The Dollar Strengthens In Cuba In Anticipation Of Currency Unification / Iván García

Source: América Tevé.

Ed. Note: This article talks about Cuba’s two currencies, the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso, and the potential ‘unification’ of the two currencies. The Cuban peso is also called “national money” and by the acronym “CUP.” The Cuban convertible peso (“CUC”) only came into use in 1994. It is not convertible outside the country and so has no ‘market-based’ exchange rate in world currency markets. The CUP is officially pegged at 24 per CUC. The dollar/CUC exchange rate is officially one-to-one but the actual official exchange rate varies according to exchange fees and taxes applied to the transaction, as discussed in the article; the unofficial exchange rate varies according to the vagaries of the underground market. The Cuban government has promised, for years, to unify the currencies, but has not yet done so.

Iván García, 18 January 2018  — In the illegal world of the foreign exchange market on the Island, any rumor or leaking of information rings alarms. In addition to taking advantage of the gaps that cause the artificial state exchange rate for the U.S. dollar, an astute loan shark is always attentive to fluctuations in the exchange rates.

Ignacio, a guy who wears retro sunglasses, tight jeans and low-cut sports shoes, is one of those who takes advantage of the most minimal information.

“I’m romancing the manager of a bank. And some days ago she told me that there are movements in the bullpen. Probably before April 19 — the supposed date of Raúl Castro’s retirement — the government will execute the unification of the currency. continue reading

The girl told me that already there have been several meetings, and in them it was said that people with bank accounts wouldn’t lose money after the financial adjustments. Nor would those who prefer to keep their money at home. For them they would pay 24 Cuban pesos for every convertible peso, but only up to a certain amount (it’s said 7 million CUC). Those who have their deposits in dollars can exchange them at two pesos per dollar.”

With this unconfirmed information, Ignacio, along with several friends involved in clandestine exchange operations, started to buy the dollar at 0.97 CUC. The Central Bank of Cuba pays 0.87 CUC, justifying the Castro brothers’ tax under the pretext of the U.S. embargo.

But it’s a longer story. After the arrival of the bearded Fidel Castro, the exchange of the dollar and other hard currency was converted into an absurdity that distorted the national economy.

Before 1959, the dollar had an exchange rate of one for one with the Cuban peso.

“It was supported by a growing productivity, a vigorous economy and a powerful private empresarial elite. Fidel took this exchange rate as a reference and kept it for a time. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy was stumbling, because of the “blockade,” bad strategies of the managers or systemic failures caused by an economic plan that was copied from the Soviet Union. If they would have let the dollar float against the peso, in 1970, for example, a dollar would have been worth 50 Cuban pesos, at least. The illegal exchange market, in an empricial way, moves in accord with the law of supply and demand of the dollar. With greenbacks being prohibited until 1993, these financial operations were very dangerous: If the police caught you, you could go to jail for three to five years,” says Hiram, an ex-officer of the Central Bank.

Julio Antonio, an older gentleman who has spent four decades in the business of buying and selling hard currency, above all the dollar, adds more details:

“In the ’80s, they called the money changers jineteros (hustlers). On the streets of Vedado, and on beaches like Varadero and Santa María del Mar, east of Havana, we were buying dollars directly from the few tourists who came to Cuba. At that time, a peso was worth four dollars. The State was buying them one for one. And many foreigners, so that their money would go further, weren’t selling them to us. When the Special Period arrived in the ’90s the dollar shot up and was selling at one dollar for 150 pesos. Later, the government fixed it at 24 pesos. But we were paying under the table one or two on top of that, because the people going on internationalist missions in Venezuela, Ecuador and South Africa, among other countries, needed dollars to buy stuff cheap and then resell it in Cuba. We have always been two steps ahead of the State’s exhange rate.”

In the autumn of 2005, Fidel Castro, punched a table in anger, because the U.S. Treasury Department had detected a Cuban account with 5 billion dollars in the Swiss bank UBS, supposedly for exchanging old bills for new ones, and he resolved to decree a “revolutionary” tax on the money of Enemy Número Uno.

The tax rate was 20 percent, lowered to 10 percent when Raúl Castro began governing.

“If a dollar cost 80 cents, on the street it was being bought at 90. Now that the government buys it at 87 cents, under the table it’s bought at 90, at least [on the street]. It depends how many dollars are in circulation. But the stable non-official rate is 95 cents, although at certain times, it goes up to 97 and 98, since there is a strong demand from the “mules” who travel to Central America, Mexico or Russia. With the rumor that is being spread, I assure you that when the two monies are unified, the dollar will be worth 10 or 15 pesos. And I might be short,” Ignacio analyzes.

Dagoberto, licensed in tourism, considers that “this exchange rate, in addition to being false, is counterproductive. This is reflected in expenditures by tourists. The ones who come to Cuba spend on average $655 [USD]. Those who go to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic spend more than $1,200, almost double. One reason is that they drive up the prices for tourists. To this, add the fact that in Cuba’s hard currency shops everything is too expensive, with taxes between 240 and 400 percent. The ideal, to attract more dollars, euros, pounds or Swiss francs, is to adjust the money to a real reference.”

According to a source at a branch of the Banco Metropolitano, “Since July they have been postponing the contracts with State enterprises, whether they are in hard currency or the national money. It’s a sign that monetary unification is on the way. At the latest, before 2018 is over. It’s noticeable in the current private accounts. Many clients are keeping their money in pesos, since even though they’ve been told that they won’t be affected by the unification, there are always fears and prejudices in the population.”

For experienced loan sharks, “the best way to keep savings or monetary earnings of a private business is in dollars or euros, jewels, preferably of gold, and works of art. What’s coming looks ugly. An increasing inflation and more money than products to buy. The Cuban economy is in a bad way,” predicts Julio Antonio.

Financial experts say that if you want to apply a reasonable economic strategy, the distortions caused by the dual currency ought to come to an end. What’s not clear is what will happen afterwards.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The "Worms" and the Future of Cuba / Iván García

Cuban rafters. Taken from “The Positive Scum,” an article by Ricardo Riverón published in On Cuba Magazine on April 9, 2017.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2018 — Ana Gálvez, now 72, spent eight months picking sweet potatoes, yuccas and squash in a state agricultural enterprise outside of Havana before she was allowed to leave for the United States in 1971.

“They treated us as if we were prisoners or slaves. The food was disgusting. We had to work twelve or thirteen hours a day. Then, it was the only way that the dictatorship would sign the ’freedom card’,” recalled Gálvez, with tears in her eyes, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Miami, a stone’s throw from the international airport.

In Florida, she became an executive with a renewable energy firm and today has as storehouse of knowledge that could help in the future reconstruction of the Cuban energy sector. continue reading

“Cuba has all the conditions necessary to stop using fossil fuels in a decade or less. Based on the sun, the winds and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea — because the rivers are not very large — the Island would have clean and sustainable energy that would contribute to its development. To this we could add the use of hybrid transport, running on electricity or cane alcohol,” said Ana optimistically.

But when I asked her, “if the laws changed would you return to rebuild the country?” she emphatically shook her head, No. “It would have to be with certain requirements, among them a public apology from the regime for its deplorable attitude towards the Cubans who one day decided to emigrate and live in a democracy. It is the first thing I would demand to return and work for my country. ”

Given the current dilemma of Cuba, trapped in a stagnant economic crisis, chronically unproductive, with brakes on private work and the creation of small- and medium-sized businesses, with social tension due to the poor administration of resources, along with a housing deficit exceeding one million homes, a low birth rate, an accelerated aging of the population, miserable salaries and a qualitative decline of education and public health, an honorable exit would be forge an agreement with the diaspora and, using the skills and talents of everyone, begin to rebuild the foundations of the national economy.

Exiles like Ana Gálvez or the famous musician and composer Jorge Luis Piloto, who, in order to emigrate from Cuba, had to accept the regime’s degrading treatment, deserve an apology. And there are others whom Fidel Castro expelled from their homeland for thinking differently and opposing the state of affairs.

Miami, Autumn 2014. While Jorge Luis Piloto in his Mercedes Benz was traveling with me to the new Marlins baseball stadium through the tunnel built after the expansion of the port, I asked him, too, if certain conditions were met would he return to reform his country. The answer was not immediate. He kept driving, concentrating on the traffic.

In the 70s, Piloto lived with his mother in a small room with a makeshift platform “mezzanine,” a bathroom and collective kitchen in a building in danger of collapse in the Pilar neighborhood, in Havaa’s Cerro municipality. The authorities did not consider him a “reliable” guy: he wore his hair long, he always carried a guitar in his hand and was a lover of the Beatles.

He had arrived in the capital at age 15 from Cárdenas, Matanzas. And although in Havana one of his own song’s won an award in the Adolfo Guzmán Competition, in 1980 he decided to leave with the Mariel Boatlift.

Fidel Castro, offensively, called the more than 125,000 Cubans who emigrated through the Port of Mariel that year “scum.” Earlier, he had called those who left “worms.” In 1980, that terrible year, the neo-fascist acts of repudiation emerged. Popular mobs harassed you, shouting all kinds of offenses and slander, they threw eggs at you and more than one person beat you.

Piloto experienced it first hand. After pondering his response to my question he told me that he had no plans to return, but if one day Cuba bet on democracy, he would help in any way he could. Recently, in a card for the new year, Jorge Luis wrote: “In 2018 may we can travel to Cuba without asking for permission and with a process on the way to democratization, but with social justice for all. The Cuba that [José] Martí dreamed of.”

Every time I’ve been in Miami, I’ve chatted with numerous compatriots. Most have good jobs and have built successful careers. I ask them all the same question: would you return to rebuild Cuba?

Ninety-five percent, after explaining their reasons, answer No. Journalists like Osmín Martínez and Iliana Lavastida, who have managed to turn a boring conservative newspaper like Diario Las América into an attractive medium, do not have plans to return to Cuba either.

