Cuban Authorities Block Seven Activists From Traveling to Mexico for Democracy Action Meeting

Regina Coyula was not able to board her flight this Monday, like six other activists, to go to Cancun to a Forum on Democracy in Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio, Havana, 27 June 2017 – Cuban authorities blocked at least seven activists from traveling to Cancun, Mexico this Monday, to participate in the 4th Forum on Roads to a Democratic Cuba, a meeting of the United Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), according to blogger Regina Coyula speaking to 14ymedio.

“When I arrived at the immigration window in Terminal 3 of Jose Marti International Airport, they told me to step back and wait a minute” said the activist. Then she was approached by an immigration official who, after asking for her documents, informed her that there was “a ban on travel abroad” in effect against her.

Coyula demanded explanations for the reasons she was prevented from leaving, but the agent would only say that she “had nothing to do with this” and told her if she wanted more information to visit the Office of Attention to the Population near the Plaza of the Revolution.

The other activists who were not allowed to board the plane are Rafael León Rodríguez, general coordinator of the Cuban Democratic Project; Hildebrando Chaviano, director of the Center for Analysis of Public Policies of Freedom and Development; Wilfredo Vallín and Amado Calixto Gammalame, members of the Legal Association of Cuba; Erick Álvarez, promoter of the CubaDecide initiative; and Alexei Gámez, activist of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement.

The practice of preventing dissidents from leaving the country has become a repressive method of State Security in increasing use in recent months.

The practice of preventing dissidents from leaving the country has become a repressive method of State Security in increasing use in recent months.

In early 2013 a Migration Reform measure came into effect which eliminated the “exit permit” required for travel abroad. In the first ten months after the approval of the new measures, Cubans made more than 250,000 trips abroad. The opposition also benefited from this relaxation of controls.

However, any time it likes the Government may invoke certain subsections of article 25 of the new immigration regulations that prohibit departure “for reasons of public interest or national security.”

Travel bans are put into practice in a number of ways, including preventing opponents from leaving their home, intercepting the vehicles taking them to the airport, or notifying them at the immigration window at the airport that they are forbidden to leave, as happened on Monday.

These Are Good Times For The ‘Weekly Packet’

A Cuban accessing the Weekly Packet’ from his laptop at home. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, generation, Yoani Sanchez, 27 June 2017 — Official propaganda has been euphoric since Donald Trump spoke at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami. The government discourse rages with an intensity that hasn’t been seen since the campaign for ‘The Cuban Five’, the spies serving sentences in the United States. Faced with this saturation of slogans, many opt to take refuge in the ‘Weekly Packet.’

The Cuban Government seems to be advised by its worst enemies in terms of content dissemination, in view of the excess of ideology and ephemeris of the national media. The result is the galloping loss of viewers who opt for the informal networks of distribution of audiovisuals, series and films.

Each line of the incendiary political tirades published in the written press equals more than one los reader, tired of so much rhetoric. It is easy to detect through the comments on the street how the ‘rating’ of the media controlled by the Communist Party is collapsing these days, especially among the youngest. continue reading

It is easy to detect through the comments on the street how the ‘rating’ of the media controlled by the Communist Party is collapsing these days, especially among the youngest

In the past, television viewers tired of so much empty talk had to watch anyway, in the absence of other options, but now Cubans live in the age of USB memory and external hard drives.

Now, while the national media rant against the United States president’s new policy toward Cuba, the informal market is awash in entertainment material that has nothing to do with politics.

A bad quality copy of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, or Wonder Woman featuring Patty Jenkins, along with the eighth installment of Fast and Furious, grab the attention of the fans of the Weekly Packet, and offer nothing but a headache for the government propagandists who don’t know how to attract that lost audience.

It is significant that science fiction, fantasy and car racing triumph where politics loses ground. Cubans escape reality through fiction, they evade propaganda by choosing programming far removed from ideology.

Planet Nothing

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 16 June 2017 — Cuba is a distant planet. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world, because nothing functions there as in the majority of civilized countries. This “planet” is ruled by the whims of its ancient rulers who have spent almost 59 years doing whatever they please.

Now is when we were supposed to be doing better, thanks to the massive arrival of a tourist trade that for decades overlooked Cuba as a destination because of the innumerable restrictions imposed by the regime–and which now has no choice but to “loosen its grip” in this regard, because the country does not produce goods and is totally bankrupt. Curiously, almost all the tourists I talk with remark that they come to Cuba because they want to experience it before the great changes that are coming. It must be that they want to “feel” firsthand, rather than watch a movie about, a true Jurassic Park. continue reading

Nobody knows what is being done with the money collected via remittances [from Cuban émigrés abroad to their relatives on the Island] and tourism, being that the stores are practically empty, the public transportation service is worse every day, the city grows ever dirtier, and buildings continue to collapse–structures whose extreme deterioration is due to the government never having taken care of them adequately.

Yesterday at the the Panamericana chain store location on 26th Avenue between 17th and 15th Streets in Vedado, I was struck with consternation to see the huge line of people waiting to enter. I asked an employee who told me that they had only one cashier, because the other three had quit their jobs, as had the workers in the personal and household cleaning supplies department. Only one cash register, in the groceries department, was open to the public.

We go on floating in a state of absolute stagnation, where “nothing from nothing” is our daily reality.

Ed note: Rebeca has a room for rent on Airbnb if you are going to Havana. (Additional note: this “advertisement” has NOT been posted at her request or even with her knowledge.)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba

Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the resort of Varadero and the Cuban capital. (JVY)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales, 27 June 2018 — At the entrance to Calle Obispo a guide explains to her customers the restoration works in the historical center of Havana. A few yards away, the line to exchange currency is full of foreigners and in the corner bar one hears English, French and German. Tourism is shaping the face of several areas of Cuba and becoming a problem for their residents.

“In this neighborhood you can’t even walk,” complains Idania Contreras, a resident of Obrapía Street in Old Havana and a law graduate. “At first people were happy because the area improved economically, but little by little the tourists have been taking over all the spaces and this is less and less like a neighborhood where people live.” continue reading

A pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the tourists a piña colada for three times that price

As a consequence of the increase in tourism, prices have also risen. “Now buying fruits in the markets is a headache because they are hoarded by the people who rent to tourists,” adds Contreras. “A pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the tourists a piña colada for three times that price,” she explains. In her view, those mainly affected are the citizens themselves who can’t afford these prices.

Contreras, who worked for a few months in a real estate management office, says housing prices are also up in the area. “The price per square meter has exploded around the Plaza de la Catedral, the Plaza de San Francisco and the streets where it is most profitable streets.” She also says that these areas are beginning to look like the center of Barcelona or Venice, where fewer and fewer families are living.

However, she acknowledges that “the problem has not yet reached the point of other cities in the world that receive many more tourists,” but she is concerned because there are no “public policies to alleviate the problems we are already experiencing.”

