Autonomy of Cuban Dissidents Will Always Be Beneficial / Iván García

Photo: Diario Las Américas Dissidents attend the funeral of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on 24 July 2012, at Colón Cemetery in Havana. (Diario Las Américas)

Iván García, 1 June 2017– The majority of the openly anti-Castro opponents I know do not live in lavish mansions nor do they possess items fashioned with the latest technology. Neither do they boast bank accounts in financial paradises and they do not own yachts or beach houses.  I don’t believe any of them know how to play golf or can afford a vacation on a Greek island.

Those luxuries are reserved for the hierarchs of the olive green regime. Those who sing The Internationale, compose speeches replete with declarations on behalf of social justice and poverty, but who wear designer-label clothing, use French perfumes and employ household servants. continue reading

The national prosecutor’s office will never open a file on the Cuban functionaries involved in the Panama Papers. No state office exists where the average Cuban citizen can learn how public monies are spent or invested. The nomenklatura lives and performs its functions with total impunity.

That leadership style of never being accountable, which has taken root inside the olive green autocracy, has in a certain way been imitated by the opposition on the Island. Most certainly, it is a harmful style.

Corruption, and its variants such as nepotism and influence peddling, has permeated a significant sector of the dissident movement. There is no transparency regarding the funding and materials they receive.

Some opponents behave with dictatorial arrogance and manage their organization as if it were a family business.

One needs money to live. And it doesn’t fall from the sky. The ideal would be that the opposition obtains money through local financing mechanisms. But Cuba under the Castros is a genuine dictatorship.

Those on the Island who declare themselves dissidents, if they work or study, are expelled from their workplaces or schools. And even were they employed, because of the financial distortions caused by the country’s dual currency system and low wages, they would be unable to sustain their organizations. Prior to 1959* political parties supported themselves with membership dues and donations from sympathizers and anonymous supporters.

To make political opposition and free journalism, to maintain offices for independent lawyers or for any civil society organization, requires funds. How to obtain them?

There are foreign private foundations that award grants to approved projects. Government institutions in first-world democratic societies also provide aid.

Is this lawful? Yes. But for the Castro regime, it is illegal and you could be prosecuted under the anachronistic Ley Mordaza [Gag Law] in force since February 1999. If the nation’s laws prohibit obtaining funds from other countries to finance political, journalistic, or other types of activities, Cuba in this case should be able to count on banking mechanisms to enable to transmission of resources.

But the opposition on the Island is illegal. The dissident movement has almost always been financed by institutions or foundations based in the US, which is not illegal in that country and is publicly reported.

I am not against receiving money from US government institutions, as long as it can be justified by by the work performed. In the case of journalism, reporting for the Voice of America, Radio Martí, the BBC, and Spain’s RNE Radio Exterior is not a crime–except in Cuba, North Korea or perhaps in China and Vietnam.

Any funding from abroad is financed by that country’s taxpayers. In the case of political or journalistic activities, the ideal would be to receive monies from journalistic foundations and citizens or enterprises.

An important part of the opposition’s economic support has come from the US State Department or other federal institutions. Those local opposition groups who believe this to be ethical and a lawful way to obtain funds should therefore be transparent in their management.

Yet 95 per cent of them do not account for those monies nor do they publish reports about them. Most of the time, the members of these groups do not know how the funds received are managed. By and large they are administered by the individual at the head of the opposition group.

They justify this secrecy with the pretext, at times well-founded, that they are keeping this information from reaching the ears of the State Security cowboys, who act like 21st Century pirates and confiscate money and goods without due process of law.

However, and this is regrettable to say, that opacity in managing collective resources is the embryo of corrupt behaviors within the Cuban opposition. Within the majority of dissident organizations, whatever they may be called, such absence of managerial accountability and transparency leads some dissidents to skim money and goods that do not belong to them, or to appropriate a portion.

These organizations, with their erratic performance, hand over on a silver platter enough information for the counterintelligence to sow division and create interpersonal conflicts inside the dissident movement.

How to stamp out these corrupt and nefarious practices, which not only defame the dissident movement, but also set a bad precedent for a future democracy? Can you imagine one of those current venal opponents tomorrow becoming a State minister or functionary? The most reasonable way to nip this phenomenon in the bud is through practicing transparency.

This could take the form of quarterly or annual reports. For example, the reporters of Periodismo de Barrio [Neighborhood Journalism], led by Elaine Díaz, keep a running budget on their web page of receipts and expenditures.

The Trump administration’s measure to drastically cut aid to the Cuban opposition, more than being harmful, signifies a new way forward that will require the development of new funding models.

Besides, this will provide greater autonomy and credibility. And it might bury once and for all that very questionable mentality of seeking solutions to Cuba’s problems through mechanisms sponsored by other governments.

The interests of the US are their interests. They are not necessarily our interests. Of course, that nation’s solidarity and also the European Union’s, is a support at the hour of denouncing the lack of political freedoms and the Cuban regime’s human rights violations.

But that’s where it ends. The money needed to carry out political projects under the harsh conditions of absurd tropical socialism should be provided by those Cubans in exile who are concerned about the future of their homeland. Money from their own pockets. Not from a foreign government. And if they believe that to enroll in a cause that is not their affair or doesn’t interest them is not a smart investment, they are within their legitimate rights to not donate even a penny.

Cuba’s problems are for Cubans, those at home and abroad, to resolve. Not for anybody else.

Our society’s modernization and the future we design for ourselves is our problem and we should resolve it with creativity, greater humility and more unity of judgment.

Perhaps the Cuban opposition will end up being grateful to Donald Trump for cutting millions in funds of which few knew the ultimate destination. Believe me, it is always better to be as independent as possible.


Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: Fidel Castro’s revolutionary forces overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Day, 1959.

Cuba’s Parliament Positions Its New Straitjacket

The Constitution of the Republic does not establish that the deputies have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the Communist Party. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, 1 June 2017 — With its usual unanimity, the National Assembly of People’s Power, on Thursday, supported the documents submitted to it by the Council of State. The extraordinary session put the final stitch in the straitjacket that the Communist Party of Cuba (CCP) is placing on the Parliament and other organs of power for the coming years.

Since Wednesday, the committees gathered at the Havana Convention Center have expressed their support for the Conceptualization of the Cuban Social Economic Development and Social Model and the updating of the Party Policy and Revolution Guidelines for the period 2016-2021. continue reading

The final versions of the documents were presented to the deputies, after a long process of debate that included modifications, additions and deletions. The Third Plenum of the Central Committee had given them the green light in mid-May, and all that was left was for the members of the Eighth Legislature to raise their hands to ratify their support.

In the Constitution of the Republic, where the powers of the Parliament are specified, it is not established that the Members have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the PCC, nor those that the Council of State presents before them.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness that has meant that the non-partisan entity supports the documents emanating from the structures of a militancy.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness

So as not to overstate the confusion about responsibilities, the government chose the verb “to back,” rather than “ratify,” “vote” or “approve,” for what happened on June 1. In the selection of the word, the formal character of what happened was evidenced, for under no circumstances would the deputies have had the power to disapprove the documents.

If anyone had a question about parliamentary autonomy first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel was responsible for dissipating it when he stressed that “everything that is approved here comes as recommendations prized by the higher echelons of the Party.”

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy. It makes the legislature the implementer of the narrow limits which Raul Castro wants to leave as a frame for the political class of the country before vacating the presidential chair next February.

Not in vain, the General stressed in his closing speech of the session that the documents backed by the legislature will permit “changing everything that should be changed,” but at “a speed that allows us to reach consensus.” An affirmation with which he reiterates his preferences that the transformations happen “step by step” or “gradually,” but in which he also reveals his fears.

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy

But the unanimity reached in these two days is not that strong either. In several of the speeches, the deputies made clear the distance between the theoretical postulates that were established as inviolable laws in the construction of socialism, and the times in which the island is living. Under the apparent uniformity lies the clash between entelechy and reality, plans and results.

In several historical moments and national instances in which this tension has manifested itself, the Solomonic – or chameleonic – formula has been called on to be able to continue to say that the country is guided by Marxist-Leninist doctrines, but shaded with “our own realities and experiences.”

The dominance of social property over the means of production and the exercise of power by a single party are the two pillars on which the whole program is dispersed in guidelines, conceptualizations and programs. However, there is no longer talk of eliminating the exploitation of man by man, nor is the superior society aspired to defined as “Communism.”

