The Special Period Returns

If we Cubans thought that our hardships and shortages of all kinds had hit bottom, forget it. It is the twentieth anniversary of the most severe and extensive economic crisis that the island suffered in all its history. Those were hard years. Very hard.

It is still fresh in my memory. Blackouts of up to 16 hours. Undernourished people with tattered clothes, lining up at cafes to drink a vile brew made from orange and grapefruit peels. My mother, how could I forget, thinned down greatly, lost some teeth, and had to sell her most precious treasure — a fabulous collection of Brazilian music — for only $40, so she could shop for some food.

In 1989 in Cuba a violent decline in people’s daily lives had begun. Not that we had lived well. No. We were deprived of all kinds of essential freedoms, and we were third-class citizens in our own country.

But we had a relatively efficient health system, and the ration card had a bit more variety. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the door was closed to Fidel Castro for oil and Soviet rubles. Then we entered the age of indigence.

The economy shrank by 35 percent, and Castro clung even tighter to power, in the style of Kim Il Sung. Faced with the prospect of people dropping like flies in public view, he made lukewarm reforms. He legalized the currency of his enemy, the United States, and allowed some work to be opened to self-employment.

That was the lifesaver, because Havana is not Pyongyang. Everything good that happened to us in those years came at the hand of dollars or foreign capital investment. Then the government of the Castro brothers, amid fears that economic reforms could cost them the presidential chair, put on all kinds of brakes.

Foreign companies have declined to a minimum. And just as we’ve marked two decades since the dire national situation, the world is brought down by a deep economic crisis. No one has been spared. In order not to cause panic, the official media have started a mild campaign about how much the global crisis has affected us.

Already several nickel companies have closed, because of the depressed price of that metal on the world market. Those affected talk of the fall in tobacco exports and how few tourists are coming to the island. Obviously, these are not times for vacationing.

The solution, as always, is to ask for more sacrifice — and still more — from the exhausted Cuban population. Another turn of the screw. There is no mention that the culprit is the monumental economic inefficiency of a system that runs counter to human nature. Nor is there talk of allowing Cubans to set up small and medium-sized businesses.

They are entrenched in their far-fetched theories of sovereignty and two-bit nationalism. And of course we ordinary Cubans are to blame for the disaster, we who are asked to cut back, not to think about the future and, instead, “to be loyal to the supreme leader.”

According to an economist, there is so little money in the state coffers that “about two hundred thousand barrels of the oil that Venezuela sells us at preferential prices are being resold on the world market, because of the lack of liquidity.”

It is the height of folly. It’s like being hungry and selling food. Under the state of affairs emerging on the Island, this summer the majority of citizens will have to punch a new hole in the already tight belt. Another one.

Iván García

Photo: almamagazine, Flickr.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Oscar Elías Biscet, Resident of Lawton

Click image to be taken to video on Youtube

On July 20th, political prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González will turn 49 years of age. On that day we wanted to publish a text remembering him.

Because Biscet and his wife Elsa Morejon also lived in the Lawton neighbrohood, one of the highest in the Havana municipality “10 de Octobre,” and the most populous of the Cuban capital. For a short cut, Oscar Elias often got off the bus at the stop on Plaza Roja, by our house, and by way of Carmen, our street, headed up to his home, several blocks farther up, always climbing a hill.

We have decided to bring forward our memories, however, knowing that a documentary has been made about him in which Ana Luisa López Baeza does not appear. Ana Luisa  was an official reporter and later an independent journalist for Cuba Press, from the time it was founded by Raul Rivero, on September 23, 1995 .

A documentary about Biscet without the testimony of Ana Luisa is lame, incomplete. Because not only was she the first journalist to report about his dissent, but also because no one else has followed his career as a physician and human rights activist more than she has.

When Ana went into exile in Miami in 1999, others in Cuba Press continued to report everything to do with Oscar Elias: Raúl Rivero, Ricardo González Alfonso, Alida Viso Bello, Ariel Tapia and the two of us, among others. Last March 23, Ana Luisa remembered Biscet in this email:

“I can say that in that context I was most dazzled by Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet’s neat appearance, his modesty and his adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. This was apparent to me the first time I saw Biscet, when he went to my house to tell me what was happening in the Daughters of Galicia Hospital (where he worked) in relation to Rivanol-induced abortions.

“For me that is the first of many issues that have caused him so much suffering. His condemnation regarding the abortions was overwhelming. Added to his testimony was that of many women who, through that route, had had their pregnancies of 21 weeks or more terminated. Biscet made me listen to them in his presence and requested my opinion. I agreed with his: this was a horrendous crime.

“Almost all of these women, overcome by weeping, had not been informed about what they then lived through: many babies came out alive and thrashed around in the buckets or basins where they were deposited to be later silenced forever. Biscet left me a copy of the cassette and I reported about this through the means then available to us.

“I was aware at that time that he began his protests against that method of abortion displaying a sign that read ‘Abortion, murder of babies’ among his colleagues at the hospital where he worked.

“After that day, I kept in constant contact with Biscet and I kept track of all his activities in opposition up to the day I left Cuba in 1999. I was at his house several times, in Lawton, where more than once he was the victim of harassment. I remember most a stink bomb thrown at him, the kind that leaves an infernal stench.

“I also walked the streets of Lawton, his neighborhood, where I noticed the admiration and love that he inspired. Affection that was obvious, in spite of the forced need to be discrete, with gestures and words, in cases like his.”

What Ana Luisa said was corroborated by the following information published in Cubanet November 7, 2002 by Fara Armenteros.

“There is no doubt that this man has the capacity to understand human suffering, and that is why he takes on the defense of the human rights of the people,” Pedro, a man who traveled from another neighborhood to see Biscet, pointed out.

“My family told me that he had been liberated and I came to see his face. I am leaving more than satisfied, because I witnessed the entire press conference with the journalists” he added.

“Yesterday (November 6, 2002, a month before his arrest and permanent detention), Biscet held a press conference to make good on his promise to his fellow prisoners at the Cuba Si Prison, in Holguin province, where he was jailed for three years: to make known to the world the abuses and humiliations that prisoners in Cuban jails endure.

“When we asked Rachel Diaz, one of Biscet’s neighbors, her views on the doctor, she said: ‘Look at what he told the re-educator in prison,’ referring to one of the experiences recounted by the dissident, ‘and that’s what I think of Biscet, that he does not need re-education because he had great parents who raised him well.’

