Nothing Has Changed* / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 May 2017 — At the recently concluded Fifith National Council of the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), during skin-deep presentations, one timorous playwright expresed this thought: “A critical mindset is fundamental in society. UNEAC must become the thermometer wherein discussion is allowed.”

It appears that in UNEAC, as in the rest of Cuba, discussion is not allowed and requires permission to practice. And here I thought this was an inherent right of every citizen and not only for members of the UNEAC (with its appropriate authorization).

We all know that the UNEAC is a governmental organization, commanded and controlled by the Ministry of Culture, a body which lacks independence and whose principal duties are designated by the government and the party. continue reading

This Council, as more of the same, stands behind the execrable repression inflicted, in plain light of day this past May Day, on a citizen who had the gall to get ahead of the official start of the parade and run while waving a North American flag. If he had done this with a Venezuelan flag, perhaps he would have been applauded and even congratulated–but he did it with that of the “eternal enemy” and that, over here, constitutes a criminal act.

Both events demonstrate the prehistoric dogmatism and intolerance of our authorities, incapable as they are of setting aside their totalitarian stances.

Only in dictatorships are discussion and the display of a flag (even that of a country with which we have recently reestablished diplomatic relations) prohibited, and are those who do these things beaten up.

To speak of tolerance and of respect for diverse opinions is one thing, but to practice them is something else entirely. It constitutes a yet-unlearned lesson for the Cuban authorities. The old and new rulers do not tire of repeating the same old, broken record of defending the sovereignty, independence and identity of the Nation–which has always served as the basis of violating the most basic rights of the citizenry.

In this country nothing truly important changes. The few changes are limited to insignificant matters, which often are even more detrimental than beneficial to Cubans. To understand this, you need only sense the public opinion on the street and set aside the tired official rhetoric.

The matter of the Cuban flag could not be left out of the UNEAC Council, albeit already a tired topic.

Señores, the elements of the flag, or even the actual flag, reproduced in a piece of apparel, a tool or a craft, are not the flag. Let us leave aside extreme positions and let us truly repect the flag, not utilize it for cheap political and patriotic acts nor as a background for demogogues, thus breaking with the established tradition for its use–which actually has been and is systematically violated by the authorities. A similar thing occurs with the national anthem and emblem.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:

*The orginal title of this piece in Spanish is, “El Cuartico Sigue Igual,” which can be literally translated as, “the little room is unchanged.” The author is riffing on a song that became very popular in Cuba in the late 1940s, “El Cuartico Está Igualito.” The phrase is a jilted lover’s refrain addressed to the departed love object, describing how everything in their love nest remains the same, just as she/he left it. Ever since, Cuban writers have used this phrase or a variation when referring to all manner of unchanged situations.

‘Fidget Spinner’, The Toy That Has Taken The World By Storm, Arrives In Cuba

Samuel, 9, playing with his ‘fidget spinner’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 July 2017 — Samuel is nine years old and has broken several of the windows in his building playing ball. His nearest neighbors see that he is very calm these days since his mother gave him a Fidget Spinner, a fad toy that some schools in the US, UK or Argentina have had to ban because of the distractions they cause among students. The toy has just landed in Cuba.

Simple and hypnotic, the little amusement with bearings can spin for several minutes. There are lights, phosphorescent colors, patterns and it even can emit repetitive tunes. In reality it is like the old yoyos or the spinning tops have returned, this time made of plastic.

Until a few weeks ago there were only a few specimens on the island, but in the summer vacation its presence has multiplied and it has become one of the most common requests from children to their parents. Although not yet sold in the legal market, illegal networks have versions for all tastes. continue reading

“It is said that it can help to alleviate the deficit of attention but it does not convince to me, because I have not seen any scientific work that demonstrates it”

The spinner was created in 1993 by the American Catherine Hettinger, age 62, who suffers from myasthenia, a disease that weakens muscles and generates fatigue. Her difficulties led her to create this game for her daughter to be distracted and it is believed to combat anxiety and attention deficit problems, coming to be used in the US as a therapeutic toy even though its benefits are not credited on a scientific basis.

“I just saw one, although I had read about the subject,” says Maria Antonia, 69, a retired psychiatrist who specializes in working with children. “It is said that it can help to ease attention deficit, but I’m not convinced because I have not seen any scientific work that demonstrates it,” she clarifies.

In Cuban schools it has not yet started to be a problem, but the spinner has been banned in schools of several countries. “It distracts students while they are in class and that conspires against the learning process,” says the psychiatrist.

“In the last weeks of the course a student started to bring one to classes and I had to take it from him and call his parents,” recalls Mercedes, a second-grade teacher in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality. The educator says that she did not do it “because it was bad, but because all the students were fascinated and wanted to spin it all the time.”

In many countries, businesses promote it as an ideal anti-anxiety device, to achieve greater concentration and also in cases of autism and hyperactivity. Forbes magazine considers it an indispensable toy for the office and it is among the most popular item on Amazon.

José Carlos, 38, travels as a “mule” between Havana and Panama City at least twice a month. Since May he began to add the famous spinners to the merchandise he imports. “First I brought one to my son and then the neighbors ordered them from me, but now I bring them to sell,” he says.

Small, cheap and light, the funny little toys are the perfect product to go through customs without major problems

Small, cheap and light, the funny little toys are the perfect product to go through customs without major problems. “I bring some made only of plastic, others of plastic and metal and the most sophisticated with lights,” says José Carlos. In his last importing trp he managed to introduce fifty units in the country.

“They sell between 5 and 15 CUC depending on the model,” a solid business if you consider that they cost between 2 and 3 dollars in Panama. “With the sale of these toys I think that I will be able to complete fixing the bathroom in my house, so I hope that the excitement lasts a long time,” he says.

José Carlos does not fear state competition, because the toy sales network managed by the Ministry of Internal Commerce has, in his opinion, a poor and outdated supply. “When the products arrive here, they are no longer fashionable out there,” he mocks.

The problems in the production and sale of toys in Cuba fueled debate in the last session of Parliament, when Deputy Aymara Guzman, President of the José Martí Pioneers Organization, acknowledged that the Government does not have a defined strategy for its “production, distribution and sales.”