The National Assembly expects another bitter drink, because the Party does not legislate, at least directly. The PCC will have to instruct the deputies to determine the amount of wealth that citizens will be able to accumulate, and whether the redistribution of resources generated in non-state forms of production will be accomplished by way of taxes or confiscations.

At that time, the parliamentarians will be pushed to sew fine stitches and to reinforce with them the guide to action left to them by “Castroism.” It will be the last chance this organ of the Popular Power has, before becoming a total ventriloquist of the Party.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago: “The Cuban Government Panicked After Obama’s Visit”

Cuban economist and academic Carmelo Mesa Lago. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maité Rico, Madrid, 1 June 12017 — Carmelo Mesa-Lago (born Havana, 1934) has spent a good part of his life trying to open a breach of good sense in the wall of absurdities with which that the Castro regime has ended up plunging into bankruptcy a country that was, in the 1950s, the third most developed in Latin America after Argentina and Uruguay.

A Professor Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, he has just presented in Madrid the only study on the private sector in Cuba (Voices Of Change In The Cuban Non-State Sector, published by Iberoamericana-Vervuert), based on interviews with 80 self-employed individuals. continue reading

Armed with the best statistical data, this economist views with perplexity how the economic reforms announced by Raúl Castro in 2010 are being diluted (“the Government takes one step forward and four steps back”), and how the country is losing the opportunity that was offered to it last year by the reestablishment of bilateral relations with the United States.

It was precisely Barack Obama’s outstretched hand that sowed panic in the Government, which fears that economic openness will lead to political change. Now there is a brake on the reforms, there are no investments, and the crisis in Venezuela, which replaced the USSR as Cuba’s economic supporter, has plunged the country into disaster.

Rico: Is Cuba entering a new “Special Period” [a euphemism to describe the period of hardship that followed the fall of the USSR and the end of aid to Cuba]?

Mesa-Lago: The situation is similar, but not so dramatic, because the dependence on the Soviet Union was much greater than that on Venezuela. That said, the trade volume with Venezuela has dropped significantly (from 42% to 27% in 2015) and the supply of oil has declined from 105,000 barrels a day to 55,000.

Cuba sold a part of that oil in the world market, and it was an important source of income that has also fallen by half. And another income that has fallen is the most important one: the sale of professional services (doctors, nurses, teachers) [to foreign countries], which went from 11 billion dollars in 2013 to 7 billion. In 2015, GDP growth was 4.4%. In 2016, it was minus 0.9%. Everything points to a very strong crisis, but I do not think it reaches the level of the Special Period.

Rico. At least, within this parasitic economy, tourism remains.

Mesa-Lago. There is a boom, for the first time they exceeded four million tourists and took in about 4 billion dollars. The problem is that this gross income has to be subtracted from the value of imports of goods and supplies for tourists. Cuba has to import everything. And that data is no longer published. So it’s not 4 billion. It’s less, but we do not know how much.

Rico. Despite the announcement of the investment plan and Obama’s trip, foreign investment has not materialized and the Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel, the big Brazilian bet, is quite inactive.

Mesa-Lago. It is inexplicable. Cuba needs [new investments of] at least $2.5 billion a year. Until last month there were some 450 proposals for foreign investment, some of them already established in Cuba. And they have only approved some twenty of them. According to their figures, since the opening of the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone the cumulative figure has not reached 2 billion dollars. Why do they do this? It does not make sense to me.

Rico. But what can Cuba offer, beyond cheap labor? The system of production is destroyed.

Mesa-Lago. The infrastructure is a disaster. And the workforce, which is qualified, works extremely slowly. For the construction of the Manzana hotel, Kempinski brought workers from India because they were more productive. The problem is that the Cuban worker earns very little and is paid in Cuban pesos (CUP), and has to buy most things in convertible currency (CUC), and they can’t support themselves. There is no incentive, and it is a vicious cycle. Between 1989, the year before the crisis, and 2015, the purchasing power of Cubans fell by more than 70%.

Rico. And when are they going to solve the problem of the dual-currency system?

Mesa-Lago. Raul has announced it many times and two years ago made a very complicated resolution, full of equations. But nothing happened. The problem is that inflation will be about 12% this year, it is very high. And the unification of the currency, by itself, generates inflation. So I find it difficult to see them doing it in the short term. In addition, they must first do it in the state sector, and there will be companies that will cease to be sustainable, and then comes the population. It’s going to be a longer process than in Vietnam and probably in China.

Rico. How many workers has the state fired since the reforms began?

Mesa-Lago. They announced that between 2010 and 2015 they were going to lay off 1.8 million unnecessary workers, but in the end it was half a million. The private sector did not advance as rapidly as needed to create all those jobs, and there would have been a social explosion.

Rico. But why does private activity grow so slowly?

Mesa-Lago. Because of all the obstacles. It is as if the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. There are many activities that the Government has closed down or rescinded [the permission for, after initially granting licenses]: clothing sales, 3D movie theaters … now they have begun to regulate prices for private taxis and on the sale of homes, and to interfere in the free agricultural market. Taxation is brutal. There are something like seven taxes. The Government punishes those who succeed and who could help the State solve its problems. It is not logical.

Rico. And how do you explain it?

Mesa-Lago. The only explanation I have is that in Cuba there is no unified leadership with a single opinion, but there is a group that resists. Obama’s visit had a very positive impact on the population, but the government panicked. From there came a a paralysis. The most hardline group, the most orthodox, came out stronger than ever.

Rico. Are the Armed Forces putting obstacles in the way?

Mesa-Lago. Yes, and the Party, but the Army is more important because it has economic power. And it has like a reverse Midas touch. Everything it touches it turns to garbage … Restaurants, hotels … It is impressive.

Rico. The self-employed people interviewed agree on their problems: scarcity and lack of inputs, regulatory overspending, taxes, difficult access to the internet …

Mesa-Lago. Yes, and in spite of the continuous obstruction of the State, 80% of them are satisfied with what they do (although not with what they earn). And 93% made profits, and most reinvested them into their business. That is extraordinary.

Rico. Will the team in power be able to make the transition?

Mesa-Lago. If Raúl Castro, in ten years, has not pushed the reforms, I doubt that his successor can be more successful. Political logic prevails over economic logic. And they fear losing control.


Editorial Note: This article was previously published in the Spanish newspaper El País and we reproduce it with authorization of the author.

War Vocation in the “Peace Zone”

Raúl Castro during a CELAC summit (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 May 2017 — A brief note published by the official Cuban press reports the meeting held by “General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz” with “the Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, Timoleón Jiménez” (FARC-EP), where the former “ratified the willingness of the Cuban government to continue supporting the Colombian peace process.”

For an untrained reader, the aforementioned comment was just a note as insubstantial as so many others that are so abundant in the Castro media monopoly. However, the maculae are evident, even though their deeper meaning remains hidden. continue reading

In fact, some aspects are provocative and some are incongruous. Let’s say, if the FARC is the “People’s Army,” who does the Colombian constitutional army belong to? Isn’t it the true and legitimate army of all the citizens of that country?

Another interesting matter would be to understand why the Cuban leader, who in this case presents himself with all his warlike attributes of “Army General,” despite having diplomatic relations with the democratically elected government of Colombia, hosts, in the company of his brand-new chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez, the individual who still qualifies as “Head of the FARC,” that is to say, the “Chief” of an illegal “armed force” that supposedly is currently in the process of disarmament under the Peace Accords signed in Havana specifically with the legitimate government of Colombia.

As is often the case when scoundrels meet, something is afoot… and it smells bad. Especially when Latin America is experiencing a period marked by the loss of political power of the radical left in various countries, allies of the Castro regime, and when the most irrational (and important) pupil of the Castro regime, Nicolás Maduro, tries to stay afloat on a piece of wood in a violent sea in the middle of the biggest socioeconomic and political crisis that Venezuela has ever suffered.

All this leads us directly to question the usefulness of this regional fiction called CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), one of whose most proclaimed “achievements” during its Second Summit, held in Havana in January 2014, was declaring this a Peace Zone, in order to promote cooperation and maintain peace and security at all levels among its member countries.

Beyond the political intentions and the (always sterile) desire to consolidate a regional alliance that confronts economic crises and promotes development, CELAC has been characterized, since its creation in February 2010, by a large package of intentions and declarations in the face of a scant list of results.