Contreras’s biggest fear is that there is only talk of the positive side of tourism, while some streets in the area are already showing symptoms of congestion and tourism activity aggravates the problems of waste treatment and water supply.

Several regions of the island face the challenge of absorbing an increasing number of travelers despite the precariousness of their infrastructure. Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the Varadero resort area and the Cuban capital.

“At night the discos are full of ‘yumas’ with young girls and it is a really pitiful show for our children”

“It is very difficult for a Cuban to rent a room because homeowners prefer to rent only tourists,” warns Gustavo, a handicraft seller near the Casa de la Trova in the city of Trinidad, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and is now an obligatory stop on many of the package tours.

“This whole area is focused on foreigners,” he says. The salesman, born on the outskirts of Trinidad, believes that there are many people who benefit from tourism, but on the way he has lost the city he knew as a child. “Now it has been commodified and everything has a price, even people,” he laments.

In all the tourist hubs, along with an increase in private businesses there is also an increase in prostitution. “At night the discos are full of yumas, foreigners, with young girls and it is a really pitiful show for our children,” notes Gustavo.

“[Tourism] is more positive than negative because 30 years ago this city had old and beautiful houses, but nothing more,” says the seller despite his reservations about this economic sector.

Carlos and his two children live on the road to Viñales. Coming from a family of farmers, they now sell fruit at a stand by the side of the road. “Most of our customers are foreigners coming and going from the Valley,” says the farmer. He hasn’t gone into town for two years because, he says, “you can’t take a step with so many tourists.”

“Before this was predominantly a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being lost”

The winding road that leads to Viñales also suffers with the increase of vehicles. “It’s a rare week that there is not an accident in this section,” recounts Carlos while pointing to one of the curves near his house. The number of travelers interested in the area seems to have grown, but the seller points out that the streets and roads remain the same and that no expansion has been undertaken.

Carlos’s closest neighbors have a thriving business that offers horseback rides to travelers. They gain much more from these “ecotours” than they could sowing beans or tobacco, another change that is due to the avalanche of visitors. “Before this was predominantly a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being lost,” he says.

A few yard away, a tobacco drying shed stands with its gabled roof and its walls made of logs. In the interior, a peasant shows a dozen tourists how the leaves re dried. “This shed has been set up for groups who want to see how the process is done, it’s pure showcase,” says Carlos. “In this town everything is already like this.”

Persecution Grows Against Independent Journalism In Cuba

Independent journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 June 2017 — Independent communicators in Cuba are victims of an escalating repression, according to a complaint filed Monday by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid. The alarm sounded by the organization coincides with an increase in complaints from journalists on the island as a result of the government persecutions and obstacles they suffer when exercising their profession.

“Last June 20 Henry Constantín and Sol Garcia, journalists for La Hora de Cuba and contributors to 14ymedio, were not able to participate in an event in Miami because each of them has been indicted for the alleged crime of “‘usurpation of legal capacity’ [that is practicing a profession without a license to do so] and so under Cuban law they are not permitted to travel outside the country,” OCDH reported.

According to the non-governmental organization, the Cuban government had maintained a kind of “moratorium” with regards to repression against independent journalists, but the strategy seems to have changed in recent weeks with actions such as those carried out against Henry Constantin, Sol Garcia Basulto and Manuel Alejandro Leon Velázquez. continue reading

Both Constantín and García Basulto have been expressly forbidden to practice journalism on the island and the judicial process opened against them has been criticized from various international forums, including the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent explained that there are more than 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island

The OCDH also denounced the arrest of journalist Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez, a contributor to Radio Martí and Diario de Cuba . Leon returned from a trip to Spain and has been accused of “usurpation of legal capacity, association to commit a crime and dissemination of false news,” according to the organization.

The accusations against the three communicators are based on Article 149 of the Cuban Penal Code, which punishes those who carry out “acts of a profession for the exercise of which one is not properly qualified.” If they are tried for this offense they could face a sentence of up to one year of deprivation of liberty.

In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish with sites such as El Estornudo, El Toque, Cubanet, CiberCuba, Diario de Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, On Cuba, among others.

In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish

Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent, who recently became a refugee in the United States, explained to 14ymedio via telephone that there are over 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island.

“State Security is looking for different strategies to prosecute all types of dissidents or critics in Cuba,” explained Diversent, president of the legal group Cubalex, who went into exile after a police and State Security operation against her.

“Both illegal economic activity and the usurpation of legal capacity are nothing more than resources to punish any type of activism within the Island. Legal insecurity is very high because both the criminal law and the criminal procedure law have been designed as tools of repression,” said Diversent.

Independent journalist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, who was arrested last October in Guantanamo and suffered the confiscation of his tools of the trade while covering the recovery in Baracoa after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, confirmed the difficulties of practicing the profession on the island.

“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities”

“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities,” he said. On that occasion, a team of correspondents from Periodismo de Barrio suffered the same fate as Gonzalez Vivero.

Other independent publications, such as Convivencia magazine, have been harassed during the last year with the arrest of members of its editorial team and threats by the authorities against its contributors. Foreign correspondent Fernando Ravsberg has been threatened with expulsion from the country and even with “having his teeth broken” for the critical entries he publishes in his personal blog Cartas desde Cuba.

Last year the IAPA emphasized, however, the timid rebellion of some official journalists against the information policy directed from the Communist Party. Among the examples cited by the IAPA was a letter signed by young journalists published by the Villa Clara newspaper Vanguardia, in which they claimed their right to collaborate with other media.

The IAPA also recalled the case of a Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja, expelled from the profession for five years for making public the remarks delivered at a conference where Karina Marrón, deputy editor of the official daily Granma, compared the country’s situation to that of the 1990s when massive protests occurred in Havana, which came to be known as the Maleconazo.

“We Exist Between Illusions And Fears”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, David (Panama), 23 June 2017 — The green seems to fill everything in Chiriquí, in the western Panamanian province where the government hosts 126 undocumented Cubans in a camp in the region of Gualaca. The stillness of the morning in the middle of the huge pines that grow in the foothills of the mountains is only interrupted by the bites of insects, a true torture at dawn and dusk.

“This place is beautiful, but everything gets tiring, being in limbo is exhausting,” says Yosvani López, a 30-year-old Cuban who arrived in Gualaca in April after spending three months in the hostel set up by Caritas for Cuban migrants in Panama City.

“Sometimes we sit down and talk about what we would do if we could get out of here and get to another country. Some relatives tell us that they are preparing a camp in Canada to welcome us, others tell us that they have everything prepared to deport us. Illusions and fears,” he laments. continue reading

The camp that houses the Cubans was built by the Swiss brigades which, in the 1970’s, built the La Fortuna dam. It is 104 acres, occupied mostly by forests and a stream. One hour from the nearest city, the humidity is such that mushrooms and plants establish themselves even in the fibrocement roof tiles.