The circulation of toys in the state market decreased from about 118 million pesos worth in 2012, to just over 94 million today. The fall has been noticed in the lack of variety and in the long lines outside the stores when Three Kings Day approaches, the day Cuban children are given Christmas presents. The demand has grown, fueled by families with higher incomes or who receive remittances from family abroad.

The high costs and the low quality of the goods in the children’s stores has led to many parents choosing to buy toys manufactured by the self-employed, or imported through the illegal market. This situation generated complaints among parliamentarians, who called for the state to have a greater presence in toy market.

The circulation of toys in the state market decreased from about 118 million pesos worth in 2012, to just over 94 million today

In a park in Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, two girls are taking turns passing the object from the tip of their index fingers to the tip of their noses. For more than an hour they try pirouettes and possible movements. Another child looks at them with a mixture of hope and envy.

But the taste for spinners is not just children’s thing. Among some young people it has become an essential object that accompanies them on their nights out and meetings with friends. This Saturday, some were incessantly roaming around Havana’s Calle G, where countless urban tribes gather every weekend.

“It relaxes me and I can’t look away when it’s spinning,” Jennifer, 16, tells 14ymedio. The young woman proudly says that she was the first person to have one of these toys in her La Lisa neighborhood. “This is the latest, what you have to have not to be out of it,” she says.

In the middle of the night, some lights are seen on both sides of the central street as more young people arrive. Pedestrians are alternately curious and surprised at the peculiar object. “It’s even good for attracting a date because it attracts a lot of people,” says Jennifer.

Havana, Nostalgia Capital

Any former times were better, is a refrain that is being fulfilled to the letter in Cuba.(Lahabana.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 July 2017 — The walls full of photographs of old city landscapes and a whole host of famous artists from the Cuban Republic, record album covers from the same period, and old advertising posters from the 40’s and 50’s.

In a central space, an old off-duty Victrola captures the prominence of the small restaurant. On the tablecloths, old long-playing vinyl records double as tray holders, while the coasters are vinyl 45’s.

In this private business –as in many similar ones that began to proliferate in Old Havana and in other parts of the city since the so-called “Raul reforms” — the whole atmosphere exudes that unmistakable inspiration on the past, a cult that has been seizing the capital as an epidemic. “Any former times were better,” states a refrain that is being fulfilled in Cuba. continue reading

But it is not just any past. No. Because, curiously, these enthusiastic private entrepreneurs show no interest in appealing to the socialist aesthetic of Soviet encouragement that occupied thirty years of Cuban national life without silencing the native spirit. There are no matrioskas, balalaikas or “Russian dolls” characters decorating the stained glass or interiors of these businesses or on piñatas and private catering salons dedicated to children’s parties.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

There’s nothing that evokes the indestructible Cuban-Soviet friendship of an era when almost all the members of that Cuban proto-entrepreneur were born, who today prefer to revive the Republic’s prosperity of strong Yankee influence and forget the hard years of drunken rule on the Island.

That explains why one can find decorations of a Benny Moré’s album cover and not ones of Van Van or Isaac Delgado in any of these environments. The glossy and smiling face of Kid Chocolate may be staring at us from the walls, but not the face of Teófilo Stevenson.

There is no doubt, glamour is a Western capitalist product. Although, as is the case, it is a glamour as old and encased as that of Cuba in the 1950’s, which — as is always the case in societies without rights, where mediocrity prevails — ends up being a model that tends to be standardized.

Because, as usually happens in the presence of any opportunity to thrive advantageously, there is no shortage of scoundrels who have decided to take advantage of the new lode that offers this sort of aesthetic for nostalgia to extract their own revenues, as is clear from a detailed announcement published in the very popular web site Revolico, where for the price of 25 CUC, or its equivalence in CUP (625 pesos), you can buy a collection of 27,000 Cuban photographs from before 1959, “for the walls of your business.”

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

“The history of our country lives through image,” a message tries to encourage while promoting the sale of a “wide selection of photos of cafes, hotels, streets, houses, monuments, shops, historical sites and main streets and avenues of the Cuban capital.”

Such an offer is not limited to photographs, but also includes “old maps, postcards, bus lines, architectural drawings, prints, very good quality scans of old beer advertisements such as Cristal, Hatuey and Polar, the loose propaganda of Cigar brands, hotels, casinos, beverages and much more that constitute a large and valuable treasure trove of value.” A whole cult to the pre-revolutionary past that shows the persistence of a lost paradigm, the more ingrained and endearing, the more decadent and ill-fated the present and the more uncertain and gloomy the future.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, during which the ruling power spent the greater part of its efforts trying to erase the era of the 57 years of the Republic — “pseudo republic”, they call it — trying to impose a model (this one is truly “pseudo” socialist), falsely proletarian and alien to the national culture and aspirations, the liberal ideal of the Republic is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols, and today it grows as a cult to the memory of those “better times,” when prosperity and wealth were  plausible goals and not crimes.

As a result, and in view of the inability to project a promising future, the much-vilified Republic has become the symbol of paradise lost, and returns to occupy a place of preference in the collective imagination, despite the fact that more than 70% of Cubans today were born after 1959 and have been (de)formed under the doctrine of austerity and sacrifice.

While ideological battles and blistering anti-imperialist speeches continue to occupy public spaces, the enterprising class and the chameleonic Castro power cupola invent themselves a marketing Cuba. (CC)

However, the use of symbols pertaining to the Republic is not exclusive to the small niches of the private economy. The mediocrity and lack of imagination also reach the almighty State-Government-Party that almost controls the entertainment industry. Recreating the past before 1959 has become a very lucrative source of income even for the slayers of the Republic themselves, especially since American tourism became the main target of socialist marketing.

This is demonstrated, for example, by the careful reconstruction of old hotels, bars and other spaces destined for international tourism, which for decades were decadent localities or simple ruins, whose architecture and interior spaces were recently rescued to recreate the elegance and style of the ambiance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

In this way, while ideological battles and fiery anti-imperialist discourses are maintained in public spaces and in the official press, for the indoctrination and control of the native proletarians and for the sake of regional progress, both the nascent entrepreneurial class and the chameleonic Castro regime have invented themselves a marketing Cuba, a parallel reality disguised as Republican era tradition and artificially rescued for the solace and delight of foreign visitors, who pay in dollars for attending this kind of theme park: a country frozen in the middle of the twentieth century.

