More Doubts than Optimism

While some prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003, like Pablo Pacheco and Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, have their optimism levels up in the clouds, there is much more caution amongst the feelings of the Ladies in White.  In fact, there is much pessimism.

The doctor Lidia Lima, wife of the prisoner of conscience Arnaldo Ramos (an 68-year-old economist- one of the oldest political prisoners) has her doubts.

For Lidia the transfer of Arnaldo to the 1580 prison in the municipality of San Miguel del Padron in Havana is a relief.  The Ramos family resides in the capital and the trips to Santi Spiritus (about 400 kilometers from Havana) were always difficult and painful journeys for her and her two sons.

According to what Arnaldo told his wife during her latest visit, the food has improved.  However, he now resides in a galley full of very old men who suffer from mental illnesses.  At this very moment Lidia has more desire than faith.  She prefers not to fool herself with the idea that her husband could be one of the prisoners that will be liberated thanks to the visit of Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s chancellor.

This sentiment of doubt prevails amongst other Ladies in White.  The government of the Castro brothers has found itself at a crossroads.  If there is something that has defined them during these last 51 years it is that they do not like to give up any of their power.  The difficult political situation, the amount of international pressure, especially that of the US and the EU, has put them in a very uncomfortable spot.

It is very well known that with just a phone call from one of the Castros to the high ranking members of the Ministry of the Interior, the 56 prisoners left from the Black Spring, or the more than 200 political prisoners that still remain behind bars, could immediately be released.

If Fidel Castro took a few weeks to detain and judge 75 people only for opposing or writing without a mandate, freeing them would be a breeze, that is if the regime wanted to do it.  In Cuba, such situations are not solved in parliament.  They are personal decisions.

The ball is already rolling in South Africa.  The World Cup could be a good moment to free some political prisoners.  Some are in very poor states of health, like Ariel Sigley Amaya, who is practically paralyzed.

It was in the beginning of the war in Iraq, on March 18, 2003, that the one and only commander unleashed an oppressive wave against groups of dissidents and independent journalists in order to minimize the impact of such news.

Now, the regime of Havana could opt to try a military strategy.  The planet is focused on soccer.  At least that is what Pablo Pacheco thinks.  If you ask the family members, they’re not that optimistic.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  Martha Beatriz Roque.  Ladies in White outside the Santa Rita Church on Sunday, June 6th.

Translated by Raul G.

Open letter to the BBC of London / Miriam Celaya

Note to readers of this blog:

The text that follows is extensive. It is a reply to statements made in recent days by the BBC’s correspondent in Havana, Mr. Fernando Ravsberg, as part of statements he made in an interview with his fellow countryman, journalist Emiliano Cotelo, during Ravsberg’s recent stay in Madrid. The complexity of the topics covered there and my total disagreement with Ravsberg’s views prevent me from expressing myself in a shorter post. I warn you, then, that those who enjoy brevity in writing do not get mired in reading this post and forgive the inability of this blogger to remain silent before such iniquities.

Miriam Celaya González

Open Letter to the BBC in London

I’m just one among millions of earthlings who use the Internet. That said, in my capacity as an alternative Cuban blogger, my access to the net is rather limited and sporadic. However, I feel a sincere respect for information professionals worldwide, and consider the BBC a serious and competitive agency. It is just because of this that I cannot understand how it is possible that under such prestige and tradition there is a chance for the defense of such deceitful and unscrupulous “journalists” who, violating every principle of ethics in the profession, are engaged in misinforming the world, distorting the reality of a nation and, incidentally, providing a (free?) service to the longest dictatorship known in the Western world.

Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, a BBC Havana reporter, was interviewed recently in Madrid by Emiliano Cotelo concerning the controversial dialogue initiated between the Cuban government and the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Cuba. Ravsberg’s answers, at times ambiguous and always highly partisan, reflect the contempt he feels for this country and for Cubans, as well as the profound ignorance of Cuban history and the aspirations of its people. Ravsberg is not the essence of a journalist, but a propagandist of the Cuban regime and, as such, an uncompromising critic of the dissent and civic outbreak that has started to gain strength in society, sectors very harshly persecuted and harassed in the Island that are struggling to maintain the economic, political, and social rights of all Cubans despite the harassment and repression of which they are victims, while “informers” such as the correspondent in question either look the other way or prefer to reinforce the official discourse by fabricating an imagined reality.

What is that “Cuba” that Ravsberg reports about, and what benefits does he get from it? Only he could answer this. We have already read on other occasions his very personalized Cuban scenario analysis and his peculiar versions in interviews he has done, so it is not so surprising this time that the brilliant correspondent of the BBC paint us a Cuba that Cubans themselves do not know and, to top it all, that he should exceed his ominous functions. It often happens that some clever foreigners like him need just a little bit of time in the Island and a couple of questions that they claim to ask around to master Cuban issues. It’s as if the tropics overheat their brain and they lose the ability to discern. Now Ravsberg not only misrepresents the Cuban reality, but also comes out as an expert in sociology and social psychology of Cuba, mainly in terms of politics and religion. An analysis of such nonsense would be extremely long, so I think it’s best to make only some remarks in order to correct a little the compass of this disoriented reporter, who, as the old popular saying goes, can’t see the forest for the trees.

The BBC correspondent in Cuba states that the government does not give value to dissidence “because it receives money from abroad.” I don’t know if this government has provided Ravsberg with the evidence of such emoluments received by “the dissidence”, since the Cuban people have never been shown any concrete evidence of this, unless we take into account the unilateral declarations of the official beefeaters (and unofficial ones, such as Ravsberg). On the other hand, who can be classified as “dissident” to the clever correspondent? In general, in that wide tuning fork in Cuba are included the opposition parties as well as the independent journalists, the alternative bloggers and whoever does not abide by government guidelines. If this is the case, I feel authorized to deny such a claim: at least one large group of bloggers who are close to me and I, among other “dissidents” do not receive any money from abroad. The Cuban government, on the other hand, not only has gotten all kinds of resources for decades (which it still receives and squanders) but –in addition- applies an abusive tax on relatives’ remittances and on any other kind of income Cubans may receive from abroad. With this in mind, it follows that the government also benefits from the alleged foreign funds destined to the internal dissidence, as I’m sure Mr. BBC Correspondent knows.

The Cuban government does not consider dissidence, not exactly for “receiving money from abroad,” but because dictatorships do not accept any alternative demonstration, whether colored by politics or not. The Cuban government does not recognize the opposition parties nor independent journalists, the various alternative civil society associations or bloggers, and we are not even an organization. The weakness of totalitarian regimes lies, nevertheless, in that absolute monopoly over society, over information, and over individual fear, so that all alternative event or trend that may involve a breach in the system becomes “dissidence” and must be demonized. Thus, according to the official discourse (and curiously, in that of “journalists” such as this Uruguayan gentleman) all dissidents “are mercenaries in the service of a foreign power that attacks, blockades and is hostile to us”.