A day in the migrant camp for Cubans stranded in Gualaca, Panama (our apologies for not having this video subtitled).

Along with the wooden buildings, deteriorated by the passage of time, there are still satellite antennas, electric heaters and, according to the migrants, from time to time they find foreign currencies buried in the vacant land.

López was born in Caibarién, a city on the north coast of Cuba. Although he had the opportunity to emigrate using a speed boat to cross the Florida Straits, he preferred the jungle route to avoid the seven years moratorium on being able to return to Cuba that the government imposes on those who leave Cuba illegally.

“I wanted to go back before 7 years was up. I have my mother and my sisters in Cuba,” he explains.

He worked as a chef specializing in seafood at the Meliá hotel in the cays north of Villa Clara, earning the equivalent of $25 US a month. With the money from the sale of his mother’s house he traveled via Guyana and in Panama he was taken by surprise by the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who reached American soil to stay.

“Here we pass the hours between chats with our relatives in Cuba and the United States, and searching the news for clues that will tell us what is going to happen to us,” he says.

The migrants in Gualaca not only do not have permission to work, but they can only leave the camp one day a week to go to Western Union, with prior notice and accompanied by presidential police officers, who are guarding the site.

Some, however, have improvised coffee sales and even a barbershop. The locals also set up a small shop to supply the undocumented immigrants with the personal care products and treats, which they pay for with remittances sent by relatives from the United States.

Some migrants have taken the opportunity to develop their talents, such as this young man who set up a barber shop in the Gualaca camp. (14ymedio)

The authorities gave themselves 90 days to decide what they would do with the 126 Cubans who accepted the proposal to go to Gualaca. Two months later, the patience of the migrants is beginning to wear thin. At least six escapes have been reported since they were moved there. The last one, on Monday, was led by four Cubans, two of whom have already returned to the camp while two crossed the border into Costa Rica.

Since dawn, Alejandro Larrinaga, 13, and his parents have been waiting for some news about their fate. Surrounded by adults, Alejandro has only one other child to play in the hostel, Christian Estrada, 11. Neither has attended school for a year and a half, when they left Havana.

Alejandro spent more than 50 days in the jungle and, as a result of severe dehydration, he suffered epilepsy and convulsed several times. “It was difficult to go through it. It’s not easy to explain: it is one thing to tell it and another to live it,” he says with an intonation that makes him seem much more adult.

“We had to see dead people, lots of skulls. I was afraid of losing my mom and dad,” he recalls. But, although tears appear in the eyes of his mother while he recalls those moments, now he says he feels safe in Gualaca and spends his days playing chess.

“I want to be a chess master, which is more than a champion. Someday I will achieve it,” he says.

His mother, Addis Torres, does not want to return to the Island where she has nothing left because she sold their few belongings to be able to reunite with Alejandro’s grandfather, who lives in the United States. Although they have a process of family reunification pending at the US Embassy in Havana, the family does not want to hear about returning to Cuba.

They eat three times a day and even have a health program financed by the Panamanian government, but for Torres “that’s not life.”

“Detained, without a future, afraid to return to Cuba. We need someone to feel sorry for us and, in the worst case, to let us stay here,” she says.

Liuber Pérez Expósito is a guajiro from Velasco, a town in Holguín where he grew garlic and corn. After the legalization of self-employment by the Cuban government, Pérez began to engage in trade and intended to improve things by going to the US.

The presidential police and Panama Immigration officers guard the entrance of the camp Los Planes, Gualaca. (14ymedio)

In Gualaca he feels “desperate” to return to his homeland, but he has faith that, at least, he will get the help promised by the Panamanian Deputy Minister of Security, and leave a door open to engage in trade.

“I am here against what my family’s thinking. There (in Cuba) I have my wife, my nine-year-old son and my parents, they want me to come back and pressure me but I am waiting for the opportunity to at least recover some of the 5,000 dollars I spent,” he says.

His mother-in-law, an ophthalmologist who worked in Venezuela, lent him part of the money for the trip. Indebted, without money and without hope, he only thinks of the moment he can return.

“During the day we have nothing to do. Sometimes we play a little dominoes, we walk or we go to the stream, but we have 24 hours to think about how difficult this situation is and the failure we are experiencing,” he says.

Liuber communicates with his family through Imo, a popular videochat application for smartphones. “They recently installed Wi-Fi in Velasco and they call me whenever they can,” he adds.

“Hopefully, this nightmare we are living will end soon. Whatever happens, just let it end,” he says bitterly.

——

This article is a part of the series “A New Era in Cuban Migration” produced by this newspaper, 14ymedioel Nuevo Herald and Radio Ambulante under the auspices of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The Lethargy Of A Coastal Town In Camagüey

Many houses are empty and uninhabited because their owners have moved to other towns in search of greater economic development. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Florida, Cuba, 26 June 2017 — “The sea water cleans everything,” Agustin reflects as he calls out his merchandise. This 74-year-old forensic assistant now works renting inflatable boats for the fishermen of Playa Florida, in Camagüey, a coastal strip where tourists rarely come and the economic crisis is strongly felt.

“I came here to escape the odor of death, and I did,” jokes the worker, one of the few residents in the unpopulated streets on Friday. On every side many of the few houses that do not seem vacant exhibit a “for sale” sign. “All of Playa Florida is for sale but no one wants to buy it,” a resident jokes. continue reading

Lacking the natural beauty of the north coast, with no functioning industries and no important crops, the area is experiencing times of hardship that have worsened in recent years. On the entrance road, a rusted out anchor gives visitors a preview of the lethargy they will find here.

Only 24 miles separate the fishermen’s village from the municipal center, but it takes between four and six hours to cover the route due to the poor state of the road and the lack of public transport. On both sides of the road, the invasive marabou weed rises defiantly.

“Without tourists there is no money,” says Bururu, an informal realtor. 

Lack communication characterizes the village. Nowhere among its crowded streets has a public telephone been installed and cell phones only manage to pick up a signal near the medical clinic, due to the poor coverage of the area.

The lack of mobility also sinks the area’s small businesses. The private restaurant Comida Criollo barely survives after being opened five years. Alfredo, the paladar’s chef, says that “from time to time a foreign tourist arrives.” People who “explore every corner with a map in hand,” but they are fewer and fewer.

Of the 4 million visitors who arrived in Cuba last year, only a few dozen came to this coast without white sands or crystal clear water, where to take a dip the bather must wear shoes to avoid the mud, stones and mangrove roots.

“Without tourists there is no money,” Bururu, an informal realtor, tells 14ymedio. The high number of homes for sale has caused a collapse of prices in the area. “A two-room house with a covered porch, cistern and garden can cost less than 1,000 CUC (roughly $1,000 US),” he says.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here”

“They put a jacuzzi in the bathroom and all the furniture inside is from the mall,” says Bururú while pointing to a newly painted building. The dealer takes his time to describe the characteristics of each house, hoping to make at least one sale.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here,” he explains to the 14ymedio. The man blames the stampede on the fact that “there are no recreational options and also nowhere to work”. “[The fishing] is not as good as in other places, so it gives you something to eat but not enough to make a living,” he emphasizes.