And it is not necessary to deny a past that, which, for better or worse, is part of Cuban culture and history and represents a period of prosperity and expectations of that young nation. What is truly sad is that six decades under the regime have left us with the legacy of a people who, instead of pushing towards the future, assumes the past as a paradigm that, beyond its lights and democratic conquests, was sufficiently imperfect to incubate in its core the longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, in whose hands the destinies of all Cubans continue to be. It’s a shame.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Without Water in Havana / Iván García

Photo: Havana Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by GH

Daniel Ortega Resuscitated ‘Somocismo’*

Demonstrations against Somoza’s dictatorship in the late 1970s. (El Heraldo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Hector Mairena, Managua Nicaragua, 18 July 2017 – July 19th marks the 38th anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship, without a doubt the most important date in Nicaraguan history. However, its meaning and consequences – even its ultimate causes – are still under discussion. Divergent opinions emerge not only because of the political and social contradictions of Nicaraguan society, but also because many of its protagonists see their personal experience through the lens of their narrative and interpretation of what happened.

The greatest alteration, however, has come from the propaganda interests of the Ortega regime, which has perverted the equitable analysis of the events. As Fidel Castro once said, “history is a byproduct of facts,” and the official version is written by power, altering or denying facts, removing or placing protagonists.

The overthrow of Somocismo was achieved through innumerable acts of individual and collective heroism, and it is precisely for that reason that one side has tried to mythologize it, while the other demonizes it, which is understandable in a society given to attributing extraordinary events to providential causes. continue reading

But it was not a miracle, nor was it a spontaneous event. It was the outcome of a decades long conflict between democratic and dictatorial forces. And just as this day of the struggle for democracy was not the first – because the history preceding July 1979 is abundant in guerrillas and uprisings that raised democratic flags – nor would it be the last.

The overthrow of the Somoza regime was only possible when the joint actions of the democratic forces and the massive involvement of the population crystalized in the final phase of the armed insurrection in a favorable international context. Thus, it was possible to resolve the main contradiction that had existed in Nicaraguan society since the 1930s, between democracy and dictatorship.

In the social sphere, the anti-Somoza participants embraced a wide range that reached the extremes of society: from the sectors of the bourgeoisie excluded from a share of power, to the lumpen proletariat. An unquestionable success of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and the insurrectional faction in particular, consisted in cementing that alliance on the basis of a democratic program that aroused an unprecedented and unrepeatable national consensus

Although the Sandinistas were the hegemonic force, it is necessary to remember, although it seems obvious, that they were not the only ones in the anti-dictatorial fusion.

One the political plane, two large blocks joined in the objective of that historical moment. On the one hand, the center-left block articulated in the People United Movement (MPU)/National Patriotic Front (FPN); and that of the democratic right grouped in the Broad Opposition Front (FAO).

On the military plane, the FSLN, with its three expressions, had absolute dominance, although in the final insurrection smaller units of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) operated through the so-called People’s Military Organization (OMP), subordinate to the Sandinista command and tiny groups of the Maoist Popular Action Movement (MAP), which acted on the margins.

Special mention should be made of the media and journalists, which for decades were a daily vehicle of denunciation against the Somoza regime. It is impossible to hide the role played by La Prensa and its director Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, or that played by Radio Corporation and other broadcasters. Although their role is beyond dispute, today the Ortega version disdains it.

The overthrow of Somocismo, which was required to open the way to a democratic process, became the Sandinista Popular Revolution. Political pluralism, one of the three pillars of the program called for by the anti-Somoza alliance, was soon shunted to a lesser role at the convenience of the Sandinistas, and was only tolerated to the extent that it did not jeopardize the new power.

The consequences were not long in coming. Already in the first post-Somoza year there began a rapid settling of political forces around a new conflict between the Sandistas and the Anti-Sandinistas. The mistakes made in economic management, the loss of the social base of the peasants, and an early alignment with socialist countries – despite the formal non-alignment of the country’s foreign policy – ended up destroying the consensus.

The open intervention of the Reagan administration was a spur to the remnants of the defeated Somoza Army and to dissent in the countryside. The confrontation was radicalized, the social conquests foundered and civil war ensued, the consequences of which divided and bled the country to the limit.

With the withdrawal of military support from the USSR – already in its own terminal crisis – with the economy of the country destroyed by the war, and especially with the majority of citizens calling for a change, by the late 1980s the FSLN was helplessly forced to convene early elections. The results opened up once again the possibility of leading the country towards a democratic process, a path that the Ortega regime, allied with the corrupt liberalism, would destroy, in the same way that it destroyed the old FSLN to turn it into a group of docile subordinates, under the command of a family.

Although July 19, 1979 meant the end of the Somoza regime, its cultural heritage survived in practice and in the subconscious of important sectors of the population and even among militants and leaders of the FSLN. Thus, the Revolution did not manage to banish that disastrous legacy of Somocismo. In the last decade it has sprouted again under Daniel Ortega’s return to power, which has reversed the democratic conquests and resurrected the practices of the defeated regime.

New wine – and not so new – in old wineskins. Thus, and this time not by a miracle, it is already in an irreversible process of decomposition.

_________________________________

Editorial Note: This article was published in the blog of Héctor Mairena

*Translator’s note: ‘Somocismo’ refers to the movement to try to reestablish the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza which was overthrown in Nicaragua in 1979.

Venezuela and Cuban Pretensions / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 June 2017 — It was exercise in risk-taking in which the cons outweighed the pros. As it overlooked the fact that the Attorney General of Venezuela raised to sixty the number of fatalities and to more than 2,977 the number of those detained in less than nine weeks of anti-government protests, the Cuban Parliament seemed to be living in a parallel universe as it publicly declared its firm and resolute support for the government of Nicolás Maduro.

The controversial statement, signed by all the Cuban legislators, was published in the June 1st digital edition of the Cuban Communist Party’s official bulletin and one day later in its print version.