Ravsberg tries to underestimate the international pressure on the dictatorship of the Island following the death of Orlando Zapata by arguing, “except the United States government, no other government condemned the Cuban government for the death of Zapata.” The criticism from Mexican and European parliaments, as well as those of civil society groups, artists and intellectuals from many countries, do not seem relevant to one who, paradoxically, employs Uruguay as an example of democratic tradition. Not even the discrete statements of the Secretary General of the United Nations, who publicly grieved over the death of Orlando Zapata, are mentioned by Ravsberg. His own discourse betrays his distinct sense of democracy: if governments aren’t the ones to directly produce criticism, international pressure does not exist.

Another issue relates to considerations about Cuban politics. Ravsberg tries to convince public opinion that in Cuba there has been a change in president that supposes some difference or change in the Cuban process. In an absurd simile, he makes a comparison between the Cuban dictatorial succession process (a real fingering of the candidate) and Uruguayan democratic elections that placed –via the polls- Mujica in power, after Tabaré Vázquez. Big deal, Ravsberg tells us, both (Tabaré and Mujica) are representatives of the Frente Amplio, this implies that the change in representatives in the Cuban dictatorship is “somewhat similar to what just happened in Uruguay”, since there is a different person in power in each case. One must be very stupid or disrespectful of the intelligence of others to hold such a belief.

Ravsberg’s views walk the same tightrope during the referenced interview, when he asserts “there has been a series of changes in Cubans’ access to hotels, which resulted in tourist hotels occupation rate of 10% for Cubans last summer, which also indicates that certain sectors have good incomes”. And also the unusual mockery on the Cuban people by saying “there have been a lot of changes in the country that people seem not to follow: economic changes, recognition of rights of citizens, for example, internet access, which was banned to Cubans for years, has just been legally ratified by decree as a right, and Internet cafes were immediately established so that any citizen can check out anything, from the Miami Herald to the BBC World and even El Espectador. These are key steps, steps that are not taken into account, but that mean, for example, that the Cuban government accepts, for the first time, to end the information monopoly and to grant access to the world”.

What Ravsberg failed to state is that certain websites cannot be viewed from the cybercafes because the government has “cut offs” that prevent access and, curiously, some of the banned pages are those of the alternative bloggers, which shows that officials show greater fear of the dissemination of news and views of those who are inside the Island than of the entire foreign press, including the one accredited in Cuba. The BBC’s correspondent didn’t clarify that such “rights”, generously granted by the government, will not become generalized, because no salary in Cuba provides enough income to cover the price of lodging in hotels or to afford the luxury to surf the Internet for information, unless there is an alternative income source (not legal), family or friends abroad to cover such expenses, or if the person is a Cuban with a foreign residence permit or with a job contract outside of Cuba. Only thus can Cubans allow themselves such excesses, against the grain of the painfully slow network connections or the questionable hotel service offered. However, each independent Cuban national staying in hotels is so suspect that his stay is carefully controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, with strict monitoring of his spending and the number of times he takes pleasure in these accommodations.

Perhaps a good demonstration of the government’s willingness to end the information monopoly would be to unblock the websites that host the alternative blogosphere ( and, for example), or to allow the right to all those who the official press has offended and discredited through the mass media, to reply, so that ordinary Cubans may get to know all the arguments presented for debate and form their own opinions. Ravsberg cannot ignore that the Cuban press has never published a single one of the documents condemning the government occurring at the national or international level, although it has allowed itself to deride them, so that the people has had only a partial and distorted version of them.

As for the internal repression and harassment that has kept up during seven long years against the Ladies in White, wives of political prisoners of the Black Spring, which the BBC’s correspondent attributes to the indignation of the people against betrayal, is Ravsberg ignoring that the raging hordes that have attacked these defenseless Cubans during their peaceful demonstrations every Sunday are agents of the Cuban government, specifically trained to smack and suppress any demonstration by the alternative civil society, whether they are opponents or not? Mr. Ravsberg is, at best, rude and vulgar when he so candidly states, referring to the talks between the Cuban authorities and the Catholic Church that “there is an antecedent, a few weeks ago when Raúl Castro’s government called on the Catholic Church to inform it that it had authorized the Ladies in White to march freely through the streets again.” In fact, the Ladies never asked nor needed government permission to march for the release of their relatives who are imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression to disclose truths that Mr. Ravsberg pretends to ignore; the streets are a place they have earned with their reputation and courage, just like they have earned the respect and admiration of all decent Cubans. They conquered the streets on their own.

As for the Catholic Church, which Mr. Journalist regards as if it were a sect of pariahs and fugitives and which he considers “a weak institution”, he clarified that the religious institution is the strongest in Cuba, only that Catholicism a la Cuban is not similar to that practiced in Uruguay, or, say, Spain. In Cuba, the syncretic cults of African origin have not surpassed Catholicism, but they have given rise to a particular religious amalgam in which it is difficult to see where the contributions of one or the other belief begin or end; they have imprecise boundaries because, for example, in everyday practice, the followers of the cults of African descent baptize their children in Catholic churches following the traditional Christian ritual, they place offerings in those very churches and show respect to both God and Oloffi. On the other hand, some call themselves Catholic and make offerings to the orishas, or consult the babalawo. The Social Science scholars in Cuba have never ventured to say that “the majority of Cubans profess an Afro-Cuban faith known as Santería”, as the audacious Ravsberg dares to assure us. Judging by how he sets out the issue, he seems to have spent much time in Cuba doing a survey of high statistical value to ensure this (the National Institute of Anthropology has lost so much for not having him on its staff!), as well as to maintain that the Cuban Catholic Church “is not a strong institution in the sense of having many followers, many supporters. It is a minority religion” and, in spite of that, it has high social influence ” (what, then, is this influence based on?).

I don’t want to finish without proposing to correspondent Ravsberg that it might be advisable to spend a little less time sightseeing in Havana and immerse himself in Cuban History texts in order to avoid issuing disparate comments; willful ignorance is not an ornament, so displaying it so shamelessly is not nice. When this man says that “Cuba is a country that was practically never independent, when the Spanish colony ended troops from another country entered, the US installed the first president, and later on there was practically no democratic history…” he is missing a rich history as a republic in which strong democratic values were consolidated, plus civil institutions that enabled the birth of a constitution in 1940, the most advanced of its time. Ravsberg ignores that the seeds of Cuban democratic vocation were born in unison with the dawning of a nation, when we were still a colony (as were all the nations of Latin America, including Uruguay), which was refined in the XIX century in the ideas of José Martí, the most democratic of all Cubans. Half a century of dictatorship and latent fear are preventing our people to show it; that is why sometimes Cubans don’t dare to express themselves, that is why when they express themselves freely they are incarcerated, that is why any false correspondent may divulge whatever he pleases about Cuba, as long as what he says is in tune with the government line, or risk losing his accreditation. The day Cuba becomes free, maybe even Ravsberg will be surprised of the democratic vocation of Cubans, but, on that day, he will have to strive to be a real journalist.

Finally, I’m sorry for having overextended my comments on what many might consider excessive attention that the BBC correspondent does not deserve, but it is not about him: We Cubans have already suffered enough damage for over 50 years, and, in addition, have had to remain mute to the offenses and contempt of a parasite of the press. I am not speaking on behalf of Cubans in general, no one has authorized me, nor do I merit it so much, but I speak in my own name because, like the bloggers and independent journalists whom I call my fellow travelers, every day I run the risk of repression for spreading the truths of my country, while Ravsberg’s arrogant insolence waddles with impunity in the midst of my people. I speak, too, because as Mr. Ravsberg knows, the vast majority of Cubans ignores the number of blunders being reported about them by this “journalist”, whom, I’m sure, has been welcomed with the hospitality and the affection of which he is not worthy. I don’t have the authority or qualities to issue guidelines to the BBC, but I am of the view that an agency that was born as far back as 1923 and has provided invaluable services to humanity as a reliable source of information, even during the bloody circumstances of the last century’s world conflagration, should be careful when selecting its correspondents: in the case of Havana, the BBC is paying in cash for the perpetuation of lies. It is disgraceful.

Sorry for your time, I hope that, after all, Fernando Ravsberg is only a small and regrettable error.

11 June 2012

Being Black in Cuba

At the intersection of Acosta Avenue and Calzada 10th of October, around 11 pm, a police van detained a group of people who carried bookbags or handbags. Inside the vehicle there were seven young black men who were detained and handcuffed. With blank stares, they clearly questioned the motives for their detentions.

Lieutenant Delfin Carneado did not know how give them a concrete response. “Shut up”, was what he told them. A frail mulatto with an afro and various green and yellow bracelets on his left wrist, wished to know if the cause of his being suspected of some presumed crime was the color of his skin.

Lieutenant Carneado stared at him coldly and answered: “I am not a scholar, but I do know that the majority of thieves are black”.  The lieutenant said something that was right. According to reliable sources, 88% of prisoners for common crimes in Cuba are either mestizo or black.

The Ministry of the Interior has never published any statistics about the number of common prisoners on in the island and their ethnic classifications. There is a statistic that states that in Cuba there are more than 100,000 behind bars, this is according to estimates made by human rights activists.

If 88% of these are mestizo or black, then the numbers are shocking. This would mean that within the island’s prisons there could be over 88,000 Afro-Cubans. Blacks are involved in 8 out of 10 bloody events that finish in death. They are also more prone to theft, pickpocketing, armed theft, and rapes.

Of course, blacks live in the worst neighborhoods in the most precarious of homes and most come from fractured families.  In a discourse by Fidel Castro on February 7, 2003, he acknowledged that the revolution “had not achieved the same success for eradicating the differences in social and economic status for the black population of the country.”

Seven out of ten managers of important businesses are white. In high political positions not even 10 percent of the positions are filled by blacks. If we consider the census of 2002 to be factual, then 34% of Cubans are either mulattoes or blacks.

Ethnologists and sociologists do not consider these statistics to be accurate, instead they state that the true numbers of black and mestizo citizens in Cuba ranges somewhere around the 60% mark. The numbers and the routines ring true when it comes to the police squad headed by lieutenant Delfin Carneado which operates in the late hours of the night and detains a considerable number of dark-skinned men.

It’s common. Before any operation or round-up blacks are the first suspects. That is why lieutenant Carneado does not have an answer to offer the young man with an afro who wishes to know if his arrest has something to do with prejudices. Perhaps it isn’t a racial problem. Habits, sometimes, are stronger than certain laws.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.

For a Messi Shirt

It was at the exit of the nightclub. The night was over. Around 3 o’clock in the morning, in an unlit block, they beat him on the head with a baseball bat. That was the last thing he saw.

Yasser Bedia, 19, woke up in an intermediate care ward. Serious bruises on his head and with 43 stitches. The gang of thieves robbed him of his light blue Levi’s, retro plastic glasses, his Motorola, a wallet with nine Cuban convertible pesos ($8) and 75 Cuban pesos ($4), and a shirt with the red and blue stripes of Barcelona’s Argentine star, Lionel Messi.

“I thank God that they didn’t kill him,” says his mother, who does not understand how a person’s life can be endangered for so little.

Exaggerated acts of violence such as the case of Yasser are not isolated events in Havana. Havana is still not as violent as Rio de Janeiro or Caracas, but it is on the way.

Groups of juvenile delinquents roam the streets late at night. Their mission is simple: to steal or rob people wearing an item of value. Or simply because they like the shirt of a football star or an iPhone.

Let’s analyse these types of thieves. They go in bands of 5-10 youngsters. The average age is less than 18. They are armed with knives, razors, well sharpened scissors or just punches. Sometimes they have guns. The majority are black.

Now I present a young man who served five years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. Call him Yoandri. In a brawl in prison, he lost an eye. He has a long, ugly knife wound on his rear end. He looks like a mature adult. But he is only 21.

“I’ve always lived by stealing and assault. I have no father and my mother is an alcoholic and a raving lunatic. I was raised by a grandmother in the neighborhood of Belén. There I began snatching gold chains. We rode on a motorcycle and when we saw a person with a good piece, we would grab the chain and, with the motorbike running, we dragged them across the asphalt, until the chain broke,” says Yoandri.

He lost count of the items he took. “There were a lot, particularly at the exit from clubs. Well-dressed girls and young men with good phones – with a gun in our hands, we left them naked. If the female was good, sometimes we all screwed her,” narrates the young man without a fuss.

They caught him one afternoon in June 2004. Back on the street, Yoandri doesn’t see a clear future. “Work washing buses at a bus stop, my salary shit, trying not to go back to the slammer (jail), but the situation makes me seethe and I want to dress well and have hard currency in my pocket. The devil is pushing me to crime,” he says, seated in a seedy bar, taking a swig of a double rum, strong and cheap.

Young people like Yoandri do not try to change their fate. They go for the easy route. Crime. Dysfunctional families and households that are like a small hell is the common denominator of these guys.

They go out looking for what they can’t have. At times, even, causing the deaths of their victims. Prison for them is like a second home. Anything can spark their interest. A good watch or a mobile phone. Or a Messi shirt.

Iván García

Translated by: CIMF

In Cuba, We Breathe the World Cup

The world is a football. With the end of the leagues on the old continent, people’s mouths are watering in Cuba. On 11 June, something great starts: the World Cup in South Africa.

Already in the sports clubs, they are setting up sweepstakes. Brazil, as usual, has the advantage in the betting. Mauricio, 32, a hotel worker in Saratoga, bet 50 convertible pesos that the Brazilians would lift their sixth World Cup.

“If they win, Dunga’s eleven will let me pocket 500 convertible pesos. A group of ten people each decided to go for our preferred teams. I know that Brazil is going have the upper hand,” he said optimistically, while preparing an Alexander cocktail at the bar of a downtown Havana hotel.

Spain and Lionel Messi’s Argentina are the other two great heavyweights that Cuban fans have fallen in love with.

The team selection of the mustachioed Vicente del Bosque, with his successful mid-field game and predatory strikers (such as “El Niño” Torres, “The Kid” Villa, and Pedrito, of Barcelona), has a strong likelihood of lifting the Jules Rimet trophy of beaten gold.

It’s now or never for Spain. Never before have they had much chance of being world champions. But Argentina is Argentina. And when you have a player like Messi with more than enough talent, it doesn’t matter that they have as controversial, unpresentable and pathetic a manager as Diego Armando Maradona.

Italy and Germany also have fans on the island. The Blues (the Italians) with their tough and nasty game don’t win any applause, but they are the reigning champions and are always a rival to watch out for. Germany has a rational and efficient team, like any product made in Germany.

The Germans seem like robots. Because they sweat, you realise that they are human. They run up and down, neatly, as if they were the military. The centre field players have the physique of NBA players and wingers thrash up and down the entire game. Watch them like German tanks.

The France of “Scarface” Ribery has supporters on the island, but not many. We also have the Clockwork Orange Dutch. They’re better than “The Tulips” — the team from Holland — but they lack that bit of luck mixed with a good pair of balls which is what brings victory in the end.

In Cuba, with a lack of good sporting events, we eagerly await the Cup. In these humid days, sports fans have nothing to watch on TV. The crazy ones on the patio dream that one day Cuba may be present in a World Cup. It will be difficult.

The football that is practiced in the green cayman is mean and coarse. Like eleven tough guys trying to play a violin. They look like wrestlers. They are athletes running around the court without rhyme or reason. Puppets who mistook their trade.

We will have to wait many years to see a national team in a World Cup. Since 1938, Cuba has not been involved. So the solution of enthusiasts of the beautiful game is to support any other team that takes part in the South African World Cup.

Habaneros, orphans of good football, bet on the concrete and magical touch of the green and yellows (the Brazilians), the magic of the white and blues (Argentina) or the compelling game of the red fury (Spain). They believe that any one of them could be the champions. There is no room for the others.

Iván García

Photograph: Aris Gionis, Flickr

Translated by: CIMF

The Transition of the Castros

A door has opened.  Slightly, but there are signs that something is moving.  The government of the Castro brothers asked for help in a very low voice.  And they decided to ask the Cuban Catholic Church.

The calculated strategy has its logic.  They had to look for a solution to the 21 years of lethal economic crisis as well as a dignified exit from the difficult internal political scene that has produced worldwide repercussions, starting with the death of the peaceful dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the marches of the Ladies in White, and the hunger strike of the journalist and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas.

The Castros have realized that one cannot permanently be immersed in a state of war and on various fronts at the same time.  Especially when the country urgently needs credits and investments in order to start the motor of economic productivity.  The brothers are not dumb.  If they continued buying time with patriotic discourses their roofs would come crashing down.

The economy does not understand ideology. It is a science. And it is screaming for reforms. Such reforms would serve to maintain them, or any future aspirants, in power.  Yet they took their chances with the Catholic Church which now, more than ever, is in need of credibility.

And cardinal Jaime Ortega happily accepted his role as a mediator between the Ladies in White and the government.  According to speculations, it was not an idea that was born from Ortega’s desire.  It was the Castros who served as the architects of an agreement with “those inconvenient ladies”.  When they would see them with their desire, their flowers at hand, and demanding freedom, they would set the streets of Havana on fire.

The negotiations could be a rehearsal for the future.  It’s likely that when the president Raul looks at himself in the mirror he will see the face of Jaruzelski.  And perhaps in cardinal Ortega’s role he will remind himself of Wojtyla of Krakow.

Both men want to make history.  They don’t want to be remembered as indolent and lazy people who did little to save the nation.  The government and the church are doing what they know how to do, in roles they prefer.  Important protagonists within a society in crisis.

They do not prevent the leaders from being afraid. They know that in that future that creeps up on us they will have to enter into dialogue with the internal dissidence and also with the exile.  The regime has not prepared its mediums for that option. However, sooner or later it will happen.

The first step would be to cease the escalating violent verbal attacks against those who choose to dissent.  Later, they must give the people more diversity.  Soccer in June, and beach vacations during July and August recess.

The task that awaits the General is a task of titans.  Reshaping the economy using unpopular shock methods. Stocking up the markets and improving the deplorable quality of life for the majority of the population.

And, overall, they must design a viable future.  It’s not an easy task.  For all of them it will be necessary to engage in political pacts with peace and concordance.  There is no other option left for the Castro brothers.  The role of the church as mediator is an initial strategy.

It’s true that they pay no attention to the dissidency.  But in the long run they are going to have to sit down at the same table.  The beginning of the dialogue between the government and the church could be the beginning of the end for the closed system.

Upon opening a space within society that would allow them to continue governing, the Castros are sacrificing a quota of power.  And that’s how we come to this marriage of convenience.

In sum, neither one or the other is left with much options.  The church because for 50 years it was more of an enemy than a friend to power, and their limited hopes have been reduced to just preaching in temples.  And the government because it wishes to continue running the country in the style of China or Vietnam more than that of Caracas.

Each person decides their own percentages of benefit or harm.  Many think that the government is digging its own grave by starting this transition.

I don’t believe it.  Perhaps Castro II will emerge even stronger if he triumphs in his role of “savior of the country”.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.

Delinquents and Loyalists

It seems like a kids’ game.  Two sides.  Good guys and bad guys.  The Cuban government tries to make us look like a bunch of crooks, fools, delinquents, mercenaries, and traitors to the country.

But life is much more complex.  It has mixes.  Nothing is black and white.  A wrongful precedent is created when the president of a country intends to govern exclusively for his followers only.

Society becomes fractured.  It polarizes.  Unnecessary hate is created among citizens only because they think differently.  And that is what the Cuban regime has been doing for 51 years.

“Within the revolution everything, outside of it nothing”, said Fidel Castro before fearless intellectuals in 1961.  That has been the ruling idea that has guided those who run the country.

The Castros continue treading down a well-worn path.  Manipulating society is nothing new.  These methods were also used by Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and the rest of the satellite countries of Eastern Europe.

It’s much more comfortable to govern when you oppress those who think differently.  When you control the flow of information and when you have a press that glorifies its leader and serves as a weapon.

You can’t talk about democracy when these precepts are being violated.  You shouldn’t use that word when citizens have to ask permission to leave their country or to visit it.

It is vile to pronounce it when the doors are closed to those Cubans who dissent with the official ideology.  One is far from being humanistic or democratic when they jail people just for writing or having a different political perspective.

A government is not credible when it accuses everyone who is against it of a string of insults.  For the Castro brothers there is not a dissident, independent journalist, blogger, or human rights activist who is not a delinquent or mercenary at the service of the United States or of the European Union.

There is no single figure within the opposition that is respected.  The path of encouraging hate is a dead end street.  It will solve nothing.  The grave political and economic problems from which we suffer will not be solved in that manner.

Cuba is not going to escape the grave economic crisis from which it has suffered from for two decades by using monologues.  In fact, it will probably sink deeper.  Without an articulated and sensible dialogue we will never have a real democracy.

With the slogans and the hard-line discourse of neighborhood “tough guy”, shouting such things like “the street belongs to the revolutionaries”, and trying to prove who has more balls, we just will continue back tracking towards the worst instincts of human beings.

If what we have in Cuba during this Spring of 2010 is a participatory democracy, then there is something terribly wrong.  The strategists have lost their focus.  To find a solution for the acute problems of the island, violence is not necessary.  Not of any kind.  Not verbal, not physical.

Lots of injustices have been resolved by peaceful struggle.  Just read Gandhi.  Investigate Mandela.  Ask a Vaclav Havel.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Hop-Frog, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.

Ricardo’s Smile

It was an ordeal to go from La Vibora, my neighborhood, to Miramar, where Ricardo González Alfonso lived. There were only two options: catch Route 69, which could take two or three hours. Or the 100, with more buses, but with many more passengers, for its extensive run.

The 69 stops near Ricardo’s house. But if you took the 100 you had to get off at the Comodoro hotel stop and walk several blocks, in the sunshine or the rain. When you arrived, Ricardo would greet you with a smile. Even if he had just received a subpoena from State Security.

Once inside his ramshackle home, he would offer you a glass of cold water, from his even more dilapidated refrigerator. And tea from a plastic thermos, because he couldn’t be brewing coffee at all hours in the old coffee maker. Sometimes he served tea in a plastic cup, which he didn’t throw out: he rinsed it and returned it to use. But typically he would offer it to you in a glass jar, from when they sold Russian jam in Cuba, and which are still used as “cups” for tea or coffee in many homes.

Ricardo was one of the first to be hauled in on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 18, 2003. An operation with olive-green uniforms, similar to what was carried out against other dissidents. In the crosshairs of the repression there were more than a hundred dissidents and independent journalists, but in the red dot of the gunsight was Ricardo González Alfonso.

Not because of his good character. And not because, practically by himself, with very little help, he brought to fruition an idea of Raúl Rivero: founding the Márquez Sterling Journalists Society, a purely professional association.

Ricardo was also able to assemble and print two issues of the magazine De Cuba, the only two that State Security allowed to circulate (Claudia Márquez managed to do a third in September 2003, with the help of Vladimiro Roca and Tania Quintero, among a few others who risked it in those dark days).

Ricardo did all that without ceasing to smile. But above all, without ceasing: to issue denunciations and write stories and poems; to serve visitors – from other provinces or other countries; to give interviews to the international media; to organize journalism workshops in his home; and to act as a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders in Cuba .

When Ricardo was arrested, at his home were his two sons, Daniel and David, then just boys, today young men. Two of the things he loves most in this world. Also left behind was Alida Viso Bello, an independent journalist like himself and his partner in life.

Hopefully among those to be released as a result of those negotiations between the government of Raul Castro and the Cuban Catholic Church will be my friend Ricardo González Alfonso, who has turned 60, and his health, as with nearly all political prisoners, is quite impaired. Not so his perennial smile.

Iván García

Translated by: Tomás A.

Monologue of Two Balseros

It’s been a boomerang. Carlos and Ariel both are 41-years-old. They grew up with the idea that the United States was the worst of all countries. The dogs and white racists, dressed in their white hoods, were waiting around every corner to knife a defenseless Negro.

The prisons were full of Latino immigrants and ethnic minorities. The American dream was a fraud. Any crazy, dangerous and unemployed person could take up an AK-47, bought on sale, and knock off a half-dozen people at a bus stop.

Carlos and Ariel, like many Cubans born with Fidel Castro’s revolution, became adults convinced that the days of capitalism in North America and the world were numbered. Castro, the great statesman, repeated it to us in his apocalyptic speeches. The future belonged entirely to socialism.

As the years turned, the opposite happened. The immortal Party, the one of the Soviet Communists, took on water. The Kremlin changed color. And the totalitarian societies of East Europe said “adíos” to an eccentric ideology that didn’t work.

Now being men, with children and a family to care for, Carlos and Ariel, with one quick glance, noticed that the revolution erected by Castro, brick by brick, was – and continues to be – a stressful society.

Every morning, a new problem. Breakfast, a small cup of coffee. Toothpaste, vile. Rice so dirty that you need a couple of hours to clean it before putting it on the fire.

The buses come when they feel like it. Eating beef or shrimp, a fantasy. Going on line, science fiction. Having a car, a satellite antenna and air conditioning in your house, equivalent to raising suspicions with the police.

Cuba is the native land of Carlos and Ariel. They don’t deny it. But they have had enough. They are tired of the hard speech and the triumphalist propaganda of the opaque and docile national press.

On television they see that agriculture is growing and the figures for the production of pork are increasing. But the prices continue to go sky-high. And to bring four dishes to the dinner table is a labor worthy of Superman.

Differing from many of their compatriots, Carlos and Ariel do not believe that the United States is paradise. No. But if you work hard, you don’t live badly and you can send dollars to the needy family that you leave behind.

They know that in La Yuma (the USA in popular slang) they make good computers and excellent razor blades. It’s a nation capable of the best and the worst. The people are free to say what they want and there are no ration cards. And you can live without the annoying political onslaught of the official Cuban media.