In that sense, the declaration of “Peace Zone” is one of the most illustrative examples of this organism’s alienation, first because it was a peace invoked in a conclave whose host country not only envelops longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, which systematically violates the human rights of its own people and applies violence against any sign of political dissent or social discontent, but for decades has been dedicated to sustaining and spurring numerous armed conflicts in the region, through the training of guerrillas, and through logistical support and the mobilization of armed troops in conflict zones.

The intrusion of the Palace of the Revolution into the internal problems of several countries in the hemisphere is so common that it could be said that the hand of the Castro regime has intervened to some extent in each and every one of them, whether as a puppet of the Soviet Union and as the spreader of the germs of that disease called “Marxism-Leninism” that it futilely attempted to impose in Latin America and the Caribbean, or more recently, as a survival strategy in the face of the failure of the experiments of left-wing governments, allies of the Castro and Chávez regimes.

A brief and incomplete account of the Cuban presence (interference) in internal crises of this region’s other nations shows that it covers an immensely greater geographical extension of the territory in the archipelago under the dominion of Castro, and includes ideologies of the most diverse hues.

Suffice it to recall the Castro regime’s imprint on the guerrillas in Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, or Nicaragua; its participation in the Chilean crisis that ended with the fall of President Salvador Allende; the unusual support for the military junta headed by Leopoldo Galtieri during the Las Malvinas Crisis (1982), settled with an overwhelming defeat for Argentina and a high human and moral cost to that nation; Grenada’s brief and unsuccessful adventure under the Government of Maurice Bishop; the close and suspicious relations with the former Panamanian President Manuel Antonio Noriega, confessed drug trafficker and great “friend of Cuba,” whose name was not mentioned again in the official Cuban media after his fall from grace, except to announce his death this Tuesday, May 30. And, more recently, from the beginning of the 21st century, the icing on the cake: Venezuela, where the Castros’ penetration has truly metastasized and today monitors and protects the bloody repression of the regime of Nicolás Maduro against his people.

But, ignoring historical examples, the convulsive Latin American reality is far from the much vaunted regional “peace.” The ongoing conflict between Bolivia and Chile, the endless Brazilian corruption scandal that has sprinkled dozens of politicians in the region, the violence of drug and human trafficking that sows uncertainty and crime at the borders and among the population, tensions Between Venezuela and Colombia, the persistence of the paramilitary in Colombia against the controversial Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC, and the tensions in Venezuela, where government repression against street demonstrations provokes a decisive scenario where the survival of democracy or the final consolidation of a dictatorship supported from Havana is resolved.

And, while this vertiginous whirlwind continues to spin in the “Peace Zone,” the Cuban General-President moves gently in his tropical oasis while he manages the diplomatic lobbies that allow him to recognize the civilized world and the secret warrior intrigues. The strategy of Raul’s regime now consists in wearing the chic suit of a democrat. Under it, however, the green stitches of his old suit as heir-dictator of war continue to tenaciously peek out.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Danger, Men At Work

In 2016, occupational accidents totaled 3,576. Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 May 2017 — They call him “Manolo 440” because a few years ago he had an electrocution accident in a building under construction. He managed to survive and has since been given the nickname of the voltage that almost killed him. He was lucky, unlike the 89 people who died in Cuba last year in one of the 11 work accidents that occur every day on the Island.

Shortly before April 28, World Occupational Safety and Health Day, a worker painting the façade of the Hotel Plaza in Havana stumbled and fell two floors onto the street. He had no protective gear but was lucky and was taken to the hospital. continue reading

The United Nations counts 6,300 people who die every day in the world due to accidents or work-related illnesses. There are more than 317 million work accidents annually. But that data is only a part of it.

In 2016 occupational accidents in Cuba totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has called for eradicating the practice of “massaging” the numbers and this year is leading an intensive campaign in which it insists that it is essential for countries to improve “their ability to collect and use reliable data on safety and health in Work (SST).”

In Cuba, information on this scourge is rarely addressed in the press, although in recent years the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has published some figures. According to this state agency, in 2016 occupational accidents totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.

The head of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS), Angel San Martín Duporté, said a few weeks ago that “66% of accidents are caused by the poor conduct of men and women. ”

However, workers say the principal causes of work accidents are poor organization, the chaotic supply of protective gear and measures, and the incompetence of unions in demanding compliance with safety protocols as the main causes of workplace accidents.

“These boots were brought to me by a relative from Ecuador,” says a sugarcane cutter at the Majibacoa sugar mill in Las Tunas. The man, who preferred to be called Ricardo to avoid reprisals, said agricultural workers in the area are subject to frequent “cuts on their hands and feet.” He says, “the type of footwear matters a lot, because if it is strong and high the chances of getting cut are smaller.”

All those who work alongside Ricardo are dressed in old military uniforms that were gifts or that they bought in the informal market. “They do not give us adequate clothes and when it does come the sizes are too small or too large,” the cane cutter complains. “We have had colleagues who don’t even have a hat and have gotten sun stroke, with dizziness, headaches and even vomiting,” he emphasizes.

Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must provide the employer free of charge

Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must be supplied free of charge by the employer. Although an official of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security clarifies via telephone to this newspaper that “each company has autonomy to modify those issues.”

Damaris, head of a construction brigade located in Central Havana, says that the workers under her command are “very upset” because now they have to pay for their work clothes and shoes. Previously, both garments were “supplied free” but now are “deducted from wages” and in response the workers are refusing to pay the union dues.

The Government allocates between 20% and 30% of the gross monthly salary of a construction worker linked to the tourist sector to pay for life insurance. “When someone is injured, that money is supposed to cover them, but the truth is that it serves for very little.”

An injured worker has the right to receive benefits in services such as orthopedic appliances and prosthetics, according to Law 105/8 of Social Security. As far as economic compensation is concerned, they get a total or partial disability pension which can reach up to 90% of their salary. In the case of death, the amount goes to the nearest relatives such as husbands or minor children.

For a person in delicate health, that money barely lasts for a couple of weeks. “I lost three fingers while working on the railroads,” says Yasiel Ruíz, a transportation technician who now sells churros near a school in Marianao.

The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business. “I gave up the financial compensation because it was more paperwork than benefits. My family helps me and I have become accustomed to not having those fingers, but at the beginning it was difficult,” he confesses. He claims that the accident in which he suffered the amputation was caused by “a failure to close a cattle transfer cage,” but he never brought his case to a labor court.

The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business

Decisions like his are repeated over and over again. Vicente A. Entrialgo León, a lawyer specializing in labor law, recently confirmed to the official press that in Cuba “there are not a great number of claims around this issue.”

But the danger is not only in the complicated work of construction, the hard work of the countryside, or the roughness of working on the railroad.

Nuria is afraid of contracting a disease at the polyclinic in Plaza of the Revolution municipality where she works as a dentist. “I get three pairs of gloves a day and many times they break while I’m taking care of a patient, but I cannot change them,” she complains. She says that there is little distribution of “equipment and hygiene items” to keep the place clean and “to protect patients and staff.”

The National Labor Inspection Office (ONIT) must ensure that these situations do not happen and demand “administrative responsibility” in case of accidents. But Nuria has never seen a representative of that entity visiting the health center clinics where she works. “This is like Russian roulette, any day I could get an infection.”

Jesus Hernandez-Guero Or The Art Of Provoking

The Cuban artist, Jesús Hernández-Güero. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 May 2017 — If something is clear in the work of Jesus Hernández- Güero is that he is not a complacent artist. His transgressive look is insolent and unrelated to any political militancy, religious creed or commercial convenience. The artist raises sparks everywhere: in Cuba where he was born and in Venezuela where he now resides.

In 2008, Hernández-Güero decided that his graduation thesis at Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) would be a book entitled La Tercera Pata, with texts by journalists and writers censored. He collected writings by the poet Rafael Alcides, the former prisoner of the Black Spring Oscar Espinoza Chepe, and the narrator Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, among others. continue reading

That effort led him to knock on many doors and more than a few saw him as a provocateur. He wanted to show the national journalistic tradition that includes figures like Félix Varela and José Martí, a tradition that was broken when independent publications “were closed and then prohibited” and all that was left “in circulation were those belonging to the State.”

The ISA leadership did not like this character of inclusiveness. Hernández-Güero recalls that a month before the discussion of his thesis the dean summoned him along with his tutor, critic and curator Mailyn Machado, to inform him that the project had not been approved. He had only two options: to take the state test or to present a compendium of his artistic work.

”At Fault,” a work by the Cuban artist Jesus Hernández-Güero. (Courtesy)

He opted for the second choice and happened on the book project. On the day of the presentation, a convenient power outage occurred at ISA and his thesis “never had a real conclusion” even though he finished with the maximum of qualifications.