If Cuba is a nation dying of thirst, Venezuela is like a glass of water. It is quite understandable that political commitments have to be made to maintain alliances. But Nicolás Maduro is not Hugo Chavez. And the the South American country is not prepared to take on responsibilities toward the island that had been assumed by the former Soviet Union. So why demonstrate widespread support with such singular tenacity? continue reading

Even Russian president Vladimir Putin has been more restrained than the Cuban government, noting that “the crisis in Venezuela must be resolved in accordance with Venezuelan law.”

According the newspaper Granma’s overwrought gobbledygook, deputies of the National Assembly of the Republic of Cuba are demanding respect for the legitimate rights of the Venezuelan people to continue building a social system that advances the Bolivarian Revolution while simultaneously recognizing the efforts of the Venezuelan government to bring about peace and understanding.

This is a smokescreen. As Cuba’s leaders see it, the current, boorish Venezuelan president in office today is simply as a result of another man’s health problems. Once he has served his purpose, he becomes disposable and the “kind-hearted” opportunist who knows how to take advantage of the situation will be the only thing standing in the way of Nicolás Maduro and his hold on power.

Like the king who only makes promises that benefit his kingdom, the Cuban government , which knows its allies all too well, is attempting to achieve several things with this declaration.

The first is to focus on the conflict within its own borders and avoid intervention by international organizations.

The second is to flatter — this always works — an out-of-control tinpot dictator with no credibility in order to manipulate his emotions and hold onto power in a country also happens to have large reserves oil, gold and uranium.

The third is to mediate a resolution to the critical, systemic political crisis caused when Nicolás Maduro obstructed the country’s National Assembly by hinting at support for a possible (and perhaps already selected) alternative government to which he could assign an undue degree of power in the hopes of calming the opposition. This would also technically fulfill agreements to hold talks while satisfying certain minimal expectations for reviving hope in the Bolivarian nation.

Mass Celebrated At Ladies In White Headquarters ‘For The Freedom Of The Cuban People’

The priests Castor Álvarez and José Conrado Rodríguez celebrate Mass at the Ladies in White headquarters in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2017 — On Monday afternoon, in the presence of 27 people, priests Jose Conrado Rodríguez and Castor Álvarez celebrated a mass at the Ladies in White headquarters Havana’s Lawton neighborhood.

Berta Soler, leader of the women’s group, explained via telephone that they gathered at the building with “a lot of discretion” to avoid State Security preventing the Mass. “It was very important to hear from those two priests, as we are not able to get to the church, the church has to come to us.”

José Conrado Rodríguez told 14ymedio that the Mass was also a way to show that they both support “the right of the Ladies in White to attend Mass every Sunday” in the Church of Santa Rita, in the Cuban capital. continue reading

“That is also part of religious freedom and the right that people have to practice their faith,” added Castor Alvarez, who presided at the mass with Rodriguez.

“We feel as priests a concern to bring our faith to Cuban society,” added Alvarez, a native of Camagüey and for whom it was a joy to be able to share with the activists and “pray together for the freedom of the Cuban people.”

“We are part of the people and we want to enjoy freedoms, we want them to let us have peace and tranquility and share all the good that we Cubans have in order to progress,” added the pastor.

Along with the Ladies in White, attending the mass were the former prisoner of the Black Spring, Angel Moya, the activist Raul Borges, and the opponent Yosvany Martinez, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

For more than a year, the political police have prevented this civil society group from attending Santa Rita Church and carrying out its Sunday walk on Fifth Avenue.

The Year Of The Lost Mangos

There are hardly any mangos in Havana markets while in the east of the country they are rotting. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 July 2017 — “Everything smells like rotten mango,” says Pascual Rojas, who lives on the outskirts of Manuel Tames, a Guantanamo municipality where part of the mango harvest has been lost, leaving a total of 2,600 metric tons of rotten fruit in recent weeks.

“The rains of May and June were already announcing what was coming to us,” explains this peasant born among the furrows and pigsties. “For years we haven’t seen anything like this, where the bushes yield so much fruit,” but “it all turns into flies and garbage,” he complains.

In the deep countryside, where the farmers know how to interpret the signs of each plant and animal, the groves filled with mango trees were a source of worry to more than one. “I told my brother that it would be very difficult to get all that fruit to the people,” recalls Rojas, who considers what has happened to be a “crime.” continue reading

“This is a area where there are different varieties of mango, but the mameyson, manga and bizcochuelo are much harvested,” with the latter being very popular for its sweetness and immortalized in the traditional songbook. “All that sweetness has become bitterness,” complains Rojas, who has seen how “mountains of mangos became black and filled with bugs.”

The rainfall of recent weeks has been a boon to Cuban agriculture, experiencing its worst drought in more than a century. Farmers in the area also managed to keep the pests such as anthracnose – a fungal disease – under control. And they have worked to ameliorate the aging of the plantations, but the faltering state framework was again not up to par.

The largest losses are found in the mango crops of the credit and service cooperatives in areas near Bayate (Popular Council of El Salvador) and Manuel Tames, which could not efficiently process the crops with the state-run canning industry .

More than a third of the 6,794 metric tons of mango that were contracted for with producers in the area ended up being spoiled during the month of June, according to a Ramón Sánchez Ocaña, a fruit specialist at the Provincial Delegation Of Agriculture, speaking to the local newspaper Venceremos.

The official explained that the factory located in San Antonio del Sur started operations 20 days after the planned date. The other plant, located in El Guaso, was also working at half of its capacity because of a shortage of cans in which to pack the pulp. To the technical problems was added the inefficiency of the state service in charge of haulage and collection.

“We had many problems with transportation and truck breakdowns,” an employee of the Acopio Provincial Transportation Base in Guantanamo, who requested anonymity, told 14ymedio. The problems were mainly due to “breakdowns and complications in fuel supply,” he says.

“We took a big hit on boxes, because if we don’t have them we can’t bring the mangos to the factory in good shape,” he adds. He blames the several factors that joined together to cause the disaster on the “bad organization” of the state company.

