Builder of Satellite Dishes, Risky Job in Cuba / Iván García

Photo: AP. Satellite disk camouflaged in a Cuban terrace.

Normando, 43, is a hard fighting kind of guy, with a dangerous addiction to risky business. For fourteen years, he’s dedicated himself to building satellite dishes — an illegal job not among the 178 activities authorized by the Cuban government to exercise as self-employment.

A graduate of electronics training, this Habanero might have wished things were some other way. “The reasonable thing is that I would pay taxes and would be authorized to perform my labor legally. But the government doesn’t permit it. So I do it on the sly”.

The house where Normando works at making the dishes is full of drawings of the latest models and books on the subject. On an iron stand, the six most recently finished antennas can be seen, ready to be sold.

The business works; supply exceeds demand. “My parabolics are the best in the underground market in the capital”, he confesses with a twinge of pride. At wholesale, he’s used to selling them for 50 convertible pesos each (60 dollars). Then the buyer resells them at higher prices.

He also does custom work and charges more. The illegal cable television business is one of the most profitable working today in Cuba. In districts like Diez de Octobre, Havana Center, or Old Havana, there are entire blocks hooked up to one illegal antenna, for which each ‘subscriber’ pays 10 convertible pesos a month (some 8 dollars, which may seem little, but in Cuba it’s the equivalent to a monthly employee’s salary).

In Florida, in the United States, live people who want to bring — in a clandestine way — receptor sets and clone cards. Getting dishes by the customs agents in the airports is complicated. Right there is where the “best antenna maker in Havana” appears, according to his particular slogan.

In his spare time, Normando repairs computers and mobile phones, another job that allows him to carry on an unburdened lifestyle, drinking German beer and eating garbanzos with Spanish sausage; all luxuries in 21st Century Cuba — with many risks, of course.

The authorities have busted him a couple of times. “It’s always been by ‘snitching’ (denouncements) from someone envious. They’ve given me fines of 30 thousand pesos (1,500 dollars) which is not a snap, but I’ve been able to pay them”, he tells me, on the terrace of his house.

“I don’t think my job is so dangerous. I don’t sell drugs, nor do I pimp or steal from the government. I think what I do is legal, nobody can prevent anyone from seeing, listening to, or reading what they want. It’s Castro’s big mistake: he wants to sell his version of the news. Perhaps for that I am a public threat,” he points out, convinced.

Normando considers himself a ‘street fighter’. He grew up without parents and always had to look out for his own living. He works hard, but in his own way.

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Translated by: JT

March 2 2011