Only those politically committed confessed that they would leave everything behind and return to rebuild the land where they, their parents and grandparents were born. This is the case for the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero.

Almost all of the Cubans who have triumphed in Miami would help from a distance. A praiseworthy thing, but in a de-capitalized nation like Cuba today, it feels like very little. Because the country will need more than professional and financial help and powerful infrastructure investments. It will also need labor. People with experience in sectors such as construction and architecture: with few exceptions, everything built in Cuba over the last sixty years has been built badly.

It will also require people with knowledge in public administration, democratic political institutions, specialists in education, agriculture, telecommunications and other technical and scientific branches.

It is probably the best option — perhaps the only one — to involve the olive-green dictatorship. Negotiate with the emigration, especially the one with the most economic power. Open, without conditions, the doors back to their homeland. Stop treating emigrated Cubans as just a source of remittances and encourage them to participate in the national reconstruction.

Despite the triumphalist discourse of the regime, the ship is taking on water. It would be a crime to let it end up sinking without trying to find solutions.

Nobody is more interested in the fate of Cuba than Cubans. Although those who left do not want to return to stay.

Cuba: The Devotion to Saint Lazarus / Iván García

The plastic artist Luis Manuel Otero shortly before being arrested by the political police. Taken from Martí Noticias.

Ivan Garcia, 18 December 2017 — On the night of Thursday, 14 December at night, after fifteen hours on the road under a copious downpour, from Sagua de Tánamo, in Holguín, province 530 miles northwest of Havana, in an old General Motors truck from the 1950s, Erasmus and his wife arrived in Havana ready to fulfill their promise to Saint Lazarus, who is as popular among Cubans as the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

“We live in a neighborhood called Ocapuna. My wife had breast cancer that thanks to the ’old man’ she overcame it. I was threatened with twelve years for embezzlement in a coffee company. And my prayers to Saint Lazarus were heard. After these incidents, even if I have to walk, I will give my offerings to the Saint,” says Erasmo. continue reading

On the morning of Friday the 15th, after a hearty breakfast of melon juice, bread with pork steak and cold salad of macaroni with ham, pineapple and mayonnaise, the couple, dressed in sackcloth and dragging a medium-sized stone they began their journey to Rincón, a small town south of the capital, where at the stroke of twelve o’clock on Saturday, December 16, in the sanctuary adjoining a leprosarium, the saint of beggars and the poor is venerated.

Erasmus wants to arrive at the town of El Rincon in the afternoon and buy candles, flowers and prayers. Also food and a bottle of rum to alleviate the cold that usually attends this time of year. “We thought to sleep outside in the sanctuary and after the mass, give our offering to old Lazarus. He deserves it.”

Because the procession coincides with the weekend, the “congregation of devotees, which is always impressive, this year is expected to be more numerous,” says a priest of a church in the neighborhood of La Víbora, who adds:

“There is a lot of frustration in the country. The wet foot/dry foot policy was eliminated, with the arrival of Trump to the White House and relations between Cuba and the United States have worsened. And after the supposed acoustic attacks, obtaining family reunification visas has become very complicated, because people have to travel to Colombia with all the expenses that represents. In addition, the government has slowed down its economic reforms.

“For more than three months now, it has not been issuing licenses to the most prosperous private businesses and the economy continues to deteriorate. All this is being suffered by the Cuban family, with salaries that do not solve much, a lack of housing, expensive food and an indecipherable future. As if that were not enough, it is unknown what will be the course of Cuba within three or four months, when it is assumed that Raúl Castro will leave power.”

Not only is Catholicism favored in times of economic crisis and people’s distrust of the poor management of the regime. Evangelists, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, have increased their numbers of faithful. As have, of course, the Afro-Cuban religions, both Santería and Palo. Due to religious syncretism on the Island, Saint Lazarus is also known as Babalú Ayé and is venerated without distinction of creed.

Three years ago Yanira joined Santería — Yemayá, clarifies — and now goes dressed in white to El Rincón. “Every December 16, on the eve of Saint Lazarus, I’m walking down Rancho Boyeros Avenue to Rincón. The last section, from the village to the sanctuary, I crawled down the street. I have a lot of faith in old Lazarus. Thanks to him I have been successful in life.”

According to Ana Luisa, a resident in the town of Rincón and owner of a small business selling entrepanes (sandwiches) and flowers, “there are believers who spend up to one hundred convertible pesos in offerings to Saint Lazarus. When this time of year arrives, almost everyone in the village starts to sell something: food, flowers, candles, statuettes … Whatever it is, to take advantage of the influx of thousands of devotees, who usually pay a lot of money.”

Shortly before December 17, El Rincón is decorated with large floral decorations and dozens of images of San Lazaro, some of large size, which are placed in glass urns or in the portals of the houses.

On the main street, several private coffee shops offer Creole food, fruit smoothies, ham and cheese sandwiches or bread with roasted suckling pig. They also sell coffee, beer, rum, brandy and red wine, which helps to bear the coldness and damp that at night is felt in El Rincón, which belongs to Santiago de las Vegas, a town where temperatures usually drop quite a bit in December.

Although the official press hardly reports on the pilgrimage, spontaneously thousands of Cubans come to venerate Saint Lazarus. “It’s a village show. Even in the hard years, when the regime banned religious demonstrations, people flocked to the Rincón. That voluntary participation in Cuba only occurs in baseball games or mega concerts, like the Rolling Stones,” says Carlos, sociologist.

In spite of the silence, the authorities allow a flotilla of state buses to transport thousands of people to the sanctuary. During the journey on foot, hundreds of policemen, black berets and agents of the State Security dressed in civilian clothes, without much discretion, watch the pilgrims.

The plastic artists Luis Manuel Otero and José Ernesto Alonso, began a walk in support of freedom and democracy in Cuba, but they could not even leave Centro Habana: at the intersection of Belascoaín and Carlos III, they were detained by the political police. Alonso has already been released, but Otero’s whereabouts are unknown.

And by tradition, Saint Lazarus receives various prayers and petitions. Erasmo and his wife, from the Ocapuna neighborhood in the eastern province of Holguín, thank the “old man” for healing breast cancer and having escaped from prison.

Other faithful, like Ernesto, come from Miami to pray for reunification as soon as possible with his daughter who lives in Havana. And Otero and Alonso, with all their rights, they demand freedom and democracy.

Saint Lazarus, somewhere, hears them all.

For The Ordinary Cuban, Things Could Get Worse In 2018 / Iván García

Sign: “Thank you Fidel, we celebrate the 59th anniversary of the Revolution” Sign: “Happy Prosperous New Year 2018”. (Source: Juan Suarez taken from Havana Times)

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2018 — The initial surprise is making him more and more angry and likely to lose his temper. Sitting in a black leather armchair in the living room in his house, 43-year-old Armando, a qualified physical education instructor, first moves his head from side to side, then smiles cynically, until he blows his fuse and shouts rudely: “Marino Murillo is a complete dick-face. With that bunch of shameless crooks for officials, Cuba cannot be fixed.”

Armando was watching an edited summary on TV of the eighth session of the National People’s Power Assembly which took place on 21st December just gone, put out after 6 pm on the Cubavision channel, pre-recorded in the Roundtable slot, to the whole country. continue reading

In one of the exchanges, Marino Murillo, ex Minister of Economy and Planning, known as the Economy Czar, explained how difficult it would be to abandon the dual currency, and touched on future regulations on private work and non-agricultural co-ops, as well as looking at new customs rules to put a brake on what the government considers illegal business. Armando couldn’t contain himself while he was listening to Murillo.

“What a fat fucker with his fat face and fat neck! More controls on private business, people flogging cheap trash and non-farm co-ops. He shamefacedly told us that  the General (Raul Castro)  told him that when they started the reform programme they didn’t know how complicated it would be. Right, and who pays for his inefficiency and ignorance?” Armando asks himself. To which he replies: “Nobody. And they keep going with the tired old tale that currency reunification is a slow business, and that we will have to wait for prosperity and decent wages. And it’s quite clear that none of the National officials have any problems with their housing or with getting food. They don’t care how long it takes to sort out the dual currency.”

Habaneros like Armando are the exception. None of the 10 persons we talked to had seen or read about the contributions by the deputies in the one-tune parliament. And more than that, they’re not interested.

“I’ve got high blood pressure. Do you think I’m gonna pick a fight with that lot, while they’re planning how to fuck us all? That’s why we Cubans are trying to find out whatever way to fuck the government. It’s an unofficial war. You rob me paying shit salaries and I rob my customers giving them short weight. They took away my sales licence for farm products, so I sell stuff informally. I don’t bother to fight these old farts. They have full pockets. I look for the way to make money and look after my family,” says Disney, a clerk on a private farm.

The economic and social strategies and policies dictated by the olive green brigade is not something that ordinary Cubans talk about. People’s passivity is alarming.

Zulema, who goes 8 to 10 times a year to Mexico or to the Panama Canal Zone to buy clothes and smartphones to sell them again in Cuba, says you shouldn’t pay any attention to the Cuban leaders. “If you get to tied up with them you get worn out. You can’t follow their rhythm. As far as I’m concerned, these old guys who have been in power for over fifty years are not going to get to me. Every time they close things up more and you have to look for whichever gap you can squeeze through.”

In more measured tones, Carlos, a sociologist, explains that there is an alarming disconnect between the government and the people. “They speak one language and the people speak another. People have lost confidence in their leaders and see them as a pain, a bunch of officials who only want to make problems, stopping them bettering themselves, moving forward, getting a better life. For quite a while a large part of the population have been coming up with whatever ways they can working for themselves and taking their own risks. The government’s decrees are a waste of breath. Nobody takes any notice of them.”

The island seems like a drifting boat. The perception is that the mandarins who run the country’s destiny are disorientated. They look tired and lacking in initiative. They don’t know how to connect with the people. They’ve lost the plot.