Hernández-Güero, born in 1983, is aware that much of his research and his artistic production “has a critical sense and a high socio-political content, which makes official institutions or those who lead them uncomfortable.”

The artist established residence in Venezuela and he travels frequently to Cuba, where he recently participated in a show at the Chaplin Cinema under the title Contamination, a part of the Festival of Young Filmmakers.

However, his stay outside Cuba has not freed him from censorship because he seeks to “annoy, disturb the viewer, not only with the art, but in the face of reality that is lived and thought.” Something that he knows “is often not welcome institutionally.”

Three years ago, his work At Fault, with a 23-foot bent over flagpole and the Venezuelan flag “hoisted” on the ground, was displayed in Ciudad Banesco during the FIA ​​Youth Fair in Caracas. The piece was installed before the opening and organizers covered the flag with a black bag. The result resembled a covered corpse.

The piece caused so much turmoil in the social networks that finally they removed the flag and left only the bent over flagpole. “From that moment the work changed,” clarifies the artist and now the display of the work includes some of the tweets published during the process and “documentation of how they dismantled [the fabric].”

The whole media phenomenon and the condemnation was integrated into the work. Because the censorship, in the words of the artist, “is a boomerang that tries to hit who it is thrown at, but usually ends up hitting the thrower.”

The piece caused so much turmoil in the social networks that finally they removed the flag and left only the bent over flagpole. (Courtesy)

He has had to deal with similar situations on several occasions and believes that censorship is an inseparable companion “when the work has as its research subject the great social taboos such as politics, power, religion, sexuality, pornography, among others.”

Hernandez-Güero’s work constantly questions power. Not only political power, but also “the symbolic power of visual images and conventions that are deposited in the social imaginary as indestructible, immovable or untouchable truths,” he explains.

In these circumstances he is always exposed to reprimands or warnings that end up “completing the work or expanding it to another plane,” often one unsuspected by the artist himself.

For Jesús Hernández-Güero, censorship is an inseparable companion. (Courtesy)

The most recent of his works takes the name Historical Coincidences and mixes, in the same image, portraits of great personalities who have assumed similar postures and attitudes before the camera, regardless of time, place or context.

Most are premeditated appearances, but in other cases it is an instant captured without any pose. His intention is to “demystify these figures” and to question “the perception of them in the historical and social imaginary.” The elaboration is simple: superimpose one face on another, which gives way to new faces and “other possible expressions, but unrecognizable, unknown by all.”

They are works with a great political content and, at the end of last year, five of the pieces of that series received prizes in the October Young Salon, at the Valencia Museum of Art.

Hernandez-Guerero does not prefer one medium over another. As for the new technologies, he believes that knowing them previously offers more possibilities to “know their potential.” Because the greater an artist’s arsenal, the more possibilities he will have to “navigate within the creation.”

Breakdown Affects Almost a Kilometer of One Havana’s Main Water Conduits

Residents of the affected areas keep all available containers full of water while they are able in preparation for the looming arrival of the worst part of the shortage

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2017 — Four days after the rupture of Havana’s main water conduit, authorities are trying to alleviate the shortage by servicing some parts of the city with tanker trucks. As of this Sunday, according to a director for Water Resources, they had made 1,315 trips with 117 water trucks that are now “guaranteeing” the supply. The greatest effects are felt in the municipalities of Plaza de la Revolucion, Cerro, 10 de Octubre, Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and in some areas near Boyeros.

The rupture has caused the loss of 3,000 liters of water per second from the network, as officials from the area confirmed on the news Sunday. Although they are confident that the situation can be partially overcome with “new distribution plans,” the failure is very complicated because it affects almost a kilometer of the southern catchment area’s conduit. It is not expected that the problem will be resolved before next Thursday. continue reading

Brigades under the direction of Havana’s provincial Water Resources have worked “continuously,” they assert, in order to remedy the malfunction, but it is necessary to replace a total of 400 meters that are obstructed, which complicates even more the work that they are carrying out.

One of the area’s managers asserted that they are trying to restore the prior conduit and that they have already put in place “a kilometer of 900-millimeter pipe and four welding machines that are soldering “full time.”

Engineer Javier Toledo, Provincial Delegate for Water Resources, said that they can say that “on Thursday morning” it is “very possible” that the first supply lines may be opened. Thus they will be able “to slowly begin to re-establish service.”

With the first two lines’ entry into service, a greater water level may be counted on to reach the People’s Council areas which continue to experience supply problems, as the expert explained.

Toldeo thought that, as far as distribution, “the most difficult moment” has been overcome and “the cycles, services and delivery of services to the people” are now balancing out. Also, he asserted that “every day” they are determining “place by place” the best way of distributing water in order to guarantee that it arrives “equitably” and that there is no area that does not receive it “by networks” or tanker trucks.

Water Resources daily decides and projects the capital’s water supply service’s cycles. The strategy is designed after evaluating “current conditions” and based on calls from users.

The capital’s most important hotels are located in several of the affected municipalities, like Habana Vieja and Plaza de la Revolucion, in the midst of a busy tourist season. These establishments, along with schools and hospitals, are being prioritized for supply by tanker trucks.

Cuba is experiencing its most intense drought of the last century, a situation that has been aggravated by the few rains that the wet season has so far contributed. On the other hand, due to the failures and leaks, the country is losing more than half the water it pumps.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Marta’s List

Marta Cortizas compiles daily news, opinion and reports to email them to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Her grey hair and blue eyes suggest a picture of a grandmother out of a children’s story, but Marta Cortizas is actually a native of Havana who, after emigrating to the United States, found a way to be useful to her countrymen. From her apartment in Kendall (Florida), she compiles daily news, editorial columns and reports to e-mail them to Cuba, a service known as Marta’s List.

Mailings began almost seven years ago, and today they are received by more than 50 subscribers. Its targeted recipients are independent journalists, opposition activists, members of the civil society, or simply friends.

Since childhood, Marta was in the habit of reading, and when she began working as a typist at the Casa de las Américas Library in July 1967, she was amazed at the institution’s catalogues and archives. The latter is considered the “trigger” for her passion for information. continue reading

Inside the walls of La Casa, as those who frequent the library refer to it, she met Virgilio Piñera, Anton Arrufat, José Triana and Luis Agüero, who often visited the reading room. There, she met Mario Benedetti, Roque Dalton, Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Inverna Codina, Fayad Jamis and Manuel Galich, and she has fond memories of the “beloved poet Raúl Hernández Novás.”

Mailings of news and other information began nearly seven years ago and there are currently over 50 subscribers

This soft spoken woman, with proven tenacity against discouragement, came to work as secretary for poet and essayist Roberto Fernández Retamar. “I loved my job with a passion and was respected by my peers without belonging to political organizations. In fact, I never belonged to any,” she clarifies.

Marta devoted the years after stopping her work at the library to caring for her mother, but neither retirement nor domestic life turned off the vigor of her freethinking. In her seclusion at home, she read tirelessly. These readings often included books censored by the authorities, some writings that deepened her critical stance against the official doctrine of the Castro regime.

Earlier this century, her husband, Eugenio Leal, joined other opposition members, journalists, activists and organizations and he shared his involvement with Marta. Both participated in the 2004 founding of the magazine Consenso, the first independent digital publication in Cuba.

“I started to serve as secretary and member of the editorial board”, recalls Marta. “It was a wonderful experience that offered me another reality, opening a door to freedom of expression in Cuba.”

In October 2005, Eugene and Martha suffered a spectacular act of repudiation in front of their own home. “It angered the authorities that we had created Consenso which was headquartered in our home.”

First they were threatened by State Security, and days after “they launched a massive repudiation rally which led to a 24-hour guard in the lower floors of our building, by repressive agents, members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and Communist Party militants.”

The siege lasted for nine days. Its goal was to prevent visitors and terrorize neighbors. Marta laments “from that moment on, we were plunged into total and absolute ostracism in our neighborhood.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory”

This event marked a turning point in Marta’s life. “I realized that anyone or anything can lose their personal dignity and their basic rights as a human being.”

If the rally intimidated the neighbors, it had the opposite effect on Marta. In fact, she continued to work for Consenso and later for the magazine Contodos, until February 2007, when the last issue was published. By then, the first independent blogs were about to make their appearance.