“Biscet said that in prison violence is used as an educational method, and explained the poor living conditions of prisoners: lack of medical care, poor food, overcrowding and lack of minimally adequate facilities for rest. He also noted that prisoners are not allowed to have radios. And although they are allowed to read the Bible, they cannot read it in groups.

“During the press conference, Biscet answered questions from independent journalists and foreign correspondents in Havana. ‘We are democratic and we need to accept diversity now,’ he said when asked his opinion about the Varela Project and the Assembly to Promote Civil Society.”

The documentary has another notable absence: that of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, especially since the documentary has been dedicated to Orlando Zapata Tamayo. It seems that the filmmakers did not realize that Zapata Tamayo was among the opponents who joined the fast convened by the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in and led by Martha in February 2003, to demand the release of Dr. Biscet, arrested along Zapata Tamayo, Raúl Arencibia and Virgilio Marantes Guelma Fajardo, on December 6, when they were preparing to hold a meeting with human rights activists in the Lawton neighborhood.

Zapata, Arencibia, and Marantes were detained for a few weeks, afterward they were released to await trial.  Zapata was rearrested on March 20, but Biscet has been detained since December 2002. In April 2003 Biscet was given a 25 year sentence as part of the “Group of 75.”

Among the memories is the morning independent reporter Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso (sentenced to 20 years in prison on April 2003) reported by telephone, from our home, his coverage of the press conference that Biscet held near us, in his home.

On December 10th, 1998, the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Lawton Foundation, led by Biscet, organized a reading of the Declaration at Buttari Park, a park in the Lawton neighborhood.  Representing Cuba Press at this event were Ariel Tapia, Ivan, and I.  State Security staged a “show” at the scene that was later written about in the article “El show del Buttari.”

The last image we have of Biscet is from a photo Martha Beatriz showed us taken at a working lunch she, Rene Gomez Manzano and Feliz Bonne Carcasses held with Biscet at the Central Havana headquarters of the Canary Association of Cuba, where one can eat well and inexpensively.  That was in 2002 after Biscet had served a 3-year sentence and right before he was rearrested in December 2002.

A personal tribute by way of the following two texts from the independent journalists who had the good fortune of having met one of the most important Cuban dissidents of all times.

Una revolución pacífica comienza. [A peaceful revolution begins.]

La opción de Biscet. [Biscet’s Option.]

We would have also liked to reproduce “Cuba Yes, Biscet Also” by Raul Rivero and published by the Nuevo Herald on April 14th, 2000, but we were not able to locate it on the internet. [Translator’s note: This article has been located and will be translated and linked to this blog post.]

Ivan Garcia and Tania Quintero

Translated by HEFA and other(s).

Havana Water

Take note. More than 50 percent of the potable water that is distributed in the Cuban capital is lost to the poor state of the network of aqueducts and sewers.  It is a drama.  Also note that more than 100,000 Havana households do not have access to the precious liquid.

Ask Jose Mesa, 49, what his dream is, and without thinking he will say: running water in his house for 24 hours.  Because every afternoon, after arriving tired from the factory where he works, he has to carry 62 buckets of water to fill a pair of 55 gallon containers.

Could it be that Mesa is asking for too much.  In Havana you can count the families that have water all day.  In the best case, the immense majority of homes in the capital receive water every other day.  In apartment buildings, the water pump, if there is one, pumps a couple of times a day for 30 minutes.

The revolution of the Castro brothers has done little to help the situation.  There are aqueducts, such as those in Albear, that date back to the end of the 19th century.  Faced with the difficult situation of many residents of the city in accessing potable water, at the end of the ’80s the president mandated the construction of the El Gato aqueduct in Madruga, on the outskirts of Havana.

But this did not alleviate the critical water shortage.  It was intended to turn the situation around, after ten years, it constitutes the company Havana Water S.A., a joint-venture company with mixed Spanish ownership which is advised by Barcelona Water.

The first thing that began to happen was the reestablishment or construction of new water lines.  But so deplorable was the technical state of the water mains that the work proceeded at the pace of a tortoise. If you want to see the utter waste, walk through the streets of the city at night and you will see numerous leaks, occasionally veritable rivers.

While those like worker Jose Mesa live without potable water and every day have to carry dozens of buckets, each night in the city of Havana more than 50 percent of the vital liquid is lost.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Utilizing the water in a small square in Old Havana.

Cuba, the Black Market in the Crosshairs

It is the lifeline for many. The underground market supplies about 60% of the products needed by a majority of the population.  When the island was living through the silent battle, the “special period,” underground sales provided what the depressed state could not.

Adela Bencomo, a 73-year-old housewife has always purchased cooking oil, beef, chicken, high quality fish, and powdered milk for her grandchildren in the black market.  They had lower prices.  And often, your groceries were brought right to your door.  Now, during this hot May 2010, much has changed.

For months now, neighborhood vendors have not been able to sell anything.  Every day their anxious customers ask how long the situation will last.  They all respond the same way: “Times are hard.”

Due to the shortages in the informal economy, many families are using their funds sent from abroad to buy what they need in convertible currency shops, says Adela, while waiting in line at the butcher shop to buy the half pound of chicken per person rationed by the state.

After 2008, when the country was devastated by three powerful and furious hurricanes, the governement of General Raul Castro unleashed a major crackdown on “illegal vendors.”

Anyone caught profiting from selling food was sentenced, in summary 25-minute trials, to a two-year prison sentence.  It was very dangerous to walk down the street with 5 kilos of rice or a dozen fresh eggs.

Anyone carrying a backpack was detained by the police.  Being young was enough to arouse suspicion.  Being black marked you.  After unrelenting harassment by law enforcement, the tide changed.

But the state maintained its stranglehold on warehouses, businesses, and shops, the principal source of provisions for those who sell food underground.

And so the well has begun to dry up. The black market is an important industry in countries going through economic hardship.  In Cuba, to buy clothes, personal hygiene products, and items like cooking oil, cheese, or quality sweets, you must have hard currency.

Around 70% of all people receive euros or dollars from their relatives scattered around the world.  But these remitances are not enough to purchase in convertible currency the food needed for basic survival, as well as shoes, clothing and other things, in adequate quantities.