This opinion is shared by Manuel, a farmer living in the vicinity of the Ángel Bouza Credit and Services Cooperative, one of the most affected by the losses. “Here the pigs have had to eat mangos morning noon and night, because there is nothing else we can do with so many mangos,” he says.

“Even the children, instead of throwing stones, were throwing mangos because they became worthless when we realized that they would not be able to transport all these boxes from here,” he explains. “This happens every year, and this time the television came to film it and then shared it with the National Assembly, but it is nothing new,” laments the farmer.

Little is said about the producers’ losses. “There are people here who are thousands of pesos in debt because they had put a lot of money into this harvest,” adds Manuel. “My brother-in-law lost more than 5,000 pesos with all this and who is going to pay back that money now?”

During the last session of Parliament the heavy losses reported provoked criticism among the deputies and annoyance among the consumers in the agricultural markets who saw the news on the national media.

“In Havana I have to pay between 3 and 5 CUP (Cuban pesos) for a medium mango, but in the East they are rotting without anyone being able to eat them,” complains Clara Carvajal, 71. The images transmitted on the national television “are pitiful,” she adds.

On the island the mango has a seasonal consumption cycle, which starts after the rains of May and ends in September. “Mangos are only available for a few months and nevertheless the State gives itself the luxury of leaving them in the fields.”

Far from Guantánamo, in the municipalities of Güira and Alquízar (Artemisa province), where they produce fruits and vegetables for the capital, the situation is also worrying.

“If we don’t do some serious work it will be the same here,” said a farmer with a basket of mangos on a small cart pulled by horses. “This is the year of the lost mangos,” he says while pointing out the branches loaded with tasty fruit that rise along the side of the road.

Cuba is Preparing to Send Military Doctors to Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 June 2017 — An email leak circulating on servers in Cuba confirms that Havana is planning to send soldiers to Venezuela.

According to the document, it is a small contingent of military doctors who are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

The message, to which this author has had access, was sent on 22 May 2017 at 15:47:49 hours, ordering the authorities of Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health to carry out an urgent survey of doctors in the FAR who are studying in the following specialities: Surgery, Neurosurgery, Angiology and Imaging. continue reading

The professionals surveys, continues the order, “must state their willingness to travel to the brother Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and, if they are outside Havana, will have to travel in the coming days to the capital.

The Ministry of the Armed Forces will deal with the paperwork and the transportation. “They will not stay,” the document says, “in the UCCM.”

Curious. The Central Unit for Medical Cooperation (UCCM) is subordinated to the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) and has the responsibility of guaranteeing the fulfillment of the commitments contracted by the Cuban government in the field of international medical cooperation, and is where those going to serve on medical missions abroad are always housed before leaving.

As always, the information the leaves the island is generating doubts: why has it become necessary to investigate people who have something to do with the regular sending of physicians to the South American nation?

“On the flight lists for Venezuela,” comments someone who deals with the paperwork for this type of agreement, “none of the names of the supposed collaborators appear. The majority of the flight lists we handle, are vacationers who are in Cuba and are returning. But there’s an explanation, maybe the doctors you are referring to are leaving or will leave on private or military planes.”

Lacking answers to why this is being handled this way, another Ministry of Public Health official comments:

“We are taking out of Venezuela the Cuban health workers who have already completed their missions, even if those who will relieve them have not yet arrive, and now they are surveying military doctors who are working in civilian hospitals, to put together a group of workers to send them urgently to Venezuela.

“This is not usual. The FAR residents, specifically, are doctors not very high up in the hierarchy, they are mostly lieutenants or majors, who do their specialities in our hospitals and, later, when they are specialists, return to their units.

“There is no difference between a civilian and military doctor. The objective must have military purposes, or the Armed Forces are using their doctors to guarantee some kind of secret that they don’t want to divulge.”

The Day They Shot Ochoa

A screen shot of General Arnaldo Ochoa at the televised trial where he was sentenced to death by firing squad. (CC)

14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 15 July 2017 — July 13, 1989, began with a morning of radiant sun, however since that day, the fear of injustice and a terrible coldness stole from me that peak of inner tranquility that I might have had and for a long time now has crushed me.

I did not hear the shots, nor screams, much less the smothered moans, but somewhere in Havana they escaped through the orifices caused by the bullets, or perhaps through their half opened mouths as they collapsed the souls of the four Cubans who had been executed.

The maximum penalty for a crime that could have been paid for with prison. For me, an injustice in the midst of the 20th century in a country that talked about justice. continue reading

The neighborhood, and I dare say the people, began their day like any other. I remember that I cared for my children as usual, taking one to school and their other to daycare.

Those of us who knew what was going to happen stood watch in the silence of the morning, that began to feel dense and irritating when we though about what happened without being able to speak openly of the conflict that, we felt, had been brought to an exaggerated end.

Four soldiers betrayed Fidel Castro’s revolution, sufficient for such a sentence. That was the biggest of the reasons, and so it remains.

Just after nine o’clock in the morning the radio reported that General Arnaldo Ochoa, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Major Amado Padron, and Captain Jorge Martinez had been shot dead in a military compound, a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

From that moment I had the lucidity to understand that the four faces that had been waiting for us during the long sessions of the televised trial had ceased to exist. It was not even a mitigating factor that Ochoa, the man who won the Ethiopian war against Somalia and risked his life on so many occasions for Cuba, would be no more.

Fidel Castro in the company of General Arnaldo Ochoa. (CC)

We were told that they had all carried out operations during the last year and a half in which they transferred tons of cocaine produced in Medellín to the United States, and through their ties with Pablo Escobar they had plans to carry out new and more ambitious shipments. Hence, what would have been a matter to be resolved within the tight circle of the armed forces became a matter of maximum betrayal of the country.

Fidel Castro tried with that decision to launder his own image and that of the Revolution, while at the same time reinforcing his authority and the discipline of the armed forces at a time when Soviet perestroika had isolated Cuba from the rest of the socialist countries.

Knowing the rebellious personality the main soldier executed, Ochoa and the subsequent dismissal of those in high positions of the government administration, some came to think that the Ochoa case was in fact an aborted military coup.

And I ask myself: how many did the Revolution betray afterwards? How many crimes did they commit and of what scale which, although we suspect, have not seen the light of day and will not be known until the regime falls.