“The alternative blogosphere had the virtue of establishing close links between a large number of civic activists, independent journalists and members of the opposition, previously unconnected,” she explains. “In the most intense months of 2008 and 2009 several campaigns were promoted denouncing rights violations against opposition activists and ordinary citizens, and demanding freedom for political prisoners.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory.” They dictated their writings by phone from prison, and Marta transcribed many of those articles that were later published on the internet.

When her mother died, her daughter – who had emigrated years before – invited her to visit Miami, but the Immigration and Naturalization Department denied her permission to leave for three years. “Although I had a Spanish passport, they would not allow me to travel. I denounced what they were doing and they finally allowed me to leave the country in October 2010. “Deciding to emigrate has been the most difficult decision in my life,” she confesses.

In the United States she found “the freedom I so much longed for, the power to vote democratically, the possibility of setting goals and being able to achieve them, the satisfaction of seeing my daughter and granddaughters evolve.” She is happy and grateful to the country that welcomed her, but insists that Cuba is forever in her heart.

Marta stops at this point in the story and quotes Guillermo Cabrera Infante: “Nostalgia is the memory of the soul.” As a result of this yearning and with the desire to contribute through technological possibilities, Cortizas saw new horizons. “I started copying articles, especially Cuban topics and some world events, which I sent, along with notes to my friends.”

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba.

Almost without realizing it, she learned how to edit the articles, deleting pictures and reducing fonts to minimize memory when sending them. The information and the number of subscribers thus begun to grow.

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba. “I try to accommodate everyone.  That makes me feel refreshed and useful,” she states.

“Some days I even spend over four hours compiling information, and I try to do this seven days a week.  The greatest satisfaction is to get messages of concern for me at times when, for different reasons, I am unable to send the information. She does not get any kind of material compensation for this work, and pays for repairs to the frequent malfunctions of her laptop out of “her own pocket.”

She does not think that the opening of Wi-Fi zones with internet access in various locations in the country has reduced the demand for news. “As long as the government keeps a gag on free information controlling, through its machinations, access to different webs, this work will be useful,” she affirms.

“I will rejoice the when it will not be necessary for me to continue this work. Then, I will find another way to be useful.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: More Castroism but Without the Castros / Iván García

Raúl Castro and Díaz-Canel. From Diario de las Américas.

Iván García, 17 May 2017 — In front of an old mansion on 17th Street in Vedado that now serves as the headquarters of the Union of Writers and Artists, there is a poster showing hundreds of men dressed in battle fatigues and lined up in military formation. A resounding verdict in two rows of black letters reads, “Cuba Post-Castro.”

The political propaganda machine is operating at full steam. On the exterior walls of schools, factories, public buildings and produce markets it is common to see “Fidel Castro’s Concept of Revolution” and the oft-repeated slogan “I am Fidel.”

Nine months and three weeks before Raúl Castro will presumably cede power, no one has any idea what protocols to follow for effecting a transfer to a new leader. continue reading

As part of her official duties Mariela Castro Espín, the dictator’s daughter, has granted a couple of interviews to the international press, reiterating that her father intends to resign from office. She claims not to know who will succeed him and said he has no intention of being further involved in politics.

Authoritarian governments control the flow of news so, to understand them, you have to read between the lines. A reader must be an empirical cryptographer, always on the lookout for a key piece data or a clue.

Although the tedious national press corps writes in Spanish, its soporific articles are so saturated with official jargon and stale rhetoric from the Cold War era that reading them is like deciphering a Chinese riddle.

In spite of being surrounded by a dense smoke screen of secrets and mysteries, it is still possible to surmise that — given the extent of his travels throughout the island and the extensive press coverage they have received — Miguel Díaz-Canel, one of the country’s two vice-presidents, is the man Raúl Castro has chosen to control the fate of a Cuba facing a new, untested version of Castroism, one without a Castro at the helm.

Tall and grey-haired, Díaz-Canel, has the look of a fading movie star. Women like him for his resemblance to Richard Gere. Those who know him say that he can be relaxed and witty. When he was the first secretary of the communist party in Villa Clara during the Special Period, he could be seen cycling through the streets of the city.

Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez was born on April 20, 1960, at his family’s farm in the village of Falcón, outside Placetas, in Villa Clara province. Aida, his mother, was a school teacher, and his father Miguel was a mechanical plant worker in Santa Clara. In 2012, the newspaper La Nueva España reported with pride that Díaz-Canel was the great-grandson of Ramón Díaz-Canel, a Spaniard from Asturias who emigrated to Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century.

For many of his student years he was on scholarship, first at Campo Primero de Mayo high school and later at Campo Jesus Menéndez college preparatory school, both in Santa Clara. In 1982 he graduated with a degree in electronic engineering from Central University of Las Villas. He began his professional career as an officer in an air defense unit in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, a post he retained until April 1985. After leaving the military, he became a professor at his alma mater in Las Villas. After serving in an internationalist mission to Nicaragua in 1989, he worked as a “professional staffer” in the Union of Young Communists.

In 1994 he was elected first party secretary in Villa Clara. Nine years later he was named party leader in Holguín, a more challenging province than Villa Clara. According to local residents, his work in Holguín cannot be described as significant. That did not prevent Raúl Castro from promoting him to membership in the party politburo. At the time, Raúl stated: “He has a strong collective work ethic and high expectations of the subordinates. He leads by example through his desire to better himself every day and has demonstrated a solid ideological commitment.”

Raúl Castro is something of mentor to Diaz-Canel. In May 2009 he summoned him to Havana and appointed him Minister of Higher Education. In March 2012, he quit that post and replaced José Ramón Fernández as vice-president of the Council of Ministers in charge of education, science, culture and sport. On February 24, 2013, he was elected first vice-president of both the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, replacing José Ramón Machado Ventura, a party stalwart who gave up his position “in order to promote the new generation.”

Perhaps because he comes from a small village – the population of Falcón is only six thousand — those who know him describe him as educated and unassuming, someone who knows how to listen, though some believe he does not have enough charisma to be president of the republic. But at least in photos and videos he looks different from that coterie of rancid officials who never smile at public appearances. Unlike former high-level officials of roughly the same age such as Carlos Lage, Roberto Robaina and Felipe Pérez Roque, Díaz-Canal always stayed out of the media spotlight, preferring more intricate and discreet pathways. “He is not one of the newly rich or a makeshift candidate,” said Raul Castro in 2013.

He has two children from his previous marriage. His current wife is Lis Cuesta, a college professor whom he met while living in Holguín. A cultural affairs source in Santa Clara recalls, “He was the one who gave permission to El Mejunje nightclub to present shows featuring homosexuals and transvestites and to sponsor rock concerts He also allowed the provincial radio station to broadcast programming that was quite critical of state institutions.” In spite of such cultural support, he is a sports fan, one who is especially fond of basketball.

Díaz-Canel does not appear to be an eloquent statesman or a great orator. His speaking style is flat, as though he were exhausted. He does not engage in soaring rhetoric but neither is he given to anti-imperialist diatribes. As one official journalist noted, “he does not just regurgitate the party line like Machado Ventura.*” The journalist describes a event sponsored by the Union of Journalists at which Díaz-Canel was present. His statements gave some attendees cause for hope because “he did not repeat the usual litany about the need to improve the press. But after the applause died down, things went back to normal. The impression I have is that he is content to remain in crouching position, awaiting his turn. He is a cross between Cantinflas and Forrest Gump.”

As an official at the municipal headquarters of the communist party observes, “three or four candidates will be chosen at the plenary session of the National Assembly in December. Of those, one will be elected president.” According to this official, expectations are that the new president will govern the nation for the next five years.

“It seems like a bad joke,” notes a party member familiar with internal party dynamics. “Everyone knows the list of candidates is dictated from above and the ones who are chosen belong to Cuba’s only political party.”

Some dissidents and exiles believe that at the last minute Raul Castro will find a pretext, either a matter of national security or the crisis in Venezuela, to remain in office for another five years.

Tomás Regalado, the mayor of Miami, told the Spanish newspaper El País that he had bet money with a friend that Castro II would remain in power. A retired historian thinks otherwise: “That is not a conclusion the general shares. Raul is at the end of his rope. He is tired of power. And quite simply, if you want to undo the Gordian knot that is the embargo, you cannot have anyone with the name Castro in a governing role. I believe that Raúl will remain behind the scenes, calling the shots. On June 3 he will be eighty-six-years old and anyone that age could kick the bucket at any time.”