Near the coastline, a fisherman removes the scales from a sea bass he caught that morning. “I promised it to a family that wants to celebrate the birthday of their youngest son,” he tells a woman who inquires about the price of fish.

“The fishing is very affected since they built the embankment,” says the fisherman. “This area used to get a lot of oysters, but that has decreased a lot,” he adds.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years

The narrow and rugged access road divides the wetland in two and it has lost a part of the mangroves in its southern area. “Experts came here to research it and said that cutting the flow of water had increased the salinity and that is killing the mangroves.”

In 2009 the United Nations Small Grants Program provided more than $40,000 in funding for ecosystem recovery, but eight years later the damage has hardly been reversed. “The sea water has entered the river Mala Fama inland,” says the fisherman.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years. Wooden palisades are trying to slow down the push of the waves during hurricanes, but they seem like ridiculous chopsticks in the face of the immensity of the Caribbean.

The picture of deterioration is completed by the Argentina Campsite. where for months there has been neither electricity nor water. Julia, the guard who watches the entrance of the abandoned place, is categorical. “Here in Florida Beach, the only thing that is abundant is gnats and mosquitoes.”

From Joystick to Canon / Regina Coyula

Cuban Filmmaker Miguel Coyula

From Regina Coyula’s blog, 9 June 2017 (Ed. note: These interview fragments are being translated out of order by TranslatingCuba.com volunteers. When they are all done we will assemble them in order into one post.)

Jorge Enrique Lage interview with Miguel Coyula (Intro) 1

The country was falling to pieces, there were people drowning in the sea and on land, there was something called the Diaspora, but we bourgeois teenagers of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood knew nothing. Our lives revolved around a company and Japanese console. In my SuperNintendo years, Miguel was already a legend. Coyula was a gamer before gaming. His name passed like a password between initials. You don’t know how to kill a boss on one of the levels of the game? Ask Coyula. You don’t know how to activate this or that power? Go see Coyula.

We were playing Street Fighter II Turbo and Coyula already had Super Street Fighter II. We went to see him so he could show us the four new fighters and the recent versions of others. I remember that he revealed on the screen the improved attacks of Vega, the Spanish ninja that was my favorite fighther. Afterwards he started to clarify for us some technical doubts about The Lion King.  And I remember that, while he was leading Simba over some cliffs, I looked at his hyperconcentrated face and had a revelation, “This guy is alienated, bordering on autism, he’s going to melt, he probably does nothing else in his life,” I said to myself. “I have to give up video games, because if I don’t, I’ll end up like Coyula.”

Unfortunately, I quit videogames. Then time passed and I saw [Coyula’s] movie Memories of Overdevelopment. I saw it, by the way, before I saw Memories of Underdevelopment, which now seems to me like a regular prequel and a little drawn out. Sergio, the protagonist of Memories of Overdevelopment, ends up in a desert landscape that looks like another planet. He’s carrying a Barbie doll and his brother’s ashes, which are the ashes of the Mariel boatlift and, after that, of the Revolution.  To summarize. In 2010, Miguel Coyula scattered the ashes of Cuba in the desert in Utah; he dispersed these ashes in a psychotronic dust, between mutant and Martian. Seven years later, there are many people who still haven’t noticed.

I like that there is a guy like him in Cuban cinema.

The Hijacking Of Social Networks

In Cuba users connect through a Wi-Fi network in parks or at strategic points in their different cities. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2017 – More than five years ago social networks were roiled by the Arab Spring, while the screens of their mobile phones lit up the faces of the young protesters. In those years Twitter was seen as a road to freedom, but shortly afterwards the repressors also learned how to publish in 140 characters.

With a certain initial suspicion, and later with much opportunism, the populists have found in the internet a space to spread their promises and capture adherents. They use the incredible loudspeaker of the virtual world to set the snares of their demagoguery, with which they trap thousands of internet users.

The tools that once gave voice to the citizens have been transformed into a channel for the authoritarians to enthrone their discourses. They assimilated that, in these post-truth times, a tweet repeated ad nauseam is more effective than billboards along the side of the road or paying for advertising space. continue reading

Totalitarian regimes have gone on the offensive on the web. It took them some time to realize that they could use the same networks as their opponents, but now they launch the information police against their critics. And they do it with the same methodical precision with which for years they have surveilled dissidents and controlled the civil society of their nations.

Totalitarian regimes assimilated that, in these post-truth times, a tweet repeated ad nauseam is more effective than billboards along the side of the road 

From the hacking of digital sites to the creation of false user profiles, the anti-democratic governments are trying everything to help them impose frameworks of opinion favorable to their management. They count on the irresponsible naivety with which content is often shared in cyberspace as a factor that works in their favor.

One of these radical about faces has been made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the 2013 protests, when he was prime minister, he wanted to enact several laws to restrict the use of Facebook and Twitter. He described the network of the little blue bird as “a permanent source of problems” and “a threat to society.”

However, during last year’s coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan relied on these tools to summon people to the squares and to report on his personal situation. Since then he has dedicated himself to expanding his power through tweets, reaffirming in the virtual world the dictatorial drift of his regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dedicated himself to expanding his power through tweets, reaffirming in the virtual world the dictatorial drift of his regime.

Last March, Twitter administrators had to admit that several of their accounts, some linked to institutions, organizations and personalities around the world, had been hacked with messages of support for Erdogan. The sultan urged his cyberhosts to make it clear that, even on the internet, he is not playing games.

In Latin America several cases reinforce the process of appropriation that authoritarianism has been making with the new technologies. Nicolás Maduro has opened on Twitter one of the many fronts of a battle through which he intends to stay in power and to quell the popular riots that erupted since the beginning of April.

Venezuelans not only must deal with economic instability and the violence of the police forces, but for many the internet has become a hostile territory where the chavistas shout and threaten with total impunity. They distort events, turn victimizers into victims and impose their own labels as they launch the blows.

The Miraflores Palace responds to images of protesters killed by the Bolivarian National Guard with hoaxes about an alleged international conspiracy to destroy chavismo. The social networks have taken up against the general prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, where Maduro’s supporters have branded her, at the very least, as a crazy person.

Nicolás Maduro has opened on Twitter one of the many fronts of a battle through which he intends to stay in power and to quell the popular riots that erupted since the beginning of April.

With so many attempts to manipulate trends and adulterate states of opinion on the web, Venezuelan officialdom has ended up getting caught with its fingers in the door. Recently, more than 180 Twitter accounts, which repeated government slogans like ventriloquists, were cancelled. The penalty could be extended to the accounts of other minions linked to government institutions and media.

Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas defined this suspension of accounts as an “ethnic cleansing” operation and Maduro threatened microblogging network administrators with a phrase fraught with outdated triumphalism: “If they close 1,000 accounts, we are going open 1,000 more.”

With his well-known verbal incontinence, Hugo Chavez’s successor was revealing the internet strategy that his regime has followed in recent years. That of planting users who confuse, lie and, above all, misrepresent what is happening in the country. A strategy taught to them by a close ally.

With his well-known verbal incontinence, Hugo Chavez’s successor revealed the regime’s internet strategy… confuse, lie and, above all, misrepresent what is happening in the country.

In Cuba, the soldiers of cyberspace have long experience in shooting down the reputations of digital opponents, blocking critical sites and unleashing the trolls to flood the comment areas of any posting that is especially annoying to them. But the main weapon is to limit internet access to their most reliable followers, and to maintain prohibitive prices for the majority.

“We have to tame the wild colt of new technologies,” said Ramiro Valdés, one of the Revolution’s historical commanders, when the first independent blogs and Twitter accounts managed by opponents began to surface.

Since then there has been a lot of water under the bridge and the Castro regime has launched an effort to conquer those spaces with the same intensity that it brings to its rants in international organizations. Its objective is to recover the space that it lost when it was suspicious of adopting new technologies. Its goal: to silence dissident voices with its hullabaloo.

The Castro regime’s goal: to silence dissident voices with its hullabaloo.

Even in the most long-standing democracies, technologies are being hijacked to inflict deadly blows on institutions.

In the White House, a man puts his country and the world at the edge of the abyss with every tweet he writes. Every night that Donald Trump goes to bed without publishing on that social network, millions of human beings breathe a sigh of relief. He has found in 140 characters a parallel way of governing, one with no limitations.

These are not the times of that liberating network that linked dissidents and served as the infrastructure for citizen rebellion. We are living in times when populism and authoritarianism have understood that new technologies can be converted into an instrument of control.
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Editorial Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Saturday, 24 June 2017.

 

Cuba and the United States Return to the Trenches / Iván García

Propaganda billboard reads, “Messrs. Imperialists, we have absolutely no fear!” Source: Cartas desde Cuba

Iván García, 19 June 2017 — For both countries it amounts to a remake of the Cold War, this time in version 2.0. It will take time to determine the scope of the contest or if the new diplomatic battle will involve only bluffs, idle threats and blank bullets.

With an unpredictable buffoon like Donald Trump and a conspiratorial autocrat like Raul Castro, anything could happen.

The dispute between Cuba and the United States is like an old love story, one peppered with resentments, disagreements and open admiration for the latter’s opportunities and consumerist lifestyle. continue reading

Beginning in January 1959, the dispute between Havana and Washington took on an ideological tone when a bearded Fidel Castro opted for communism right under Uncle Sam’s nose. The country allied itself with the former Soviet Union and had the political audacity to confiscate the properties of U.S. companies and to aim nuclear weapons at Miami and New York.

Successive American administrations, from Eisenhower to George Bush Jr., responded with an embargo, international isolation and subversion in an attempt to overthrow the Castro dictatorship.

Times changed but objectives remained the same. Castro’s Cuba, ruled by a totalitarian regime which does not respect human rights and represses those who think differently, is not the kind of partner with which the White House likes to do business.

But the art of politics allows for double standards. For various reasons, Persian Gulf monarchies and Asian countries such as China and Vietnam — countries which have leap-frogged over democracy like Olympic athletes and are also heavy-handed in their use of power — are allies of the United States or have been granted most favored nation status by the U.S. Congress.

To the United States, Cuba — a capricious and arrogant dictatorship inflicting harm on universally held values — is different. Washington is correct in theory but not in its solution.

Fifty-five years of diplomatic, economic and financial warfare combined with a more or less subtle form of subversion, support for dissidents, the free flow of information, private businesses and an internet free of censorship have not produced results.

The communist regime is still in place. What to do? Remain politically blind and declare war on an impoverished neighbor or to try to coexist peacefully?

Washington’s biggest problem is that there is no effective mechanism for overturning dictatorial or hostile governments by remote control. The White House repeatedly shoots itself in the foot.

The embargo is more effective as a publicity tool for the Castro regime than it is for the United States. This is because the military junta, which controls 90% of the island’s economy, can still trade with the rest of the world.

The very global nature of modern economies limits the effectiveness of a total embargo. In the case of Cuba, the embargo has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese. Hard currency stores on the island sell “Made in the USA” household appliances, American cigarettes and the ubiquitous Coca Cola.

There are those who have advocated taking a hard line when it comes to the Cuban regime. In practice, their theories have not proved effective, though they would argue that Obama’s approach has not worked either.

They have a point. The nature of a dictatorship is such that it is not going to collapse when faced with a Trojan Horse. But as its leaders start to panic, doubts begin to set in among party officials as support grows among a large segment of the population. And what is most important for American interests is to win further approval from the international community for its geopolitical management.

Obama’s speech in Havana, in which he spoke of democratic values while directly addressing a group of wrinkled Caribbean strongmen, was more effective than a neutron bomb.

There are many Cubans who recognize that the root of their problems — from a disastrous economy to socialized poverty, daily shortages and a future without hope — lies in the Palace of the Revolution.

Hitting the dictatorship in its pocketbook has not worked. In Cuba, as Trump knows all too well, every business and corporation which deals in hard currency belongs to the government.

And all the money that comes into the country in the form of remittances ends up, in one form or another, in the state treasury. Sanctions only affect the people. I am convinced that, if Cuba’s autocrats lack for anything, it is more digits in their secret bank accounts.

Like other politicians and some members of Congress, Donald Trump is only looking at the Cuban landscape superficially.

The United States can spend millions to support Cuban dissidents (though 96% of the money goes to anti-Castro organizations based in Florida), launch international campaigns and impose million-dollar fines on various foreign banks to punish them for doing business with the Caribbean dictatorship, but they overlook one thing: the regime’s opponents — local figures who would presumably be leaders of any prolonged, peaceful battle for democracy on the island — are failing.

The reasons vary. They range from intense repression to the opposition’s proverbial inability to turn out even five-hundred people for a rally in a public square.

I understand the frustration of my compatriots in the diaspora. I too have suffered. I have not seen my mother, my sister or my niece in the fourteen years since the Black Spring in 2003 forced them to leave for Switzerland.

Various strategies have been tried yet the island’s autocrats still have not given up. They are not going to change of their own free will. They will retreat to the trenches, their natural habitat, where they can maneuver more easily. And they will have the perfect pretext for portraying themselves as victims.

As is already well known, the real blockade is the one the government imposes on its citizens through laws and regulations that hinder them from accumulating capital, accessing foreign sources of credit and importing goods legally.

The regime has created anachronistic obstacles to the free importation of goods from abroad by imposing absurd tariffs and restrictions.