To make matters worse, since 2004 the government, which is always talking of its generosity with the people, has charged a “revolutionary tax” of 20% on the USD and 8% on the Euro.

In addition, since then, they have raised prices on basic goods, which were already very expensive. Currently, all goods sold in convertible currency are taxed at around 400 percent.

It is logical, then, for people to resort to the black market. Due to police harassment, the black market is in a tailspin and this has created a headache for more than one person. Forty-nine-year-old Rosa Duarte is a good example.

“I don’t know what I am going to do, I try to stretch the 100 dollars my daughter sends me from the U.S. every month, but it is barely enough to cover the necessities. If the informal economy continues to dry up, I will be left with two options: ask my daughter for more money or ask for help in the streets,” she says with a certain irony.

And that is no joke.  If something that ran as smoothly as the black market begins to falter, the common person’s troubles are only going to increase.

Add to that insulting salaries, which are barely adequate to buy a few vegetables and what is rationed, meager quantities that do not last 10 days.  What’s worse is, there is no solution in sight.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by HEFA

The Cardinal’s Rebellion

No one counted on him. He was a person who accommodated the political mandarins. Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, the Archbishop of Havana, had just left the local parish.

In all the years of the acute economic, social and political crisis that Cuba has and continues to live in, Ortega made very few announcements. He simply took a pass. Many practitioners of the Catholic faith left the church feeling disappointed when the Cardinal officiated over the Mass. Because he said nothing.

He never raised his voice in the name of the nonconformists. He didn’t say anything about the death of the dissident Orlando Zapata. He turned his back on the Cuban opposition. His lenses, it seemed, had another calibration. The reality of the island captured his interest with a different prism.

Maybe the time has arrived. Perhaps his last critical reflections on the state of things in the republic marked the beginning of a more active role on the part of the Cuban Catholic church. Or maybe not. Maybe he’s just punching the time clock and saying a few appropriate words, so as not to pass unnoticed and to grab some headlines in the mainstream media.

In my opinion, Jaime Ortega is the representative of the upper hierarchy of Catholicism in Latin America, less committed to the ills afflicting his people. While ecclesiastic figures on the island come out in favor of certain inalienable rights and a change in the politics of the Castro government, Ortega maintains silence.

His work as a mediator for the Ladies in White ought to go beyond fulfilling an express request of the government. Perhaps once and for all he is assuming the role that he has avoided performing: that of an important actor in the social life of his country.

We are in a crucial moment for the future of Cuba. Definitely, the Cardinal should look at Poland in the 1970s and 1980s.

To remember the leadership of an archbishop of Krakow called Karol Wojtyla. To review the role performed by the Catholic church in the Polish transition. Jaime Ortega can and should be a firm point of dialogue between two parties with the tendency toward emotional speech and apocalyptic monologues.

The best sign of acceptance of his recent action in this spring of 2010 was something I heard on the street: “Finally the Cardinal has taken off his toga and put on his pants,” commented a bookseller, not very far from the Archbishopric of Havana, in the old part of the city.

Such an authority should not speak just in the name of God. He should also speak out in the voice of those who don’t have one.

Iván García

Translated by Regina Anavy

Health Care in Cuba: All That Glitters is Not Gold


I want to be objective. In Cuba very few services work properly. The economy is a disaster. The worst kind of bureaucracy is pervasive. A number of political freedoms are lacking. And the democratic process – which our leaders trumpet so loudly – is no more than a bad joke.

The public health service is an achievement of Fidel Castro. Let’s try to look at the pros and the cons of medicine in Cuba. Nothing is completely black and white.

Before 1989 the state health system worked three times better than in 2010. The former USSR subsidized the economy of the ‘Green Alligator’ with sizable amounts of rubles and oil. The government built an efficient health service with full coverage for all citizens.

With the coming of the Great Cuban Depression, which has lasted for 21 years and is known in Party jargon as a ‘Special Period in Times of Peace’, there was a serious decline in the quality of the public health service.

The regime, however, tries hard to make it work. There are walk-in clinics, offering a wide range of services, in every town in the country. And several hospitals in each of the 14 provinces. The island has more than 70,000 doctors. There are many high level specialists. And in every neighborhood there is a chain of preventive medicine centers.

Pregnant women receive prenatal treatment comparable to that of a first world nation. Children are vaccinated against all kinds of diseases. And the elderly are given geriatric treatment.

Leftwingers of different continents, when they loudly applaud Castro, point out that in Cuba even the opposition is guaranteed proper medical treatment.

I fail to see why this should be any other way. No one, in any country is asked about their political or religious beliefs when they receive medical treatment.

It is true that the embargo presents difficulties for the government of the island when it wants to buy the latest medicines and sophisticated equipment made in the United States. But if they had money, they could buy these things in Canada or in any other country that makes them.

Although I’ve seen that in the pharmacies reserved for foreign currencies, you can find antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines from prestigious laboratories, and even Viagra. Cuba is an unusual country. Here what is normal is abnormal and vice versa. Basic services like street cleaning and drinking water barely function.

I acknowledge that the government does what it can to maintain an adequate standard of health care. But there are many failures. Ask the people who have stayed in Cuban hospitals. When this happens, people cross their fingers.

The reception rooms are dirty, and the structural state of most of the hospitals is terrible. It is a serious problem. Families have to provide fans, buckets, sheets, towels… The food given to the patients is disgusting.

The standard of the doctors has fallen dramatically. The best work in places like Cira García or CIMEQ, intended only for the care of Party leaders. Or they treat foreign patients.

High quality doctors are always looking for a ‘mission’ to Venezuela or South Africa, so that, after three or four years, they can return loaded down with household appliances and a fistful of dollars which makes their life much easier in the olive-green socialism of the Castro brothers.

Rampant corruption in Cuban society also affects the health sector. Some doctors will treat you like a king, when you offer them gifts under the table. Also in exchange for money, unscrupulous people who work in hospitals will sell you medicines that were received as donations.

There are worse things still. Like those mentioned by the BBC correspondent in Cuba in ‘Health Resources’, published in his blog.

On April 29, when the American journal Science published an article full of praise for the health system on the island, they were quite right. For a poor nation in the third world, the Cuban medical service is indeed a luxury.

The official doctors, involved in a campaign against the foreign press, which they accuse of attacking and denigrating the country, took a break, and Randy Alonso, presenter of the programme Mesa Redonda (Round Table), read the Science article with restrained emotion.