Among Afro-Cubans, the passing of the presidential baton does not arouse much interest. “The game plan will be the same. The communist party is the only game in town. I don’t think there will be any major changes. In terms of the economy, perhaps they will do away with the double currency and maybe there will be more cooperatives in the state service sector. But the script will not change much,” says the employee of a Havana nightclub.

One political science graduate is optimistic and hopes the presidential handover provides some surprises. “It’s a different generation so, of course, they are going to think differently. Don’t forget what happened under Gorbachev in the former USSR. Or under Balaguer, Trujillo’s vice-president, in the Dominican Republic. Both began the path towards democracy. Just as in Cuba today, people didn’t necessarily say what they meant. The gap is less than one imagines and a reformer could emerge.”

Arousing Cubans’ interest in national politics will require creativity. After almost sixty years of stasis, people move by force of inertia. Most Cubans respond to the government’s summons like automatons. And although they do not express their true feelings publicly, in private they confess to pessimism and frustration. They do not believe that a new litter of leaders is capable of building an efficient and prosperous political, economic and social system.

A large segment of the population is tired of everything and everyone. They have no faith in Castro, Díaz-Canel or anyone else who might happen to come along. Changing the current state of public opinion will require daring strategies as well as new and convincing promises. Yet all the government is offering is more Castroism. But without the Castros.

*José Ramón Machado Ventura, First Vice-President and Second Secretary of the Culban Communist Party.

The Kremlin is Back

Russian President Vladimir Putin is received at the Palace of the Revolution by Raul Castro. (EFE Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 May 2017 — After decades of intense contact, the Russians left few footprints in Cuba. Some young people with the names Vladimir or Natacha, or the nesting matrioshka dolls decorating a few rooms, are the last vestiges of that relationship. However, in recent years the links between Havana and Moscow have gained strength. The Kremlin is back.

Russia has long been disembarking in Latin America into the hands of those same governments that in international forums demand a greater respect for sovereignty and “the free choice of the people.” Its populist leaders, in part to annoy the United States, make alliances with Vladimir Putin under the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That type of partnership allowed Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace to be equipped with 5,000 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), according to a document recently published by Reuters. The arsenal began to be accumulated in the time of the late President Hugo Chavez, but is more dangerous now amid the political instability that is leading Nicholas Maduro to falter. continue reading

In Central America, Nicaragua functions as the gateway for the voracious superpower. Daniel Ortega has about 50 combat tanks sent by Moscow and his territory serves as a site for Russian military advisers. The corrupt system of the Sandinistas creates a favorable scenario for the former KGB official’s desire for expansion.

Russia has just lifted Raul Castro out of the quagmire after Caracas cut oil shipments

However, Havana remains Russia’s main ally on this side of the world. The suspicion that arose between the two countries, after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the coming to power of Boris Yeltsin, has been dissipating. With Putin in command, something of the USSR has been reborn and diplomatic ties are tightening again.

In the neighborhood of Miramar, west of the Cuban capital, the Russian embassy seems to have become more prominent in the last five years. Shaped like a sword plunged into the city’s heart, the building is jokingly called “the control tower,” from where the stern stepmother scrutinizes everything that occurs in her former and yearned-for domain.

Russia has just lifted Raul Castro out of the quagmire after Caracas cut oil shipments. In the years of the idyll with Chávez, Cuba received about 100,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan crude, but in recent months that amount has been reduced by more than 40%. The government was forced to cut fuel delivery to state-owned vehicles and restrict the sale of premium or specialty gasoline.

The Russian oil company Rosneft has come to Raul Castro’s aid and pledged to provide the island with 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel, some 2 million barrels. The rescue operation leaves a trail of doubts about how the Plaza of the Revolution will pay Moscow, amid the country’s lack of liquidity and the recession.

Shaped like a sword plunged into the city’s heart, the Russian embassy is jokingly called “the control tower”

Added to the alarming signs is the fact that in recent days the son of the Cuban president, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, met with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Pátrushev, to address the cooperation between both nations in the area of computer security. In 2014, in Moscow, the dauphin signed a memorandum of cooperation in the area of ​​intelligence.

The reunion between the old allies has been sealed with a symbolic gesture. Russia is taking care of the repair of the dome of the Capitol of Havana, which it will cover with natural stone, new bronze plates, and gold leaf that will shine under the tropical sun. A defiant message addressed directly to Washington, the city where the near twin of the imposing Cuban building stands.

Fidel Castro delivering a speech in Moscow(Archive)

As the Russian advance unfolds in various parts of Latin America, Donald Trump looks the other way. Enveloped in the scandal of possible Putin interference in the elections that favored his arrival in the White House, the tycoon is more interested in the Middle East or in erecting a border wall with Mexico than in approaching that region more distant from the Rio Grande.

As the Russian advance unfolds in various parts of Latin America, Donald Trump looks the other way

His indifference is evident not only in his words. The US president has just proposed substantial budget cuts to the assistance provided to all of the continent, a posture that contrasts with the ground won by the Kremlin in the economic and military sphere, propping up authoritarian and decadent regimes. The Cold War is reborn in Latin America.

But this time Moscow has returned without that mask with which it hid its geopolitical longings adorned with phrases such as “support to the proletarians of the world” or “disinterested development aid to the poorest nations.”

Now it displays a cruder and more direct diplomacy. It is not willing to subsidize but intends to buy. It no longer hides under an ideological cloak, but exhibits that crude pragmatism that oozes the capitalism that the Communists ended up adopting.

If once it lost positions and had to take refuge — inside its own pride — to lick its wounds, now Russia wants to step up the pace and regain lost ground in Latin America. It knows it has allies in the region willing to skip all ethical and patriotic considerations to help it confront the United States. And it knows it must hurry, because many of these compadres are becoming more unpresentable every day.

Its cronies on this side need a Moscow that provides them with armaments and watches their backs in international organizations. They see it as a burly bear ready to show it teeth to Washington as often as needed. In exchange, they grant it positions in their nations, intelligence information and the calculated fidelity of those who expect much in return. They dream of making Russia “great again.”


Editorial Note: The original text in Spanish was published this Saturday May 27 in the Spanish newspaper El País.

More Than 400,000 Havanans Affected by Break in Water Supply

The neighbors line up their buckets and other containers waiting for water to be delivered by truck in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerSite manager’s note: a 28 May update has raised the number number to 852,000.

14ymedio, 27 May 2017 — More than 400,000 people have been affected by a break in the main water supply conduit in the Southern Basin of Havana. The structure collapsed Thursday night after a repair and while an attempt was being made to restore the pumping of water, according to an announcement from the Havana Water Company.

A report on TV’s Havana Channel detailed that the failure caused a “total disruption” of the water supply for the Havana municipalities of Plaza of the Revolution Cerro, 10 October, Old Havana, Central Havana and some areas near Boyeros. continue reading

Engineer Javier Toledo, the Provincial Delegate for Hydraulic Resources, told local television that in the afternoon of Friday a team was “in the specific place where the external rupture occurred.” The specialist said that the works are in “an advanced stage” and should be concluded between “eight and nine o’clock at night” on Friday.

Toledo acknowledged that “a more exhaustive diagnosis has been made” of the affected area and it has confirmed that “the damage is of a magnitude a little greater” than expected. He added that the brigade doing the work found “affected locations” in several areas.

The engineer also noted that after the “immediate solution” is applied, new breaks could be expected.

A more exhaustive diagnosis confirmed that “the damage is of a magnitude a little greater” than expected

An on-site technical evaluation anticipates the possibility that a “larger pipe section” could be involved which could lead to the replacement of the structure. He said that would take “a little more time” but that “the alternatives to supply the city center by another system” are already designed.

The specialist clarified that this “alternative” would not be a total solution and would result in “partial affects” that might show themselves in limited hours or limited service.

In the Plaza of the Revolution municipality the consequences of the break are being felt. On Friday night, just like local residents, guests at the hotel on the corner of Conill and Boyeros had no water supply in their rooms.

According to official data, more than 50% of pumped water is lost due to deteriation of the network. Every year more than one billion cubic meters of water leaks out, an amount that is the equivalent of the Zaza dam, the nation’s largest.

Havana: Clandestine Business Deals, Poverty and Glamor / Iván García

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski at night.

Ivan Garcia, 26 April 2017 — When night falls, it’s not advisable to walk through certain neighborhoods in Havana. Like the one from El Curita Park, on Reina and Galiano, up to the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos.

In addition to the disagreeable odor from the sewer water running through the streets, you’ll see propped-up buildings, beggars and drunks hanging out in the doorways, and poor cheap whores on the hunt for the incautious.