But Cubans want a real democracy, not a caricature. We have to understand that we must find the solutions to our problems ourselves.

Cuba is a matter for Cubans, wherever they happen to reside. All that’s lacking is for we ourselves to believe it.

Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces are present in all of Cuba’s power structures. (Prensa Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The recent decision by the president of the United States to limit commercial relations with Cuban companies controlled by the military highlights a rarely explored corner of the national reality.

Anyone who knows the Island minimally knows that there is nothing like what can be called a “division of powers” here. It was demonstrated recently when the deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously raised their hands to “back” some program documents from the Communist Party, documents that the deputies had no legal capacity to approve but politically could not disapprove.

In other countries, it is to be expected that Congress will oppose what the Executive has proposed or that the Judiciary will rule unconstitutional what a Parliament has approved. In most nations, when some measure, new policy, or any law is applied, analysts wonder how the unions will react or what the students are going to do. In Cuba it is not like that. Those who rule give the orders and the rest obey or go to jail. continue reading

The ostensible presence of individuals from the military sector in power structures, especially in economic management, may lead one to think that the army enriches itself this way and that having so many resources in its hands makes it easier for it to repress the people. This reasoning thus forms part of the belief that there is some kind of division of powers and that introduces a huge error in the analysis.

The presence of colonels and generals (retired or active) in charge of tourism companies such as Gaviota, or powerful consortiums such as Gaesa, Cimex and TRD among others, may not mean the militarization of the economy as much as it means the conversion, the metamorphosis, of soldiers into managers.

Devoid of or “healed” of an authentic “working-class spirit,” they handle with the iron fists of ruthless foremen – loyal to the boss – any dispute with the workers. Their habits of discipline lead them to do what they are ordered to do without asking if it is viable or absurd. They do not demand anything for themselves and anything that improves their standard of living or working conditions (modern cars, comfortable homes, trips abroad, food and beverage baskets…) will be considered as a favor from the boss, a privilege which can be paid for only with loyalty.

Although difficult to believe, they are not backed by their cannons or their tanks, their influence is not determined by the numbers of their troops or the firepower of the armaments they control, but by the confidence that Raúl Castro has in them. It is as simple as that.

When we review the extensive documentation issued by the different spheres of the outlawed political opposition, or by the officially unrecognized civil society, we can barely observe any protest against the dominance that the military has gained over the economy in the last decade.

Civil society’s priorities are different. The liberation of political prisoners, the cessation of repression, freedom of expression and association, the right to choose leaders in plural elections… In the area of ​​economics, what is being questioned are the difficulties faced by private entrepreneurs in starting a business, limitations on access to the international market, excessive taxes, and the plunder to which the self-employed are subjected to by the inspectors.

The most perceptible concern in this sense is that placing these soldiers in key points of the economy is engineering the future economic empowerment of the ruling clans in a virtual piñata, which implies self-annihilation of the system by the heirs of power.

If it were not so dramatic it would be laughable to imagine the infinite solutions that the Cuban rulers have to circumvent “the new measures” announced by the president of the United States. All they have to do is change the name of the current monopolies and place civilian leaders in charge of supposed “second level cooperatives,” already foreseen in Guideline 15 from the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This magic trick or, to use a Cubanism, “shuffling of the dominoes” would force the mammoth American bureaucracy to make a new inventory of entities with which trading is forbidden. “As the stick comes and goes,” they reorganize their forces while remaining at the helm of the country and watching Donald Trump’s term expire.

To perform this trick it will not be necessary to gather the Party together in a congress, nor to consult the constitutionalist lawyers, they would not even have to inform the Parliament. To make matters worse, in the streets there will be no protest against the chameleon gesture of the military exchanging their uniforms and their weapons for guayaberas or business cocktails.

Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich

In recent years the supply of air conditioners in the informal market has increased considerably. (J. Cáceres)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The passenger complains of the heat while frantically moving the fan. “In a few days I will install an air conditioning,” justifies the taxi driver and adds that he will charge “higher fares.” In summer everyone dreams of air-conditioning their rooms or vehicles, but whether or not one suffers the heat depends on the pocketbook.

In 2013, after eight years of prohibition, the government authorized travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwave ovens. It was the starting shot for an avalanche that invades the airports, the port terminals and the shipping agencies to Cuba.

“Six ‘splits’ (air conditioners) came on that flight,” said an employee of Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The plane from Cancun, a route greatly appreciated by the mules, also brought a dozen flat-screen TVs, eight minibars and two desktop computers. continue reading

Among the boxes that are piled around the luggage belt are the units that will be placed inside rooms and others that will be placed on a roof or an outer wall, a cruel irony, because in the main airport of the country travelers complain about the heat and drip fat beads of sweat while waiting for their suitcases.

“It is difficult to know the number of AC units entering each day,” says the employee. “It is rare that a flight arrives from Panama, Mexico or any other nearby country that comes without at least two devices.” In the lines to pay for overweight luggage and the import of domestic appliances one sees the new arrivals loaded with bundles.

Permanent residents in Cuba, national or foreign, can import two air conditioners of up to one-ton capacity on each trip. On the first occasion only – over the space of a year — they pay tariffs in Cuban pesos at a price ranging from 150 to 200 CUP (roughly $6 to $8 US). For additional imports they pay that amount in convertible pesos (CUC – roughly $150 to $200 US).

The business is booming. Even paying in CUC the traveler can resell a one-ton air conditioner on the black market for about 650 CUC, for a device that originally cost less than 350 dollars. The brands that enter most frequently are Midea, LG, Carrier, Royal, Daewoo and Prestiger. Prices have fallen by up to 30% since the imports were authorized and given the volume of supply that trend will continue.

State stores try to compete with the “under the counter” sales but have higher prices, fewer models and shortages that make the supply unstable.

The air conditioners have slowly been incorporated into the landscape of cities and towns. If before the economic relaxations they were installed discreetly, now with a more open economy the tendency is to exhibit them.

“The people living there have cash,” says Igor, a pedicab driver who waits for his clients in the vicinity of the Plaza de Carlos III. While pedaling and showing some parts of the city, the cyclist glances at these signs of families with money. “Wherever there is an air conditioner they are affluent,” he muses. Not only does acquiring one of these devices mark membership in a social group, the most difficult thing is to pay for its operation.

Much of the electricity supply remains subsidized. “The average monthly consumption in the residential sector in 2013 was approximately 180 KWh per customer,” said Marino Murillo. For that amount a consumer pays 36.60 CUP, “while the cost to the state is 220 CUP,” said Cuba’s vice president.

Keeping a one-ton air conditioner on all night can trigger electricity consumption above 400 CUP monthly, the entire salary of a professional. However, many families decide to do so, overwhelmed by the heat or because they want to rent rooms to foreigners.