Because of this Yanet, her husband, and three kids over 18 only think about drinking beer they buy in bulk in a stinking state bar ande cheap rum they get for 20 pesos a bottle in any government store. While they are drinking in their propped-up house, they have reguetón full blast on the radio. Four friends play dominos on an untidy table, and a couple who are pissed dance drunkenly.

In a dented cooking pot, they are preparing a meat soup with pork bones. “There’s nothing else here. Today we party, and tomorrow … we’ll see. What am I hoping for in 2018. Same thing as 2017 — nothing. With this lot, we’ll have to go hungry. They have their fridges full of stuff to eat, and next year and the next, and the next it will be the same for them, and for us it will be worse. In Cuba things always get worse. This country is a disgrace,” says Yanet, while she moves her hips to the reguetón rhythm.

People who don’t have anything to lose just float. Day to day. Without worrying too much about the future. Not even a hurricane or a North Korean missile will change their brutal indifference. “Something very strange is happening in Cuba. Like in some parts of Africa, the only thing that interests many people is their family, their possessions and their surroundings. Patriotism and political awareness has faded away for most people,” explains Carlos the sociologist.

Damian, a university student, hopes to emigrate, one way or another. “If it isn’t next year, it will be the one after. My main aim is to get out of this madness.” Lots of Cubans also want to get out and more than a few work and act like zombies. If their objective in 2017 was to have two meals a day and four pesos in their pocket, for 2018 it’ll be the same thing.

And they couldn’t care less if it is Raul Castro running the place, or his son Alejandro, or Miguel Diaz-Canel, or Bruno Rodriguez or whoever. They lost their faith and hope a long time ago.

Translated by GH

Raul Castro Postpones His Retirement / Iván García

Raúl Castro Ruz, José Ramón Machado Ventura, Esteban Lazo and Miguel Díaz-Canel. Taken from France 24.

Ivan Garcia, 9 January 2017 — Jumping from a conversation about football one about Cuban domestic politics is not exactly an exercise in rational balance. That is why Eduardo, a veterinarian in a cooperative outside Havana, responded with a prolonged silence when the street debate took an unexpected turn.

The group was chatting in a corner in Havana’s La Víbora neighborhood about Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, when Carlos, a friend of Eduardo’s, started a monologue about how difficult it is in Cuba to be able to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then the subject of daily hardships stole the rostrum.

César, a bank employee, says: “The hardships start with low wages and lack of food, followed by a lack of housing and transport problems. The list is longer. Every day it becomes harder to live here.” continue reading

On the street, the tirades against Raúl Castro are often bitter and even offensive. His brother, the late populist caudillo, continues to arouse some respect among Cubans, be they apolitical or detractors of the Castro regime.

But Raul, handpicked by Fidel after he stepped aside on 31 July 2006 due to health problems, does not inspire the same consideration among ordinary people. Without restrictions, not a few Habaneros, mostly marginal, call him ‘Raula’ — the feminine version of his name — question his manhood and tell jokes about his sexuality.

There is a popular perception that Raúl is more repressive than his brother. “If he has to bring the tanks out on the street so that this shit does not fall, he’ll do it without thinking twice about it,” says a newspaper salesman.

Those who ever had dealings with Raúl Castro, such as the writer Juan Juan Almeida and the former state television journalist Lissette Bustamante, had a chance to experience little-known facets of the current president: that of a father and a grandfather who worships his children and grandchildren, an organized man who knows how to listen.

Nikolai Leonov, an old fox of the KGB who met the General in the ’50s when he was a simple Socialist Youth activist, in a report to the Soviet intelligence portrayed him full-length: an eternal conspirator.

With discretion, Raul Castro, has participated all the witch hunts and purges that have occurred in these 59 years of revolution. From the execution of the pilots of the Batista air force and the microfaction process to the Ochoa case and the dismissal of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque.

“Raúl is more communist than his brother. Fidel only believed in him. If he wants, Raul can be cruel, but he has his feet on the ground,” says a person who knew him when he was a minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Despite his repulsive reputation and without much political talent, in his eleven years at the helm of Cuba’s destiny, he authorized broader economic reforms than in the Castro I phase and repealed absurd regulations that made Cubans third-rate citizens in their own country, such as the legalization of the purchase and sale of cars and houses, travel abroad and being about to stay in exclusive hotels formerly open only to foreign tourists.

Although he has maintained the repression against the dissidence on the island and Cuban interference in Venezuela, Castro II negotiated Cuba’s financial debt with various countries on favorable terms and managed to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States without giving an inch in his obsolete political principles.

According to credible sources, Raúl Castro’s decision to withdraw from power is unappealable. But as long as he lives, he will remain the first secretary of the Communist Party and, from the shadows, will play an important role in the sewers of power. “That’s what he likes. Manipulating the strings of power, from behind the power, ” says a former official.

The postponement of his retirement does not seem to be a delaying move. Some analysts believe that the current state of affairs, crisis in Venezuela, setbacks in relations with the United States and an economy on the razor’s edge, could have influenced Raúl to reconsider his decision to retire in February 2018.

The former official believes that “there has been more noise outside than inside. I think that this postponement is due to the fact that the elections of the municipal candidates were delayed due to Hurricane Irma. The deadlines that remain until February are very narrow to be able to elect the new deputies. I do not think it’s Raúl’s move to stay as president for two more months.”

Daniel, a barber, does not care when Raúl is going to retire or who will replace him. “We will keep the same style of government that has never worked. The Cubans will continue going through hell to get food. What interests me, and I suppose the people also, is that there are changes that really improve our lives, not the happy talk story they’ve been feeding us for 59 years. ”

What should be of interest to scholars of Cuba is the lack of charisma and meager qualities of the new batch of politicians in the country. Almost everyone feels uncomfortable before the cameras. Their speeches are mechanistic and trite. They make up for their poor creativity by cutting and pasting phrases from speeches delivered by Fidel Castro.

They never smile in their appearances. They are always serious, as if in a bad mood and their pathetic expression screams for an image consultant. But what most concerns citizens is that they have no idea how a nation is managed efficiently.

The great problem of Cuba is not Raúl Castro. It is what comes after.

Cuba 2017: Waiting for a Miracle / Iván García

Source: Remezcla

Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2018 — When the old Soviet-era truck was parked in front of a pharmacy in Havana’s La Víbora neighborhood, a line of more than thirty people soon formed to acquire some of the medicines unloaded. Nearby, at the entrance of a produce market, dozens of retirees and housewives waited to buy tomatoes.

In the last week of the year, on the busy Calzada Diez de Octubre, a crowd walked with elbows out loaded down with food. If you ask any of these people about the 1.6% economic growth announced by the regime in 2017, future strategies or their assessment of the rulers, you will find a wide range of responses, from disappointment in the state of affairs to indifference and frustration because nobody listens to them.

“What? The economy grew? That’s a story, partner. It grew for them. Where is that growth hidden that nobody sees it? There are lines everywhere, a total lack of some medicines and others where there’s not enough. Everything is a balloon,” says Armando, a carpenter, who has been waiting for an hour to buy Enalapril for his medical treatment. continue reading

The year 2017 started with bad news. In 2016, the Cuban economy had contracted, with GDP shrinking 0.9%, announced Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of Economy and Planning. And the international scene looked ugly. Against all odds, Donald Trump, won the elections in the United States and the pact between President Barack Obama and the Cuban authorities began to take on water. In Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace, the brotherhood of ’Bolivarian’ compadres was clearly governing like a dictatorship. But the state oil company PDVSA is unable to produce higher oil shares and has had to make cuts that affect the Island.

“That is the key reason why Cuba is facing a dead end. The honorable thing is to throw all that nonsense of five-year plans and triumphalist speeches in the trash and undertake a deep economic reform. Communist nations like Vietnam and China initiated it and achieved an economic miracle,” says Ernesto, a scholar of the Cuban economy.

For his part, Carlos, a sociologist, believes that “one of the country’s biggest problems is its extravagant double currency system that transforms wages into a joke. That financial absurdity causes a flat screen TV to cost twenty times the salary of a professional; it means that agricultural production does not take off; it deforms the state accounting and causes a million people or more to dream of leaving their homeland for good.”

On Thursday, January 12, 2017, Obama repealed the wet foot/dry foot policy and the special program granted to Cuban doctors who could settle in the US any time they wanted. The possibility of stepping on American soil and starting a better life was cut off. In the fiscal year 2016, more than 50 thousand Cubans arrived in the United States, but in 2017 the migratory flow suffered a considerable decrease, according to Marti Noticias.

Heriberto, a retired university professor, thinks that “in response to Obama’s initiatives, the government reacted defensively. In the Palace of the Revolution they are already missing him. The dynamic could be different.”

But Castro’s Cuba responded with the usual petulance, believing that all these concessions were a debt owed by the White House after decades of “imperial aggressions.” And they let the train go by. They refused to develop solid economic foundations, invigorate a broad opening to small and medium-sized private companies and begin to rehearse an authentic and democratic social model.

They bet on stupid political stubbornness, putting their heads in the sand. They paralyzed economic reforms, stopped private work and continued to control and repress those who think differently. They temporarily closed the issuing of business licenses to individuals in many endeavors, and continued to arrest their opponents and seize the equipment of independent journalists.

With the whole country burning down, Raul Castro wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for oil aid. Speaking clearly: he suggested Putin act as the relay pitcher for Nicolás Maduro in energy matters.

“The old KGB fox is still checking accounts. Putin is nationalistic, authoritarian and likes to bang on the table and show that Russia is a center of world power. I think one of the possible scenarios could be to reuse Cuba as a source of conflicts with the United States. Whether reopening an espionage base in the style of Lourdes or a base for nuclear submarines,” argues a former official.

At the moment, the picture is black for Moscow. The US special services have reasonable evidence that the Kremlin manipulated the US election in favor of Trump, a matter investigated by a special commission led by Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI. The sale of state-of-the-art US weapons to Ukraine and a sanctions packages against Russia could be used by Putin to design his next move.

