Translating Cuba English Translations of Cubans Writing From the Island Wed, 31 Aug 2016 03:53:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 54629576 The Country of Mari­a la O / Rebeca Monzo Wed, 31 Aug 2016 02:00:48 +0000 Continue reading "The Country of Mari­a la O / Rebeca Monzo"]]>
The country of María la O (Spanish musical comedy dating back to 1930)

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

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

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

Translated by GH

General Francis is Out of the Game and Raul’s Grandson Ascends / Juan Juan Almeida Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:08:32 +0000 Continue reading "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.

“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

Voices In Cuba’s Official Press Question Dismissal Of Radio Holguin Journalist / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Tue, 30 Aug 2016 21:33:06 +0000 Continue reading "Voices In Cuba’s Official Press Question Dismissal Of Radio Holguin Journalist / 14ymedio, Mario Penton"]]> Journalist Aixa Hevia, vice president of UPEC and expelled journalist Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja. (Mounting 14ymedio)
Journalist Aixa Hevia, vice president of UPEC and expelled journalist Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja. (Montage 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 August 2016 — Jose Ramirez Pantoja, the journalist recently fired from Holguin Radio, never imagined that some colleagues from the official press would come to his support. This unusual situation has arisen following the statements by the vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), Aixa Hevia, who in an article titled “If It Quacks Like a Duck,” attacked the correspondent, insinuating that he was trying to create a back story so that he could “move to the Miami press.”

Hevia did not leave it there, but also suggested expelling from CubaUruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg for coming to the defense of the ousted journalist from Holguin, which has provoked pandemonium in the “Revolutionary blogosphere.”

After two months of silence, since his internet account was suspended, Ramirez published a new article on his blog Verdadecuba under the title “Where is the ethics of Aixa Hevia?” In the article he not only expresses his appreciation for the solidarity of his colleagues across the island, but castigates the “ugly, low and irresponsible” attitude of UPEC’s vice president.

In early August, the ethics committee of the Association of Official Journalists expelled Ramirez Pantoja from his job and deprived him of the right to exercise his profession. His sin: having published the words of the deputy director of the official Party newspaper Granma on his personal blog.

“ ‘If it quacks like a duck…’* my grandmother used to say, when behind certain events the real intentions were visible,” Hevia wrote in reference to Jose Ramirez, insinuating later that this was how a journalist sought to “cross over” to the Miami media.

“The accusation launched against me in this venomous and repulsive commentary by the first vice president of UPEC is ugly, low and irresponsible,” responded Ramirez, who in a conversation with 14ymedio explained that he was unaware of the impact of that had been generated by the measure taken against him. “Once I was expelled from the media they cut off my internet access. Thanks to a friend I heard about what was happening,” he said.

According to Ramirez, many colleagues in the profession have openly supported his cause. “The profession has shown a lot of solidarity, especially in other parts of the country. In Holguin there are no comments for or against it because the actions taken have made the journalists afraid.”

In this Friday’s publication, Ramirez cited Arnaldo Mirabal Hernández, from the newspaper Girón, in Matanzas, who said that the fact that “perhaps tomorrow Pantojo will show up in some other media, whether in Florida or on Cochinchina [Vietnam], does not mean that he was not unjustly and arbitrarily expelled from the media, and that we of UPEC, far from defending him, we injure him.”

For the journalist from Holguin this experience has opened his eyes to the need for another kind of journalism on the island, “more serious, closer to the people, to people’s needs, to the problems that affect individuals.”

With regards to his case, Ramirez explains that he is confident that justice will finally triumph and everyone’s interests would become clear. “If the court rules against me, I will look for another job. I will work in something, even if it is not journalism, but I don’t know how I will make a living. If the court rules in my favor, even then I don’t know what I will do.”

Ramirez says it is impossible to consider Hevia’s declarations as something separate from the journalists’ organization. “When they sanctioned me they told me that even though the blog where I published Karina Marron’s words was personal, I was still a Radio Holguin journalist and so the same responsibility applies to Hevia,” he added.

According to the journalist, Hevia’s intentions are clear: to prejudge the National Ethics Committee that is considering his case. “She is not just any journalist, behind all of this that she wrote are very bad intentions.”

Karina Marron, deputy director of the official newspaper Granma has not commented on what happened with Ramirez Pantoja.

Fernando Ravsberg published an article entitled “Journalists, Bad News And Expulsions,” in which he claims that the campaign against his blog, Cartas desde Cuba, “is going to extremes.” Although he affirms that it is not about a personal matter, he regrets that “the extremists spend years trying to stop the development of the new journalism that is being born, including within the official media.”