I don’t know whether the authors, Paul K. Drain and Michele Barry, were able to visit freely public hospitals in different provinces on the island.

In any case, it is hardly to be expected that an American journal should recognise the positive aspects of the Cuban health service.

Although all that glitters is not gold.

Iván García

 

26-6-76 Are Not My Lucky Numbers

It is not a date. Nor are they my lucky numbers. They were the digits with which a boorish officer, with a constitution gained from many hours in the gym, called me with a voice of thunder at the door of a walled cell in Villa Marista, home of the Cuban political police.

How could I forget those 13 days behind bars, from March 8-21, 1991, accused of “enemy propaganda.”

The fateful figures came to my mind when in the Island’s illegal lottery, known as ‘la bolita‘, the three winning numbers were drawn in this order: 26, 6 and 76.

I asked old Arsenio, the ‘bolitero‘ in the neighborhood where I live, if someone won with 26, the fixed number, or 6 and 76, the two runners. “Nananina, there was nothing for anyone,” said Arsenio with his Creole way of expression.

I don’t play ‘la bolita‘, but I told him the meaning that those numbers had for me. Very serious, Arsenio told me, “From now, I will put money on these numbers for at least six months, they will come again.”

I smiled and told him I was not to blame if he lost his money, and the numbers don’t repeat. “I am going to be a story for you, when I tell it, take this Iván, this gift of a thousand pesos,” he replied, smiling.

A Cuban slogan once asserted that the lottery was the hope of the poor. That was before Castro, among many things, hacking away at it also eliminated that hope.

A few blocks from the home of my daughter, there is a street of identical houses. They were built more than 50 years ago by the owner of the Candado soap factory, who apparently had shares in the national lottery, legal before 1959. The people who hit the jackpot, won a home.

Now, if you take the top prize in ‘la bolita‘, the money is not enough to buy yourself a house. Nor repair one if it is in poor condition. But the loot allows you to have a good quality beer in hard currency and, perhaps, to get a few pounds of beef.

Either way, I will not follow the advice of Arsenio, to put money for a while on 26-06-76. Even if I won, that money would not bring me fond memories. If the chilling digits come out, I prefer the old bolitero get the money.

Iván Garcia

Photo: Francis Miller, Life. Lottery ticket seller on Obispo Street, Havana, in 1958.

“I will go to Cuba when I can do it as a free citizen”

As a child I knew him in Havana. We lived in the neighborhood of El Pilar, Cerro. We were neighbors; he lived with his mother and brother on the first floor and I lived with my family on the second. Skinny and tall, he spent the day with a guitar, playing songs that he invented. That was in the 70s. Nearly forty years later, thanks to the internet, I was able to interview my childhood friend Jorge Luis Piloto Alsar, today a renowned Cuban-American composer.

Ivan: Jorge, 2010 is the thirtieth anniversary of your arrival in the U.S. by way of the massive exodus from the Port of Mariel in 1980.  Is the Jorge of Miami greatly changed from the Jorge of Havana?

Luis Enrique: These three decades have been fundamental to my life.  I had a son and I managed to make a career, which I could not have done in Cuba, because I would have had to belong to an organization of the Ministry of Culture. And since I am not ‘revolutionary,’ I think it would have been very short or I never would have been able to do it.  As you know, Ivan, in Cuba everything is subject to ‘within the revolution everything, outside the revolution nothing.’ My career would have been nothing”

In essence, I am the same as I was in Havana, but with the experience and influences acquired by living in Miami and being in contact with a world that I had no access to when I lived on the island.  We are all changing, except Cuba.”

Ivan: You finished the year with a Grammy in hand, for the Best Tropical Song, “Yo no sé mañana” [I don’t know tomorrow]. And you started the new year with another trophy, from  the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in recognition of your contribution to Latin music and the 25 years that you have been creating successful hits.

Luis Enrique: Winning those prizes has been a big accomplishment, that I infinitely appreciate and for which I am grateful. It is something that we all dream about, but don’t always achieve. I feel lucky and honored by those awards.”

They also imply a greater responsibility. They have raised the bar and now more people know me and wait for better things. Or maybe no one expects anything else, but I’ll take it as an encouragement to continue making music that can cheer up the people who listen and enjoy.”

Ivan: I remember that despite the difference in our ages, we shared the same passion: baseball and sports in general. So I guess that it made you happy to know that in the XXI Central American and Caribbean Games, which on July 17 to August 1 will be held in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, you will hear a song which you helped to write.

Luis Enrique: I have not forgotten what fans we were for the Industriales, the Havana team. And as a lover of baseball and sports, I’m glad that somehow I’ll be present at these Games, which also will be held in Puerto Rico, a country that I love.

The story of that song is short. While working with Olga Tañón in Orlando, Florida, on the songs for her new CD, she told me that not only was she invited to sing at the Games, but also to write the song. Olga invited me to join her and thus was born  “Llegó la fiesta”

Ivan: By the way, Jorge, do you know that Cuba will not participate in the games in Mayaguez? What do you think of politics in sports?

Luis Enrique: Yes, I know that Cuba will not attend the games in Puerto Rico and I don’t know the reasons. Each person as an individual can choose a sporting event to express a political opinion, as long as it is done in an appropriate way that does not harm others. What is reprehensible is when sports are used as state policy, when the State uses its athletes to send a message of propaganda.

Ivan: And in music? Do you think it is OK for artists like Juanes, Olga herself, and now Calle 13, to come to sing in Havana? If they invite you, would you come?

Luis Enrique: I think everyone should be free to go where he wants. That is a right that not many artists living in Cuba have. Also, many artists who do not support the regime are denied entry to Cuba, because they have a different opinion.

I wonder what I would do if I was invited to go to the land where I was born.  The saddest thing of all is that Cuba’s government assumes the right to invite or not citizens born in Cuba. Who gave them that right? For now, the power of the gun, the power of the prison guard.

I will go to Cuba when I can do it as a free citizen, without asking anyone’s permission. It is my right as the Cuban citizen that I am.

Ivan: In conclusion, could you tell us in advance a little about your upcoming musical projects?

Luis Enrique: Right now I’m finishing up the CD of the Chilean singer Myriam Hernandez, the second one that we are doing together. I’m also doing collaborations with other authors. I will write a song with Amaury Gutierrez, a Cuban with one of the best voices I’ve ever heard in my life. And I’ve heard a few.

Iván García

Translated by ricote

An Act of Repudiation from Within

The sun beats down hard on the grey and white building located on Aguila street at the corner of Dragones, next to Chinatown in Havana. On that piece of real estate which was long ago given up by the Cuban Telephone Company, are the offices of ETESCA, the Empresa Cubana de Telecomunicaciones (the Cuban Telecommunications Company).

On his morning walk (a brief revolutionary act), the section leader chooses a group of workers to take part in the siege on Laura Pollan’s house next Saturday.  She is one of the key members of the Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White), who this spring of 2010 have aroused fear and loathing within the agents of the government.

The marches by the Damas, who demand freedom for their imprisoned loved ones, has driven the regime of the Castro brothers to mount a permanent operation in front of Pollan’s house.

To deter the Damas, they use shock troops made up of employees from the stores and workplaces located near Laura Pollan’s house at 963 Neptuno, between Aramburu and Hospital, in Central Havana.

The story I am about to tell you happened two weeks ago.  A group of workers from ETESCA, almost all of them youth or communist party militants, were chosen to prevent the Ladies in White from leaving Pollan’s house.

In order to get out of having to participate, some of the women in the group claimed that they were sick or had family problems.  They just wanted to evade the issue.  But they are people who are prepared, with access to the Internet or illegal cable antennas in their homes.

They have seen what happens.  The offenses and the violence.  The boss gets strict:  “You all represent the organizations of the Party and the youth at the core, this isn’t a favor we are asking of you, it’s an order.”

They go without really wanting to.  For Lucrecia, a young woman recently graduated in telecommunications engineering, its an adventure of sorts.  She’ll see for the first time the “mercenaries” who make the news that she stealthily reads on the Internet.

The people who have been chosen for this task walk to Pollan’s house with feelings of anxiety.  If there’s a row, they won’t know what to do.  Rosario has never hit anyone in her life.  Much less women who demand freedom for their husbands, sons or brothers.  “If a family member of mine were being held prisoner, I would do the same thing they are doing,” she confesses.

More than hatred, they feel a certain admiration.  Some of them, the most uninformed, say that the Ladies in White are paid 20 dollars for each march.  “If that’s the way it is, some day I’ll join them,” says Elena smiling.

A dark-haired obese female, reminiscent of a Sumo Wrestler, leads the women. “She looked like a thug, with thick features, and never smiled,” remembers Lucrecia.

Other women who work in the neighborhood gather around the female employees of ETECSA.  Not a single man is around.  “What happens if there is a fight?” asks a girl.  The female soldier dressed in civilian clothing responds: “That’s our problem.” Referring to the security forces.

They are there for twelve hours sitting around the fence in front of Laura Pollan’s house.  Soldiers dressed as civilians moving about on Suzuki motorcycles constantly telling people where to go.

After three in the afternoon, when they are very hungry, some soldiers arrive with cardboard boxes containing disgusting cold black beans and rice with a boiled egg on top for the women.  Most of them protest.  “This is a mess, if all we get for participating in this shit and risking being hit is this crappy food, don’t count on me anymore” says one of the women.

An official tries to calm them down.  “Please, remember the difficult economic situation our country is experiencing.”  Just about all of the women throw the food in the garbage can.  As night falls, they mobilize.  The next day, the Damas de Blanco did not go out or do their march.

The next day all the ETESCA employees who took part in the harassment at Laura Pollán’s house complained to their bosses. “Don’t even think about asking me to go back for another act of repudiation; don’t count on me, go yourselves,” says one of them, insulted. The bosses are silent in the face of the flood of curses. They have no choice.

The government wants to sell the image that the people, acting spontaneously, are the ones who suppress the Ladies in White. Many people participate out of fear and for various considerations. Whether they are political or want to maintain that appearance. Nobody in a major company wants to be identified as “disaffected with the government.” Everything is staged. In the best Cuban style.

Iván García

Translated by: Hank and Tomás A.

The Cuban Economy Is Sinking

And not because of an earthquake. Quietly, one business after another is closing. Although the official Cuban press, the most optimistic in the world, ignores this, from 2000 to the present you can count on one hand the number of foreign investors who have kept their businesses in Cuba.

Italian businessmen in the telecommunications sector, who invested in ETECSA, the only company on the island in that industry, said goodbye a year ago. Israeli businessmen who bought the citrus production of Jaguey Grande, in Matanzas, and produced fruit juices, have also gone.

According to a source who prefers to remain anonymous, investors from the largest foreign investor in Cuba, Canada’s Sherritt, specializing in the mining business, are conducting a feasibility study. If they get red numbers, they will pack their bags.

The building construction sector has been immobilized for seven years on the direct orders of Fidel Castro. So what remains are a few companies in the field of tourism. China and Russia, the candidates sought by the leaders of the island, look askance at the proposals offered to them.

They know that Cuba’s ability to pay is almost nil. Russia is already owed several billion rubles. And China, with a similar ideological outlook, will donate a couple million dollars in the event of a hurricane, but if you don’t have money to pay them, see you later.

The trump card that the Castros play is the Venezuela of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. It is a bet on foolishness and voluntarism. More of the same. But there are not many options for a government that has a grudge against the market economy because a group of people got rich.

In 2010 the economic alliance with Caracas is all that remains. And it’s barely working. The only benefit is being able to buy oil at bargain prices, without having to pay for it in hard currency. Cuba pays for the black gold with human capital: military or civilian, medical and sports trainers.

There will not be an abundance of food on the tables of the poor on this island or in Venezuela, nor will life be better because of this alliance. For one thing, both nations manage their economies on the fly. In the case of Cuba, it is striking how they continue to bet on the centralized economy.

Having coinciding ideologies, as is the case with Castro and several presidents of the Hemisphere, is not the same as creating a coherent strategy for designing a sustainable economy. Virulent and polarizing speech does not count in economics. What matters is to save and work hard to get out of the deep hole of poverty.

To justify their failures, the Castros have their favorite weapon: the Yankee embargo. But no one but a fanatic or a moron could seriously blame only the U.S. embargo for the poor performance of the local economy. It doesn’t take a think-tank, or an expert in economic matters, to point out those responsible for sending the Cuban economy back to the stone age.