In that game of world chess, Cuba, as on previous occasions, is only a sacrificial piece. The regime knows in advance what it means to ally with Moscow. Raul Castro and his substitute (handpicked by the olive green autocracy), should handle relations with the Russian bear with subtlety.

In the summer, while it became more expensive and difficult to get food in Cuba, the AP agency unveiled a story that seemed to come out of the annals of the Cold War. In installments, AP published that more than twenty officials of the Embassy of the United States in Havana were victims of an alleged acoustic attack: stealth soundwaves that affected their hearing..

It was also learned that in February 2017, Raúl Castro had talked with US chargé d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis and assured him that Cuba was not behind that sonic aggression. For the first time, the authorities allowed the FBI and other US intelligence agencies to investigate in Havana.

Although the White House has not directly accused Cuba, nor has it presented evidence of a hypothetical culprit, the affair resulted in the removal of 50 percent of the diplomatic corps accredited on the Island, and in turn, the regime had to withdraw the same amount of officials from its embassy in Washington.

This brought about a paralysis, until further notice, in the issuing of the 20,000 visas planned for family reunification. Now, those interested must travel to Colombia or Mexico and carry out the procedures there, which means a considerable increase in costs to obtain the stamp of entry to the United States. An official from the State Department, with whom I met at a Miami event, told me that the matter could be delayed for more than a year, “because every six months is when the situation of the Embassy in Havana is evaluated.”

In September, Cuba was affected by the very powerful Hurricane Irma, which for several hours sailed along the north coast of the island causing 10 deaths and considerable damage. Although the regime has not offered exact figures on the amount of the damages, a source told Martí Noticias that “it could exceed twelve billion dollars.”

Irma destroyed hundreds of houses, damaged thousands of homes and its consequences are still visible in agriculture, tourism, state enterprises, cultural facilities and private businesses. Because of the hurricane, the authorities claimed, the municipal elections for the People’s Power were delayed, contents in which about 300 dissenting candidates were considering running. Violently violating their own Constitution, State Security prevented all of these candidates from making it to the contests or being selected.

It is precisely that delay, that us the pretext offered by Raúl Castro to postpone his retirement until April 19, 2018. Meanwhile, the official propaganda works piece by piece, with homages to the deceased Fidel Castro, highlights of record figures in the production of pork and two billion of foreign investment, and pointing out that the number of tourists grew to 4.7 million. But those achievements are still not reflected on the dinner tables of ordinary Cubans.

On the contrary. Every day it is more difficult to find breakfast, lunch and dinner in Cuba. Dozens of medications are missing in pharmacies and hospitals. The quality of public health and education continue to be low. Public transport remains an unaddressed issue. And the real housing deficit exceeds one million homes. Macroeconomics is not something you can eat.

For 2018, no improvements are expected. The probable retirement of Raúl Castro does not excite people. The popular perception is that afterwards could be worse. “Cuba’s problem is systemic. One wonders if the government has a plan B to save us,” says Heriberto, a retired university professor. Will we have to wait for a miracle?

Cuba: ’The Human Rights People’ / Iván García

The independent journalist Augstín López is silenced by plainclothes policemen while shouting “Long Live Human Rights.” Taken from Martí News.

Ivan Garcia, 12 December 2017 — On 28 January 1976 in Havana, Ricardo Bofull founded the Cuban Committee For Human Rights, along with Edmigio López and Marta Frayde. Forty-one years later, the independent journalist Tania Díaz Castro, in her house in Havana’s Jaimanitas neighborhood, west of the capital, surrounded by dogs and books, recalls that era.

“I joined in 1987. Bofill said that he and his small group were founded on 28 January in homage to the birthdat of the Apostle (José Martí). The place chosen was Dr. Marta Frayde’s house, in Vedado. By ironies of fate, this unforgettable and courageous woman had been a personal friend of Fidel Castro.

A short time later, almost everyone went to jail, for long years and for different accusations — invented ones — as was and is the custom of Castroism: Marta Frayde, Adolfo Rivero Caro, Elizardo Sánchez, Edmigio López, Enrique Hernández, and of course Ricardo Bofill. Thus, Fidel responded to the request of those intellectuals to review the situation of human rights in Cuba,” says Díaz Castro and adds: continue reading

“At one point, I was a kind of secretary for Bofill. In my house in Centro Habana I received eight or ten denunciations a day from citizens where the institutions of the regime had transgressed their rights. In 1987, Samuel Lara, Adolfo, Ricardo and I went to the Comodoro Hotel to meet with a UN commission, which the dictatorship authorized to enter the country, so that we could express our complaints. Spontaneously and despite the fact that repression was fierce at the time, outside the hotel more than a thousand people came to deliver their accusations.”

The journalist adds that Ricardo Bofill and Armando Valladares “were key players so that the issue of human rights violations by the regime became known around the world. They and others, planted the seed that has then germinated in hundreds of journalists, activists and independent groups in the current civil society.”

The Castro brothers’s Cuba has not changed its absurd political system and still maintains the dysfunctional planned economy. But, little by little, Cubans have been losing their fear. In any corner of the city you can hear openly anti-government comments, anti-Castro jokes and ridicule of the leaders.

Osviel, 43, an engineer, is committed to democracy and says he would like to earn a six-figure salary in a private company.

“Like most college graduates after the Revolution, I was indoctrinated. But the repeated deficiencies of the system have opened my eyes. The first time I had doubts was when I read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I realized that this government shamelessly violates some precepts that are part of individual rights. I understood that we are far from living in a democratic society. ”

Although the Republic of Cuba was a signatory on the 10 December 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the authorities on the Island consider the brochure that expresses these rights to be subversive.

The military autocracy persists in its delirious narrative that Cuba is the most democratic nation in the world. Without blushing, in the 8 December edition, an article published in the Party newspaper Granma said that “Cuba is an international symbol in the field of human rights.”

“They don’t even believe it themselves. There is a group of precepts, especially those of a political nature, which are violated in Cuba. The government thinks that by guaranteeing universal healthcare, the right to work and education it has already done its duty. But human rights go much further,” says Odalys, a lawyer.

Raúl Castro himself, in a press conference during Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016, acknowledged that “as in any part of the world, all human rights are not fulfilled here.”

On the commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Martí Noticias asked fourteen people, seven of each sex between the ages of 18 and 74, their opinions on the respect for human rights by the authorities in Cuba.

Ten responded that, in one way or another, several precepts are violated or rights that are not crimes in other countries are considered illegal. Two said it is “a US campaign” and two claimed ignorance of the matter.

Outside the survey, a Social Sciences student comments that “the most worrisome is the deficit of political rights. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world where it is illegal to found an opposition party or movement.”

For his part, a retired former military man believes that “the issue of human rights is a manipulation by the United States to attack Cuba. That is why the government should allow other parties and not imprison those who think differently. But always he who commands sets the rules of the game.”

Rigoberto, a taxi driver, is clear that “here elementary rights are violated, not only those of a political nature. For example, people from eastern Cuba who migrate to Havana are considered illegal [residents], and according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Cuban Constitution, that regulation is illegal.”

Carlos, a sociologist, mentions specific cases. “Look at the disrespect of a broad set of human rights in Cuba: until seven years ago it was illegal to buy or sell a house or car, to be a tourist in your own country, or to be able to travel freely abroad. Now others are still not being met. Cubans can not board boats with motors, create a party or found a newspaper in a legal manner.”

René, a lawyer, states that “where rights are violated the most is in the legal field. In the absence of tripartite powers, the majority of the population is defenseless against the legal machinery. Legal irregularities are numerous and people have nowhere to go to seek justice and impartiality.”

Although in recent years, I must clarify, hundreds of citizens who consider themselves harmed by legal rulings have received advice from independent lawyers or offered their testimonies to alternative journalists.

“It’s the last shuffle of the cards. When I see that the State blocks all paths, I will see an independent journalist to tell my to story online,” confesses Senén, a bank employee.

Within the expression ‘the human rights people’, ordinary Cubans include a political activist, a dissident lawyer, and a free journalist. Increasingly they go to opposition groups. For any reason. If their house falls down, or they are subject to a criminal penalty that they consider unfair, or they want to denounce embezzlement in a state company.

And the Cuba of 2017 is not the Cuba of the 1980s. For some, the Island is making no progress. For others, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the theory of the glass half full or half empty. According to how you perceive it.

Christmas and New Year’s in Cuba / Iván García

Santa Claus and company distribute advertising for a private restaurant through the streets of Old Havana. (Taken from Eju!)

Ivan Garcia, 22 December 2017 — You sense it, the penetrating smell of dead pigs, opened in the middle and showing their viscera, as soon as you enter the state-owned smoked meat production center in the municipality Diez de Octubre, south of Havana.

Four people with green surgeon hats and high rubber boots sort the pigs. Some are sent to a ramshackle refrigerator full of legs, ribs and loins. Others, after being boned, are steamed, prior to the process of making sausages.

When night falls, after the bosses leave, the under the table shenanigans begin. Owners of small businesses, before acquiring several pigs, bargain the prices with the center’s workers. Residents in the area also buy pork legs or pieces of loin. “At Christmas and New Year’s we make a nice bit of cash,” says one operator. continue reading

Josuán, the father of three children from different marriages, confesses that when December comes he feels it in his wallet. “Imagine, I have to buy pork for three houses. I always come to the processing center, because the meat sold in the market costs no less than 45 pesos per pound of loin and 25 or 30 per pound of pork. Here the legs go for 16 or 17 pesos a pound. I run my risks, because if the police catch me, they confiscate the meat and fine me 1,500 CUC. But those who don’t take risks, don’t eat cheap pork,” he says, while stacking his purchases in the trunk of a Soviet-era Lada.

December is a month of taking stock and family reunions. According to Cuban tradition, on the 24th Christmas Eve is celebrated, and on the 31st or New Year’s Eve, people say goodbye to the old year and await the new.