Forty-one years, the same number of years as their age, it has taken Carlos and Ariel to decide to leave their country. Now they prepare a precarious raft. Before the hurricane season arrives, they hope to be able to cross the Straits of Florida. They know the risks. One out of every three persons is a snack for the sharks.

They are going to experience a different culture. Now the speeches of the Castro brothers seem like black humor to them. They are jaded. And they are going to the North. To try their fortunes.

Iván Garcia

Translated by Regina Anavy

El Combinado del Este Prison

It’s the maximum security prison in Cuba. It’s located at Kilometer 13 and a half on the Monumental Highway, some ten kilometers from the center of Havana. At the entrance, a sign in English warns that it is forbidden to take photos. On visiting days, families arrive in droves at the entrance, loaded down with huge bags of food for their imprisoned family members.

“I bring him cigarettes, dark sugar, crackers, toast, powdered soft drinks and preserves, that by prison rules have to fit in plastic containers,” says Elena, 63 years old, who every 45 days makes the trip from the village of Artemisa, some 70 kilometers from the capital, to visit her son and bring him provisions.

In order to enter the prison, you have to pass by two security barriers, where at each one they check your identity card. To visit a prisoner, you first have to include your name on the card where he is authorized to receive up to 5 people at one time, over 18 years of age.

The strictness varies in accord with the “dangerousness” of the prisoner and the number of years he is serving. For those with minor crimes, they can have a visit every 21 days and a conjugal visit with fiançées or spouses every three months. For political prisoners who are in the Combinado del Este prison, like Doctor Oscar Elias Biscet or the independent journalist Ricardo González Alfonso, they are authorized to receive a regulation visit every 45 days and a conjugal visit every six months.

After going through the first line, you arrive at a door of aluminum and glass where electronic equipment scans the packages brought to the prisoners, common or political.

A sign informs you that the prisoners cannot receive eau de cologne, medicine or food in glass or metal containers. Neither is it permitted for women to wear low-cut blouses and shirts, short skirts or provocative clothing.

An official, brown as petroleum and with deficient syntax, joins the family members and explains what can happen if they wear garments that can arouse the fantasies of men who spend years without having sex with a woman.

“Some days ago a prisoner sliced the neck of another because he was looking at his wife in a lascivious way. Those who don’t have family or any one who comes to see them, often go at visiting time to see the women and later, in the solitude of their cells, masturbate. Even in the bathrooms of the visiting room prisoners have been caught beating off,” indicates the official.

And because of that, he adds, the spouses, daughters, sisters and female friends ought to dress modestly and with pants. Very angry, the official says: “Recently, relatives of the prisoners walked off with a piece of the bathroom sink. We have fixed it, but remember that any perforated cutting object is a weapon inside the prison.”

After the scolding, the relatives are invited to form a line, to pass by in order. An electronic arch scans all the visitors. It’s prohibited to bring in cameras, recording equipment and cell phones. Each person has to bring his identity document, which is kept until he leaves.

The visiting room is a long, narrow compound, with tables and cement seats on both sides. When you are inside you can’t leave until the two and a half hours of the visit have been completed. Several officials with a lumbering aspect walk around the room with a heavy step.

The prisoners sit facing the women; the men can sit beside visiting males. In this time they are permitted to eat and drink juices, soft drinks or fruit shakes. The room is painted in a dark tan color, which gives it a gloomy feeling.

From this place you can see the prison hospital. It’s large, painted in white, and, according to the common prisoners, for several weeks the prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was there, wavering between life and death after 86 days on a hunger strike.

At the side of the visitor pavilion, there is an athletic field that surrounds a baseball diamond. At the back you can see three masses of concrete and stone. These are the prison barracks, with a capacity of 10,000 prisoners.

There are three buildings of four floors each. They are known by their numbers, One, Two and Three. In One are the prisoners with the longest sentences: Cuban-Americans accused of human trafficking, foreigners who are completing sentences in Cuba, and several political prisoners from the Black Spring of March 2003.

A common prisoner who is serving 18 years behind bars indicates that the food in general is abysmal, but “now it is better, thanks to the pressure from the human rights people and because they expect the visit of a special envoy from the United Nations.”

When he is asked about the treatment, he looks both ways, asks that his name not be published, and in a low voice says that the abuse from the guards and the beatings are something normal in the Combinado del Este, “above all, of the common prisoners who have committed crimes,” he emphasizes.

Now at the exit, the men have to wait in a walled-off gate until the prisoners that received a visit are brought back to their cells. After the official at the door receives the communication that they have done the recount and all of them are in their respective barracks, he gives back the identity cards to the men over 18 years who visited some relative or friend that day.

When you leave the gigantic prison, and a strong spring sun accompanies you on your return trip to the city, the tension relaxes. And the ambiance of oppression and confinement you suffered for more than three hours goes away.

The sea that surrounds the Monumental Highway and its pygmy palms give me goose flesh, when I think about the almost 9,000 prisoners in the Combinado del Este who for many years cannot enjoy freedom and be together with their families. Some, like Oscar Elías Biscet, Ricardo González Alfonso and Ángel Moya, are completing 20 years of an unjust prison sentence. Only for having a different opinion from the government and writing what they think.

They purge their convictions closed up in buildings of stone and concrete. A few kilometers from a sea of intense blue. And those jagged palm trees that communicated to me peace and freedom.

Iván Garcia

Translated by Regina Anavy

An Inmate Tells His Story

It is not known with certainty the number of Cubans that have been held in prison during all these years of a revolution that was made for “the good of all”. Many harrowing stories have yet to be told.

For Alberto Díaz (let’s call him) his incarceration was a real torment. A nightmare that he will never forget. 33 years old and despite his impeccable look, he resembles the living dead. It is due to the fourteen years he spent behind bars.

Alberto Diaz was born into a wealthy family of Catalan origin, that, with the arrival of Fidel Castro and his legion of ‘barbudos’ to power, lost the properties they owned: three buildings of apartments for rent, two pharmacies, three farms and hundreds of head of cattle.

In the wave of nationalisation they saved only a mansion in the neighbourhood of Sevillano, in the Havana municipality of 10 de Octubre, and a summer house on the beach in Guanabo, 23 kilometers from the centre of the capital. In 1963 his family left for United States via Boca Camarioca, Matanzas.

They went on hard exile to Miami, the capital of the Cuban diaspora. Alberto’s mother remained in Havana, having just married a young captain of the Rebel Army. In love, she chose to stay in Cuba. Alberto was born soon after and grew up without experiencing many difficulties. In 1975 he lost his father in the Charlotte operation, which began 15 years of Cuban intervention in Angola.