If Fidel Castro is credited with the glory of the vaunted successes in education, sports, and public health, then he should also be charged with the failures. His experimental manner of managing the island’s economy would fill several volumes of nonsense.

Inflating numbers and lying while making annual financial reports is not going to solve our problems. Now, General Raul Castro and his advisers are seeking a range of solutions to break the deadlock in which they find the economy.

As an experiment they are thinking of renting business places, such as barber shops, cafes, and taxis, to groups of workers. A kind of cooperative, where if they do well, the people will earn more money.

It remains to be seen if this formula works. So far, Roberto Guerra, manager of a dilapidated Havana pizzeria, has his doubts. “If they don’t free up the prices of products, and if we are bound to sell at the price assigned to us by the State Committee on Prices, this recipe will not work.”

The government knows better than anyone that people on the street are very upset with the performance of the economy and lack of future in their lives. Cubans want change in economic matters. They want them to allow unlimited self-employment and to reduce taxes.

But they want more. They want to invest in medium-sized enterprises with their relatives residing in the United States if the regime will authorize it. Raul Castro knows that something must be done, but like his brother, he is afraid that a series of economic reforms will be uncontrollable by the government.

The Cuban revolution has been more political than economic. And now what preoccupies the leaders on the island is hanging onto power. If in the future a leader or political group manages to get on track and makes the Cuban economy thrive, they will be awarded a gold medal.

Iván García

Translated by: Tomás A.

Highway Robbery

They’re like pirates on the highway. And they act with total impunity. On the stretch between Kilometer 10 and the first ring of the National Autoroute, a road with 8 lanes, dark as a wolf’s mouth and where the poor condition of the pavement makes drivers reduce their speed, it’s the propitious moment for a new breed of delinquents, known as “ninjas,” who use scooters and ski masks, to force open the trunk of a car, and, lickety split, plunder what’s inside.

Later, a car, an accomplice of the Cuban “ninjas,” collects the bags, and they divide the booty somewhere else. Their favorite target is autos rented by tourists. Fermín Escobar, 45 years old, who drives his own taxi, earning his living by charging 15 Cuban convertible pesos (13 dollars) per person, going between the bus terminals from Havana to the city of Santa Clara, some 300 kilometers away, firmly suspects that these highway robbers operate with the complicity of the police.

According to Escobar, on the Autoroute, there are numerous control points and police cars that detain you at each pass to inspect travelers’ luggage, in search of shrimp, beef or cheese, the favorite products of the people who are dedicated to the lucrative business of the black market.

“Then it’s not possible for these delinquents to carry out the robberies in peace. I have friends who are drivers, who have told me that some police alert the “ninjas” by cell phone about the license plates of the tourist cars, which are the ones they prefer. Although they also misappropriate whatever auto they suspect has valuable things in their suitcases. If the driver notes the presence of the “ninjas” and stops the car, there is a big uproar because those thieves can be armed,” reports Fermín, who counsels that the best thing to do is to accelerate as fast as possible and to not stop.

Of course the National Autoroute has a high presence of police who stop and search, at any time of the day or night, all types of vehicles, be they buses, trucks, or cars. But in spite of all these controls, there exists a hole through which “luxury” foodstuffs penetrate Havana, like shellfish and beef, which have a high demand among the habaneros.

Boarding and ransacking moving cars in the middle of the night is work that carries a high risk. It’s already known that the highway “ninjas” have an impressive dominion of scooters. For which reason the police barely detain them, and it’s a good question for the chief of the national Police. Or police ineffectiveness exists or they are “greased” with hard currency. The drivers who use the National Autoroute every day are waiting for a response.

Iván García

Translated by Regina Anavy

Profile of a Candidate

Clara Fuentes, 39-years-old, was never very bright. She was a headstrong girl, raised in a small house of 15 meters without bathrooms or drinking water. Her father was a zombie-like sign painter; most days he was on strike, trying to scare up some money to raise his two daughters.

The mother was a fat, careless woman of mixed race. They lived like gypsies, off the charity of neighbors and state support. Thanks to God, or Fidel Castro, she was born in a period of the Cuban revolution in which milk was not scarce and the ration book assured them average but vital nourishment.

Later this was not the case. With the arrival of the perennial economic crisis that the nation has lived in for 21 years, known officially as the “Special Period,” Clara’s family saw dark times.

The father began to poke about among the rubbish containers, in search of valuable articles. But there was nothing. It was a time when not even empty bottles were thrown away.

Clara and her sister grew up dirty and unkempt. They were pretty and had good figures. But they dressed in old, recycled clothes that were handed down. In the barrio they were called the “miserable ones.”

To their material poverty was added mental stupidity. Clara gave birth to three sons by a boy who lived in the eastern provinces. Her sister did the same. Clara had her sons between the ages of 16 and 20. And they didn’t have enough food for four, so you can imagine how much they had for eight.

The honorable exit Clara Fuentes found was to enroll in the system. Abandoned by the biological father, and without a cent for her sons, she enlisted as a recruit in the army.

She passed a course to become a sergeant and began to work in a military unit. Although the salary was scarcely enough, her situation improved. But she continued being taken care of by the state.

The three children slept in one bed. She slept on the floor, on a grubby mat among nocturnal cockroaches and lizards. She started to take care of an old woman, who died three years later.

The state granted her the old woman’s house. It was small, with two suffocating rooms and minimal sleeping quarters. For Clara, it was a palace.

She left the army and started working as a custodian for a business. She worked 12 hours a day and rested for two days. She was on duty at sunrise three days in the week. They paid her 300 pesos (12 dollars) and 18 Cuban convertible pesos (20 dollars).

In addition, they gave her an equivalent basket of goods. One-half box of chicken a month, four packages of ground turkey, 24 cans of soft drinks, four liters of cooking oil. With this, Clara was assured of food, administered with a hard hand in the middle of the month. The other half she got from the ration book.

She always lacked money, and her sons grew up without being well-nourished and dressed poorly. Clara is honest. She never stole anything at work, and, although she is critical of the revolution, in an ingenuous way, she believes that the guilty party is “the difficult situation,” and she does not hold Fidel Castro nor his brother responsible.

“They don’t know what is happening,” she asserts. She is contaminated by official propaganda. “We are living badly, but compared to living in a country like Haiti or in an African nation, I prefer our system.” She doesn’t question the lack of political liberties, nor do they matter to her, because “you can’t eat those things.”