“I would like to have roasted turkey on the 24th and pork at the end of the year. There are families that can celebrate Christmas Eve with turkey, chicken and pork. But most people eat white rice, black beans, yucca with garlic sauce and a piece of pork. Some don’t have even that,” says Josefa, a housewife.

In the Cuba of 2017, following the custom to the letter is expensive. A frozen eight-kilogram turkey costs 45 CUC, four times the monthly minimum wage or a retiree’s total monthly pension. No less than 20 CUC or the equivalent in Cuban pesos is the cost of a leg of pork. Another 20 CUC goes to buy rice, beans, cassava, tomatoes, garlic, onion and lemon.

“Every year the price of food has gone up. To celebrate a decent Christmas, a family has to pay 100 CUC or more, not including drinks,” says Romelio, a stevedore at the port.

A week ahead of time, Olga Lidia, a hotel employee, goes through the hard currency stores in Miramar, Vedado and Old Havana, in search of nougat and trinkets. “This year I saw more assortment and variety than last year, but the prices are higher. In my house, Christmas begins on December 1st, when we put the little tree together and put it in the living room. We almost always have to buy lights or some new decorations. That’s when the meter starts running: you can spend 30 CUCs on those things. Then comes the search for food and drink, where you can easily drop 200 CUC. We buy three or four nougats and chop that into small pieces, so that everyone gets some.”

Sixty years ago, before Fidel Castro took power at gunpoint in January 1959, Marta, now retired, remembers that even the poorest Cubans celebrated Christmas and waited for the New Year. “We lived in Mantilla, my family came from the working class. On Christmas Eve, in addition to white rice, black beans, yucca with mojo, a salad of lettuce, tomato and radish, we ate roast suckling pig and turkey fricassee. For dessert, buñuelos in syrup and guava or grapefruit with white cheese.

“After the dates, figs and nougat (almond, almond-and-honey, egg and marzipan) we stayed at the table, cracking nuts and hazelnuts. On the 25th we had lunch, as we called the leftovers from Christmas Eve. On that day we exchanged gifts, each one wrapped with pretty paper and a red ribbon. We gave away cards that in Spanish said Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo or in English Merry Christmas. On December 31, Hatuey beer, Bacardí rum, El Gaitero cider and, of course, the grapes were never lacking.”

Osviel, an unemployed worker who also sells clothes imported by the ‘mules’ and is the runner for the illegal lottery known as the ‘little ball’, has not been able to buy anything.

“It should be a special day, but when you do not have money, Christmas Eve (known as ’nochebuena’ or good night) becomes a ’nightmare’ (‘nochemala’ or bad night). If the chicken arrives at the butcher’s shop, that’s what we’ll have for dinner at my house. In this country, eating a typical menu has become a luxury.”

Since the end of the 1960s, until the early 90s, given that it was a Catholic tradition, Christmas was celebrated discreetly in Cuba. We are in the 21st century and still the regime does not celebrate it publicly.

“My mother closed the windows of the house so that the blinking lights on the tree would not be seen, although the smell of roasted pork would give us away to the president of the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution),” recalls Luis Alberto, a high school teacher.

Another Cuban custom is to wish health and that the plans are fulfilled in the new year. When the Christmas cards disappeared, it was done personally or by phone. Now, with wifi in public spaces, it is expressed through emails and text messaging.

“My wishes for 2017 were not fulfilled. I was thinking of emigrating to the United States, but Obama put a lock on that with the repeal of the wet foot/dry foot law. For 2018 I am not optimistic. Living in Cuba is very complicated, especially if you aspire to have some prosperity,” says Reinaldo, an engineer.

Alexandra, a light-skinned mixed-race woman with blue eyes, whose dream is to be an international model, at 12 midnight on December 31 will maintain the family routine.

Risueña explains that at that time “we will throw two or three buckets of water on the street, to scare away envy, bad eyes and negative vibrations. And I will once again walk around the block with a suitcase, which has to be on wheels if you want to be given a trip to a developed country. If you go with a briefcase or a normal suitcase, the trip can be to another province, to Venezuela or to a nation that is in flames.”

If something is renewed at the end of the year among ordinary Cubans, it is the hope that things in Cuba will finally begin to change. For good, because for worse, that is impossible.

In Cuba the Future is More Frightening Than the Present / Iván García

Woman in Havana. Taken from Eurweb.

Ivan Garcia, 20 December 2017 — The place where Anselmo and Yolanda prepare their food has cracked walls and soot covers the entire room. Modernity has not arrived. They cook with kerosene, wood or charcoal.

Fixed to the wall, two casserole dishes of medium proportions soaked by the excessive use of fire and blackened from the lack of detergent. Cockroaches, partying. Right now they are in the food left over from the last meal. When Anselmo, 73, sees them, he does not chase them away them with his hand.

“Do you know that cockroaches are the only living beings that would survive a nuclear war?” he says in response. And after an explanation where he mixes a fable with information read in the Granma newspaper, he grabs his gray and dirty beard, gets serious and answers my question: continue reading

“What is my future project? Gather more recycleables or that the State begins to pay a better price for scrap. Get off your cloud, pal, here things will not change. Raúl Castro and his gang have the upper hand. If nobody quits, this lasts a hundred years. Or more,” clearly shows Anselmo’s pessimism. He’s an old man who should be enjoying his retirement and who to survive walks more than seven kilometers a day, picking up empty beer and soda cans.

Anselmo and his wife Yolanda, a 70-year-old retiree, sell plastic bags outside a bakery south of Havana. They would like to have a clean kitchen and a refrigerator with beef, chicken and fish.

But the reality is quite different. They eat a hot meal once a day. And when they do not have kerosene, they cook with pieces of wood they find on the street.

The number of people living in poverty and extreme poverty in Cuba increases every year. The timid economic reforms of Raúl Castro and pharaonic economic plans projected out to 2030 do not offer solutions for Havanans like Anselmo and Yolanda.

With the arrival of a cold front, the troop of the dispossessed, who have the sky for a roof, have put on their old shirts and sweaters, one on top of the other and the luckiest wear olive green jackets, from when they were militiamen themselves or given to them by a relative who was or is one.

“When temperatures drop, we feel the hunger more,” says Germán, a guy who sells clothes collected in garbage dumps. “To deal with the cold, I drink a lot of alcohol.”

How do you see yourself in the future? Do you have a project, I ask. He shakes his head. He stares at me, as if I were a Martian or a foreigner who accidentally ended up in these parts.

“Come down to earth, man. The future is equal to or worse than the present. At least for people like us. In Cuba, the future is not to die. We poor people live adrift in Cuba,” he says.

But when you inquire of professionals, university students or private entrepreneurs, the record of opinions is also pessimistic.

Liana, a doctor, works at a clinic in the old Covadonga hospital, in El Cerro, fifteen minutes from the center of the capital. “My near future is to reach the title of specialist. Then try to get a master’s. But it is not a priority. If before I get a mission abroad, either on my own or through the State, I will look for a way not to return. In Cuba, the future is more frightening than the present.”

Even Luciano, who considers himself a bulletproof Fidelista, is not so optimistic when talking about the future. “You have to trust in the Revolution. The causes of economic stagnation or not being able to offer a good quality of life are often not the fault of the government. The Yankee blockade is not a game. Add to that that there is a caste of bureaucrats who hold back economic reforms and foreign investments. Things must change, because as Fidel said in a speech at the University of Havana, the only ones who can make the process fail are ourselves with our bad work. And the truth is that we are not doing things right.”

Discontent among Cubans, believe me, is not a minority feeling. People are tired of the triumphalist discourse. Of low wages, high food prices and living without a future project and having to turn their backs to progress.

“We live from day to day. How many people have a bank account in Cuba? How is it possible that an engineer has a salary lower than a pushcart vendor who sells fruit? There are many questions without answers. Too much official silence. I suppose that, like Newton’s Law, due to gravity, things in Cuba have to change. But at the moment, that is not a priority nor is it the government’s will,” says Lizet, an architect.

Darián, sitting in a Vedado park, considers that the worst thing is that more and more exit doors are closed. “The island has become a mousetrap. There is nowhere to go. Or you invent a legal business or one under the table. Either you steal at work or you sell the shit brought by ’mules’ from Russia. If we escape from this we are crazy.”

Joel, a historian, believes that the country, necessarily, is destined to a radical change. “The reforms will arrive by political, economic and ideological obsolescence. The theses that did not work are going to die of old age. Although if the rope keeps tightening around the neck of the people, the popular reaction could be unpredictable. Everything has a limit.”

The regime knows it. You can not govern just by selling smoke. And Cuba is that. Pure smoke.

Cuba: The Black Market Never Sleeps / Iván García

Two street vendors selling garlic and onions along a road in Pinar del Río. Taken from Martí News.

Ivan Garcia, 15 December 2017 — In the papers, it appeared that El Encanto state pizzeria, in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood half an hour by car from downtown Havana, sold around a dozen daily products: lasagna, cannelloni, five versions of spaghetti and pizzas, beer, entrepanes (sandwiches), guava, crab and empanadas, among other offers.

But the reality was different. The dining room remained closed and there was only a kiosk in the doorway that sold cigarettes, beer and bad quality pizzas. However, the administrative reports described a varied menu and exceeded the daily sales plan set by the Diez de Octubre municipality’s food service company.

Every Friday, between 1998 and 2003, José the administrator, and Julio the warehouse manager — both  currently reside in the United States — delivered an  envelope with two thousand pesos, equivalent to 80 dollars, to the driver of Eduardo Manzano, then director of the municipal food service company. continue reading

The cheese, tomato puree, oil, flour and other supplies — intended to be used to make the items on the menu — were sold in the lucrative Havana black market. Various people bought the items “wholesale,” and then resold them at supply-and-demand prices to the population.