The reunion with family members who left in 1963 occurred in 1979. They stepped on home soil again thanks to the approval of the government of the island to the return of the Cuban community living abroad. His uncles and grandparents begged him to leave. He did not respond to their pleas. He still believed in the socialist, tropical revolution.

But Alberto has always liked to dress well, wearing famous brand clothing, drinking quality wine and sitting at the table with the best menu. Tastes that in “the revolution of the poor” were becoming a mortal sin.

For that reason and because he did not participate in volunteer work or political activities, he was not seen in good light at the university where he studied. He never wanted to belong to the Communist Youth. His apathetic attitude to revolutionary tasks led to more than one “anonymous” report being raised with State Security suggesting that they keep an eye on the “improper conduct” by Alberto Diaz, or manifestations of “ideological deviation.”

The life that Alberto liked to lead was in contradiction with the policy of equitable poverty practiced by the government. Moreover, he had been used to having dollars, something considered illegal in 80’s Cuba. Everything happened quickly. A search of his home by the police uncovered $680 hidden under the mattress. The discovery ruined the good fortune that had accompanied Alberto from birth.

He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, for illegal possession of money and possession of capitalist objects of dubious origin. To no avail were the arguments of counsel, nor to have been the son of a martyr of the Angolan war. The sentence was irrevocable. According to the prosecutor, Alberto also “behaved inappropriately within a socialist workers’ society.”

The murky Combinado del Este, on the outskirts of Havana, did not receive him with open arms, but with overcrowded cells. More than 10,000 inmates were in prison at that time. One of the buildings in the north wing would be his “residence” for four years.

From the first day he intended to behave well to get out as soon as possible. His “re-education” (so called in Cuba by the guards who look after prisoners) had told him that if he was disciplined he could leave mid-sentence or be transfered to an “open front” where the terms are usually less stringent. But a prison is not a hotel, and less so in Cuba.

Sanitation, health and food were, and are, terrible. Alberto recalls that every day about a dozen inmates were maimed or died as a result of fights and showdowns. Panic seized him. He hardly talked to anyone, but the bad luck him showed him no mercy.

The boss of the gang to which he belonged proposed having sexual relations. This boss was also a prisoner but his explanations that was not homosexual were to no avail. One night that he wants to forget, but fails to erase from his mind, he was raped by the boss of the gang and four other prisoners, inside two weeks.

Alberto only got out of his bunk to eat. He thought that from then on everyone began to desire him as a sexual object.

An old prisoner serving 30 years for murder provided him with a shank and said: “They will come for you over and over again, get over your fear, you’re a man”. With eight stabs he killed the inmate who ran the gang and had violated him along with four other prisoners.

The revenge came at a price. He was landed in the “pizzería”, as the horrendous punishment cells of Combinado del Este are known by. They gave him 10 years more in prison. As soon as he could, he sent his mother a letter telling her to forget he existed.

He thought he would never leave this hell, but he left, in 1995. That year he breathed a different air after 14 years in prison, hunger, cold, heat, beatings, disease. Out in the street he realized how his life had changed.

The worst thing is he does not know what to do with his life. He constantly feels insecure. Restlessness can outweigh reason. Fear remains with him. He had to leave the country and start again. He could not find work commensurate with his training. He reached the third year of industrial engineering. “A prisoner is a negative symbol to society. Nobody wants us”.

Alberto is in good health, but he feels dead. He dream every day of his burial. His mother wants to take him to a psychiatrist, but he refuses. The mimes of his mother seem hollow to him. He has no purpose, bitterness eats his feelings. He blames many for his misfortune, but in the background knows that he has been at fault, because he did not want to leave when his family asked him.

Now what is calming is to walk, for miles and miles. “It’s that in prison one hardly walks.” At the moment, it is his inner peace. His only freedom is to walk with no fixed purpose.

Iván García

Cubafreepress, 25th February 1998.

Translated by Araby

Illegally, Many Cubans are Informed

Everything is there. The good and the bad. The family of Oscar Molina, age 49, learns what’s going on in the world thanks to an illegal connection to a cable antenna.

On channel 3 of his outdated 21-inch Chinese TV, Molina is given a bath of capitalism. CNN says that Greece is an erupting volcano. And Spain now has 20% unemployment.

On Univision news they hear of violence and corruption in the United States and other countries. ESPN brings what his sons like. Football in all colors – Mexican League, Italian, English, German and Spanish.

They see good baseball from the Major Leagues. They applaud the home runs of Cuban Kendry Morales, and suffer the losses of pitcher Liván Hernández. They follow the Lakers of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

The Molina family dislikes the constant program interruptions for the insertion of ads. They are bored with the soporific Mexican soap operas and canned low-class stuff. Neither likes sharing programs like Sabado Gigante. They prefer Discovery Channel. And laugh at how nice the Iberian comedy serial Aida is.

The “antenna” as they say in the island has set foot on earth to many in Cuba. The brutal negative media official propaganda about capitalist societies, led people to draw a simple conclusion: if the government criticizes life elsewhere, is because it is superior.

Whether the Castro brothers like it or not, their credibility for a substantial proportion of ordinary Cubans, is in tatters. And the disclosure of the evils of capitalism has been boomeranged.

Spain is wrong. The United States is hell. But a little over 30 percent of the population would go to those countries, according to unofficial estimates. The illegal cable antennas, so persecuted by the Cuban authorities, do not show perfect societies on their programs.

And people are not stupid. They are seeing with their own eyes that the news openly criticizes their president, naked, morbid violence, unemployment, corruption, and police brutality.

They see how they talk about the discontent of immigrants under the new law in the state of Arizona. They compare. And they realize that their reality is often not reflected in state television news. At least as they want it to be.

In Cuba, “everything is going well.” And to find a variety of views, they pay 10 convertible pesos per month (about $8). No small thing. It is equivalent to the minimum wage that is paid to discover other scenarios.

Miami channels provide information on Cuba that the national media do not provide, though sometimes it is distorted. And in some locations in the western provinces, you can see TV Marti, with poor image quality, but free.

And that is precisely what the regime does not like. Cubans know that there is dissent and women who take to the streets dressed in white to demand the release of their imprisoned husbands and sons. And that the result of a hunger strike killed a man named Orlando Zapata.

People like the Molina family are informed about what’s happening in Cuba and the Western world by the foreign channels. They know that life and the cultural uprooting are very hard for those who decide to leave their homeland.

But they feel they have already hit bottom. And they want a change of scenery. Meanwhile, they continue to observe life in capitalism with a remote control.