At the last meeting in the barrio to elect candidates or delegates to Popular Power, they proposed her as a candidate. In order to end the meeting quickly so they could go home and watch the latest soap opera on television, and because there wasn’t a better option, the neighbors elected her unanimously.

On Sunday, April 25, Clara Fuentes was one of the two candidates running in her district. In this year of 2010, a delegate’s work is barely noticeable in the shanty town. If she has sufficient influence, she can get some construction materials at an average price for the most needy.

In general, for every five complaints that are presented to the delegates, one is resolved. Sometimes none. Not because they don’t want to satisfy their community. No. It happens because the solution is out of their hands.

The powerful state bureaucracy and material scarcity dilute any good intention. And although Clara Fuentes does not have the intelligence to solve the innumerable problems of her barrio, beginning with her own, she thinks about trying. She has confidence in her management ability. She asks those who know her to vote for her.

Iván García

Translated by Regina Anavy

Waiting for a Dialogue….and an Inquest

Nothing will be solved with the hard discourse. There will be no solution because  General Raul Castro launches the call to slaughter against the dissidence. Neither will there be a way out of the deep crisis that Cuba inhabits, with the usual television Roundtables, where four rigid guys share their uniform opinions.

Cuba needs a dialogue, more than ever, not with the European Union or the United States, no. A national serious debate is urgent with our own people. Courageous. And once and for all, talk with the dissidents, government people and the opposition, official journalist and independent ones, bloggers of any tendency, without exceptions.

Now in these days when Cuba celebrates the 49th Anniversary of the Victory of Bay of Pigs, with Fidel Castro at the front, when in only 72 hours they defeated the troops consisting of Cuban exiles, backed by the Eisenhower government, I remember that in March 2001, a debate was held in Havana as a result of the 40 years anniversary of the Bay of Pig Invasion, with the participation of the protagonist of both countries.

Face to face, looking each other in the eye, were ex-CIA agents, former US officials and Cuban exiled fighters defeated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. It was a civilized conversation, without hatred, with the military officials from the Island, political analysts and Fidel Castro in the flesh.

It was an enriched debate. Nine years later we need other kinds of dialogues, profound and necessary. With monologues and insults, the economy does not function full steam ahead. With calling people who do not agree mercenaries, traitors or paid by the Yankee’s gold, the nation will not be proud of the performance of its government.

The ills that affect the country are someone’s fault. They are not orphans. Let us give credit to the almost 50 year’s embargo from the United States. But the biggest responsibility for the lethal inefficiency of the system belongs to the leaders. I will mention their names: Fidel and Raúl Castro.

The solution to the problems of the Nation belongs to everyone. Because those of us born in Cuba wish and want our country to come out of this motionlessness.

Of course, there will be heated controversies. Passions will be stirred, and everybody will hunker down in their respective ideologies, but from those differences, the measures that will change the status quo will emerge.

From my point of view, the problems of the Island could be remedied with dialogue. At a table.  Everyone. Those who live on one shore or the other. Seated. Smoking as if possessed, or drinking coffee. Carlos Alberto Montaner, Raúl Rivero, Max Lesnik, Zoë Valdes, Enrique Patterson and other intellectuals or high level economists who live in exile.

Together with the opposition like Martha Beatriz Roque, Elizardo Sánchez, Oswaldo Payá, René Gómez Manzano, Vladimiro Roca, Dagoberto Valdés, the independent journalist such as  Reynaldo Escobar y Luis Cino will offer their arguments, the Bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya, among others.

From the side of the government, along with the maximum leaders, intellectuals, and journalist of caliber would participate, in a civilized way, a series of right measures for the future.

Although some want to stand on the way, there are many things that unite us. I think that the journalist Pedro de La Hoz gets upset like me, when he has to wait three hours to make a simple legal procedure.

I suppose that Rosa Miriam Elizalde the reporter will be indignant when every night she watches the way that 50 percent of the drinking water distributed every day in the city is wasted.

I figure that the disastrous state of the hospitals, the lack of construction materials to repair the housing, the unknown future of the motherland, and the absurd laws not only awake the rage of the dissident lawyer Laritza Diversent, but also of the government attorneys.

We can change this and more, one way, dialoguing among all, I hope we do not have to wait 40 years to realize a profound debate like the one in 2001, among the protagonist of the Bay of Pigs.  Now we are working against the clock.

Ivan García

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras

Stories of Ordinary People

Life for Juan Domeq, age 69, is a vicious cycle. He gets up every morning at 5:30 am and slowly hobbles to a newsstand to buy 50 issues of the newspaper Granma, and the same number of Juventud Rebelde. Domeq spends 20 pesos (less than US$1) for the hundred copies. If he can sell them at 1 peso each, he gets 80 pesos profit, but he doesn’t often sell that many issues.

“People on the street are not very interested in what our press says. Also, the clerk at the newsstand can’t can’t always sell me 100 newspapers. I usually sell between 40 and 50. Then, if I have a good day, I buy some fruits or vegetables for my wife who has been bedridden four years from paralysis; I must also buy milk or yogurt. The little money I earn selling newspapers is spent on food, and I have to keep my eyes open, because several times the police have fined me 40 pesos for selling the newspaper without a license,” says Juan, a sad old man full of aches, who lives in a filthy tenement in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana.

At the same time that Domeq rises to buy the newspaper, Antonio Villa, 64 years old, physically disabled, wakes up and has a cup of hot coffee for breakfast. He goes in his wheelchair to the Monaco bakery, where at the entrance he sells bags (purses) made of nylon for one peso (5 cents U.S.) each.

According to Antonio, a person can sell a hundred nylon purses for 35 pesos. “Selling bags usually takes between 10 and 12 hours a day. Sometimes I have a good day and manage to sell 200 bags, but I usually sell only 80 or 90. With what I get — between 65 to 120 pesos (about 3 to $5) — I buy food and save some pennies to pay a woman who washes my clothes. The police have taken me to the station many times, and in addition to fining me they have confiscated my bags. But when they set me free, I go back to the only thing I can do to earn an honest living,” says Antonio, a black man who lost a leg during the war in Angola in 1987, and lives in a wooden shack with an aluminum roof.