“The business was a hit. You reported ghost productions and sold the raw materials. In those years, state food service centers were assigned products that they called ‘of the chain’, such as gouda cheese and imported foods. On the street they sold like hot cakes and at high prices. On a bad day, I earned a thousand pesos, equivalent to 40 dollars. A normal day, 150 dollars. And on a good one I pocketed 300 fulas. Even the police worked with us: they seized or confiscated the beef that was stolen from the slaughterhouses and then did not sell it at a good price. The key to robbery (where almost everything that is offered in the underground market comes out), is to have a good pen, an accountant or an economist that can mask the theft,” Julio said before leaving.

Currently, the El Encanto continues to be a supplier to the black market in the neighborhood, like other state cafes and restaurants in the area. It has always worked like this since  the beginning of the 1960s when Fidel Castro’s revolution began to generate scarcities and shortages throughout the country.

In the more than fifty years since then, there have been stages of ups and downs, depending on the amount of domestic or imported merchandise in the stores. Or due to certain economic circumstances, such as the so-called Special Period in the early 1990s — after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of its subsidies for Cuba — when the little remaining in the storehouses had to be carefully distributed. Or unforeseen situations, such as hurricanes, when the State has to draw on its central reserves and control the donations.

In Cuba there are two types of black market. The one that is supplied by state institutions and the private one, supplied by ’mules’ with articles acquired abroad.

Igor, an economist, calculates that “the state black market moves billions of pesos annually. In the future, when they do a serious study, they will know exact figures.” In his opinion, in nine out of ten manufacturing, food service or tourist businesses, among others, state resources are stolen and later sold in the underground market.

And he emphasizes something to keep in mind: “Those who favor theft on a larger scale are the bosses. The worker usually steals a little tidbit, to consume or sell it. The administrators are the ones who steal by the truckload. Any director of a food or tourism company, in one year can buy a house and a car, keep two mistresses and go on vacation three or four times a year to an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero.

“Cyclically, the government mounts a campaign to stop the corruption caused by the black market and arrests several bosses. But it cannot stop the theft because this is how thousands of managers, officials and employees  improve their quality of life. The day theft from the state, corruption and the black market disappear, the revolution falls.”

Daniel, with a degree in political science, agrees. “The phenomenon of theft, the black market and diversion of resources in societies with Marxist ideology is symptomatic. In the former USSR and other communist countries in Eastern Europe, theft was common in companies and the proceeds supported businesses that were set up using raw materials stolen from the State. In socialism, prosperity does not come as a result of your talent, training and experience, but from loyalty to political power.”

Daniel believes that calling the means of production “the property of the people,” something so ethereal, makes people lose the sense of it belonging to anyone and everyone who can holds out their hand. “The top Cuban leaders know it. That is why the campaign against the black market is more publicity than anything else. When there are raids or arrests, it’s always the small fry who get caught. If it sometimes involves heavyweights, it’s more for a political issue than for complying with the law.”

According to Roger, “after a hurricane hits the island, police operations start up and you have to keep your head down. But that does not last long. Then things relax again. In this biz you should be well connected with high officials and every time you drop them a ’little gift’, in case one day you fall into disgrace, they will feel obliged to help you.

“After Hurricane Irma, people were sensitized, thousands of families lost everything, and the authorities are hunting for those who sell mattresses, tiles or water tanks. But those who know the ropes know how and who to contact, so they do not get caught. The black market never sleeps.”

Roger, knows this better than anyone: he already has a buyer for two mattresses made in the Dominican Republic, supposedly destined for victims of the hurricane.

Carlos, a sociologist, affirms that “in nations with economic and political structures such as Cuba, where personal loyalty, friendship and connections prevails, the black market will never disappear. And the worst thing is: they form groups or gangs that end up transforming themselves into mafia cartels with huge amounts of money that can buy willingness and even lives. In a democratic future, if the island doesn’t send all that corruption to the bottom of the sea, it could be strengthened and reproduced, as happened in Russia.”

Corruption, bureaucracy and the black market have already taken root in the daily life of Cubans.

The regime controls the whole society and all the information and also aims to control the entire economy, including the private sector. Different institutional estates manipulate the retail prices of food and goods, obtaining great profits. There is no financial transparency with the hard currencies that enter the country. No official is accountable to the people. That opacity and secrecy propitiate the consolidation of criminal factions.

The culture of stealing from the State and the black market has become a kind of antibody that many citizens have in order to defend themselves against the gangster model that has been developing in the country for more than half a century.

Because in Cuba, Castro Corporation Inc. leaves very few loopholes to the rest of the population.

The Indifferent: The Great Cuban Dissidence / Iván García

Source: CNN

Ivan Garcia, 4 December 2017 — Let’s call him Ramón, 65, a city bus driver. He says that one morning he realized that he had arrived in the third age when he couldn’t tie his shoelaces sitting on the sofa in his living room.

His sedentary lifestyle and a prominent belly prevented him from doing it. “Nature is wise. The body is sending signs of aging. And you have to pay attention. Societies are the same. And for ten years I knew that the system in Cuba and its leaders, besides aging physically, were entering a stage of decomposition. No one can stop it, “says Ramón, who for most of his adult life was an unconditional supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolution. continue reading

The bus driver confesses that he was an official with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and participated in an internationalist mission in Angola. “I was willing to give my life for the revolution. But my way of thinking changed. I no longer believe in these people (the regime). It’s getting more and more clear to me: they are only interested in power and getting rich. The problems of the people do not matter to them.”

A decade ago, for the first time he decided to leave his ballot blank in the imitation elections held on the island. In the last balloting, on November 26, he wrote on his ballot “The people want food and democracy.”

For this article he asked me to use a pseudonym. But as if it were an achievement, he tells his neighbors what he did, who, like Ramón, consider the Castro brothers’ regime outdated.

Mayra, a doctor, pasted a set of labor demands on her ballot: more economic freedom and free elections to choose the president of the country. “In a fit of bravery I decided to do it. The night before I wrote it on my computer, I printed it, and the next day I took it out of my wallet and glued it on the ballot.”

Neither Ramón nor the doctor are dissidents or political activists. They are people that we see daily in the streets, standing in line at the bakery or complaining about everyday hardships and the lack of a future.

It is a Cuban version of the “neither-nor” Venezuelans. They do not support the government, nor do they trust the illegal local opposition. Many of them, like Silvia, a clerk in a pharmacy, believe that nobody takes them into account.

“President Trump, announces measures that he believes will favor Cubans. The dissenters run their mouths when talking about the people, but very few approach the people to hear about our problems. And the government is increasingly disoriented from the true aspirations of the population,” says Silvia.

This is the perception among many ordinary citizens who consider themselves forgotten in this story. “In one way or another, everyone uses us for their interests. But nobody cares about us,” concludes Silvia, who, on the day of the insipid elections, did not go to vote and stayed at home watching the American serial Billionaires.

Any country in the world would accept 70 or 80 percent of voters as a good turnout. In the United States, little more than half of its voters go to the polls.

But in totalitarian societies, where the vote does not represent social, economic or political transformation, citizen participation is an act of loyalty to the regime. That is why in North Korea, China and Vietnam, in their electoral parodies, participation greatly exceeds 90 percent.

In Cuba it was the same until Sunday, 26 November 2017.

In the elections of December 22, 1992, the military autocracy reported the participation of 97.2% of registered citizens. On February 27, 1993, in the vote for deputies to the National Parliament, attendance was 99.62%.

On October 21, 1997, 97.59% of the registered voters showed up to vote. On February 13, 1998, 98.35% went to the vote. And in the referendum on October 27, 2012, attendance was 94.21%.

Comparative statistics from the electoral commission show that abstentionism, not voting, leaving the ballot blank or annulling it, grew between two and five percent between 1992 and 2012, if we believe the official statistics are reliable.

These statistics show that, in general, the western and central provinces have the lowest participation rates. Of these, Havana stands out, perhaps the most gusano*, with figures that hovered around 80 percent.

After Fidel Castro’s forced retirement due to health problems, abstention increased with each election. In the absence of statistics by province from the national electoral commission, it is already a fact that the last elections showed the lowest citizen participation since the regime began to distribute its drop-by-drop “democracy.”

What message does this increase in absenteeism send? I asked a university professor. “For a political system like Cuba’s, with a very strong ideological weight and one that boasts of the monolithic unity of the people with its leaders, it is worrisome. Take note. These figures are a set of many things. Of the obvious waste of power, that people are not happy with the reforms, that there is a sector that demands real democratic changes, that citizens are indifferent to the political project and of the exhaustion of the blank check that the government once enjoyed,” he answers.

And he adds, “”More than one million eight hundred thousand Cubans, in one way or another, either leaving the ballot blank, writing slogans, making demands or not going to vote, shows their dissatisfaction with the system. If we consider it as a movement, the movement of the indifferent, for example, it would be the largest party in Cuba today, because the Communist Party, the ruling party, has around 700,000 members.”

There is a third force that asks to be heard. Even supposing that the 85.94% who voted unconditionally supported the government, in Cuba a current of dissatisfied citizens is fed up with the current state of affairs.

Fidel Castro took power with a disorganized army that initially consisted of 82 men. When they came down from the Sierra Maestra and added the forces of the 26th of July Movement, the army did not exceed four thousand people.

Believe me, then, that 1,869,937 Cubans, 21.12% of the electorate, is not a small number. And it continues to grow.

*Translator’s note: Gusano, or worm, is a term applied to “counterrevolutionaries” 

Note: After this article was written, and four days after the municipal elections were held, on Sunday, November 26, something happened that had never happened in Cuba: on Thursday, November 30, the online edition of the Granma newspaper published an official note from the National Electoral Commission, where the participation figure rose from 85.94% to 89.02%.

Photo: Taken from CNN

Women in Cuba Can’t Take it Any More / Iván García

Photo: Taken from the report The inequities and female poverty in Cuba, published in IPS on December 16, 2016.