*Translator’s note: The original expression in Cuban Spanish is: If it is green and spiky it’s a soursop.

Cuba’s Education Minister: Teacher Shortage Is An Unsolved Problem / 14ymedio Tue, 30 Aug 2016 18:41:18 +0000 Continue reading "Cuba’s Education Minister: Teacher Shortage Is An Unsolved Problem / 14ymedio"]]> Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)
Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 August 2016 – The start of the 2016-17 school year in Cuba will be marked by a shortage of teachers. Currently, 94.2% of the teaching positions are filled, without taking into account the use of substitutes, according to comments from  Ministry of Education (MINED) authorities at a Saturday meeting with the official press.

Across the country, some 10,600 schools will receive about 1.7 million students with the start of the new school year on 5 September. However, the sector is now “trawling” for teachers to fill vacant positions, according to to the head of the sector, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella.

Between 13 and 23 August, a MINED team, led by the minister, toured all the provinces and the special municipality of the Isla de la Juventud to review the situation of the schools in each territory.

During the tour a call was made to seek alternative solutions to alleviate the shortage of teachers, for which MINED has mobilized 1,000 young university students hired throughout the country to teach several subjects, especially in primary and junior high schools.

The reinstatement of retired teachers is also one recourse, in the effort to reduce the number of teachers who are “overloaded,” said the minister. Authorities also expect to add more teaching assistants and members of governing boards who will share responsibility in the classroom.

Velázquez Cobiella called for “paying more attention to teachers” to stop the exodus of personnel to other sectors. Organizing industrial and agricultural fairs at times accessible to educators, along with better access to subsidies for home repairs, were some of the proposals to support teachers, “not only in the moral sense but also in the material.”

Without offering global figures that illustrate the shortage of teachers nationwide, industry executives provided some data by territory on Saturday and have called for continuing to improve the quality of education.

Havana is in the worst position with regards to the lack of teachers and during this school year some 2,800 teachers from other provinces need to be moved to Havana to try to alleviate the problem. The teachers will be housed in shelters set up for this purpose.

Despite these emergency solutions, Havana, Mayabeque and Artemisa suffer a deficit of 585 teachers. The situation is particularly serious at the preschool level, where there are a hundred unfilled positions in Havana (77), Mayabeque (19) and Matanzas (4).

Matanzas province also presents a very unfavorable picture, particularly in the main city of Cardenas, as well as in Cienaga de Zapata. There are 137 unfilled positions in this area, according to Raul Hernandez Galarraga, provincial director of Education.

Matanzas schools need about 1,000 professionals to fill teaching vacancies in junior high schools, many of which are occupied temporarily by retired teachers and college students.

The numbers in Ciego de Avila total 663 open positions for education professionals and in Villa Clara the deficit amounts to “more than 1,000 teachers,” according to Director of Education, Esperanza González Barceló.

40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas Tue, 30 Aug 2016 16:08:48 +0000 Continue reading "40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas"]]>
José Lezama Lima, Cuban author. (Image from YouTube)

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

With his novel Paradise and his posthumous book of poems Fragments to his Idol, he left tracks in both genres. The giants Julio Cortázar and Octavio Paz prologued (and possibly prolonged) both works and in each explanatory text they set out their admiration for the writer who had created a different subsoil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by GH

“Pajama Plan” at the National Library / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata Tue, 30 Aug 2016 11:30:18 +0000 Continue reading "“Pajama Plan” at the National Library / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata"]]> Carlos Valenciaga, chief of staff for Fidel Castro, as he read the proclamation on the night of July 31. (Frame)
Carlos Valenciaga, chief of staff for Fidel Castro, as he read the proclamation on the night of July 31. (Frame)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 29 August 2016 — The biggest dream of those ousted is to live to tell the tale. Each passing day since he was removed from his post as Fidel Castro’s personal secretary, Carlos Valenciaga feels he is closer to outliving him. His fantasy in the midst of the old books, the dusty manuscripts and the valuable incunabula, in the dark department of the Jose Marti National Library in Havana, is that they have forgotten about him.

Valenciaga’s voice was the first to read the proclamation through which Castro ceded his position in July of 2006. It was his face, beardless and young, in charge of publicizing the news that many were expecting and as many others were fearing. In that crucial moment, Valenciaga was the chosen man, but that nomination would cost him on the way to the top.

During lunchtime, the basement of the National Library becomes a hive of employees lined up, some of them with their own spoon, or a container with some food they brought from home to add to the dwindling ration. A man surrounded by women is a source of funny stories and dirty jokes. Few now remember the power he once had.

Valenciagao was peering through State Security’s peephole when, on 16 September 2006, a party was organized for his 34th birthday while the president was in bed fighting for his life. A video, shown only to Communist Party members and trusted officials, he appears during the festivities with a bottle between his legs and a hilarious commander’s cap on his head.

The video includes scenes that Raul Castro would later call “indecent conduct” in an atmosphere of “moral laxity.” The General boasted of having eliminated the “test-tube baby” leaders who had risen from youth organizations to positions of greater confidence. He wanted to give the impression of having supported the institutional structure to the detriment of the caprice that prevailed in the decisions of his brother.

Although the images focused on the reasons for the dismissal of Carlos Lage from his post as vice president and of Felipe Perez Roque as foreign minister, they also led to the fall of other senior leaders. Sent to the public pillory were Otto Rivero, vice president of the Council of Ministers and one of the few names mentioned in the Proclamation; Fernando Remirez de Estenoz from the International Relations Department of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC); Martha Lomas, minister of Foreign Investment and Economic Collaboration; and Raul de la Nuez, Minister of Foreign Trade.

Accusations ranged from “addicted to the honey of power,” to having been disloyal, dishonest or havoing abused their power. The “pajama plan” – as this kind of forced retirement is called in Cuba — hung over all of them, without rights to appeal. Today, Carlos Lage languishes in the campaign against the mosquito that carries dengue fever and the zika virus, Feliz Perez Roque has had to overcome a nervous breakdown that brought him to the brink of suicide, and Estenoz rents part of the living room in his home for a restaurant with the name Complacer.

Valenciago, however, continues to attract powerful men. During the long years of his dismissal he has meticulously reviewed the documents once belonging to the aristocrat Julio Lobo Olavarria. The books making up the library of this man — who came to own 16 sugar mills, a radio communications agency, insurance, shipping and even an oil business — are the focus of attention for a once favored youngest son.

Lobo, who was obsessed with Napoleon Bonaparte, treasured more than 200,000 documents related to the French military and government, among them 6,000 letters and a repertoire of incunabula, unique and rare volumes that make up a part of the National Library’s archives, all of which were confiscated from the businessman. Valenciaga has been immersed in this treasure to draft a study on the paper money of the French Revolution.

Little now remains of his former arrogance. A drab employee of a place where they frequently send the defenestrated, he does everything possible to not be seen as a man who was once a member of the Councils of State and of Ministers. He struggles against two enemies: State Security and the lung diseases caused by a closed environment, filled with old books and poor air conditioning. Among the agents “of the apparatus” and microorganisms he spends his life.

However, the former Secretary of the State Council has had a good start, that is putting first in his bibliography consulted for his work on paper money, the book One Hundred Hours with Fidel, Conversations with Ignacio Ramonet. A volume that in its time generated a joke popular on Cuba’s streets, which asked, “Why are we going to read about 100 hours with Him, if we’ve already spent our whole lives putting up with him?”

The man who once stood at the right hand of power now walks gingerly. Department colleagues say he “doesn’t talk about politics,” he prefers sexual insinuations about the most attractive employees, rather than references to the Plaza of the Revolution and his former responsibilities.” He’s like a kid who wants to go to parties and pinch bottoms,” one of his closest colleagues tells 14ymedio.

Valenciaga lived more than a hundred hours with Fidel Castro, but is still cautiously awaiting the moment to tell the tale.

If It’s Green and Thorny, It Must be a Cactus / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar Tue, 30 Aug 2016 03:00:32 +0000 Continue reading "If It’s Green and Thorny, It Must be a Cactus / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar"]]> Jose Ramirez Pantoja, Holguin Radio journalist and author of the blog Verdadecuba.(Facebook
Jose Ramirez Pantoja, Holguin Radio journalist and author of the blog Verdadecuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana 29 August 2016 – The dismissal of the journalist Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja from Radio Holguin for having published in his blog a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director of the newspaper Granma, has sparked an interesting controversy which, by virtue of the secrecy that reigns in the Cuban press has not appeared on the social networks or in digital spaces.

I am not trying to put myself in the skin of Ramirez Pantoja. It has been 28 years since the same thing happened to me when I was fired from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), accused of writing texts with a double meaning, trying to confront the new generations with the historic leadership of the Revolution. But, despite my justified reputation for conceit, I didn’t come here to talk about me, but about what one feels in a similar situation.

The audacity of those who dare to criticize or share a criticism is usually grounded in the infinite confidence that the sentiments expressed are going to contribute to improving the situation. To warn at the time that “this is not the way” is a serious responsibility, one that is only assumed when we suppose that the guide who is leading us is listening to us, because he believes in our good faith. To say publically a necessary truth, disobeying the order of those who impose silence, is not only a gesture of courage, but above all of honesty.

When the response to the criticism is punishment, when the high-minded guide is disposed to expel the troops who question his decisions, when the exposed truth forces an unmasking because its nudity offends those who feel harmed, then the daring critic has only two choices: make a retraction or slam the door.

Someone once said that the lost sheep that escapes can return to the sheepfold, but can never return to the flock. The obedient flock can only see in its rebellion bad intentions or sinister aims of betrayal. With that grim admiration that underlies envy they will remain attentive to the final decision of the pastor.

If the insubordinate sheep is sacrificed, they squeal with happiness while applauding the verdict, if forgiveness comes, or even better the recognition Jose Ramon was right, he did the right thing, they will approach submissively patting him on the shoulder, while behind his back they will comment that everything was preplanned, it was all a dark operation of the upper echelons of power.

Really, who wouldn’t want to be in the skin of this Holguin journalist.

For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya Mon, 29 Aug 2016 19:45:42 +0000 Continue reading "For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya"]]> (Photo:

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It’s been said that radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from “colleagues” of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs.

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us since the “Revolutionary victory.”

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a healthy development until Castro I took it over and “nationalized” it to found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the government’s power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart — independent journalism — emerged in the 90’s, and in recent years, driven by the use of new information technologies and communications, has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I’ve received from some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all “democratic fighters” in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of “intransigence” has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba’s independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain “illuminati,” criticism of the opposition it is not only harmful, but practically an act of “treason” – a term very much in vogue in the media — as it “panders to the dictatorship” or “discredits” leaders “who are really doing something.” As the General-President Raul Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is “a right place and a right time” for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that criticism tends to “divide” the opposition, and unaware individuals might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators, paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: “at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.”

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear of being branded “politically incorrect” or “agents,” this time from the antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can’t imagine how anyone could be so “lacking in solidarity” that she decides to prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings such bombastic phrases as “the hyena of Birán,” “the blood-spattered tyranny” or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the health of journalism that tomorrow’s censorship is taking shape in certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the political power’s muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally restrictive.

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a profession, let’s have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny, just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism’s subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity. That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very controversial “servants of the people”; but it certainly is what good Cubans expect.

*Translator’s note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the Spanish colonies (Havana’s is the only one that still survives to date, since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy, scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Asking Questions Is A Crime / 14ymedio Mon, 29 Aug 2016 12:09:35 +0000 Continue reading "Asking Questions Is A Crime / 14ymedio"]]> Carnival celebrations in Céspedes, Camagüey. (Frame)
Carnival celebrations in Céspedes, Camagüey. (Frame)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 29 August 2016 — A few days ago I arrived in the town of Cespedes, where my house is, and among the things that caught my attention was a sign in one of the town’s snack bars with the following announcement: “All food will increase in price 0.10 centavos for special account concept.”

A logical question immediately came to mind: What is a special account and what is it used for? Given my concern, and using my civil right, as expressed in Article 63 of the Constitution of the Republic – “Every citizen has the right to direct complaints and petitions to the authorities and to receive the pertinent attention or answers in a reasonable time, according to the law” – I began to investigate in the appropriate places.

On 25 August, in the same snack bar I asked the clerk, Hortelio, who told me the sign had been posted but he didn’t know anything about it, he didn’t even know what a special account was. As I was on my way, I went to the Municipal Commerce Enterprise, but there I only found Betsy, in charge of the defense and command post. This official explained to me that she wasn’t sure, but the increase was because of the carnivals and the special account was the Ministry of Culture. She recommended that I come back another day and ask to speak to the director.

Continuing on my way, I came to another snack bar, where Ariel spoke with me, and showed me a resolution from the Municipal Administrative Council authorizing the 0.10 centavo charge as a tax on food products, 0.20 centavos on beer or rum, and that this would be during popular fiestas. My original questions remained unanswered.

The next day, 26 August, I went to the Municipal Commerce Enterprise. The entity’s municipal director saw me, a man with the surname Perez-Ibanez, and he explained to me that the special account was the tax on products sold during popular fiestas (carnivals) and that it was collected in order to pay the musical orchestras who were contracted by the municipality for these festivities, as well as other expenses related to the celebrations.

In Cespedes the carnivals began on 22 July [ed. note: “carnival” in Cuba is a “flexible” holiday that occurs at different times in different years in different places, seemingly according to the whims of the higher ups], and it was already more than a month later and the tax was still being applied. The municipal director’s response to this complaint was that during the three days of the carnival it was impossible to sell everything that was in the plan. He added, that the Municipal Administrative Council was considering the vacation period as popular fiestas and for these reasons the charge continued.

I asked if the Council had not approved a budget for these popular fiestas and he responded in the negative. I found it difficult to understand that a great quantity of people had to pay for the musicians they hadn’t listened to. Not to mention that the quality of the celebrations was terrible, according to the residents, who even said so on Facebook.

Before I left, the director asked me if I had come in a personal capacity or on behalf of some organization. I responded that I came as a citizen and that I did indeed come on behalf of an organization: the people. Despite feeling dissatisfied with the usefulness of the special account, I went home and did nothing more about it.

On 27 August, at 1:45 pm, an official from State Security calling himself Manuel arrived at my house and told me that at 2:00 pm I must present myself at the police station. On going to the place indicated, I was received, in an arrogant and overbearing tone, by the official René. Also there was the director of the Commerce enterprise. It wasn’t by chance. They had cited me to deliver to me a warning letter for counter-revolutionary public demonstrations in divulging state information. According to what they told me, if I did this again I would be accused of espionage.

In response to my claim that I was exercising my citizen’s right in asking a question in an official way for my own understanding, and in addition that it was not about a state secret but about public information, the official René told me that I was lying, because I had published it on the networks. In addition, he explained that any citizen could ask a question but that I could not, because I was a mercenary in the service of imperialism and an opportunist.

They asked me to sign the warning letter which I refused to do, and in addition they “warned” me to get out of Cespedes, that here I would not “have a career.” They also told me that if I stayed it was all the same to them because they had won a lot of awards and would continue to win awards if they managed to control me here.

Many questions could emerge from this, one more of the many meetings I have had with State Security, but I wonder: By what law or what authority, for the fact of being opponents or dissidents, can they limit our civil rights? How can a simple question constitute a crime against State Security? How much longer is the most basic freedom of expression going to be a crime in Cuba? Apparently, in the municipality of Cespedes, in Camagüey, which by all indications is governed by a special law, asking questions is a crime.

Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García Mon, 29 Aug 2016 11:00:00 +0000 Continue reading "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.

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

Yailin Orta Named Director Of Juventud Rebelde Newspaper / 14ymedio Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:15:15 +0000 Continue reading "Yailin Orta Named Director Of Juventud Rebelde Newspaper / 14ymedio"]]> Yailin-Orta-Rivera-Juventud-Rebelde_CYMIMA20160823_0003_16
Yailin Orta Rivera, new director of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 August 2016 – Journalist Yailin Orta Rivera, a member of the National Committee of the Young Communists Union (UJC), has been names as the new director of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) according to a note in that newspaper on Wednesday. The young woman, who worked as deputy editor, replaces Marina Menendez Quintero, who will undertake “other journalistic tasks on the same publication.”

A 2006 graduate, Orta Rivera said in an interview last October that young people should have “a more systematic presence in decision-making areas, not only because they bring their audacity, irreverence, and their transgressive look to different news realities.”

On that occasion, during the celebrations for the newspaper’s half century mark, the journalist noted that among the great challenges of the publication is “doing a better job of satisfying the demands of its reading public,” and she said that they received demands from their audience to stay “connected to the public agenda.”

The designation of Orta Rivera as the new director of Juventud Rebelde occurs at a time when calls are being made from the highest echelons of the Party for a journalism more connected to reality and with a critical focus. Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, Cuban First Vice President has stated in public speeches the need for “a brave responsible press.”

In Tuesday’s edition of Juventud Rebelde, Yailin Orta Rivera’s name already appears as director and her vacancy in the group of editors was covered by Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar.

Previously the “Newspaper of Cuban Youth” was directed by Terry Pelayo Cuervo, who took over the leadership of the newspaper Granma in October 2013.

Police Arrest Several Activists From Candidates For Change / 14ymedio Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:30:24 +0000 Continue reading "Police Arrest Several Activists From Candidates For Change / 14ymedio"]]> The only party allowed to exist under the Cuban Constitution is the Communist Party. (EFE)
The only party allowed to exist under the Cuban Constitution is the Communist Party. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 August 2016 – Regime opponent Julio Aleago reported to this newspaper that the police detained several activists on Saturday morning to keep them from attending a meeting of volunteer observers associated with the Candidates for Change platform. The meeting was to be held at the home of Juan Moreno in Havana’s Vedado district, but the host was taken to the Aguilera police station in the 10 de Octubre municipality.

The activist Ricardo Marlene was prevented from leaving his home in San Miguel del Padron, where he now remains under house arrest. The whereabouts of the other participants are unknown.

Julio Aleaga, executive secretary of the electoral platform Candidates for Change, told this newspaper that the arrest of Moreno was made by a State Security officer identified by the alias Diego. “We will not allow” the meeting to take place, “Diego” had warned last Tuesday.

Among the tasks of the volunteer observers are to gather the concerns of the population and present them in the district accountability assemblies – meetings where elected officials report back to citizens on the achievements of government programs and promises – and to make these concerns available to the elected delegates through the offices instituted for that purpose.

The initiative is an effort by Candidates for Change with the aim of overseeing the government on behalf of the citizens and questioning public policy at the district, people’s council and municipality levels.

At present Candidates for Change is discussing the appointment of Party Central Committee member and National Assembly Deputy Reinaldo Garcia Zapata to the position of governor of Havana. He has been brought in from the province of Santiago de Cuba to replace the recently removed Marta Romero.

The appointment was a proposal presented last Saturday by Agustin de la Pena, from the Candidacy Commission, with the concurrence of the Vice President of the National Assembly, Ana Maria Mari Machado, and of General Ulises Rosales del Toro.

Aleaga notes that there is no protocol in the law for citizens to reject these appointments, which are not the result of an electoral process. The objection lodged by Candidates for Change has received no institutional response.

The volunteer observers have representatives in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Sancti Spiritus, Granma, Cienfuegos and Havana. Its members plan to work intensively on the electoral process that will begin in late 2017. They will focus on the electoral registers, the area assemblies where direct proposals from the population are put forward, and on verifying election results at polling stations.

Aleaga believes that the intent to repress this meeting is “an attempt to prevent the strengthening of the internal structures of this movement whose objective is to use the government’s electoral system to promote the transition to democracy.”

Doctors Give Medical Clearance To Guillermo Fariñas / 14ymedio Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:30:47 +0000 Continue reading "Doctors Give Medical Clearance To Guillermo Fariñas / 14ymedio"]]> Guillermo Fariñas on hunger strike. (Courtesy)
Guillermo Fariñas on hunger strike. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 August 2016 — Regime opponent Guillermo Fariñas received medical clearance on Saturday, after staying for several hours at the Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital where he was taken because of his delicate state of health after 39 days on a hunger and thirst strike. The 2010 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought fainted at his home in the Chirusa neighborhood in the city of Santa Clara, as was confirmed to this newspaper by his mother, Alicia Hernandez.

On a phone call from 14ymedio’s newsroom to the observation room in the hospital, an employee confirmed that Fariñas “arrived unconscious at about three in the afternoon,” but an hour and a half later was “better as he opened his eyes.”

Alicia Hernandez said her son “recovered consciousness” and the decision about whether he should remain in the hospital or be discharged would depend on “how he reacts to treatment,” a reference to the rehydration sera administered during his stay in the observation room.

The dissident suffers severe dehydration and severe joint pain. This is the fourth time he was transferred to the hospital after fainting.

Along with his mother, several activists from the Anti-totalitarian Forum (FANTU) were also with Fariñas in the hospital.

Paternalism Kills Creativity / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila Sun, 28 Aug 2016 21:32:00 +0000 Continue reading "Paternalism Kills Creativity / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila"]]> A worker sweeps in front of a propagandistic ad in Havana (EFE). The ad reads: Liberty Cannot Be Blockaded/Here There Is No Fear
A worker sweeps in front of a propagandistic ad in Havana (EFE). The ad reads: Liberty Cannot Be Blockaded/Here There Is No Fear

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 27 August 2016 – When I was small, I suffered from asthma for several years. I remember that my grandmother would not let me leave the house if it was slightly cloudy; I also had to wear shoes and thick socks although all the other children of the neighborhood ran barefoot through the gutters filled with puddles where one could experience the pleasure of feeling the mud between one’s toes.

Overcoats, blankets and mosquito nets did not manage to improve my health. However, a sports instructor did manage the miracle of not only an improvement but the definitive cure of this illness that tormented almost my entire childhood.

Contrary to the opinion of my relatives, the then-student of Physical Culture who for us would always be Loriet, taught a group of us adolescents in the seventh grade that “the body and spirit can be shaped by a force that is greater than all illnesses or limitations, a transformative and colossal force call willpower.” At first these words sounded strange and distant to us. Only years later did we understand their significance.

I began training in taekwondo, drowning every time I ran 20 meters or did 10 pushups. Unable to breathe, I looked towards everyone around me to approach the nearest person, I suppose in search of some support in order to feel more secure. On one occasion, someone protested to the teacher, saying: “Don’t you see that this boy is purple?” However, Loriet displayed not the least pity or concern, at least not visibly. He just told me instead: “None of them can help you, only you can manage it yourself, the problem is yours and you have the option of overcoming it, but you have to work hard, learn to breathe and recover without yielding and continue advancing. I promise you that this will not last forever.” And so it was!

After two years, my health took a radical turn. I could endure whole afternoons of practice and fighting, I added weight training with the teacher Mario (the strong) and even participated in some city competitions in both disciplines. For the coming “green” medical checkup, as they call it in the Compulsory Military Service, no one remembered any longer my nights of intensive therapy, eating a breakfast, lunch and dinner of aerosol hydrocortisone. I passed each test, and they gave my condition “Fit 1,” thus totally ready for the rigors of military training, which by luck was commuted for me mostly because of the “mission” of teaching physics and mathematics in senior high school, given the province’s lack of teachers and my notable educational results.

Later I continued occasionally practicing taekwondo, even in university. I did not win many fights in competition, but I always felt proud of having overcome my own natural vulnerability.

I give you a little of my own history in order to talk about something much more important that concerns not only me but all Cubans born on the Island after ’59. I am referring to the false paternalism that the government still continues assuming with the pretext of protecting us when in reality it deprives us of the possibility of exploiting our strengths as individuals and, as a whole, as a nation.

For four generations, we have carried an umbrella against foreign propaganda, an overcoat to avoid ideological deviations, anti-communism socks, safety goggles for different information, and a powerful aerosol that kills any germ of personal creativity or inspiration for entrepreneurism.

Even today, when the times have changed, the world has changed, people have changed, still there appears on television a young journalist warning us of the “grave dangers” that “so-called inter-connected societies” bring, like the “loss of privacy” or “the alienation caused by the game Pokemon Go,” when the vast majority of Cubans cannot even access a landline.

Nothing is more advisable for managing any tool than to use it in a natural and everyday manner. The lack of practice by our citizens with respect to basic elements that characterize modern societies is visible in the behavior that we adopt on finding ourselves exposed to an environment where the minimum personal effort is required to find solutions or answers for ourselves. Simply, we are not accustomed to solving our problems without depending on someone or something.

During my last airplane boarding at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana, I carefully observed the conduct of several people, especially those who had to be between 50 and 60 years of age. Cubans that I bet had some university degree were incapable of interpreting posters, signs or signals of any type in the airport, or on or inside the airplane. Facing the simple issue of finding a departure gate or a seat identified by a number, the first reaction was not to try to understand the symbols or signs, but they opted to ask constantly about the slightest detail, brandishing the easiest argument for their insecurity: “It is that I am not accustomed to these things.”

Something very different drew my attention when I left Cuba the first time and lived for four months among Europeans. There people spent several minutes before a map at a train station or configured a mobile app that offered the needed information, but rarely did they yield to the temptation of asking or complaining without first making an effort. That attitude of absent-minded ease is very widespread and, unlike Cubans, there exists a respect or almost a cult of self-management, the capability, initiative and talent of getting along with ease in any circumstance. Because there and in other parts of the world (coincidentally the most developed) it is autonomy and not dependence that has been instituted as a value in society.

It is not unusual to see three French teens comfortably disembark in Latin America with a map and backpacks, in stark contrast with a Cuban engineer who lands in Paris who, if someone doesn’t pick him up he might die of cold without daring to tackle the subway system by himself.

I could cite thousands of daily examples of how our dependent personality manifests itself, but the essential reflection that I want to share is that it is not a change of system that is going to bring a change of attitude in Cuba’s citizens and, therefore, a better and more prosperous society, but the reverse: without a change in the people, in their expectations, values, behaviors, they will never be able to overcome the system and its effects. Because the system does not consist only of a government and a system of laws, but it consists of the whole of the beliefs, myths, schemes and behaviors that we daily assume, accepting and resigning ourselves to suffer as from a chronic illness, one that can be overcome with a minimum of risk and individual effort from each of us.

A totalitarian and repressive political system can suffocate a society like asthma can suffocate our lungs. If we shed the overcoats, thick socks and mosquito nets on which we depend and go out to run, to discover and confront our obstacles, surely we will discover how incredible and marvelous it is to be able to breathe deeply all that oxygen that was always there, waiting for us.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


Moscow Does Not Fit In A Suitcase / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar Sat, 27 Aug 2016 19:00:00 +0000 Continue reading "Moscow Does Not Fit In A Suitcase / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar"]]> The Sadovod Moscow market. (Ancon)
The Sadovod Moscow market. (Ancon)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 25 August 2016 – For decades visiting Moscow was the golden dream, but only the most trusted could enjoy a stay in the Soviet Union. From these trips to the “godmother nation” they returned with suitcases filled with products unavailable in Cuba. Today, some take the same route, but this time they shop in a Russia with a market economy and well-stocked stores.

Most of them are “mules” who make the long journey to Pushkin’s native land to bring back shoes, clothing and Lada or Moskvitch car parts, which they sell in the informal market. Those with more resources pay for their own airline tickets, knowing that they can make back the money; but others offer the room in their suitcases in search of an investor to pay for the trip.

With the restrictions imposed late last year on the entry of Cubans to Ecuador, one of the most important routes of imports for the black market was closed. Russia, however, has continued its policy of not requiring visas from residents of the island, so the “mules” have reoriented their travel to Moscow, a route also widely used to emigrate.

The travel agency Ancon, located in a spacious property on Linea Street in Havana’s Vedado district, is taking advantage of the growth in interest in Russia to offer “shopping trip” packages to Moscow. There is no shortage of customers and the tour operator focuses on organizing visits to markets, filling travelers’ suitcases and facilitating getting the merchandise back to the island.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia has a commercial network unthinkable in Raul Castro’s Cuba. While the shelves of Havana stores display the same products over and over again, or are empty, Moscow’s markets are a permanent temptation to the wallet.

“The travel agency is part of the Russian company Kompozit 21 and has been operating in Cuba for three years,” says Ada Soto, an employee of Ancon. The CEO is Nikolay Popov, but in a spacious 16th floor apartment, two Cubans manage reservations and sales.

Soto explained to 14ymedio that since early this year business has significantly increased. Cubans who contract their services are received by one of their compatriots based in Moscow who greets them at the airport and will answer any questions in Spanish, while leading them to their hotel arranged from the island.

The seven-day packages that costs not more than $500 for accommodation, transfers and a guide, are the most sought after and the highlight is the tour of the a visit to the Sadovod marlet, a shopping mall with wholesale deals and more than 4,500 stores.

Most customers prefer to focus on shops and ignore Ancon’s cultural program with visits to museum. Cuban travelers seem more interested in the goods on offer and the sales rather than taking a look at the Red Square.

Vivian, 32, made the trip earlier this year. She says she spent it “eating hamburgers and pizza,” while acknowledging that “the Russian language is a bit of a problem, but if you speak some English and with a calculator in hand, no problem.” Together with her husband they bouhgt two passages and hired the services of Ancon. “It was a business trip,” she says.

The couple spent a day in Moscow in the Saviolovskiyo electronics market to stock up on photography and video equipment, mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices, merchandise that can be sold at three times its value in the Cuban black market.

Vivian fed her nostalgia for the times when the Kremlin and Revolution Square were close with some Russian souvenirs, like matryoshka nesting dolls and decorated wooden crafts. She also fulfilled the request of her father in the Puerto Sur car market, buying some spare parts for his Volga.

The Saviolovskiyp electronics market. (Ancon)
The Saviolovskiyp electronics market. (Ancon)

The young woman’s husband was delighted with the Sokolniki shopping center with accessories for Jawa, Voskhod, Minsk, Karpati and Riga motorcycles, models that circulate widely on Cuba’s streets. With a couple of purchases made at the request of some friends he said he would “recover nearly half the money spent on tickets.”

The agency handled the transfer of goods to the hotel, gave them the use of a cellphone, and helped them manage the payment for an extra suitcase, in addition to the 33 kilograms they could bring home free, between a large bag and a piece of hand luggage.

On Revolico, the classified site similar to a Cuban Craigslist, they rented coats and boots because it was still “quite cold” when they landed in Moscow. The couple hopes to repeat the trip in late September and has already bought the tickets on Aeroflot for 630 convertible pesos each.

“I’ve realized a dream of my lifetime because when I was a chiquita my father went to Moscow on a trip he earned as a bonus for being a vanguard worker, but my trip was for shopping,” enthused Vivian while showing off some of her purchases. Unlike her father, she didn’t have to work overtime or demonstrate ideological fidelity to realize her dream.