Iván Garcia

Note: All the time there are operations taking place against the “antennae”, as performed in the month of May in the Havana neighborhood of Parraga, as reported by Eriberto Liranzo Llorente of the Cuban Network of Community Communicators.

Meurice, Cuba’s most Beloved Priest

When Cubans find themselves struggling with personal problems they usually prefer to visit a babalao so that they could toss their shells instead of confessing to a priest in the church. Catholicism has the most followers on the island. But the beliefs brought over by former African slaves of the XVI and XVII centuries also have many followers.

During recent times when Cubans became more and more disillusioned with the olive green revolution, believing became popular.

Together with Catholics and Santeros, Evangelists, Protestants, Baptists, and Jehovahs Witnesses, among others, have risen in numbers.  The Hebrew community has also experienced a boom, as well as Masonry, Spiritualism, and those ladies who toss cards and read the palms of your hands.

But in January 1998, with the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba, the Catholic religion regained much of its strength. In fact, it converted Santiago de Cuba’s Archbishop, Pedro Merice Estiu (1932), into the most loved and credible figure of national Catholicism.

Maria de Jesus Gonzalez, 72, is a practicing Catholic. When she remembers the speech by monsignor Meurice on January 24, 1998, she can’t help but get teary eyed.

“I had been waiting all my life to hear those words spoken by a priest.  And father Meurice spoke them in front of the Pope and of the Virgin of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint”.

The pope was received by Meurice in the plaza named after the mulatto combatant from Santiago who fought against Spanish rule- Antonio Maceo. That day the father told the pope:

“Holy Father, Cuba is a country that has an intimate calling towards solidarity, but throughout the course of its long history it has witnessed a disjointed and stranded civil society in which association and participation is restricted.  I present you with the soul of a nation that longs to reconstruct the fraternity of freedom and solidarity”.

Marcelino Linares, 57 and a militant of the communist party, did not like that speech. He considers that “Meurice took advantage of the fact that he could speak before all Cubans and the world to make some noise in the system”. The paragraph that Marcelino disliked the most was precisely the one that the people liked the most.

“In addition, I present you with a growing number of Cubans who have confused Country with only one party, a nation which has gone through a historical process which we have lived through within the last decades in which culture has embedded only one ideology. They are Cubans who refuse everything at a time without discerning. They feel rootless, they refuse everything from here and overvalue everything foreign”.

Twelve years later, many Cubans would have been happy if Pedro Meurice would have been one of the hierarchs that sat down with Raul Castro to talk for four hours on May 19.

Upon asking ten people between the ages of 35 and 60, 5 men and 5 women, why they would have been happy about this, the answer was unanimous: because in him we saw the bravest of all Cuban priests, since 1959.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI accepted his retirement. Since then, Archbishop Emerito inhabits the Sacred Brotherhood of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity in the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba.

In the farewell mass on February 18, 2007, Meurice made a calling to Catholics to work towards reconciliation and emphasized the importance of “renewing our pastoral practices…and moving away from many things that are currently happening”.  It seems like God heard him.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.

Raul Castro Handles the Situation with Tweezers

The government of General Raul Castro is handling the Cuban situation with kid gloves, and a lot of discretion. The jubilation and cheap partying of revolutionary re-affirmation is pure distraction.

The national economy is sinking without remedy. The prescription for alleviating the disaster appears most like the neo-liberal variety that is criticized with such passion by the creole mandarins.

The forecast is not encouraging. Go figure. The measures designed by Raul Castro’s advisers are unpopular and hard. Very hard. One million three hundred thousand people will be unemployed. Inefficient industries will close. Worker transportation at the big enterprises will be eliminated.

The lunch also. Already the stimulus in convertible currency has been seriously affected. A well-informed source assures that they are studying cutting the payment of the wages in hard currency to a minimum that should not exceed 35 convertible Cuban pesos.

What could come down in this summer of fire is not friendly. According to a source consulted, during the month that the Football World Cup in South Africa begins, which State Television is going to transmit in full, it would be a good time to start with a package of regulations that would put people’s backs up.

A considerable part of the public will have their eyes on the Cup. One of the main measures is to dismiss between 100,000 and 200,000 workers from the inflated payroll slates. They are thinking of sending them home with 60% of their salary, and they are also considering placing them in some other sectors that have an enormous shortage of personnel, like the construction or agricultural industries, according to the source, who works in a branch of government.

To save face, the government of the Castro brothers intends to put into effect a model of private co-ops in small sectors such as barber shops or beauty parlors.

According to this person, the possibility is being looked at of eliminating some important subsidies like the ration card. “There is an exception, that foresees leaving the ration card only for cases of social security, in other words senior citizens, disabled people or families of low income,” points out the source and adds: “Everything is under meticulous study.”

The regime of General Castro who who will turn 79 on the upcoming June 3, has calculated to not make a false step. Twenty-one years of deep economic crisis has created a very important wearing down of a big sector of the population that is openly complaining about the policies of the government.

The rubber band will not stretch any more. It looks like the moment to apply the rumored formulas to save the economy has arrived. The situation of productivity and of finances on the island is going up in smoke.

It is strongly rumored that the next school year will be delayed until October. Essential food such as rice, salt and oil will not be readily available in the national currency, and prices have tripled. Fruits and vegetables continue to have stratospheric prices.

Many times, because of an ill-fated measure of the state organ in charge of commercialization, the products do not reach the markets, and are lost in the fields or are spoiled in warehouses.

Little and bad is the news that is falling upon us this hot summer.

Rogelio Lopez, a 67-year-old biologist by profession assures us that the oil spill in the Mexican Gulf is already provoking the hurried migration of sharks and other marine predators. Even the usual seaside months of July and August, when people rush to the beaches en masse, could be endangered by the black tide.

All a skinny dog gets are fleas. Castro II has other fronts open. One, that of the corruption at all levels. The other, political. With active opposition, the Ladies in White are trying to gain public space, the mediation of the church and the upcoming visit of the Vatican chancellor, who in addition to a face-to-face dialogue with the authorities, brings an express petition to the Havana government to free certain political prisoners.

To climb out of the hole induced by 51 years of bad economic administration, aggravated by the gringo embargo, clearly, the solution will bring strong criticism and bigger discontent in the population as well as an increase in illegal emigration.

Cuba is not Greece. None of the international organizations will inject huge sums of capital into the precarious Cuban economy. In addition, the foreign investments will continue to be minimal. We only have the summer which promises us good football, abundant heat and a new notch on the belt. Another one.

Ivan Garcia

Photos: Manu Dias. Raúl Castro is received by a native of Bahia de Acarajé, during a stop he made in Bahia, Brasil in July of 2009.

Translated By: Mari Mesa Contreras