Ivan Garcia, 8 December 2017 — While the group of young people from a high school in La Víbora, south of Havana, were in a physical education class on a dirt track adjacent to the school, Andrés, 40, with a cardboard box on his legs, masturbated frantically sitting on the cement floor of the basketball court.

His relatives call him ’Andriaco the blanket’. He usually masturbates in cinemas and sports fields, using a large cardboard container that has an opening in the front to put his hand in and not attract attention. continue reading

Andrés is not demented or mentally retarded. Nor is he an exhibitionist like Manuel, a mulatto who likes to masturbate early in the morning or when night falls, in public, always showing his member. One afternoon in November, Manuel explained to Martí Noticias his way of operating.

“I have fixed places, like the medical school in El Cerro, in the back of the Covadonga, because the students don’t create problems. And some places where the chicks pass that are ’assimilators’.” In the slang of masturbators, shooters, jack-offs or jerk-offs, ’assimilators’ or ’comelonas’ are women who watch them while they masturbate and don’t shout at them or offend them.

Manuel has a wife and is the father of two children. “Every time I get an internal itch, I take out my dick and jack off in front of some girl. If they insult me, I get even more excited. There is an army of wankers throughout the island. If the police pick you up, they’ll give you a fine of 60 pesos. If you are a recidivist or you ’shoot’ in front of minors, they punish you with one year in prison on a farm. But I’ve never been imprisoned for masturbating on the street.”

Sheila, a psychologist, believes that the laws in Cuba are quite permissive with public masturbators and jamoneros or exhibitionists. “Likewise with sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse of women. It is a tremendously macho society. Most street masturbators do not have any mental disorder. They need medical treatment, but their IQ is usually above average.”

The Havana psychologist believes that public masturbation and sexual harassment are crimes, because they invade the privacy of a woman without her consent. “And of course the abuse. In Cuba, the sanctions for physical aggressions against women are very soft. The laws condemn a government opponent or someone who kills a cow with a sentence of twenty years, however a man hits his wife or girlfriend, sometimes with injuries, and if they punish him, he serves only one year in jail. Even some policemen do not see it as a crime, but a matter between husband and wife. We Cubans should initiate a public awareness campaign to denounce sexual harassment and gender violence, among other phenomena that affect us.”

Recently, a crusade against sexual harassment began in the United States. The #MeToo Movement establishes a new threshold against the abuse of male power. More than thirty top executives and celebrities have fallen in the last two months, from artists like Kevin Spacey to the doctor for the women’s Olympic gymnastics team.

But in Cuba, masturbation on public streets, which is a form of sexual harassment, and beating wives and children is not an issue that the official media regularly address or encourage debate about among the population.

Adriana, a former basketball player, narrates personal experiences. “Already, as a young woman, it was common that the little girl that the coach had his eye on, he went to bed with her in exchange for selecting her for a provincial or national team. Touching your buttocks, breasts, undressing you with his eyes or masturbating in front of you, was so common that I came to think it was normal. In sports schools and in others with scholarship students, sexual harassment escalates to groping against your will. As far as I know, those behaviors are not reported and those affected are afraid to denounce it.”

Leyanis, 24, recently graduated in telecommunications engineering, says that “the things that women suffer in Cuba have become normal. We have to arm ourselves with a shield if we want to get ahead. We are legally forsaken. From the moment I get up I have to endure the invasion of other people,” and she details:

“At five in the morning, when I’m ironing my work uniform in my living room, a guy stands in the window and starts masturbating. Similarly, on the way to work, there’s another batch of pajusos. And at work, from your boss to your colleagues, they make rude innuendo or touch you, pretending that it was unintentional. And when you’re riding a bus, don’t even talk about it: you get hit with the whole package shamelessly. It is an intolerable, demeaning epidemic.”

Nidia, architect, believes, “that the harassment in Cuba is so normal that in a video that I saw, where several generals appear, one of them spanks a uniformed girl who passes by his side. If that is done by those who govern the country, what can be expected from the rest of the Cubans? Impunity is almost absolute.”

“If there is touching and harassment in military life, the situation is unbearable in more liberal sectors, such as the artistic, which has always had a bad reputation. Or in workplaces that have rooms and beds, such as hospitals and hotels where you work 24 hours,” says a retired food service employee who had to endure all kinds of pressure from her superiors to have sex during working hours.

Silvia, a pharmacist, thinks that “the authorities should do something, because at any moment you go out into the street and a man might club you and take you home, like in the Stone Age. When I’m on duty in the early morning at the pharmacy, they harass me on the phone, telling me all kinds of filth or they stop at the door, jacking off. I’ve called the police and they never come, they say they’re busy with more important issues.”

Although the state press has more or less addressed the issue of street masturbation and mistreatment of women, the issue of harassment remains taboo. “We have to organize and create a movement like in the United States and publicly denounce all that we are suffering,” says Adriana, the former basketball player harassed in her youth.

But it so happens that in Cuba, collective denunciations, however spontaneous and apolitical they may be, are always suspicious for a State that oversees and controls society with an iron fist. Creating a movement against sexual harassment, passing more severe laws that curb physical and psychological violence against females of any age and trying to eliminate or reduce public masturbation, is not among the priorities of the olive-green autocracy.

In a macho and predominantly masculine society, where its leaders see sexual harassment as fun, having a lover or girlfriends is a tradition, giving your partner a slap and spreading songs with vulgar and offensive texts towards women is normal, and leaves the Cuban women in a position of absolute helplessness.

As if it weren’t enough to have to endure daily rudeness, discrimination and violence, most of the women on the island come home from work to cook, clean, wash, iron and care for their children, while the husband watches television.

This is one of the ’achievements’ that the revolution has left us.

Fifteenth Birthday Parties, Also for Boys / Iván García

Photo taken from the Internet

Ivan Garcia, 13 November 2017 — In the studio there are three light reflectors that give off an unbearable heat. In the background there is a wall of mirrors and two white umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.

Joan, a professional photographer, considers himself a freelancer. He also sells audiovisual packages to foreign press agencies based in Havana, planning a photographic exhibition with artistic nudes.

“But what earns the most money are the photo sessions for fifteenth birthday parties, both for females and males. Packages of photos, montages and videos range between 120 and 850 convertible pesos (CUC), and some are even more expensive. From the professional point of view it’s a cash cow, as long as you are up to date with the latest youth trends in Cuba and have a stock of sophisticated tools and applications. It’s true that art is scarce and kitsch is abundant, but you earn more money than with graphic journalism or artistic photography,” says Joan. continue reading

The fifteenth birthday parties on the island support a fat and efficient chain of businesses that enjoy generous profits. Hairdressers, barbershops, photographers, audiovisuals, cakes, buffet tables, sale or rental of costumes, choreographers, DJs, comedians and well-known television presenters usually participate in the celebrations for turning 15.

Moraima says that “on my daughter’s fifteenth I spent about 6 thousand chavitos (CUCs). A week in a hotel in Varadero for five people cost 1,500 CUC. On clothes for the girl we spent 450 CUC, 750 CUC on photos and videos, 200 CUC on hairdressing and almost 3 thousand CUC on the birthday, between the cake, refreshments, drinks, rent of the room in a hotel, presenter for the party , choreographer, DJ and a comic. The next day I did not even have a peso for a cup of coffee.”

But now Moraima’s son has gottenit into his head to also celebrate his 15th birthday.” He says that’s fashionable. His father and I put our hands on our heads, but the truth is that the boy gets good grades at school and deserves it,” the mother confesses.

José Manuel, father of two children who, in 2017, arrived at the ages of 15 (the boy) and 16 (the girl), found a solution that allowed him to lower costs. “We had a single celebration, like greased lightening. We rented two rooms in a four-star hotel in Cancun for eight nights for four people. Expenses were exceeded more than planned, around 10 thousand chavitos, but it was worth it. ”

The fifteenth birthday parties are a long-standing tradition in Cuba and other countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. The custom does not distinguish among races or social status. All Cuban families yearn to celebrate it in the best way possible; possible according to their economic possibilities. During Soviet Cuba, when one’s salary had a real purchasing power, it was less complicated to organize them, although the wealthiest could always go overboard and break the bank.

Zoila, 50, remembers: “My parents were workers in a textile factory. In 1982, when I turned 15, each one earned a salary of 200 pesos. However, with the five boxes of beer available on the ration book for fifteenth birthday parties and weddings, plus a little money saved, four cakes were bought, abundant food and drink was served, and several couples danced a rueda de casino. All that partying did not exceed a thousand pesos. Now, with the custom designed cake and the paraphernalia that usually accompanies a quinceañera, you’re out a thousand or two thousand chavitos. On my two daughters’ fifteenths, without great luxuries, I spent 4 thousand CUC.”

In Cuba, parties were never organized for boys when they turned 15 years old. But for four or five years it has become common. Although many fathers and mothers do not look on it kindly.

“The quinceañeras are a feminine tradition. My sons say that I am a Cro-Magnon, an antiquated one. But I’m against that ‘metrosexual’ fashion, men who shave their legs, chest and eyebrows, fix their nails and wear pink clothes. With this discourse that we all have the same rights, a part of the men have gone the gay route,” says Sergio, father of five children.

In a survey of 18 adolescents, females and males between 12 and 14 years old and from different social strata, 16 of them said that if their parents could afford it, they would celebrate their 15th birthday in some way, regardless of sex.

“It’s a cool thing and it’s fashionable. In 2018 I am going to be 15 and my parents are going to celebrate. I intend to make a digital magazine dressed in football outfits and audiovisual montages as if I were playing football with Messi and Neymar,” says Reinier, a ninth-grade student who is now 14.

Quite a few of the fifteenth birthday celebrations Cuba can be financed thanks to Cubans residing in the United States. “My uncle plans to come. He sent me name brand clothes and shoes, a phone and money. He told me by text that he is going to rent a week in an all-inclusive hotel in Cayo Santamaría,” says Lisván, a highschool freshman who will turn 15 in November.

