitude for being a police officer, is the person in charge of informing the media that the Cuban Government is deciding to take a step backwards from such a trumpeted opening of the new economic model.

So, why did they do it this way?

The present socio-political situation and the historic advertising caused a considerable increase in the number of travelers that come to the island today. The images of the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew, although at a too-high price, helped the government monopolize the friendly view of the international community.

The moment is favorable for General Raúl Castro, but politically it’s not sensible to go back to landlord methods.

The day after tomorrow, in the next session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the presentation of the Cuba Report entitled, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba,” will resume the robbery of owners.

The Cuban government hopes that the majority of the countries’ representatives present will disagree with maintaining a law that they consider a violation of international rights. This is the same government that today hinders, harasses and blockades, without the least respect and in its own backyard, not useful enemies, but a group of entrepreneurs who have bet on private initiative and social improvement.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida

City of Havana Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2016 — As in the Greek epic, Eusebio Leal, the Captain of a small stronghold of Cuban historians, confronted Brigade General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas and the Business Administration Group of the Armed Forces (FAR) with lively and poetic oratory. We know that FAR has taken possession of Habaguanex and several business institutions linked to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana.

This past October 11, from the central patio of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, during an exhibit that began at 8:30 in the morning and lasted a little more than one hour, Doctor Leal Spengler inspired confidence in his troops, using phrases like: “The Office of the Historian is today stronger than ever”; “We’re facing the storm without any type of fear”; and, “Be calm and serene, let nothing perturb you; I am here.” Continue reading “Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida”

Self-taught and with more awards (national and international) than any other Cuban, Eusebio Leal met with the technicians and directors of the different museums, because – according to his explanation – “Of all the groups with whom I work, the one that shares my goals the most is the one dedicated to museums, the collections, and to that exercise of searching which becomes a necessity for each one of us.”

With vague insinuations of mutiny and not calling for obedience, Leal, a member of the National Assembly’s Commission on International Relations, the Committee for the Eradication of Poverty of the United Nations, the National Geographic Society, the Madrid Royal Academy of History and the Latin American Council for Human Rights encouraged his troops publicly to not allow anyone to intervene and put their hands even on one piece of the museum without being properly prepared, and to not accept “improvised directors although they have a wonderful curriculum of having done other things in life.”

“The inventory” — he harangued them — “to mention only the subject of furniture, needs the knowledge of an antiquarian who has studied the different styles, epochs and models. It’s not just a matter of a table with four legs.” And thus, dressed in his usual grey safari outfit that he wears like a uniform, visibly recovered from the illness that afflicted him and vaunting his oral skills, he answered with irony-charged words the discredited oration, “During the process of transfer, the important thing is the inventory,” that the General-Intervenor Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés gives in every meeting with imperial enthusiasm.

“I’m an attorney, and I know what corresponds to me,” he said solemnly, remembering, in an emotional moment, the sentence that the illustrious Cuban patriot and composer of our national anthem, don Pedro Figueredo, pronounced on that fateful afternoon of August in 1870, facing the military tribunal that condemned him to death by firing squad.

“To those like me who admire Leal’s work and the Office of the Historian, we are sad knowing that the final chapter in the struggle to govern Old Havana looks like it won’t go any further,” said a known worker who, having been present at such a restricted meeting, requested anonymity.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Negligence and Violations Opened the Door to Zika in Holguin / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almedia, 8 September 2016 — A commission put together by senior management from the Ministries of the Interior and of Public Health in Cuba has released a report that enters into evidence the origin of the entrance of the Zika virus into Holguín Province.

“Soldiers and Doctors,” a paraphrase of the title of the book by Carlos Loveira, matches a chain of avoidable oversights and violations, committed in the service area of airport security.

“There are videos from the airport cameras showing the guys who, instead of paying attention to the temperature scanner, left to carry luggage in order to get tips from the passengers on international flights.” An officer tells me this unabashedly, and, on cue, he prefers to remain anonymous. Continue reading “Negligence and Violations Opened the Door to Zika in Holguin / Juan Juan Almeida”

“By doing this,” he continues, “they neglected epidemiological vigilance and Zika came into the province of Holguín. But, apparently, they already took the measures required by the authorities of the Frank País International Airport, and they expelled those implicated, who are at the disposition of the competent body, because their failure to perform their duties facilitated the propagation of this illness in the province.”

My interlocutor says, “The miserable salary that the customs agents receive and the lack of incentives for those in charge of looking after border security was what really provoked the failure or negligence in airport protocol, permitting someone infected to come into the Holguín region, and the later development of new ’autonomous’ cases that, as you know, are residents in the city of Holguín who have never traveled abroad.”

A doctor in the province with authority on the subject added, “Now what is most worrisome is controlling the vector, meaning the mosquito, Aedes Aegypti. Although they are taking precautions to identify the possible existence of new cases and are studying the viability of taking samples from animals and/or humans in order to develop vaccines, in addition to coordinating health actions with various institutions and raising the consciousness of the population with vigilance and vector control, all these things seem to be insufficient, because we still have it here and we know that the mosquito is changing its usual behavior.”

This past February, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a world health emergency.

From La Voz del Morro, by Juan Juan Almeida.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván García

Two men from the village of Paraguay, in Guantánamo, moving with their suitcases to a more secure place before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Taken from The Daily Times.
Two men from the village of Paraguay, in Guantánamo, moving with their suitcases to a more secure place before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Taken from The Daily Times.

Ivan Garcia, 5 October 2016 — Right now, it’s easier to get to Miami than to Santiago de Cuba. To visit the second largest city on the Island, there are two daily flights that are rarely on time; you have to take a train for around 20 hours, or buy a bus ticket, a whole adventure where you get a mix of satire, drama, and, of course, the chance to pay five or ten convertible pesos under the table as a bribe.