More than 10,000 compatriots of the eastern provinces who flee poverty reside illegally in Havana. In the case of Zenaida, a woman from Santiago, who with a bag full of cones of peanuts and chickpeas for sale ambles along toward a rickety room in a rooming house on O’Reilly Street, which she rents. continue reading

There, under the light of an incandescent bulb, she loads several pails of water and waits her turn to bathe in one of the three shared bathrooms of the tenement. After reheating her meal, she turns on the old Chinese television and hopes for the arrival of her 22-year-old son, who makes a living by pedaling 12 hours in a bicitaxi.

“This is what it’s like to live in poverty: eat badly and make a few pesos to survive in the lion’s den. Yes, because in this zone of Havana you have to be a lynx if you want to make a little money,” says Zenaida, seated in an iron chair.

In spite of everything, she doesn’t complain. “In Santiago de Cuba we were worse off. The water supply on the outskirts of the city comes every 40 days, and the money just goes. At least in the capital, although we live like animals, you can make enough money to eat and send detergent and clothing to relatives in Oriente. If I were younger, I would be hooking like some women in the building. But now I can’t do that kind of thing,” confesses Zenaida.

The old part of the city is a network of narrow alleyways with broken asphalt and deteriorated buildings where Cubans live who know their way around the streets.

Here illegalities are not hidden. Any neighbor knows who sells imported marijuana, cocaine delivered from a boat on the coast or who rents half an hour in a room in his house for convertible pesos, so that a client can have a toss in the hay with a prostitute who charges in the national money.

Just in front of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, formerly Manzana de Gómez, which is close to being inaugurated, several blue buses with large windows in Parque Central pick up more than 100 workers from India who are putting the final touches on the first five-star plus hotel in Cuba.

Seated on a marble bench in front of the Kempinski Hotel, José Alberto wonders, “Why are they paying an Indian, 500 dollars a month and Cuban workers, adding up pesos and hard currency, don’t even get 60 dollars?” And he answers himself: “These people (the Regime) don’t respect us. Havana now is the same as during the epoch of Batista. Luxury hotels are for the foreigners, surrounded by poverty, whores and guys who have to clean to earn four pesos. The worst is that there’s no end to this.”

José Alberto is a perfect wildcard. He gets money from the illegal Cuban lottery, parks cars for a home restaurant in the area and fills the cistern with water for the “retired guys in the neighborhood.”

Under the protection of night and avoiding the black-uniformed police with their German Shepherds who patrol the streets at this time, José Alberto asks for money from passing tourists. “The ones from the State (United States) are the most generous, and the Japanese, if they like you. Europeans are the most stingy.”

Old Havana has two opposite faces, distinct levels of life and many ways to earn money, outside the law or behind its back. In the areas restored by the historian Eusebio Leal, with their cobbled streets, renovated buildings, innumerable cafes, restaurants and hard currency shops, the panorama is beautiful.

Two blocks up or down, the landscape is something else. At the entrance to crowded quarters, shirtless men standing in the heat seem to be waiting for a a miracle. Around them are screaming neighbors, Reggaeton at full blast and kids playing soccer with torn tennis shoes and a deflated balloon.

On calle Chacón, a few meters from the Museum of the Revolution, where a garrison of young soldiers at the back of a patio guard the Granma yacht and other relics and trophies of the delirious guerrilla saga of Fidel Castro, there are three elegant bars where tourists calmly drink mojitos and nibble on garlic shrimp.

Nearby, a group of boys, mainly black, sitting on the sidewalk pavement, wait for the foreigners to leave the bars, restaurants or home restaurants to ask them for money, chewing gum or pens.

The revolution of the humble, so promoted by the Castro brothers, today is a slogan without meaning for the poor people of Havana.

Iván García

Note from Tania Quintero: The night photo of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, the first with five-plus stars in Cuba, was taken by Iván García. Up to this date, the hotel installations had not been officially inaugurated, but after putting in shops and luxury boutiques on the ground floor, with showcase windows on the street, every day hundreds of people go to look at and even photograph the clothing and accessories exhibited, with prices that are not within reach for the large majority of the population. Already the first incident happened when they removed the bust of the student leader, Julio Antonio Mella, which had been installed in 1965, from the central patio with access to the public.

An installation artist held a silent protest with a sign that said “Where is Mella?” Without using violence, the police took him away, put him in a vehicle and drove him home. The hotel, constructed by Kempinski, a Swiss company founded in 1897, occupies the space of the old Manzana de Gómez, the first commercial center on the Island, located on Neptuno, San Rafael, Zuleta and Monserrate streets, in the heart of Havana.

Inaugurated in 1910, along its history the Manzana de Gómez housed law offices, commercial businesses, restaurants and cafeterias, among other facilities. The management of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is under Gaviota S.A., a Cuban tourist corporation administered by the military.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Future Is Built With Cement … But There Isn’t Any

A house under construction in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 May 2017 — The cranes show off their slender anatomy in some areas of Havana where several luxury hotels are being built. Apart from this landscape of progress, private construction and repairs face technological problems and shortages. This week it has been cement’s turn.

“This is the third time I have come and I am leaving with an empty wheelbarrow,” a customer on the hunt for construction materials complained Thursday in the Havana’s La Timba neighborhood. The employee standing behind the counter confirmed that “they are sending less than before and every day more people come to try to buy it.” continue reading

To send, to arrive and to supply are the verbs used to refer to the state distribution of any product, be it eggs, milk powder, or tiles to cover a roof. There is an enormous supply chain responsible for distributing construction materials, in a country where 39% of the housing stock is in “regular or poor” condition.

Since the beginning of the year, gray cement has become the biggest headache for those involved in construction, a situation that has worsened in recent weeks.

Several employees of stores specializing in construction materials that offer their goods in convertible pesos say that in 2017 they have not received cement

Several employees in the stores in the capital specializing in construction materials and that sell their goods in convertible pesos, told 14ymedio that since the beginning of 2017 they have not received cement.

The government has chosen to place the product in the network that sells in Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, in the face of previous criticisms of excessive prices in the foreign exchange network. However, a network of corruption, diversion of resources and re-sales makes it almost impossible to get one of those sacks with the precious gray powder.

The government has turned over the sale of cement to the open markets in national currency, but the shortage continues for those who repair or build houses. (14ymedio)

The national cement industry has not yet recovered from the blow that resulted from the fall of Europe’s socialist camp and the withdrawal of the Soviet Union’s subsidies to Cuba. At present, six factories on the island managed to produce slightly more than 1.4 million tonnes of gray cement last year, a figure well below the 5.2 million achieved in the same period in neighboring Dominican Republic, a country with a comparable population (about 11 million inhabitants), according to a report from the Producers Association.

The government has assigned the Construction Materials Business Group (GEICON) to produce cement in each of its variants, in addition to other building materials such as aggregates, blocks, and flooring elements, along with asbestos, fibroasphalt and roofing tiles.

The sales and marketing director of the group, Rubén Gómez Medina, recently explained on national television that despite the sector’s recovery over the last five years, it still cannot meet demand.

“Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

The situation becomes complex for self-employed masons, and also for those who are part of a non-agricultural cooperative. “As there is no wholesale market, when we are contracted to do a job we have to place responsibility for the materials on the customer,” says Carlos Núñez, who two years ago obtained a license for that occupation.

The entrepreneur remembers that at first they calculated a budget that included everything, the plans, the materials and the labor. “Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

A bag of gray cement last year cost just over 6 CUC in an official store. In the open markets the same bag is sold in national currency at the equivalent of 7 CUC. The lack of supply has meant that in the underground market, where it is also scarce, the price doubles and in some areas reaches as high as 18 CUC.

Cement, along with pork or cooking oil, is one of those goods that set the pace of the everyday economy. Its disappearance or shortage is a direct blow to the population’s quality of life.

Of the more than 23,000 homes that were built during 2015, less than half were erected by the state. The rest were built by the private sector.

Now, for many, the only option is to buy gray cement on the black market, or to sleep outside one of the open markets all night to see if there’s an early delivery.

On the outskirts of Fe del Valle Park, mixed among the dozens of people who connect to the Internet in this popular Wi-Fi zone, resellers abound. The site has a reputation for being a place where you can find everything, “even 12 gauge electric cables for electrical installations,” a young man nicknamed El Chino proclaims without modesty.