So it is that many of the traditional holidays, now for the two sexes, in many cases are planned between relatives on the Island and in Florida. And the expenses are shared on both shores. Or they are paid in full by a magnanimous relative from Miami.

Fidel Castro Everywhere / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 27 November 2017 — In a dirty and unventilated state bar on Tenth of October Avenue, which sells for six pesos (0.35 cents), with their tankard of beer served, two speakers reproduce a recital by La Lupe.

At a table in the background, Joel, with his glassy eyes, leans his back against a wall where you can read the meaning, according to Fidel Castro, of the word revolution, engraved with a fine-tipped brush and without much art.

When you ask his impressions on the first anniversary of Fidel’s death, Joel, who drinks more for vice than pleasure, shows the typical silly smile of people one step away from drunkenness. continue reading

“You’ve got me between a rock and a hard place. I did not remember the first anniversary of the death of that face like a coconut. The television and radio are twenty-four hours with that obsession, but my job is to work hard. I don’t have time to shoot the shit. Let those who believe in him remember him. Brother, life does not stop no matter how big the person who died is,” says the man, as he empties the rest of the cheap beer that remains in his jar.

In Cuba, political advertising is everywhere. In the most unexpected places, phrases by Fidel Castro are read. It does not matter if it is an farmers market, a smelly low-key bar or on the Central Highway.

The promoters of the Castro faith work by piecework. They have filled with paintings, photos and praises to Castro every corner of the island. Not infrequently their crazy site has borders of black humor, cynicism or toxic delirium.

On one side of the old Prisión del Príncipe, where the Avenida de los Presidentes begins, in El Vedado, on murals and building facades there are Castro slogans. In the evenings, taking advantage of the lack of public lighting in that area, street exhibitionists masturbate to the step of any woman.

“It’s an epidemic. The shooters (masturbators) in Havana are making waves. Recently a guy was ’shooting’ from atop a tree, next to a sign with Fidel’s phrase ’Cubans must learn to shoot, and shoot well. What a coincidence,” says Camila, a dentist.

And it is Fidel Castro, like José Martí, that the propaganda of the communist party uses it for any facet of life. Be it a boxing match, a hurricane symposium or a poultry forum.

“The soundtrack about the man is tremendous. In between the innings of a ballgame, they slip a stretch of one of his speeches or images of him playing basketball or baseball. Advertising in the capitalist countries is abusive, but this day for the first anniversary of Fidel’s death in the media, all the time and at any time, it is simply harassing. Even those people who appreciated it come to reject it,” says Hernán, a retiree.

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that “political advertising must be handled with care, so that it does not have the opposite effect. It has happened with Martí: due to the excessive use of him, a considerable part of the new generations reject him. Fidel was a watershed, he has many local admirers, but also many detractors, although not openly expressed. They believe he is to blame for the current national disaster. With this laudatory campaign, where everything is praise and his flaws are not outlined, trying to sell his as a perfect guy, what they provoke is exhaustion.”

State media, lacking in creativity, have labeled the former commander in chief as a major athlete, rancher and farmer-in-chief and highlighted his wisdom with regards to the art of war.

If there is something overflowing in Cuban bookstores, it is texts about Fidel Castro. Nidia, an employee of a bookstore in Old Havana, says “Cubans barely buy Fidel’s books. The foreigners, a little. They don’t sell much.”

A year after the disappearance of the former top leader, people have continued on their own. The priority is the same: bring food to the table and earn enough money to repair their precarious houses.

The citizens consider that the state’s “information deployment” on the life and work of the autocrat does not bring them any benefit. “If every 25th of November they gave on the ration book a pound of beef per person or a basket of food, perhaps they would remember him more intensely. But life here stays the same. Without money, the markets are fleecing us and eating well is a luxury,” says Ángel, a worker, in line at the bakery.

The main concern of Havana residents like Joel, a practiced drinker, is that “on these days of commemoration they prohibit the sale of rum or beer. The best way to escape from problems, which in this country are a lot, is to go get drunk.”

Twelve months after the funeral of Fidel Castro, Cuba is still stuck in its stationary economic crisis and planning the future, more than boldness, it is a bad omen. Within three months, Raúl, the other Castro, has said that he is retiring from power. But apathy on the island is so profound that even this issue does not interest the population.

The goal of the ordinary Cuban is to make it to the next day. You live hour by hour. Short term. The commemorations and political campaigns are just a background music.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe is Barely Mentioned in the Cuban Media / Iván García

Fidel Castro receives Robert Mugabe in the Havana airport, June 8, 1992. Taken from CNN.

Iván García, 20 November 2017 — While Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the oldest dictator in the world at age 93, was giving a televised statement from Harare, surrounded by soldiers and elegantly-dressed officials, many miles away from Zimbabwe, Edna, a history professor at a pre-university, was washing clothes in Havana, in an anachronistic Aurika from the Soviet epoch.

When I ask Edna her opinion on the political crisis in Zimbabwe, she shakes her head and tries to find words that don’t sound trite. “If you ask my kids, I’m sure they don’t know who Robert Mugabe is and they wouldn’t be able to find Zimbabwe on the map. People here are disconnected, although I don’t include myself in this group, since I try to keep up with what’s happening in Cuba and the world,” says Edna, and she adds: continue reading

“I went on internationalist missions twice in Africa, once in Angola and another in South Africa. And I can tell you that those freedom fighters, like José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, ended up being dictators. The honorable exception was Nelson Mandela. Mugabe was in power for 37 years, olympically violating human rights and committing fraud in fake elections. Our press treats him like a king, because in addition to being an ally who always votes in favor of Cuba in international forums, our rulers are a reflection of him. Joaquín Sabina, my favorite singer, says in an interview that the Cuban revolution and the Venezuelan revolutions aren’t aging well. The same is true of the African independence movement, in which Fidel Castro played a big part; the same thing happened.”

To find someone on the streets of Havana who will seriously comment about a foreign event is hard. Most reject a question with a shake of their heads or muddle through with a mechanical response.

But an independent journalist like Juan González Febles always has a response: “It’s logical that the Regime doesn’t offer information. There’s a kind of club of dictators who indulge each other. With the Argentina dictatorship, Fidel Castro did business with the soldiers and offered them aid during the war in the Malvinas. Beginning with Honecker, passing through Ceausescu and ending with Mugabe, the Cuban Regime decorated the whole lot of them with the Order of José Martí. Right now a high-level delegation from North Korea is in Cuba. Almost no other country would permit an official from that rogue state to visit. The media silence comes from a debt of gratitude that the Cuban dictatorship has with the rest of the totalitarian governments in the world.

The State media have barely mentioned the grave political crisis in Zimbabwe that will mark the end of the Mugabe era.

In spite of the slow connection, browsing on the Internet I found that Prensa Latina published an article, reproduced Sunday, November 19 by Cubadebate, with the headline, “President Mugabe deposed as the political leader in Zimbabwe.” The same story was also released in the online editions of Bohemia and Tiempo 21 from Las Tunas. Previously, two “decaffeinated” commentaries were published: one on Thursday, November 16 in Granma (“Zimbabwe, the headline of the week”) and the other on Friday the 17th in Juventud Rebelde (“Discussion of the situation in Zimbabwe”).

However, Telesur, a channel funded with the petrodollars of Hugo Chávez, on Sunday the 19th transmitted the televised conference of Mugabe surrounded by soldiers and officials.

In Cuba, all news media, national or provincial, are directed by the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. And they are always cautious and careful about condemning or criticizing communist governments, governments with leftist tendencies or any that are economic allies.

Nothing has been published on the Island about the corruption in China of the children of high officials and their spectacular lifestyles, and the press is silent about the relatives of Xi Jinping who are implicated in the Panama Papers.

The monarchist tyranny of North Korea is treated with the utmost respect. And you’ll never see the official analysts, experts on the U.S. or the European Union political systems, write an article condemning the testing of nuclear missiles by the Hermit Kingdom Kim family.

However, there’s a surplus of space and ink for counting killings in the U.S. or pointing out statistics on capitalist poverty. But about Zimbabwe, hardly anything is known. Cubans don’t know about the terrible economic situation, with 90 percent of its citizens unemployed, or that the average life span isn’t more than 40 years.

With Africa, the information blackout is redoubled. The role of the Castro autocracy in the struggles for emancipation on that continent is known. Fidel Castro maintained a special friendship with Robert Mugabe. In August 1986, Castro was in Zimbabwe to participate in the Eighth Summit of Nonaligned Countries, which was celebrated in Harare, the capital. For his part, Robert Mugabe made several visits to Cuba, on the following dates: September 1983; 1986 when he was decorated with the Order of José Martí; June of 1992; July of 2002; September of 2003, and September of 2005, according to photos found on Google. His last trip was in November 2016, in order to attend the funeral of his “brother, Fidel.”

Hence the scarce news on what is happening in Zimbabwe with the old friend of Castro the First. Nor do the Cuban media mention the enormous fortune accumulated by Isabel dos Santos in Angola, or the scandals of Teodorín Obiang, son of the intolerable dictator of Equatorial Guinea.

As for Latin America, we’ll never see a reproach against the regimes of Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales or an analysis of the litigation against Lenin Moreno and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The National press never qualified the FARC of Colombia as a terrorist organization. Nor did it publish one line on the detention for narcotrafficking of the nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife.

The media in Cuba are an arm of the Regime. It uses them for the benefit of publicity. The ideology department of the Party isn’t stupid. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot with the monster that they themselves created.

For Cuban readers, Zimbabwe is a socialist democracy and Robert Mugabe is a hero of African independence. And his wife, Grace, repudiated in her country for her love of luxury and her delusions of grandeur, if we give credit to the commentary published in Juventud Rebelde, is an innocent woman who was a child when the war of liberation took place.

If someone wants to be informed objectively and know other points of view, then he must pay one convertible peso, two day’s minimum salary, to navigate on the Internet for one hour. That’s the only way.

Translated by Regina Anavy