If anyone knows hardship, it’s the Cubans who live in the eastern regions. Living far away from the coasts of Florida, diplomatic headquarters and media focal points, their first step toward migration is to escape to Havana. Continue reading “In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván García”

Havana is a city where, to their misfortune, the Cuban Adjustment Act doesn’t exist. Long before Donald Trump tried to enter the White House, with his primitive isolationism and huge stupidity, Fidel Castro advanced a project to build a legal wall: Decree 217, or the Law of Internal Migratory Regulations, which, since April 22, 1997, restricts those born in the east of the Island from living in the capital, which supposedly belongs to all Cubans.

The worst things in Cuba happen to easterners. Regulations, laws to put the brakes on their internal migration, being exposed to earthquakes, drought, and, in 2012 to Hurricane Sandy, and now, with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Matthew, they suffer more devastation caused by natural phenomena than the central and western provinces.

Their sing-song accents, extended mania for throwing down rum and for living in subhuman conditions, are the stuff of jokes with racist and xenophobic overtones made by habaneros, residents of Havana, who call them palestinos, Palestinians.

If you visit any of a hundred illegal slums set up in the darkness of night and constructed with recyclable materials in different districts of Havana, you will see that most of the residents are orientales, easterners, who are fleeing from poverty in search of better salaries.

Néstor is one of them. For seven years he has lived in a hut made of poorly arranged bricks with a tile roof, in a foul-smelling and dingy field that is a stone’s throw from the landfill of Calle 100, in Havana’s Marianao district.

He lives from garbage. He earns money by collecting raw material that has apparently ended its useful life, like shoes, electric appliances and sports watches, which, after a process of repair, are sold at low prices in the traveling stalls that are set up in Havana.

“The eastern part of Cuba is at death’s door. There’s no money or food. I worked as a custodian in a school and earned 225 Cuban pesos a month — around eight dollars — and when I went to a shop to buy a pair of shoes, the price was from 500 to 600 pesos. Havana is dirty, many houses are held up by a miracle, but you can find money there,” says Néstor.

Luis, a santiaguero, resident of Santiago de Cuba, living for 10 years in Santos Suárez, a neighborhood south of the capital, sells tamales. While driving his tricycle-trailer, he hawks his hot tamales as soon as they’re made.

“Not even in the distant past was nature in favor of santiagueros. Earthquakes, drought, and now we’re also threatened by this powerful hurricane. There people are butting their heads against the wall trying to invent money. Recreation is dancing reggaeton and drinking homemade rum. Things in Cuba are bad, but in the east everything is much worse,” points out Luis.

With the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, thousands of easterners who are settled in Havana worry about the future of their relatives. “Every evening I call my mother and brothers, and I pray that the hurricane won’t carry away their little house. We are from San Pedrito — a neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba — and we have more trouble than a slave working under the sun. It’s pitiful. As soon as they get up, people start drinking alcohol and gossiping about the neighbors,” says Lucila, a worker in an agro-market in El Cerro.

The disgust of many people from Havana toward easterners is provoked a little by the myth and by the rude behavior toward the citizens by the police, composed mainly by natives of those regions*.

“Easterners are known for being informers, bums, and alcoholics. It’s all the same to me if the hurricane goes through Oriente, and if it does, the orientales can piss off,” sneers Octavio, a habanero who kills time by talking nonsense on street corners.

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that many people have a real problem with Cubans born in the east. “What bothers habaneros the most is the terrible treatment by the police – their lack of culture, bad manners and inferiority complex. Probably they’re not pleased that most of the State officials, headed by Fidel and Raúl, come from the eastern provinces. There is the false belief that cheap whores and hustlers arrive by train from the east to create more problems in the capital. The State, with Decree-Law 217, opened the door to xenophobic feelings that have always existed below the surface in a segment of the population born in Havana. I don’t think it’s a serious problem. But more attention should be paid to the frankly pejorative attitude towards easterners,” indicates the sociologist.

Like any group of Cubans, Havana is only the first step for the easterners. The next trip, if they get enough money or are claimed by their relatives on the other side of the pond, is to land in Miami.

Iván García

Hispanopost, October 3, 2016.

*Translator’s note: Easterners are recruited to be police officers in Havana with the incentive not only of a steady job but also of the nearly-impossible-to-obtain permit to live in the capital city.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Making a Living in Cuba on Gambling / Iván García

Betting on a cock fight in Cuba. Source
Betting on a cock fight in Cuba. Source: Cubanet

Iván García, 26 September 2016 — Although the bleachers of the old stadium in Cerro are deserted, the overcast sky promises rain and the poor quality of the baseball game between Industriales and Sancti Spiritus invites a siesta, a chubby mulato with arms tattooed in Chinese writing — let’s call him Óscar — sits on the left side in the bleachers to place bets.

“Some years before, betting on baseball had more followers. But present-day baseball is so depressing that people prefer to see a European-league football [soccer] match. But there’s always something that comes along,” he says, agreeing to a bet of 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) with a gray-haired man who smokes a mentholated cigarette.

There are various types of bets, explains Óscar. “There are bets that cover you, which are when you see you can lose, and then you opt for what we call rapid bets. An example: Ten pesos that some player is out or that the pitch is a strike. It’s really a booby trap, since in baseball there are more outs than hits or men on base, and the pitchers have to throw more strikes than balls.” Continue reading “Making a Living in Cuba on Gambling / Iván García”

Bets or gambling where money flows is an old passion in Cuba. In the Republican era, the average Cuban played the lottery and the bolita or charada.* And he bet on cock fights, baseball games, or a match of billiards or dominoes.

A sector of the wealthy class went to the casinos and the grand Havana hotels to play roulette, dice or cards, or they went to the Hippodrome, to bet on the best horses. After Fidel Castro came down from the Sierra Maestra and took power, betting was prohibited.

Opportunistic soldiers and diehard supporters of the bearded revolutionaries wrecked the billiard tables, slot machines and roulette tables in the casinos with baseball bats and meat cleavers.

The delusional aim of the Castro brothers and the Argentine, Che Guevara, to construct a laboratory man who would work for free without pay, obey the Regime and hate Yankee imperialism, would happen, among other things, by prohibiting betting.

Cuban laws punish, with prison sentences that range from three months to five years, those who facilitate or manage illegal casinos, lotteries or make bets.

But the prolonged economic crisis that has lasted for 27 years has postponed alienating social experiments and their corresponding punishments.

“Now the police don’t interfere with the betters or the fanatics who gamble for money. It has to be an operation in search of some criminal who goes to clandestine gambling houses. But when they get you, they give you a fine of 60 Cuban pesos (around three dollars); they confiscate the money and release you without opening a file,” says Mauricio, owner of a burle, an illegal gambling house in popular slang.

The burles sprout like flowers in Cuba. There are various classes. The authentic dens are set up in grimy quarters where poor people, pickpockets and rogues gamble a handful of pesos at cards or by throwing dice. But there are also comfortable residences where people go who have money from stealing in tourist centers or prostituting themselves with foreigners.

“In my burle, in order to sit down to gamble, you have to put 5,000 Cuban pesos or 200 Cuban convertible pesos on the table. We also accept dollars, euros, Swiss francs or pounds sterling,” indicates David, the owner of a clandestine casino in the old part of Havana.

According to Mauricio, the preferred games are “three with three, a Creole variation of poker, the longana, which is played with domino tiles, baccarat and Cee-lo, which came from the Orient and is played with dice.” And he says that Cee-lo as well as diverse variants of card games “surged in the prisons, where the prisoners, instead of betting with money, bet with sugar cubes, powdered milk or pornographic magazines.”

In some burles, they also hold cock fights, one of the oldest traditions in rural Cuba. After 1959, pens for fighting cocks were prohibited, but now they’re tolerated on the whole Island and involve a lot of money.

The furor for soccer has generated clubs that make discreet bets. In the absence of a betting game, Román notes in a school notebook the bets for the weekend matches in the European leagues.

“There are those who gamble 5 CUC. But there are bets of 500 CUC and more. It depends on the importance of the match. In the Madrid-Barcelona match, a lot of bills were flying around. People bet until someone gets a goal,” emphasizes Román.

New technologies have incentivized other forms of bets. “There are groups, above all of young people, who gamble in clandestine video-game networks and place big bets. It also pays to have five or six computers with video-games and rent them at one cuc an hour,” explains Ángel, who has set up an illegal business of video-games.

The owners of the burles earn 10 percent of the bets in every game. Films of car races, like The Fast and The Furious, brought to the destroyed Cuban roads the competition of cars and motorcycles for money.

There are no Ferraris, Toyotas or Lamborghinis in Cuba. The races are run, in general, with old U.S. autos, fabricated in the workshops of Detroit 70 years ago, and upgraded cars from the Soviet era. In the rural areas, they organize races of “spiders” or horse carts.

“In the car races, bets can go up to three or four thousand Cuban convertibles. They always choose the best stretch of the road. And every police patrol car is paid 20 CUC to ensure security for the area,” says an organizer of these races.

Other variants of prohibited games are dog fights and clandestine boxing. But the star game of betting in Cuba is the bolita, a local variant of the lottery.

Hundreds of thousands of people play it. From guys with bulging pockets to pensioners who earn nothing. For every peso bet, the bank pays between 80 or 90 pesos at a fixed number. Twenty-five pesos invested and 900 or 1,000 pesos in a trifecta or a combination of two numbers. You bet from one to 100, and every number has one or more meanings. The results come from the lottery in Miami, and there are two rounds of bets.

Any Cuban who hasn’t tried his luck in the bolita, raise your hand.

Iván García

Hispanost, September 8, 2016.

*Translator’s note: *”Little Ball” was a type of lottery which involved 100 small, numbered balls. The charada assigned names of animals to the numbers. This created a superstitious method for betting, often basing a choice on a dream or an animal seen during the day. The horse was number 1; this is why Fidel Castro was often referred to as el caballo.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García

Woman buying food
Woman buying food. (Source: Panamerican World.)

Iván García, 19 September 2016 — Let’s get to know Osmel, born in Havana, in 1968. You can smell his body three yards away. He’s a carrier of HIV; he drinks alcohol and makes trouble seven days a week and doesn’t have any known residence.

He sleeps on top of some cartons in a building that threatens to fall down. He eats little and poorly and makes some money collecting old things in the dump at Calle 100, west of the capital.

His skin looks scorched, and every morning he tries to sell things on the outskirts of the Plaza Roja in La Vibora: a pair of used shoes, pieces of second-generation computers or a collection of old Bohemia magazines. Continue reading “The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García”

He says that Social Security “because of my advanced diabetes helps me with 140 pesos (7 dollars) a month, which more or less allows me to get what I need from the store and buy meat and medicine.”

Undoubtedly, Osmel would like to have a family, sleep in a bed and have a daily bath. “I dream about this all the time. To eat hot food, have a wife and watch television with my kids. But how can I get that if what I earn in a month by selling old junk or cutting stone doesn’t cover my needs?” he asks, and he answers himself:

“So that’s why I have to get drunk. The money left to me goes for that. Maybe it’s the fastest way to kill myself,” he says and takes a sip of murky alcohol from a plastic bottle, filtered with industrial carbon.

Like Osmel, hundreds of indigents wander through the streets of Havana, trying to survive in “the revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble,” as Fidel Castro once described it, which in practice has been transformed into an incipient military capitalism that benefits very few.

The Cuba of the Castro brothers happened to have a functional Social Security, sustained by the blank check that the Kremlin provided, for limited aid to retired and sick people, among others, who receive a handful of pesos that isn’t even enough to cover a third of what they need.

The big losers of the tepid economic reforms undertaken by General Raúl Castro are the old people and those at risk of social exclusion. Not all of them are beggars without a roof, like Osmel, but many are obligated to sell newspapers, nylon bags, single cigarettes and cones of peanuts in the streets, or become night watchmen for private companies or State businesses to earn some extra pesos.

The worst isn’t the present; it’s the future. Keep in mind this date: In 2025, more than 30 percent of the Cuban population will be over 60 years. With emigration soaring, finances in the red and a lack of coherent politics that offers net benefits to women and men of the third age [retired], it’s evident that Cuba will not be a good place for old people to live.

Although the old are the most affected by the new economic direction, according to Argelio, a sociologist, “almost 40 percent of the citizenry lives below the poverty line accepted by international agencies, which is measured by those who earn less than one dollar a day. For those in extreme poverty, the figure on the Island hovers around 15 percent.

Specialists consulted consider that there are many reasons for the steep fall in the level of life in Cuba. “The prolonged economic crisis, which now has lasted for 27 years, an economy with ineffective structures, sluggishness in applying efficient models of business management, the circulation of two monies, low salaries and a decrease in productive and export capacity. Except for the sale of services and tourism, in most indices, Cuba has gone backwards,” says Jorge, a professor of political economics.

Raisa, an economist, blames the disaster on “poor governmental management, the decapitalization of the country by the dual currency system and low salaries, which distorts transactions, real productivity and the buying power of the population. There are three or four types of monetary exchanges in the export business and non-agriculture cooperatives that affect economic performance. Raising salaries without a productive base is counter-productive, but earning poor salaries is even more so. The dual currency should be repealed now, although it brings with it associated short-term phenomena that could trigger social conflict.”

In October 2013, the Havana Regime announced the unification of the dual currency and put into play a group of measures that would progressively culminate with the withdrawal of the Cuban Convertible peso (CUC), leaving only the Cuban peso (CUP). But the slowness and the new state of austerity made the autocracy think twice before initiating an in-depth monetary reform.

With an average salary that doesn’t exceed 27 dollars/month, the average Cuban must get by as well as he can to have one or two hot meals a day, get soap, deodorant and detergent and buy clothing and shoes. To reach a decent standard of living, Cubans need the equivalent of 20 minimum salaries of 300 Cuban pesos a month, which would add up to the equivalent 280 dollars per capita.

And probably this isn’t enough, since the accumulation of material hardships and lack of maintenance in the homes triple these figures. Although the Government doesn’t talk about the camouflaged inflation that affects, above all, the State workers who earn in Cuban pesos, the prices in the hard-currency shops — that require Cuban Convertible pesos — reveal the real state of the situation.

Three examples: If a worker wants to buy a flat-screen television, he needs a  salary of a year and a half. To furnish his house, a salary of five years. And if he dreams of owning a modern car, at the present price in State agencies, he needs a salary of 180 years.

If this isn’t inflation, let someone show me otherwise.

Diario Las Américas, September 9, 2015.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García

Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)
Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)

Ivan Garcia, 28 September 2016 — After passing the crossing of La Palma, two kilometers from the old bus stop of Mantilla, El Calvario is found nestled, a district of one-story houses, roads without asphalt and a multitude of dogs without owners.

At the end of a narrow alley the Cubalex Center of Legal Information headquarters is located, a two-story house constructed from private resources, that also serves as the waiting room for the public on the lower floor and housing on the upper floor. Continue reading “Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García”

There, in the summer of 2011, the lawyer, Laritza Diversent Cambara, 36 years old, founded a law office to give legal advice to citizens without charging anything nor caring about the person’s ideological position.

“The last year we dealt with more than 170 cases. Most of the people were poor and without resources, and they felt helpless because of the State’s judicial machinery. We advised on homicides, cases of violence against women, drugs, prostitution and also for any dissident who needed it,” indicated Laritza, seated on a small roofed patio at the back of her house.

The judicial illiteracy in Cuba is lamentable. Very few know the Fundamental Law of the Republic or the proceedings that the police force must fulfill during arrests, confiscations or when they give a simple citation.

Since 2009, lawyers like Laritza Diversent has given lectures to bloggers, independent journalists and the opposition, so they would know how to act at the moment of an arrest.

But the laws in Cuba are an abstraction. They are a set of legal regulations that supposedly should be respected by the authorities. But the repressive forces are the first to violate them.

What occurred on Friday, September 23 is an example. Lartiza says that “several neighbors had warned us about an operation that State Security was preparing. About 20 uniformed agents presented themselves in the office, some with pistols in their belts, as officials of several State institutions. They brought a search warrant that didn’t comply with the requirements established by law. When we let them know it, they resorted to force and invaded the entrance of the Cubalex headquarters, which at the same time is my home.”

They destroyed the door to the patio and came into the living quarters after forcing the kitchen door. Now inside, they took away five computers, seven cell phones, a server, six security cameras, three printers, digital media, archives and money.

“They acted with total impunity and arrogance. The authorities assume they are above the law. They filmed everything. Then they stripped us one by one and body-searched us in a degrading way. It was really humiliating,” said Lartiza.

They took away and detained the lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, and the activist Dayán Alfredo Pérez, whom they freed 12 hours later. Ferrer was confined in the Zanja and Dragones police station, very close to the Chinese Quarter of Havana.

Laritza assumes that the olive-green Regime could send Julio Ferrer to prison. “From his family we found out that in a couple of days, Julio will be presented in the Second Chamber of the criminal court. We will do everything we can to prevent this.”

Ferrer Tamayo, perhaps one of the best prepared Cuban jurists, was a prosecutor in Guanabacoa and later a defense attorney. He knows like few do about the corruption, nepotism and trafficking in influence in the sewer of the legal system.

He has proof that points to several judges. When he decided to become an independent lawyer, he suffered all kinds of harassment from State Security. And in an underhanded legal plot, they sentenced him to three years in prison. But his legal knowledge obliged the olive-green autocracy to free him, without completing his sentence.

Now, everything indicates that they are going to prosecute him and incarcerate him again. The coercion of Special Services has no limits on the Island. Marienys Pavó Oñate, herself a lawyer and the wife of Ferrer, has been confined since 31 July 2012  in the women’s prison, Manto Negro, in a case that he considers a conspiracy.

Cubalex, like other law offices and groups on the State’s margins, operate in a real judicial limbo. In one form or another, they have tried to enroll in the Ministry of Justice Association’s registry. But either they haven’t received a response, or they have been denied the right to associate themselves legally.

In that regard, Laritza says that this indefinite or semi-clandestine status was the perfect pretext to launch the violent operation against Cubalex on Friday, September 23.

“At the head of the search was Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Delgado Casanova and the prosecutor, Beatriz Peña de la Hoz. But to give it a veneer of legality, other officers participated, like the ones from the Institute of Physical Planning, the National Office of Tax Administration and the Integral Direction of Supervision, a body of inspection that forms part of the Council of Provincial Administration,” points out the lawyer from Havana.

The Cubalex team is worried about the legal actions that the State can take against Jorge Amado Iglesias, a collaborator of the office, since he has a license to work for himself and they can fine him 1,500 pesos. For her part, Laritza suspects that Physical Planning initiated a process in order to confiscate both the headquarters and her own home. Since it’s a process of investigation that can last for months, Cubalex cannot take on any cases.

Laritza Diversent is devastated. She believes that the operation suffered by the office, added to other cases of detentions and confiscations against opponents and alternative journalists, could be the beginning of an imminent repressive wave against the dissidence on a national level. “I never thought that by defending human rights I would have to go through all this,” she says.

And that new turn of the repressive screw brings back memories of the Black Spring of 2003. The only thing different in the modus operandi is the season of the year. To make it true, it would have to be in the fall.

Note: The photo of Laritza Diversent in her office was taken by Iván on Monday, September 26, three days after the police operation against Cubalex, which took place on the first floor of her house. In 2009, Laritza began writing as an independent journalist on the blog, Desde La Habana (From Havana). Her works from that period can be read in the folder entitled Las Leyes de Laritza (Lartiza’s Laws).

Translated by Regina Anavy

General Francis is Out of the Game and Raul’s Grandson Ascends / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 29 August 2016 — The most powerful of all the Cuban generals, Division General Humberto Omar Francis Pardo, was replaced in his job as Head of the General Direction of Personal Security (DGSP).

The position is now filled by Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who is known by various nicknames, like “The Crab,” “Grandson-in-Chief,” Raulito” and even “The Arnol-mal,” this last one from his frenetic addiction to steroids and exercise.

Before creating the Commission of Defense and National Security, which Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín directs today, the Direction of Personal Security was the invisible apparatus with the most power on the island. Under this nomenclature, like the current “Commission,” ministries, institutions and all the MININT (Ministry of the Interior) divisions were subordinated. Continue reading “General Francis is Out of the Game and Raul’s Grandson Ascends / Juan Juan Almeida”

“After a long period of stress, and multiple disagreements, Francis suffered a cerebral stroke. He was admitted to the hospital but now is at home,” said a family member of the dismissed General.

The DGSP, intended to protect the force of the myth, the fiscal and moral integrity of Fidel Castro and the rest of the so-called leaders of the first level, has succeeded in amassing more cash than some armies.

The DGSP’s empire 

The DSP relies on a section of the transport police in order to review the fastest road or route for moving the leader. It has a film group, with experts in the art of photography, where they touch up the images of the “untouchables.” Another section is dedicated to documentation and migration matters and also functions as a trip coordinator; an anti-attack brigade consists of snipers and experts in every type of explosive; and a medical department, in addition to having a clinic for everything, has a fixed allocation of doctors, nurses, radiologists, physical therapists, laboratory technicians and other health workers.

They have a division of technology and telephone, workshops, diving masters, gymnasiums, coordinators; a very effective counterintelligence service that, in coordination with other State agencies, looks for, manages and controls all the information of that brotherhood, the family circles and friendships; a department of international relations that coordinates with other secret services the visits to Cuba of people of interest and personalities (friends or not), whether they are presidents, governors, heads of State, members of Congress, religious leaders, etc.; a purchasing group in charge of pleasing even the most bizarre tastes; a department that checks the news that should or should not be released about the Cuban leaders; and a unit to contract service staff (maids) who later work in the houses of those chosen.

With this new appointment, Raúl Castro, in addition to putting his grandson in a key post, captures a vital space reserved uniquely to Fidel, to control even the most insignificant thing, like the ruling class’s privacy in their homes. This method can have a possible boomerang effect, because it also assures the rejection from a good part of a strategic force that, older and in the military, were always faithful to General Francis.

Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, taking care of his grandfather in Panama.

All the body guards of this prestigious group belong to the DSP. Their work consists of taking care of them, protecting them and satisfying them even in their most quirky desires, in addition to spying, recruiting and blackmailing, in order to maintain, at any price, the “moral purity” of the Cuban politicians. This convoy is in charge of avoiding any type of problem of the leader and his closest family. And when I say “any,” it’s any, from the most absurd up to the most complex, whether it’s financial, political or legal.

In Cuba, nobody can prosecute, criticize or punish a bigwig or family member, without the authorization of the DSP.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García

Journalism on Demand
Journalism on Demand

Iván García, 27 August 2016 — I still remember that two-day trip to Pinar del Río. I stayed in a Communist Party hotel at the side of the old central highway. I visited the province’s outstanding factories, cooperatives and work centers.

Then in Havana, I wrote three or four sugar-coated articles about the excellent management of the Peoples’ Power and the “enthusiasm” of the workers’ collective at the Conchita factory after winning a banner of socialist excellence.

No one told me how to do journalism. I experienced it for four decades. I was studying primary education and during school recesses, at the request of my grandmother, my mother [Tania Quintero, now living in Switzerland], a former official journalist, took me with her when she had to do reports in the cities of the interior. Continue reading “Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García”

In that epoch – and now, according to what they tell me – journalists covered the subjects indicated by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which weekly dictated the guidelines to the communication media.

Most official journalists are scribes rather than reporters. They write on demand.

With the arrival of new information technologies and the transition from a personalistic and totalitarian society to an authoritarian country of incipient military capitalism, dozens of State journalists now publish with their names or pseudonyms in alternative digital media, generating a reprimand from their bosses.

It’s precisely in blogs and on independent sites that these correspondents can express their talent, tell their stories and pour out opinions that they never would publish in the dull, propagandistic Government press.

The most notorious case is Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), spearheaded by Elaine Díaz, ex-professor of the University of Havana Faculty of Communication and probably the best journalist in Cuba. After dropping the official ballast, Díaz published excellent research on communities and citizens that never appeared in the Party media.

Doing independent journalism in Cuba brings risks. You won’t get a pension when you retire; you will suffer harassment from State Security, and the Taliban hard-liners will try to assassinate your reputation with every type of crude accusation. But those who manage to do it are free persons.

In my case, I choose the topics and how I’m going to present them. The only censorship is that imposed by reason or by the sword of Damocles represented by the Gag Law, which obliges you to revise the content with a magnifying glass so you don’t get tangled in a crime of defamation or accused of denigrating the President of the Republic.

Certainly, the chief editors with whom I collaborate make recommendations. Up to now, they haven’t censored the content nor the style of drafting. Only on two occasions did they not publish one of my articles (a right that newspapers or websites have). Then I uploaded them to my two blogs.

That an independent journalist doesn’t write on demand means that inside the Island several opposition organizations and dissident leaders try to use you at their convenience.

It seems legitimate to me that a dissident project aspires to having the best media impact possible. That’s not what I’m referring to. It’s the deplorable obsession of certain dissidents who want to manage the work of a journalist.

They use different strategies. One is to invite you to meetings where they paint a superficial picture of their organization and their chimeric plans. The story is like that of the Government, but in reverse. They exaggerate the number of members and present a battery of proposals that are forgotten after a few months.

If you ask uncomfortable questions, they simply take you off the list of their meetings and press conferences. If you’re too critical of the dissidence, they prepare a reprimand.

They never tell you that they disagree with you. They start the discussion by pointing out that you’re wrong. If voices are raised, accusations begin: that you’re an undercover agent of State Security, a traitor to the cause, or you’re providing arguments to the “enemy” (the Regime) that later will be used to discredit the opposition.

Another strategy, in mode among certain opposition groups, is that in addition to “renting” a journalist, they enroll him in their cause. A huge mistake. Keeping a distance is the first rule of journalism.

If you are for democracy, that doesn’t mean you should march with the Ladies in White through Miramar. When that happens, the journalist misjudges the profession.

Sometimes the debates caused by a journalistic article are civilized. Other times they set up a “repudiation meeting” for you.

The Sunday of March 20, hours before Obama landed in Havana, I was with the Ladies in White in Gandhi Park, to write an article about the aggressions against the group of women on the part of the repressive bodies.

There I had to put up with the insolence of Ailer González, a member of Estado de Sats, asking me what I was doing there and refuting my assessments. I answered her briefly and told her that she didn’t have to read me.

This type of journalism by genuflection, habitual in Cuba, sometimes tries to pass itself off as freelance.

Everyone is free to have an opinion and reproduce it. Sometimes our commentaries or stories provoke controversy and irritate the local or exile dissidence. But at least I don’t write to please anyone.

If a handful of ungagged journalists have been able to defy an olive-green autocracy for 20 years, I don’t believe that the pride and intolerance of some dissidents should inhibit us.

Authentic journalism is always in search of the truth. Whatever it costs.

Photo: Elaine Díaz and Abraham Jiménez, directors of the digital media Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) and El Estornudo (The Sneeze). Taken from Brotes de periodismo cubano (Outbreaks of Cuban Journalism), an article by Pablo de Llano, El País (The Country, a daily newspaper in Spain), March 22, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Renting Fidel Castro’s Yacht for 5,000 Dollars a Day / Juan Juan Almeida

Fidel Castro Ruz

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 August 2016 — Renting Fidel Castro’s yacht will be the new publicity backdrop that will be the next thing to enter the arena in order to convert the “Acuarama II,” as it is named, into an appetizing bait.

For some time, the auto rental business, Grancar, has been renting a couple of replicas of his legendary Russian limousine; unpublished photos of the ex-Comandante en Jefe are sold in various auctions as collection pieces, and now, exceeding all imagination and surpassing a whole flotilla of boats designed for the good life, the new boat bamboozle that the tourist group Gaviota will offer emerges: a sophisticated trip in the boat of the modest, humble and simple leader, Fidel.

With such purpose and in order to satisfy the most demanding of tastes, as General Raúl Castro puts it, “without haste but without pause,” using polyurethane of great consistency for protection and beautification, in its usual berth, the tidal basin of Caleta del Rosario, the hull was cleaned up and repaired (Code P-6, according to the nomenclature of NATO), along with the four diesel engines, model M-50 F-2, of 1200 horsepower. The rest of the reconstruction was done, with rigor and commercial conscience, from July 9, 2014 up to April 1, 2016. Continue reading “Renting Fidel Castro’s Yacht for 5,000 Dollars a Day / Juan Juan Almeida”

Expert carpenters, specialists in boat furniture, worked without a break, while the ship was in drydock at a border guard unit of Barlovento Bay west of Havana. There, respecting the original design in its most minute detail, they changed the woodwork and applied an extra marine varnish of high strength to the new doors and the whole interior oak; they changed the nuts and bolts and the upholstery coverings. They also installed two new refrigerator housings and re-equipped the radio, navigation equipment and control room with the ultimate in advanced technology.

A new boat, a new life. At 89.63 feet (27.3 meters) in length, 4 heads, first-class cabins, air conditioning, televisions, a bar and satellite navigation, the rent comes to about $780/hour. However, a tiny discount will be given only to special clients. We are talking about up to $5,000 dollars for the first 8 hours. Whoever rents it can enjoy a romantic escapade, a family reunion, a party with friends, a dream of a fishing trip, a work reunion or a wedding celebration in a pretentious environment that for years was reserved exclusively for the ex-communist leader and his high-class guests.

As now few things amaze me, who knows if in the next few days the news surprises us that, as a new source of income, foreign tourists can visit Punto Cero and bring back as a souvenir a photo with the Comandante.