Also not having much luck trying to scrounge a handful of pesos, Clara Rojas, age 70, old, dirty, and poorly dressed, lives in a decrepit nursing home in the La Vibora neighborhood. Clara sells cigarettes at retail. “In the home they give us lunch and dinner, but so poorly prepared that many old people who live there prefer to find some money on our own and eat in the street.”

After spending 14 hours selling cigarettes, the money earned her enough to eat a serving of rice, pea soup, and an unidentified fish full of bones, in a state joint where the prices are low. With a full stomach, she returns to the rest home to sleep.

Juan, Antonio, and Clara are three old people burdened with infirmities, with mild senile dementia, and without a family to care for them. They have to perform miracles to survive in the harsh conditions of Cuban socialism. And they are not unique.

Iván García

Translated by Marlise Lohmann and Tomás A.

No Man’s Land

For Yamil Domínguez Ramos, 37 years old, October 13, 2007 was an unlucky day.

Yamil, a Cuban man who emigrated in 2000 to the United States and who has been a U.S. citizen since 2003, is serving a sentence of 10 years in a maximum security prison in Cuba, the Combinado del Este, accused of “human trafficking.”

But the case is contaminated. I will tell you his story. On October 12, 2007, with a tourist map, Yamil left from a marina in Florida to go to Cancún, México, in a 26-foot boat, a Róbalo fast boat, with two outboard motors and a GPS system.

According to Yamil’s story, “I was thinking of spending a couple of days in Cancún and then taking a boat to Havana.” Bad weather obliged him to change his course toward the Hemingway Marina, a center of free access for international tourist boats on the outskirts of Havana.

Then began the witch hunt of the Cuban authorities, pressuring him and his family to admit he came for the purpose of human trafficking.

From the time he arrived in the United States in 2000, Yamil had visited the island seven times. To see his mother and other relatives, and because he had begun a sentimental relationship with Marleny González, a neighbor in his family’s building, in the district of Miramar.

He had plans to marry her. Since 2004 he had asked for a visa so his fiancée could leave for Miami. But by the time the United States Consulate in Havana gave him a satisfactory response on October 27, 2009, he was already a prisoner.

So the question floats in the air: “Why would Yamil Domínguez need to leave Cuba illegally, and run the risk of being caught?

Yamil isn’t immaculate. “Several times I thought about getting my fiancée and family members out secretly, but I always gave it up, not wanting to risk my security and theirs.”

As far as I know, no civilized law can condemn someone for thinking about a supposed crime. Yamil is a classic story of a Cuban who triumphed in the United States. On this island he never was part of the opposition. He formed part of that anonymous tide of people who attended, purely by compromise, the government marches or the neighborhood meetings.

His family was what is known in Cuba as “integrated,” or rather, revolutionary. Politically correct. In his fatherland he worked in tourism and rented out his car illegally to gain a fistful of pesos that would make his life more bearable. The same as thousands of Cubans, he lived on the border of legality.

But Yamil wanted something else. A society where to prosper and have ambition wasn’t seen as a crime. And thus he left. In a legal and orderly way, after having won the lottery. In the month of Christmas, he arrived in Miami, with an extravagance of lights and consumption that surprised him.

He started as an apprentice bricklayer, and thanks to the level of education he received in Cuba, a path was opened to him. In 2007, Yamil became a licensed contractor. He generated a business worth several million dollars, and this same year he hoped to earn an annual salary of one million dollars.

Life for Yamil was beautiful. He came to Cuba every time love and homesickness touched his heart. That was his weakness. Nostalgia. That feeling that after time becomes a thief that robs us of our strength. He commuted between Havana and Miami. His unlucky day was October 13.

“Every day I ask myself if what happened is just a nightmare. I spent two months in a cell of two square meters that was 105 degrees Fahrenheit in Villa Marista (seat of the political police). I was sentenced to 10 years, in hard prison conditions, where they applied different types of humiliation and torture to me. I saw my family every 45 days. At times when I wake up, I open my eyes slowly, thinking that I’m going to find myself in my home in Florida,” Yamil recounts with a sad voice on one of his family visiting days in prison.

His life changed into a Calvary. For non-payment, the bank foreclosed on his house in Florida. He lost his business. And lawyers fees came to more than five thousand dollars. It happens that by Cuban law, when it comes time to pay, Yamil is a North American citizen.

According to the Constitution of the Republic, Cuban citizenship is lost when you gain citizenship in another country. And the government of the United States, which is capable of unleashing a war on behalf of any United States citizen, in the case of many Cuban Americans, has a very weak position. Yamil Domínguez is in no man’s land.

According to a law firm of independent lawyers that Wilfredo Vallín directs, who have studied in detail the transcript of the case brought against Yamil Domínguez by the prosecutor, there’s a procedural error in the instructions in the case.

As is usual in the islands’ legal system, the accused are guilty from the start and must demonstrate their innocence in the course of the investigation.

In addition, for these independent lawyers, the type of crime is badly applied. “The only thing that can apply is illegal entry into the country. The penalty is two years, and they can’t confiscate your boat,” explains Laritza Diversent, one of the attorneys.

According to Yamil, the trial was a circus. He refused to sign any document that incriminated him, and he does not accept the confiscation of his boat.

An ex-functionary of the Ministry of the Interior, analyzing his case, says, “It could appear subjective, but the key to all this is the boat. Many bigwigs and generals lean over backwards for good boats. If you find out where the boat actually is, you will have your answer. It’s easier to sentence you to 10 years for human trafficking, and you can confiscate the boat, than to give a sentence of two years for illegal entry, a punishment where, after you get out of prison, you can ask for your boat back.”

The United States Consul in Cuba visits him every three months, and Yamil is not satisfied with his treatment. “To save medication they open the pills for me and leave me only a daily dosage. They allege that they don’t want to have a diplomatic conflict because of the Cuban Americans who are prisoners on the island,” Domínguez said.

And they do little. Or nothing. Meanwhile, Yamil does not remain with his arms crossed. He has opened a personal blog, Notorious Injustice, which is updated by his wife and his sister. He writes not only about his drama but also about life in prison, politics, or Orlando Zapata.

After two-and-a-half-years in prison, Yamil Domínguez is convinced that his only crime is having been born in Cuba and having chosen the option of emigrating. He believes that he’s paying for that. No more.

Iván García

Note: Since April 14, Yamil decided to stop eating food and to take only liquids, so that his case will stop being a notorious injustice.

Translated by Regina Anavy