“Air conditioning and hot water cannot be lacking in this business,” says Rocío, who operates a colonial hostel in Trinidad with his mother. With three rooms for rent, each with AC, minibar and television, the entrepreneurs pay a four-digit electricity bill. They consider that, even so, it “brings in business” in an area with a high occupation rate throughout the year.

In November 2010, a new progressive electricity rate began to be imposed, which imposes a penalty of up to 300% on households that consume more than 300 KWh per month, a situation that has triggered electricity fraud.

An engineer from the Electricity Company in Havana told 14ymedio about the new ways in which citizens seek to steal electricity. Before there were “visible” cables that were easy to detect or they tampered with the meters in a way that technicians noticed right away, but now they conspire with the workers who repair the streets and get the cables installed underground.

In 2013 the Cuban government authorized travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwaves. (J. Cáceres)

The specialist says that there are “people whose homes abut state entities and they steal electricity from a company, a warehouse, a carpentry workshop or even a polyclinic.” He says that almost always “it is a cases of people who have some highly customer-based business, like an electric oven to make pizzas, a body shop, a private restaurant or a lot of air conditioners.”

The engineer recalls a family in which “even the youngest children had AC in their room and left it on all day.” A neighbor reported the situation when he learned that they paid a very low electricity rate. The complaint brought the inspectors and they discovered that the meter was tampered with. In addition to the fine “they had to pay retroactively all that they owed.”

To counter fraud, analog meters were replaced by digital ones and in some areas of the country they are being changed again for new ones with infrared technology. But the tricks are inexhaustible.

“The upstairs neighbor lives alone and is retired, and he passes the cable with electricity to me and in return I also pay for his consumption,” says a prosperous entrepreneur who runs a coffee shop on Zanja Street. “So I share the consumption and it’s not as expensive” because it prevents all the kilowatts going on a single account with the consequent progressive surcharge.

The customer has three air conditioners installed throughout the house. “Without this you can not live here, because this house hardly has windows to the outside and the kitchen of the business generates a lot of heat,” he explains. He bought the devices in the informal market and is waiting for them “to lower prices a little” to buy a room.

“It is not the same to be Cuban with a fan as it is to be a Cuban with AC,” he reflects. “The first one is irritated but the second is less stressed because he has air conditioning.”

Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides

Independent guides show what the state-run companies leave out.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — Economic hardships turn many Cuban engineers to work as bartenders, doctors become taxi drivers and innumerable professionals become alternative guides for tourists. Among the latter, there are the experienced or the just-getting-started, but all of them earn more money than they would working in the state sector.

“When they change a picture I know instantly,” says Natacha, a Havana city guide who says she has visited “the Museum of Fine Arts more than 300 times” with her clients. She graduated from the Teaching Institute but she left the classrooms after five years of teaching in junior high.

“I had to think about what to do with my life and I realized that I spoke Spanish very clearly, I knew the history of Cuba and I was good at dealing with people.” A friend advised her to start offering tours to foreigners who came to the country. continue reading

At first, Natacha stood in a corner of Old Havana and whispered her services to travelers. Now, after the relaxations regarding self-employment, she has been able to legalize part of her activities and form a team. “We have a network that includes rental houses, dance teachers, masseuses and chauffeurs,” she says.

With the increase in tourism, which last year exceeded 4 million visitors, the guide has “a surplus of work,” but now fears that after the announcements of US President Donald Trump that “the business will decline.”

Natacha accompanies her clients “to places where a state guide will never take them…The program is flexible according to their tastes: from exclusive areas to poor neighborhoods, trips in collective taxis, a train ride and a santería party.”

She speaks English and French fluently and recently began studying Italian and Japanese. “Japanese tourism is still small but they pay very well and are very respectful people,” says Natacha. Most of her clients end up recommending her services to a friend who wants to travel to Cuba. “This is a chain of trust that has allowed me to have up to 200 customers a year.”

The prices of a walk with the former teacher vary. “They can go from 20 to 100 CUC (roughly $20 to $100 US) depending on the place, the time and the complexity of the subject.” For years she included visits outside of Havana but now she has left these to her younger colleagues because her mother is very old and she doesn’t want to leave the city.

“This work is hard because it takes a lot of personal involvement, learning something new every day and answering many questions,” she explains. “I spend hours walking, most of the time under the sun, but I would not give up my independence by going back to teaching.” She says that being a tourist guide has allowed her to “put a plate of food on the table every day… a good plate of food.”

A growing alternative is digital sites that advertise independent guides and offer a wide variety of services or entertainment packages. Recently a team of 30-something Cuban residents in Miami launched Tour Republic, a website to sell recreational activities on the Island.

The site connects the traveler with urban guides with a marketplace – similar to Airbnb – but instead of offering lodging it markets tours of varied intensity and duration, from a ride in a classic car through Havana, to an escape through the unique natural landscape of the valley of Viñales.

Máximo, a 30-year-old Italian newcomer to Havana, was hesitant Tuesday about whether to buy a three-day package worth $58 including visits to the Ernest Hemingway Museum, the University of Havana, the old colonial fortresses of the capital, and even an encounter with the sculpture of John Lennon located in a Vedado park.

With Tour Republic the customer pays the online service and must be at the site where the itinerary begins at the agreed-upon time. In the case of the tour that interests Maximo, the guide is at the bottom of the steps of the Capitol and departs every morning at ten.

The tourist says he prefers an independent guide because “the program is more flexible and can be adjusted more” to what he wants. In a small notebook he has noted some interesting places that escape the typical tourist route: the town of San Antonio, the Superior Art Institute and the Alamar neighborhood.

“In this arena there are people very prepared and with excellent training,” says Carlos, an alternative guide who leaves the statue of José Martí in Central Park every morning for a tour he has baptized Habana Real. “I take them through the streets where tourists do not normally pass, I have them try a drink of rum in a bar where the Cubans really go,” he says.

The young man, with a degree in geography, has been “wearing out shoe leather in the city for seven years.” At first “I did not know much about history, architecture or famous people, but little by little I have become an itinerant encyclopedia of Cuba,” he says.

The GuruWalk platform has also risen to the crest of the wave of tourist interest in Cuba. The Spanish company runs an international website for free walking tours and has chosen Havana as their preferred site to begin operations.

Communications director, Pablo Perez-Manglano, told 14ymedio that “the platform is completely democratic, anyone can join and create a tour.” Site administrators check the offers one by one, but the reviews are left to users after each visit.

“We are an open and free platform, we do not charge the guide or the visitor anything, and therefore, we hope that each person understands and takes responsibility to comply, or not, with the legality in their respective cities of the world,” he clarifies.

The site already has seven free tours in Havana, one in Santiago and another in Santa Clara. “In addition, we had about 200 registered users in the last month, which is a lot for such a new platform,” says Pérez-Manglano.

Unlike Tour Republic there is nothing to pay online and the money is delivered directly to the guide.