The truth is that, for now, while many people continue trapped in an absurd, aberrant and almost infinite cycle of anger, vengeance, violence and false patriotism, Fidel Castro continues to be the most profitable commercial trademark that the Cuban Revolution has.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García

View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.
View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.

Ivan Garcia, 22 August 2016 — The breeze coming from the coast is a blast of hot air that barely cools things off. The sun reverberates and the tourists take refuge from the insufferable irradiation in a swimming pool in the form of a huge shell, split in two by a cement walkway.

Others escape from the heat wave by tossing down beer like British hooligans or drinking insipid mojitos one after another. The Russian and Serbian tourists continue doing their thing: drinking vodka with ice as if it were mineral water, leaning on the bar rail of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort hotel, nestled into Cayo Coco, in the archipelago of the Jardines del Rey, north of Ciego de Ávila, a province some 360 miles to the east of Havana.

In the tiny shop, Mexican tourists ask where they can buy El Cuervo tequila. Close by, a group of Spaniards follow on television the performance of their compatriot, Mireia Belmonte, in the Olympic swimming finals in Rio 2016. Continue reading “Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García”

There are very few Cuban tourists. Even fewer black people. Past 2:00 in the afternoon, the Memories Flamenco hotel seems to be a plenary session in miniature of the United Nations: East and West Europeans, Mexicans, Hindus, Asians and Americans, who try not to call attention to their clandestine tourism at Cayo Coco.

“Traveling to Cuba isn’t a problem. You can justify it with any of the 12 categories authorized and, although it’s not permitted legally, no institution in the United States asks if we’re doing tourism when we travel to the island,” comments a North American of Peruvian origin on vacation with his wife and two kids.

The five-star hotel is located on the highway that connects Cayo Coco with Cayo Guillermo. It has 624 rooms; 12 are suites and 4 are adapted for the handicapped. At this moment, half of the rooms are empty. “We’re in the low season. And even though the number of visitors to Cuba continued growing in 2016, hotel occupancy isn’t more than 50 percent,” says a receptionist.

Like 70 percent of Cuban tourist installations, the Memories Flamenco hotel is administered by the Gaviota S.A. military emporium, a business that appeared in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, on the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourist business.

“When the tourist boom began, since so much in Cuba is stolen, it wasn’t known for sure whether a hotel would generate profits. Gaviota reduced expenditures and raised productivity on the basis of low salaries and internal controls,” says an employee.

Another employee, driving an electric cart that transports the recent arrivals to their rooms, says with total frankness that “most of us workers don’t agree with the deal they give us. Gaviota contracts only with foreign businesses to administer their hotels. The salary is shit; I earn 500 pesos (almost 20 dollars) a month, and since it’s a hotel with ’everything included,’ tipping is scarce. The luggage handlers and the maids are the ones who get extra money. But it’s always better to work in a hotel than to be a policeman.”

Every day a maid cleans and prepares 12 rooms. Her base salary is 465 pesos/month and about 18 dollars as a stimulus. “When it’s not Juana, it’s her sister. The truth is that we never receive a salary that matches the number of tourists staying in the hotel. I get by, more or less, thanks to the guests who give me two or three CUCs as a tip, and leave me clothing and useful stuff when they go, although getting it out of the hotel is a problem,” confesses a maid.

According to a gardener, most of the Cubans who work in management changed their military uniforms for white or blue guayaberas and black shoes. “They arrive from military life thinking that a hotel is operated the same as a barracks. In addition to being rude to us, they’re arrogant. I don’t leave, because for better or for worse, working in a hotel is better than cutting cane.”

Most of the employees of the Memories Flamenco live in Morón, a town 50 minutes from Cayo Coco. “The work routine is very demanding. I work seven days and get three days off. The management is treated differently. In spite of the hotel’s good results, Gaviota doesn’t let our families enjoy the facilities. Even the food they give us workers is different. In general it’s very little, and poorly prepared,” confesses a bar worker.

In addition to Memories Flamenco, there are on Cayo Coco, among others, the hotels Memories Caribe Beach Resort, Meliá Cayo Coco, Meliá Jardines del Rey, Pullman Cayo Coco, Pestana Cayo Coco All Inclusive Beach Resort, Tryp Cayo Coco, Colonial Cayo Coco, Sol Cayo Coco, Playa Coco, Playa Coco Star, Iberostar Mojito, Iberostar Cayo Coco and NH Krystal Laguna Villas & Resort, with more than 6,700 rooms total.

The zone is designed to be an example of true tourist apartheid. At the entrance to the isle, a police official, guarded by several soldiers with red berets, checks the people and vehicles that enter and leave the Ciego de Avila key.

Almost all the hotels located on Cayo Coco are administered by Gaviota, which has plans to continue growing in the coming years. Several brigades are building three new hotels, which will increase room capacity even more.

Many tourists aren’t pleased with the strategy of being confined in installations far from towns and cities. “It’s annoying; it prevents you from interacting with people. When they put you in hotels in Havana you can chat with Cubans on the street, but it’s impossible in the rest of the tourist zones,” says Eusebio, an Andalusian who lives in Seville.

The same thing has happened with the construction of the Hotel Kempinski, in the heart of the capital. Gaviota’s management prefers to hire foreign chefs and directors before Cubans.

“It’s absurd to bring bricklayers from India or cooks from Spain. They pay them fair salaries, but not us. It seems that whoever directs Gaviota hates Cubans,” complains a kitchen assistant.

The dream of one of the tourist promoters is to hook up with a foreign woman and leave the country. “My goal is to work in Miami Beach, Cancun or Punta Cana,” he says, and he runs for cover from a drizzle that barely alleviates the leaden heat.

When night falls, the lobby bar fills up, and in an adjoining theater, the guests take their chairs to see the performance of Divan Sotelo, one of the Reggae musicians in style at the moment, who was born in Havana in 1996.

At this hour, one of the maids is waiting for the worker transport that will take her home. Today was a decent day. Four convertible pesos in tips and two half-filled bottles of shampoo that a couple of Japanese tourists gave her.