Today it is 28 years. The bodies were never seen.

3D Film, Raul Castro’s New Hobby / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 12 June 2107 — With a decade’s worth of fledgling but stalled attempts at reforming Cuba’s economic system, a convulsive situation in Venezuela that could have repercussions in Havana and less than eight months to go before the end of his term as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, General Raúl Castro’s preference is for the novelty of the three-dimensional image.

“In collaboration with the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana and with financial support from the European Union and the Barcelona city government, the Interpretive Center for EU/Cuba Cultural Relations opened last month in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo. As part of the project, a 3D movie theater also made its debut. Its goal is to provide support to scholars and researchers studying Cuba’s cave formations and natural heritage. But ever since Raúl Castro learned of the facility and discovered the third dimension, he hasn’t left the place and his constant presence is hindering normal activities in the area,” claims someone who works at the center, which is housed in a historic structure. continue reading

“The general,” the employee adds, “is not coming here to learn more about the subterranean riches of the Cuban archipelago, which is our reason for being. He is coming to see Godzilla, Jurassic Park, Pompeii, The Hobbit, Spiders and other 3D movies he brings with him, as though this were his private screening room or neighborhood movie theater.”

“What goes around comes around,” he sarcastically notes. “The Palacio del Segundo Cabo has reverted to its original use as military fortress. Raúl Castro might show up at any hour of the morning, noon or night. Security around the site has been tightened, with uniformed military personnel present. They have even removed the horse-drawn carriages and 1950s convertibles that tourists like so much. Military-run businesses in the area are suffering but, with Habanaguanex in charge…”*

According to the official online encyclopedia ECURED, “in commemoration of Europe Day on May 9, 2017, the permanent exhibition spaces in the Center for Interpretation of Cultural Relations between Cuba and the Old World were inaugurated in the renowned Palacio del Segundo Cabo. The building’s restoration is a major project made possible with funds from the European Union and with the direct involvement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The most up-to-date technology has been used to create a beautiful center that will allow for exploration of cultural, historical, literary and artistic phenomenon but, more importantly, of our shared communal legacy.”

During the opening reception and in the presence of Cuban officials and foreign diplomats — among them was Herman Portocarrero, ambassador and head of the European Union delegation — Dr. Eusebio Leal, Historian of the City of Havana, referred to the founding of Europe, based on deep and solid traditions, and made a timely reference to the collapse of the Roman Empire and the formation of a new era.

*Translator’s note: In 2016, profitable tourism-related businesses such as hotels and restaurants in restored sections of Old Havana that had been operated by the Office of the Historian were taken over by the Habanaguanex conglomerate, led by the Cuban military.

Salaries in Cuba are a Joke / Iván García

Source: El Nuevo Herald

Ivan Garcia, 15 July 2017 — Even the street dogs, ragged and hungry, take cover under the roofs in Havana when the clock marks 1 PM.

The sun burns and humidity gives you sweat marks on your clothes. After noon the Havana’s street look like the Saharan desert. People take cover in their houses and those out walking are just desperate go into any store, cafeteria or a state bank with air conditioning to get a blessed shot of air from the refrigerated climate.

In that desolate tropical picture of a July noon in Cuba, where everyone flees from the steel heat, Antonio, along with his workers brigade, works asphalting streets in the district of Diez de Octubre. continue reading

After having two boiled eggs for lunch, along with white rice and a watery black bean soup, Antonio, places against his shoulder, as if it was a baseball bat, the heavy pneumatic hammer and starts breaking streets.

“I work twelve hours a day. Nobody likes repairing and asphalting streets. Almost all of us that work here are ex-prisioners, incurable alcoholics or mentally impaired. I make the equivalent to US $50 (approximately 1,250 Cuban pesos) a month, sometimes a little more if we meet the plan,” explains Antonio.

Even when his salary is almost double to the average in Cuba ($740 Cuban pesos), the money that Antonio makes for his hard work doesn’t cover a quarter of his basic family’s needs. “I have two kids, 12 and 14 years old, and the salary is not enough to buy them clothes and shoes, nor take them out on the weekends. It is enough just for two plates of hot food on the table every day. We don’t eat what we’d like, but rather the most economic.”

Antonio, a black and burly man, was able to get work as a doorman in a private bar. “Like many Cubans, I get into any business that gives me money. Fixing the streets is exhausting work, but I can’t stop it because it’s a steady salary. In addition, I don’t know how to do anything else.”

In other countries, the maintenance of public roads is done during the night time, among other things to help with the heat during the day. But in Cuba, the supposedly socialist Mecca with a human face, it is done with a sun from hell.

The olive green regime is a complex game of mirrors. They sell the social justice narrative, love for the people and productive successes that are only met on the television newsrooms.

If you really want to understand the authentic military power that governs Cuba, please, stop at the salary of their workers. Since Fidel Castro came into power, using military force in January 1959, a part of one’s salary, between 5% and 9%, was deducted to pay for education and universal health care.

The majority of the Cubans agree on keeping their taxes to support the health care and education. But with the passing of time, the galloping inflation, the lack of productivity of the communist system and the bloated apparatus of the state system, taxation feeds on sales of goods and workers’ salaries as if they were a sandwich.

That salary of state workers, which is 90% of the labor force in Cuba, is joke in bad taste. The minimum monthly salary is 225 Cuban pesos or approximately US$10.

With that money people pay for the lean “basic basket” that the State gives to all people born in Cuba: 7 lbs. of rice, 5 lbs. sugar, 20 ounces of beans, half a pound of vegetable oil, a pound of chicken, a pack of pasta and a small piece of daily bread of approximately 80 grams.

The described merchandise costs no more than 20 Cuban pesos (or less than US$1). But it only lasts for one week. The rest of the month, the ones that earn minimum salary, like retirees, have to do miracles to eat.

Then you have the electricity bill. It’s very expensive. A family with a television, two fans, a fridge, a rice cooker, a blender and a dozen light bulbs pays between 30-40 Cuban pesos monthly.

If you have air conditioning and more than one TV in the house, the consumption increases to 300 Cuban pesos per month. Except the high level government leaders — and no one knows exactly how much they make — the next highest paid salaries are earned by doctors or ETECSA (the only telecommunications company) engineers. A medical specialist could earn the equivalent of US$60. For an ETECSA professional, adding the hard currency bonus, it can be close to US$90.

But is that enough to support a family? Of course not. Ask Migdalia, the engineer. As an answer, the young professional shows a pile of paper full of numbers and expenses.

“I am a single mother to a son. For food for two people it costs between 1200-1300 Cuban pesos. The rest, it just evaporates in school snacks. It’s not even enough to pay the electricity, buy books or any other entertainment. My father lives in Miami, he sends me US$200 monthly and once a year pays for a week-long vacation in a hotel in Varadero. Although my salary is one of the highest paid in the country, it doesn’t let me have a quality nutritional diet. To buy clothes, go to the hair salon or go to dinner at a paladar (private restaurant) you have to make money under the table,” explains Migdalia.

In Cuba, that euphemism translates to a hard and simple aphorism: stealing from the State. “It is the only way to get to month end, fix the house that is in shambles or go to the beach with the family,” confesses Orestes, a port worker.

A national joke defines truthfully the non-existent social contract between the salaried workers and the regime: “people pretend to work and the government pretends to pay us.” It’s never been said better.

Translated by: LYD

The Mistakes of Raúl Castro

Raul Castro announced that he would step down in 2018, ten years after assuming power. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2017 – In his most recent public speech before Parliament, General-President Raul Castro offered a self-criticism about “political deviations” under which the private sector and cooperatives are governed. “Mistakes are mistakes, and they are mistakes… they are my mistakes in the first place, because I am a part of this decision,” he emphasized.

In the list of mistakes he didn’t mention, he should have put in first place the absence of a wholesale market to serve these forms of economic management. It that option existed, honest entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to turn to the diversion of state resources to get raw materials and equipment to allow them to produce goods and services in a profitable way.

The greatest advance in this direction has been opening shopping centers were goods are sold “wholesale,” meaning in large volume sacks or boxes, but with the retail price per unit unchanged. continue reading

If, in addition, self-employed workers were allowed to legally import and export commercially, with the required customs facilities, then these forms of management would be on an equal footing with the state companies, and be able to perform efficiently.

The underreporting of income to evade taxes is a problem that exists in most countries where citizens must pay tribute to the state treasury. As a rule, evasion of these payments is seen as a dishonest act where taxes are fair, and as an act of self-defense where the state tries to suck the blood out of entrepreneurs.

When governments have the vocation to grow the private sector, they reduce taxes, whose only role is to redistribute wealth and increase the financial capacity for social spending, but not to act as a drag to reduce individuals’ ability to grow and prosper.

Raúl Castro’s most profound mistake, when he decided to expand self-employment and the experiment of non-agricultural cooperatives, has been to do so with the purpose of depriving the state of “non-strategic activities, to generate jobs, deploy initiatives and contribute to the efficiency of the national economy in the interest of the development of our socialism.”

This opportunistic vision, of using an element alien to the economic model as the fuel to advance it, generates insurmountable contradictions. An entrepreneur who starts a business is interested in increasing his profits (according to Karl Marx) and growth. He does not care that hiring workers will reduce unemployment and that their particular efficiency will have repercussions on the country’s economy. Much less, that his good performance contributes to perfecting a system that takes advantage of his success in a circumstantial way.

The entrepreneur dreams that in his country there are laws that protect his freedom to do business, that his money is safe in the banks, and that he has the right to import and export, to receive investments, to open branches, to patent innovations without fear of unappealable seizures or sudden changes in the rules of the game. Without fearing a report will arrive on the president’s desk detailing how many times he has traveled abroad.

The entrepreneur would also like to be able to choose as a member of parliament someone proposing such laws and defending the interests of the private sector, which he does not see as a necessary evil, but as the main engine to advance the country. Not understanding this is Raul Castro’s principal mistake.

Average Wages Rise but Nobody in Cuba Lives on Their Salary

Currently, it would take the earnings of an entire month for a Cuban worker to buy 10.3 chickens, OR 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas for their stoves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton and Luz Escobar, Miami and Havana, 14 July 2017 — Ileana Sánchez is anxiously rummaging through her tattered wallet, looking for some bills to buy a toy slate for her seven-year-old granddaughter who dreams of becoming a teacher. She has had to save for months to get the 20 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $20 US) that the gift costs, since her monthly salary as a state inspector is only 315 CUP (Cuban pesos), about 12 dollars.

At the end of June, the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) reported that the average salary at national level reached 740 CUP per month, slightly more than 29 CUC. However, the increase in the average salary does not represent a real improvement in the living conditions of the worker, who continues to be able to access many goods and services only through remittances sent from family abroad, savings and withdrawals.

Average Monthly Wages in Cuba: 2017-2017. 25 Cuban pesos = $1 US

continue reading

“I do not know who makes that much money, nor what they base these figures on, because not even with the wages my husband earns working in food service for 240 CUP a month, along with my wages, do we get that much,” says Sanchez.

The ONEI explains that the average monthly salary is “the average amount of direct wages earned by a worker in a month.” The calculation excludes earning in CUC. However, the average salary is inflated by the increases in “strategic” sectors, such as has happened in healthcare, where the pay has been more than doubled, while in other areas of the economy wages have remained practically unchanged for over a decade.

“If you buy food you can not buy clothes, if you buy clothes you can not eat, we live every day thinking about how to come up with ways survive,” she says in anguish.

Most Cubans do not support themselves on what they earn in jobs working for the state, which employs 80% of the country’s workforce.

President Raúl Castro himself acknowledged that wages “do not satisfy all the needs of the worker and his family” and, in one of his most critical speeches about the national reality in 2013, he said that “a part of society” had become accustomed to stealing from the state.

Sanchez, on the other hand, justifies the thefts and believes that the “those who live better” are those who have access to dollars or those who receive remittances. “Anyone who doesn’t have a family member abroad or is a leader, is out of luck,” she says.

According to the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, when speaking of an increase in the average wage, a distinction must be made between the nominal wage, that is, the amount of money people receive, and the real wage, adjusted for inflation.