So as not to be confused with a police informant or an inspector, the buyer should pronounce the question in the most roundabout way. “How’s the cement coming along, pal?” El Chino arches his eyebrows and with a precise professional air answers, ” P350, which is for mounting plates, goes out of here at between 10 and 12 CUC a bag and P250, for plastering, goes for 9.”

He pauses, as if he is sorry for what he is about to confess and adds, “But right now there isn’t any.”

Several cooperatives say that part of the production in the western area has been sent to the province of Guantánamo for the repair of houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew

At the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) the officials questioned do not clarify the reasons for the shortage, although several cooperative members engaged in construction assert that part of the production of the western zone has been sent to Guantánamo province to repair the houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

A MICONS employee, who preferred anonymity, does not agree with that explanation and insists that “since a group of measures to promote construction by self-effort was implemented, there was a building explosion that was not foreseen in the production plans for the materials… Important hotels are being built and the supply to those places can’t be allowed to fail, so it has been prioritized,” he adds.

The most recent version of the Foreign Investment Opportunities Portfolio describes the objective of the authorities to “promote the construction of infrastructure and industrial maintenance, mainly for the nickel, oil and cement industries.” But so far potential investors are wary of putting their money in ventures on the Island.

“What has happened is that the cement industry is bottoming out and can not withstand the pressure of the high demand,” an engineer with 30 years of experience in the sector, who prefers to be called Osvaldo – not his real name – to avoid reprisals for his statements, tells this newspaper.

“It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer”

In 2016 the country’s factories have had serious problems due to the lack of maintenance but transportation has also burdened the results. “We depend on the Cuban Railways to transfer part of the material used in cement manufacture,” Osvaldo said. “It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer.”

“No new equipment or parts are coming into the country. In many factories, the furnace engines, the mechanical couplings and the mills are badly damaged,” he adds.

“This industry is the engine of prosperity, because it is the one that allows houses to be built, people to have more amenities and there is progress,” Osvaldo proudly says. “But if we do not invest a good amount of money we will continue as we are, between improvisations and defaults.”

To illustrate his comment, the engineer shows the side wall of a newly built house that is still waiting to be plastered. “It’s because I haven’t been able to find the cement anywhere,” justifies the owner.

In The Bank or Under the Mattress? Where Do Cubans Keep Their Money?

A man tries to get money at an ATM just outside a Metropolitan Bank in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 May 2017 — Finding a little bottle filled with coins that her father hid in the patio was something that happened to Eneida when she was young; now she’s a retired and says that financially she’s “escachada, without a single peso in the bank.” Her family inherited an old mansion in the center of Santa Clara, and also the determination not to put their savings in the hands of the state.

Each month, the pensioner goes to the nearest ATM, takes out the amount of her retirement, equivalent to about $12, and stores it inside an old coffee can. “I prefer to have it close because in most stores there are problems paying with a magnetic card.” continue reading

The Santa Claran also fears the authorities because, in her opinion, “you never know when they will confiscate something.”

Eneida has bad memories. Her father owned a bodega that was nationalized during the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, and before that the small business owner had lost some of his savings with the paper currency swap decreed by the government in 1961. “He kept in the house what little they didn’t take from him,” recalls his daughter.

“He kept in the house what little the state didn’t take from him,” recalls his daughter

Since then more than half a century has passed, but many citizens are still wary of putting their money in government-run institutions.

The banking system is made up of nine banks, 14 non-bank national financial institutions, nine representative offices of foreign financial institutions and one in the process of registration. For Eneida all these entities are “the same dog but with a different collar.”

In Havana, the Metropolitan Bank seeks to attract more customers at all costs, but to the mistrust of banks is added the poor service at its branches. The long lines outside the offices and the few economic incentives to keep the money in their safes discourage savers.

The interest rates approved by the Central Bank determine that a fixed-term deposit of 72 months accumulates 7% of its amount. However, the dual currency system makes that figure ridiculous.

“I saved a third of my salary for five years to pay for my daughter’s fifteenth birthday party,” says Teobaldo, a 47-year-old from Las Tunas who transports goods from private markets to paladares and cafes. “I put it in the bank and I had no problem, but I had the illusion that the money would grow more.”

Theobald came to have the equivalent of 1,800 CUC with which he paid for the drink and the food of the party, as well as the cake and the cars to make a tour of the city and the photos of the honoree. “I had to ask my brother to send me more money from the United States for clothes, flowers and the hiring of musicians,” he adds.

It is not the mistrust of young people that guides them to not having bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the day-to-day

As soon as his daughter’s birthday came, the small entrepreneur took all of his savings from the bank. “I did not want to set off the alarms,” he explains. In 1993, the government launched an offensive known as Operation Potted Plant aimed at confiscating products and imprisoning those who possessed “illicit money.”

The crusade became a hunt against the new rich. “If you had a nice house, air-conditioning and a well-painted façade, they would come down on you,” says Teobaldo. The Operation prosecuted two brothers  for “illicit enrichment.” One of them raised pigs and the other sold gold jewelry. After several years in prison they ended up emigrating.

Younger people see it differently. It is not mistrust that guides them to not have bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the day-to-day. “Save money?” a young student at the University of Pedagogical Sciences who works during non-school hours as a messenger to distribute the Weekly Packet, asks with disbelief.

“Having savings is a thing for the rich,” he says. Most of their his live on what the parents give them or earn their own living, “but there is not enough to save,” he says.

Martha Beatriz Roque: “The Cuban Opposition Has Not Found The Right Path”

Cuban opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque attended a celebration for the anniversary of independence at the CANF headquarters in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miamia, 25 May 2017 — On the verge of being operated on in Miami for a traumatic cataract caused by a punch from a Cuban State Security agent during one of the many acts of repudiation against her, the dissident and former political prisoner Martha Beatriz Roque was forceful in evaluating the trajectory of the opposition on the island, which in her judgment, “has not found the right way to reach the people.”

“We have to engage with the people and in that interaction we have to transmit to them the reality of the regime, ideas that the people understand,” Roque told 14ymedio last Monday at the headquarters of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), where she attended a celebration of the 115th anniversary of Cuban independence. continue reading

Roque was the only woman of the group of 74 dissidents who were arrested, tried and condemned to long sentences for crimes against the security of the state in 2003, an event known as the Black Spring that shocked international public opinion. That was her second conviction; in 1997 she was tried for writing the document “The Nation Belongs to Everyone” when she was part of the Working Group of the Internal Dissidence.

“Often the opponents go out into the street and shout ‘Down with Fidel, down with Raul, long live human rights,’ but people don’t even know what their rights are”

“Often the opponents go out into the street and shout ‘Down with Fidel, down with Raul, long live human rights,’ but people don’t know what human rights are, often they don’t even know what their rights are,” she added.

The opponent recalled how the demonstrators sent by the government itself often shout, “Down with human rights!”

“We have to reach the people through things that interest them. The Cuban opposition hasn’t found a strategy that links to the people and their problems,” she said.

The government opponent believes that the people have not been allowed to talk about their rights for a long time, so it is useless to try to explain hypothetical proposals for reforms in the Constitution.

In her opinion, among the serious problems that Cuba is experiencing is the absence of a future.

“Cubans have no future, so they want to emigrate because they know that Cuba has no future. We must try to make people understand the importance of building that future,” she added.

On the Venezuelan situation and its repercussions on the island, Roque believes that Raúl Castro’s government “fears” the consequences that could come with the end of Chavismo, to which is now added the increasingly clear position of the American president, Donald Trump, on the policy towards Cuba.

“I think things are going to change a lot in Cuba if they change in Venezuela,” she said. She also said that the path found by the Venezuelan opposition was very difficult for Cuban dissident groups, because the conditions are very different.

“I think things are going to change a lot in Cuba if they change in Venezuela”

Roque believes that the absence of concrete actions against the Raul Castro government by the Trump administration “gave the regime a lot of strength to continue repressing the opposition” and in particular to groups “that annoy them a lot.”

The 72-year-old woman does not believe that significant changes should be expected from Raul Castro’s promise to step down as president of the Council of State in 2018.

“Castro does not leave power, he continues to lead the Party and in Cuba the Communist Party is who has power, which means that he’s not going to leave power at all,” she added, adding that the advent of new figures such as current vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel will not mean a change in the system.

“Diaz-Canel is a puppet who just opens his mouth when they tell him to say what they want him to say,” she added.

Despite the grim picture, the dissident says that there is “slow movement” within the opposition in Cuba and that this year will see the first fruits of “the long struggle of the exile and opposition to bring freedom to the island.”