Now she is looking for a way to take them out of the hotel without calling attention to herself. Tomorrow, perhaps, she will have better luck.

Martí Noticias, August 19, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

Fidel Castro: Ignoring Him is the Best Punishment / Juan Juan Almeida

Venezuelan musicians dedicate the gala to Fidel Castro in Cuba for his 90th birthday.

Juan Juan Almeida, La Voz del Morro, August 15, 2006 — Humans eat meat; cattle feed on forage and in their own way find the nutrients in the soil populated by worms, which probably eat other bugs that I don’t know about; but I’m sure they occupy a major place on the food chain that today Fidel Castro signifies for the youth of the island.

It’s a shame that the incapacity and non-existence of leadership among the ranks of the Government, the dissidence and the opposition make many insist on eternalizing the shadow of a ghost that now doesn’t exist even in the Cuban imagination. Continue reading “Fidel Castro: Ignoring Him is the Best Punishment / Juan Juan Almeida”

The national press gave him headlines that managed to surpass, amply, the sick local humor.

The journalistic indigestion was like this:

“Workers of the Coppelia ice-cream parlor congratulate Fidel.” An ice-cream parlor where they barely, without a fuss, offer only one flavor of ice cream, and the workers don’t earn much, even though they don’t work.

“Eternal santiaguero [originally from Santiago] born in Birán.”

A drooler with an absence of geography. Birán belongs to the province of Holguín.

“Fidel inspires confidence.”

Please, if anyone has been deceptive without being accountable for more than a half-century in Cuba, it’s Fidel.

“They recognize Fidel’s contributions to gender equality.”

Total disconnection. Fidel is the macho creator of the UMAP [forced labor camps for homosexuals], and he never in 50 years legislated anything on domestic abuse.

The opposition, for its part, also repeated itself with colossal nonsense, pounding on the social networks with the aged and incoherent slogan, “Down with the tyrant, Fidel,” and giving an injection of life to a dead subject.

It’s true that both proclamations, for and against, don’t let up, and with superfluous boldness, they delivered to the ex-comandante, by name, a flood of attention. The food of longevity.

There’s nothing better for Fidel than that, during his 90th birthday, ancient and out of power, and with his screws loose, his name would prevail among the first posts on the list of trending topics.

Shameful. None of his “enemies” manages to surpass the first of his challenges, to change their own way of thinking and stop competing with a fossil who, incredibly, at the age of 90, has exceeded everyone in his capacity of attraction, in the art of manipulation, political wisdom, egocentrism, strategy, charisma and absolute knowledge of his island’s geography.

I imagine that the detractors as well as the adulators don’t know that on the night of August 13, after having attended the gala offered in his honor at the Karl Marx theater, Fidel Castro returned home. They blew out the candles — he couldn’t blow them out for lack of lung capacity — and the invitees, sick of hearing the same stupidities about the Sierra Maestra, the coming end of the world and the plans of the past, left him alone, in his babble, on his only faithful companion, the beige armchair.

In his house, Fidel is less important than a filet mignon on the table of a vegan. Loneliness is his punishment. It would be better to not feed his ego so much, and to abandon the apparent incapacity some have to begin living without his presence.

Translated by Regina Anavy

It Shows a Lack of Respect to Distribute 200 Cars Among All Cuban Doctors / Juan Juan Almeida

The Vice Minister of Health, Marcía Cobas (on right), greets a group of Cuban doctors.

Juan Juan Almeida, February 1, 2016, Martí Noticias — The Ministry of Public Health claims it is giving an award but it is creating a total hornet’s nest. On tour throughout the country, Dr. Marcia Cobas, Vice Minister of Health and a member of the Central Committee of the Party, announces in every hospital she visits that she’s going to distribute computer laptops and 200 automobiles among the Cuban doctors.

I wonder how you divide 200 Chinese vehicles among all the Cuban professionals if — according to official figures — there is one nurse in Cuba for every 126 inhabitants, a doctor for every 159 residents, a dentist for every 1,066 neighbors and a uterine endoscopist for every 200 inhabitants. Continue reading “It Shows a Lack of Respect to Distribute 200 Cars Among All Cuban Doctors / Juan Juan Almeida”

The health authorities, inherent in a dictatorship with a sinister administration, aren’t recognizing the work of the doctors. They are awarding disloyalty and indifference to the common problems of a very sensitive profession.

A renowned professor, whose name I can’t mention except to say that he’s an active member of the Cuban Society of Psychiatry and a specialist in the study of human behavior, assures me that a governmental decision of this type is a dangerous exercise in control that causes spontaneous hatred and manifests in unusual racist insults, sexist judgments, classist complaints and accusations among the physicians who, in addition to being competitive, are totally abusive. The doctors are hopping mad, washing their dirty linen in public.

The measure, as is logical, far from lessening the discontent of the fraternity of doctors, increases the mistrust, intensifies the repressed hatred and generates a worrisome atmosphere of tension among the doctors who get ready to fight, wielding usury as a weapon, to be the winners of the prize.

“No one can conceive that using a stimulus of this type, it’s obvious, as an instrument of confrontation among colleagues, creates solidarity. We Cubans know very well, since we have suffered it for more than 56 years, that similar practices never gave positive results,” says the physician.

The plan includes, in addition, Cuba’s State phone company, ETECSA, giving landline telephones to all doctors and dentists. Now, across the length and breadth of the country, hospital directors began to complete the pertinent lists in order to execute the measure, but they are facing the growing discontent that is apparent among the rest of the health personnel: the technicians and nurses who have all been ignored and are in very bad moods.

“Although it seems exaggerated, we are up against a committed attack on the country’s economy which, in some way, also affects the national population in terms of health. Because, although we are making Cuban doctors compete, it also discourages creating a framework of negotiation that is very susceptible to blackmail,” concludes my friend. “You only have to read Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, well-known students of behavior, to understand that with this type of award there are negative effects that lower the moral positivity of the prize and the effect on work of not awarding a prize.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that this note helps the National Police.

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

Translated by Regina Anavy