A recent study published by the academic shows that although the nominal wage has grown steadily in recent years, the real wage of a Cuban is 63% lower than it was in 1989, when Cuba was subsidized by the Soviet Union and the government had various social protection programs. At present, the entire month’s salary of a worker is only enough to buy 10.3 whole chickens or 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas.

Among retirees and pensioners, the situation is worse. The elderly can barely buy 16% of what a pension benefit would buy before the most difficult years of the so-called Special Period – the years of economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union – according to Mesa-Lago.

Or by another measure, spending an entire month’s salary a worker can only afford 19 hours of internet connection in the Wi-Fi zones enabled by the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, or 84.5 minutes of local calls through cell phones.

What an entire month’s salary will buy in Cuba (only ONE of these things): 84.5 minutes of cellphone service, 10.3 chickens, 74 shared fixed-route taxi rides, 5.5 kg powdered milk, 29 national beers, 6.7 tanks of liquified natural gas

To buy a two-room apartment in a building built in 1936 in the central and coveted Havana neighborhood of Vedado a worker would need to save their entire salary for 98 years, while a Soviet-made Lada car from the time of Brezhnev would cost the equivalent of 52 years of work.

However, the island’s real estate market has grown in recent years at the hands of private sector workers who accumulate hard currency, or by investments made by the Cuban diaspora. In remittances alone, more than three billion dollars arrives in Cuba every year.

According to Ileana Sánchez, before this panorama many people look for work in the areas related to state food services or administration where they can steal from the state, or jobs that provide contact with international tourists such as in the hotels.

Other coveted jobs in the private sphere are the paladares – private restaurants – and renting rooms and homes to tourists where you can get tips. The “search” (as the theft is called) has become a more powerful incentive to accept a job than the salary itself.

Average monthly salary in Cuba by sector

Although, according to the document published by the ONEI, workers in the tourism and defense sector earn 556 and 510 pesos on average, many of them receive as a bonus a certain amount of CUC monthly that is not reflected in the statistics, and they also have access to more expensive food and electrical appliances than does the rest of the population.

Among the best paid jobs in CUP, in order of income, are those in the sugar industry, with 1,246 CUP on a monthly basis, and in agriculture with 1,218. Among the worst paid jobs according to the ONEI are those working in education, with 533 CUP, and in culture with 511.

For Miguel Roque, 48, a native of Guantánamo, low wages in the eastern part of the country are driving migration to other provinces. He has lived for 12 years in the Nuclear City, just a few kilometers from Juraguá, in the province of Cienfuegos, where the Soviet Union began to build a nuclear plant that was never finished.

“The East is another world. If you work here, imagine yourself there. A place stopped in time,” he explains. Roque works as a bricklayer in Cienfuegos although he aspires to emigrate to Havana in the coming months, where “work abounds and more things can be achieved.”

Average monthly salary by Cuban province. The lowest, 668.4 Cuban pesos, is the equivalent of $26.75 US, and the highest, 796.4 Cuban pesos, is the equivalent of $31.85.

The provinces where average wages are highest, according to the ONEI, are Ciego de Avila (816 CUP), Villa Clara (808 CUP) and Matanzas (806 CUP), while the lowest paid are Guantanamo (633 CUP) and Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP).

“Salary increases in the east of the country are not enough to fill the gaps with the eastern and central provinces,” explains Cuban sociologist Elaine Acosta, who believes that cuts in the social services budgets are aggravating the inequalities that result from the wage differences.

“It is no coincidence that the eastern provinces have the lowest figures on the Human Development Index,” he asserts.

Prosperous Cuban Entrepreneur Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 June 2017 — Alejandro Marcel Mendivil, successful entrepreneur, owner of El Litoral, a restaurant located at Malecon #161, between L & K, and the restaurant Lungo Mare, located in 1ra Esquina C, in the Vedado district, was arrested in Havana on June 8.

The reasons are not clear. Some claim that Marcel Mendivil is accused of money laundering and ties to drug trafficking; and others claim that if you are “noticed” in Cuba, it has a price.

“Alejandro is a young man hungry for challenges and pleasure. He has money, social recognition, he helps all his neighbors, has ties to diplomats as important as the ones in the American Embassy. He also has dealings with high ranking Cuban military and maintains very important access to the government elite. His ambitions go beyond those of common entrepreneurs, and to that add that the fact that he has charisma. Isn’t that a lethal combination? Alejandro is no drug trafficker or money launderer; he only tested power and ended up making it angry,” says one of the neighbors of his restaurant El Litoral, a retiree from the Ministry of the Interior. continue reading

“It was early in the morning, says an employee, the sea was flat as a plate when the operative began. Not even the Interior Ministry (MININT), nor the state officials gave any explanations in order to close the restaurant. They (the police) only told the employees that were present that we had to leave the place and look for another job in another restaurant because this closure was going to last. We were closed once, when an issue with the alcohol, but Alejandro solved it”.

“They got in and identified themselves as members of the State Security’s Technical Department of Investigations (DTI). They checked the accounting, the kitchen, lifted some tiles from the floor and they even took nails from the walls. An official with a mustache, who wouldn’t stop talking with someone on his BLU cellphone, was saying that they would find evidence to justify the charge of drug trafficking.”

“That looked like a theater, but with misleading script. It was not the DTI. In fact, Alejandro was not jailed at 100 and Aldabo, but rather held incommunicado in Villa Marista (a State Security prison). The whole thing was a State Security operation to put a stop Alejandro, who was earning money working and was becoming an attractive figure; in a country such as this one, where leaders, all of them, are very weak.”

The incident is timely to a discussion held during the extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which took place last May 30, where the Cuban vice-president Marino Murillo asserted that the new model of the socialist island “will not allow the concentration of property or wealth even when we are promoting the existence of the private sector.”

According to sources consulted in the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Cuba, there are plans for measures similar to those taken against Marcel Mendivil for these wealthy and influential owners of a paladar (private restaurant) located in Apartment 1, Malecon 157, between K&L, Vedado. And also against another one in Egido 504 Alton, between Montes & Dragones, Old Havana, in addition to two in Camaguey that were not identified.

Translated by: LYD