The perspectives that the web offers for entrepreneurs like Natacha sound promising. GuruWalk does not deny “entry to someone for not having an official guide qualification.” Rather, it seeks “people who are passionate about culture and history, who also enjoy teaching and transmitting that knowledge.”

One of the strategies of the company is to make itself known among “the owners of private houses” because it is to them that more often the foreigners ask: “What should we see in the city?”

Pérez-Manglano underlines that the cornerstone of GuruWalk is the “collaborative economy.” Instead of “certificates, rules, rules, or permits,” they are interested in trust, which “is built little by little.”

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Donald Trump (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy, Trump’s “new policy” toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced “punishment” for the Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage. continue reading

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime’s hours are numbered. Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami’s “Dialogue Mafia” “have run out of bread,” that “the political actors (?) are now where they should be” And that Trump’s speech was “friendly towards the Cuban people.” If the matter were not so serious, it would probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!) could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality in trying to “channel economic activities outside the Cuban military monopoly, GAESA.”

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes “military” from “civil,” defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s proposals carry another capricious paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the one relating to the merely political. It’s shocking to see the rejoicing of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called “hardline opposition” inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) “successful” speech by the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old politics of confrontation will bring “to the Cuban people” in the field of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump’s speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the reinstatement of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot,” repealed in the final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US, and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump’s proposals is none other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba. Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of sovereignty and against “the rude American interference”, which that gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the “Cuban people” – with no voice or vote in this whole saga — remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its government — is hidden behind a mask, and the “solution” of Cuba’s ills is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García

Photo Montage Credit: Cubanos Por El Mundo

Ivan Garcia, 19 June 2017 — “Impotence.” This is the word that a performer in the Guiñol Theater (located in the basement of the FOCSA building in Havana’s Vedado district) uses when asked her opinion of the new Trump Doctrine regarding Cuba.

On a day of African heat, a group of eight waits to navigate the Internet in a hall administered by the state-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. The performer exchanges opinions with the others regarding the event of the week: the repeal by Donald Trump’s administration of Obama’s policy of détente. continue reading

On the street, for those Cubans who earn only token salaries, breakfast on coffee alone and complain constantly about the inefficiency of public services and the government’s inability to improve the quality of life, political machination is just an annoyance.

Human Rights, democracy and political liberties all sound good, but they are not understood in their full context. At least, this is what can be deduced from the opinions expressed by the people waiting in line. Some make clear that they are speaking from their personal perspective, that they watched Trump on Telesur but have yet to read the measures for themselves.

For lack of time, and the propaganda fatigue brought on by the barrage from the official press–which has caused many compatriots to decide to not keep up with news reports but instead take shelter in social-media gossip–the group waiting to go online is shooting to kill in all directions.

“Everybody talks about ’the people,’ about the ’dissidents,’ about the Cuban American congressmen over there, about the government over here, but nobody has hit on the formula for us to derive benefits from a particular policy. Obama tried, but the gerontocracy that rules us did not allow private business owners to get ahead. I feel like a hostage, to Castro and to Trump. A puppet,” the performer confesses.

One lady, a loquacious and chain-smoking housewife, asks, in a tone of disgust, “What have the people gained from Obama’s policy? Nothing.” And she explains to herself, “Those people (the government) don’t want to change. They will not give up,” she says ironically, “the honey of power. Trump is a crazy man, a clown. The guy is a pill. His speech was pure theater. It’s all cheap politicking. And in the middle of it all, we Cubans are–and will remain–screwed. Nobody can change this [regime], and nobody can take it down, either.”

A self-employed worker affirms that he does not see a solution to Cubans’ problems because “we haven’t had the balls to confront the arbitrariness of the government. To hold on and and get screwed, that’s our fate. With all his yammering, the only thing Trump will achieve is that the ’revolutionary reaffirmation’ marches will start up again, condemning ’yankee interference.’ You can already see that coming.”

At a park in Old Havana there are no optimists to be found, either. On the contrary. “Damn, brother, I thought that The One was going to put back the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot law. The only way this shit’s going to be resolved is letting people leave Cuba. You think that over here the folks are going to sign up with the Ladies in White to get beaten up? No, man, people will mind their own business, getting by under the table and trying to scrape together a few pesos. There is no way that Cubans will take to the streets. Unless it’s to get in line at foreign consulates, or if Gente de Zona put on a free concert,” declares a young man in the Parque del Curita, waiting for the P-12 line to Santiago de las Vegas.

Almost 60 years since the protracted and sterile political arm-wrestling between the various US administrations and the Castro brothers, a broad segment of the citizenry sees itself caught in a no-man’s land–in a futile battle for which nobody, not the Cuban rulers nor the US, has asked their permission. They think also that political naiveté has always reigned supreme in the White House, given the oft-repeated intentions to export democratic values to a fraternity of autocrats with the mentality of gangsters and neighborhood troublemakers.

“It is a narrative replete with personal ambitions, pseudo-patriotic elation and cheap nationalism, which has served only to consolidate a history of sovereign and intransigent rulers who never allowed North American interference. It’s fine for a tale, but this politics of confrontation on both sides has left only one winner: the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro. The rest of us have been the losers. Those who were not in agreement with the Revolution or who wanted to emigrate were called ‘gusanos‘ [worms]. Families were split up and kept from having contact with relatives in the US. The result of all this is what we see today: a great number of Cubans who cannot tolerate those who think differently from them, many who want to emigrate, women who don’t want to have children in their homeland and, in general, a great indifference on the part of citizens towards the problems of their country,” explains a Havana sociologist.

The official reaction has been restrained. For now. A functionary with the Communist Party assures me that “the government is not going to wage a frontal campaign to discredit Trump. Yes, of course, the various institutions of the State will mobilize to demonstrate that the government has it all under control. But Trump’s speech was more noise than substance. Except for the matter of US citizens’ travel to Cuba, which undoubtedly will affect the national economy, the rest [of the Obama-era policies] remains in place, because the military-run businesses are only two hotels.

The owner of a paladar [private restaurant] in Havana believes that “if the yumas [Cuban slang for Americans] stop coming there will be effects on the private sector, because almost all of them stay in private homes, travel around the city in convertible almendrones [classic cars], and eat lunch and dinner in private paladares.”

The news was not good for Cubans who had plans to emigrate to the US. “Many dreamers thought that Trump was a cool guy and would reinstate the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy. I was not expecting as much, but I thought at least that the Cuban-American congressmen would influence Trump’s allowing the exceptional granting of visas to Cubans stuck in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and reactivating the asylum for Cuban medical workers who have deserted their missions,” said a engineer who dreams of resettling in Miami.

The perception right now among Cubans on the street is that they are back to a familiar scenario. One of trenches. Replete with anti-imperialist rhetoric and zero tolerance for liberal thought of any stripe. The scenario most favorable for the hierarchs who dress in olive green.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison