Hope for a prosperous 2015 for Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

A religious Cuban woman
A religious Cuban woman

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 6 January 2015 – The psychological barrier utilized by the Cuban government to keep its citizens subjugated was broken on the 17th of December. The surprising announcement that Raúl Castro would deliver a speech on US/Cuba relations, on live television, set off a tense anticipation of bad news. For 56 years, the US was the enemy aggressor, supposedly the cause of all problems in Cuba, and an excuse for repression.

The General/President went from the traditional reminder of the confrontation to a smile upon announcing the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the US. Continuing the surprise was the immediate broadcast of statements by US President Barack Obama. The following day both announcements were published in the newspapers and the news has been highlighted in year-end reviews on television as the most important event of 2014. continue reading

Since then it has become the main topic of conversation. Most Cubans, according to their aspirations, knowledge and analytical ability, pin their hopes on the US. Among the more interesting opinions heard on the street, an average citizen – envisioning potential benefits to the people and the nation – could be heard remarking on how the boom in North American travelers would stimulate the economy.

His reasoning was that there is no extensive hotel and service infrastructure in the country. Therefore, as occurred during the 1990s, more rooms to rent in private homes will be needed, as will more private restaurants and cafeterias. Similarly, a greater supply of agricultural and artisanal products will be required. There will be an increased demand for service employees and for individuals skilled in the construction and repair trades.

In brief, the reestablishment of US/Cuba relations could be of great benefit for the impoverished population, the community, and Cuba as a whole. Tourism in 2014 reached 3 million visitors, according to Cuban media. Certainly the government continues the policy of tourism apartheid in Varadero and the Cuban Keys.

In any case, Cienfuegos and other prime tourism spots lack the infrastructure to absorb imminent, substantial increases in visitor traffic. The cruise ship companies tend to be concentrated primarily in Havana, for which the Avenida del Puerto is being upgraded, but it’s unlikely to see a big boom, given current conditions, and it won’t affect earnings from other forms of tourism. The affluence of North Americans, with their varied interests and greater buying power, will substantially increase demand.

Within this context, new possibilities of supplies and greater economic assistance from relatives, friends, and non-governmental organizations based in the US would create the financial conditions needed for private tourism-related enterprises to flourish, as had happened on a tiny scale over the last twenty years, but now with a much greater expansion. Farmers could receive equipment and advise, they would be more productive, improve their quality and their earnings. After paying back an initial investment, they would no longer depend on external help. The self-employed would need to need to increase their methods and output, and they would be more independent.

The current support of the family economy would nurture the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in turn complementing the nation’s macroeconomy, as is the case the world over including in countries that are close to the Cuban government, such as Bolivia and Ecuador. One could also foresee the expansion of mini-enterprises, which in many places have provided opportunity to very poor people, primarily women who carry the full weight of their family, and allow them to access credit from outside the country to start their own businesses.

The Cuban government will need to expand its limits on substantial foreign investments for its own controlled projects, above all in tourism, and listen to the analysts and the multi-faceted cries from the people. The restrictions created to ensure that “nobody will become rich,” continue to drag down the quality of life for Cubans. Beyond that, it deepens poverty, corruption, and loss of values, evils engendered by the regime.

The opportunities that President Obama has opened could increase the Cuban people’s well-being and knowledge and contribute to their empowerment, as have measures adopted by the Island’s government since 2009. The Cuban government has the opportunity not to block their implementation for the benefit of the nation. All Cubans should be involved in the great challenges and opportunities that open before us.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cold War, Hot Motors / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro


  • Is the Cuban government considering declaring as “heritage assets” the classic cars that roam the streets?

cubanet square logoCubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 2 January 2015 — Apropos of the imminent reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the US, General Motors (GM) recently expressed interest in exploring the possibility of doing business on the Island. Perhaps they see it as a promising market to sell parts and pieces for the cars that this automotive super-company produced during the 1940s and ‘50s.

As the old-timers tell it, US car manufacturers would test their products in Cuba, assessing whether the cars could withstand the harsh conditions of our tropical climate. American cars of such makes as Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Packard and Ford, rolled around – and continue rolling today – throughout the cities and towns of the Island. continue reading

Although the US and Cuba broke diplomatic relations in January, 1961, there had been no new vehicles or replacement parts entering the Island directly from the North for at least a year prior.

A half-century later, American-made autos are vital to the transport of passengers on the Island. In the US, they are “classic cars,” high-priced collectors’ items. In Cuba, they are called almendrones.*

Cold War vs. Hot Motors

Agustín Godínez bought his first car, a ’55 Chevrolet, in 1970. In 2002 he acquired a Dodge. For years, only those vehicles that arrived in Cuba before 1960 could be bought and sold via a transfer of ownership outside State control. That was until recently.

“The American cars have continued rolling along, thanks to the inventiveness of our mechanics and machinists,” Agustín explained. “These fellows retool parts harvested from other cars. American cars can function with parts from the Soviet Volga, made in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They also work with parts from the Chaika (GAZ-M13), manufactured by the Russians in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which copied elements from the American autos Mercury, Chrysler and Dodge.”

Agustín Godínez and his 1955 Dodge (Photo by the Author)
Agustín Godínez and his 1955 Dodge (Photo by the Author)

Godínez added another crucial fact, regarding the resistance of these cars to the ravages of a tropical and salty climate. “During that period the bodies of these cars were made of heavy steel which included lead amalgam,” Godínez explained. “On top of that, you had the proper paint and maintenance.”

Today They Are Taxis, Yesterday They Were “ANCHAR”

In the second half of the 1970s, the Ministry of Transport created an association of private taxis. It admitted for membership only drivers of cars manufactured prior to 1959.

ANCHAR (National Association of Transport Drivers and Vehicles) guaranteed fuel at low cost. It also ran a store that stocked parts and pieces for those cars. The establishment was located in the capital suburb of Mónaco. The association regulated the fares charged by the carriers: basically, 50 centavos [based on the Cuban peso – CUP] per passenger, or up to 5 Cuban pesos per party, to travel to any point in the city.

In the 1980s, a trip to Guanabo Beach from the Havana train terminal would cost up to 2 pesos per person. The vehicles were identifiable by their orange-and-black paint jobs.

What Does a Classic Car Cost in Cuba?

In 1971, a vehicle manufactured in the second half of the 1950s could be had at a price that ranged between 1000 to 1200 pesos CUP. Other models, built in the late 1940s, could cost up to 600 or 700 CUP.

Currently, the private buying and selling of these cars is conducted in CUC [Cuban convertible peso], a national currency equivalent to the US dollar. The value of the autos depends on the model, year, and condition. For example, a Chevrolet from the late ‘50s could cost the buyer, at minimum, 7,000 CUC. At the exchange rate of 1 CUC for 24 CUP, this would be 168,000 Cuban pesos CUP.

At this moment it is unknown whether the Cuban government plans to declare as “heritage assets” the classic cars that exist in Cuba.

They stand out to any visitor: the streets of Cuba are a veritable rolling museum. One can spot specimens ranging as diverse as a Ford from 1929 and a 1950s Chevrolet, to the miniscule Polski, nicknamed “the little Pole.” The latter was copied from a model patented by Fiat, as well as the Soviet Lada Niva.

Since 1990 there have been no massive imports to the Island of parts and pieces for Eastern European-made autos. Even so, the Moskvich, and also the Lada models 1600, 2107, and Samara, are still circulating.

At the halfway point between East and West, 50 years are summarized in this Cuban motorized ajiaco** which has not ceased from rolling up to today.

Photos by author:

A Fiat Steering Wheel on a 1955 Dodge


Fleet of private transport vehicles
Fleet of private transport vehicles

Translator’s Notes:
*The nickname refers to the almond shape of these antique cars.
Ajiaco is a traditional Cuban stew. The term is often used to convey great diversity or miscellany – similar to the idiomatic use in the US of the term, “pot pourri.”

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Several Activists and Reinaldo Escobar, Editor-in-Chief of “14ymedio”, Arrested / Cubanet

Cubanet, 30 December 2014 — The activist Eliezer Ávila and journalist Reinaldo Escobar, Editor-in-chieft of the independent daily 14ymedio and husband of the blogger Yoani Sánchez, were arrested this morning at 11:40 am by members of the State Security outside the building where Escobar lives, according to the lawyer Laritza Diversent from Havana.

The source, after a telephone conversation with Yoani Sánchez, added that the patrol officers of car N.328, carried out the arrest violently. So far the whereabouts of detainees is not known. According to Yoani she was not allowed to leave her residence.

It is presumed that the authorities are trying to prevent the attendance of opposition figures at the performance of artist Tania Bruguera to be held this in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Also arrested were activists José Díaz Silva, leader of the Opposition Movement for a New Republic (MONR), and the Lady in White Lourdes Esquivel, according to the Twitter account the opponent Manuel Cuesta Morua.

Will the poorest Cubans whose properties were seized be indemnified? / Cubanet, Jose Hugo Fernandez

Photo:Havana’s Chinatown prior to 1959
Photo: Havana’s Chinatown prior to 1959

Cubanet, José Hugo Fernández, Havana, 24 December 2014 – How many – and which – private properties seized by the regime could be returned to their owners or their descendants? Alternatively, how many indemnifications could there be once the US embargo is finally lifted? This topic has once again taken its place in our discussions, online and on the ground. Once again, we are given to speculate about everything pertaining to major enterprises, and North American and Cuban landowners.

Curiously, there is less talk about the small businesses. Those were the ones whose owners worked hard all their lives, never suspecting the disrespect and cruel coldness with which the Revolutionary government would expropriate them. These entrepreneurs were forced to abandon their establishments and take nothing but the clothes on their backs. Begging the pardon of the large investors who saw their assets taken away, it seems to me much more crucial to consider the tragedy of these small business owners. I believe that now that “our” dictatorship is trying to make a place for itself among “normal” governments, it should start with the intent to mitigate (being that it cannot erase) this shameful chapter in our history, by at least indemnifying the descendants of the entrepreneurs.

They must number in the hundreds of thousands, if one considers that each town, each neighborhood, and often each street, hosted swarms of small businesses owned by persons of modest means, who built them up penny by penny with the sweat of their brow.

By way of illustration, it would perhaps suffice to cite the example of the honest and hardworking business owners of Havana’s Chinatown – just one case among millions, but one which helps to clarify the issue because of being concentrated in a small area.

By 1959, a little more than a century had passed since the arrival of the Chinese to Cuba as quasi-slaves. The only property owned by each and all of them upon disembarking here was their family name – and even this they had to give up. Even so, when Fidel Castro took power, Havana’s was probably the most important Chinatown in the continent.

The neighborhood boasted its own Bank of China, with $10-million in assets – a true fortune in those days. It had a network of import businesses that directly brought in products from Asia to be used and sold here. There was a Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, which was connected to a considerable number of entrepreneurial associations, such as the Union of Commercial Retailers. It would be exhausting to list the vast number of dining establishments – some world-famous – and other businesses providing the most diverse services, that were located in this neighborhood.

Havana's Chinatown today
Havana’s Chinatown today (photo by author)

The Chinese population of Havana operated its own health care system, endowed with medical practices and laboratories, as well as a fully-equipped clinic and patient pavilions, and a broad network of pharmacies. Three independent newspapers, three radio stations, four cinemas, a theater, an athletic club, a retirement home, a cemetery, multiple societies and recreation centers – all of these composed the cultural life of the neighborhood. In short, as I have indicated, the list of assets would be too long. Just on one small block, on San Nicolás Street, between Zanja and Dragones, one could see more commercial activity than what is observed today in the whole neighborhood. It goes without saying that the scene on that stretch of San Nicolás is heartbreaking to see.

In 1960, Alfonso Chiong, president of the Chinese Colony and editor of one of its newspapers (The Man-Set-Ya-Po), was informed by the regime that he would have to resign his post. Upon refusing to do so, he escaped to Miami to avoid being sent to jail. According to the newspaper Avance Criollo*, when Chiong arrived at the Miami airport he carried, as his only capital, five dollars in his pocket. Mario Chiu, secretary of the Colony, had less luck – when he refused to resign, he was thrown into the dungeons of La Cabaña prison.

The tragedy was already in progress. It was unstoppable and quite possibly defining. Soon afterwards the flourishing Chinatown turned to ruin, while the entire poor neighborhood found itself as lost, vulnerable and frightened as had its ancestors when, a century before, they arrived on our shores.

*Avance Criollo newspaper; Friday, November 18, 1960.

Translated by Alicia Barrequé Ellison

The “Weekly Packet” Rules in Cuban Homes / Cubanet, Anddy Sierra Alvarez

paquete-semanalCubanet, Anddy Sierra Alvarez, Havana, 28 October 2014 — With the delivery of the “weekly packet” to Cuban homes, the people have taken an important leap toward access to information and entertainment. In a country where the only television is state-run and there is no mass consumption of the Internet, this phenomenon helps to build society. Cuban television has faded to the background.

The so-called “weekly packet,” which is normally distributed on external hard disks to individual residences, contains the latest foreign films of the week, shows, television series, documents, games, information, music and more. This packaged content is favored by the Island’s population over the programming provided by Cuban state-run television. In the past, entertainment would be delivered via clandestine satellite TV, but citizens caught in this illegal act would have to pay heavy fines.

Mariam González, 47, of Havana’s Arroyo Naranjo borough, relates that thanks to the “weekly packet,” many people have avoided the jail time or fines that used to be the consequences of using satellite antennas. “Several of my friends were fined over the years up to 10,000 Cuban pesos for receiving the satellite signal in their homes,” González said, adding that, “now, we only have to pay one dollar and we have access on a hard drive to the latest programs from the week just ended. We connect it to the TV set and enjoy the content whenever we want. It’s better than nothing.” continue reading

Ángel López, 31, is a fan of such TV series as Grimm, Revolution, and The Blacklist. He notes that “the packet is my font of information and without it in the house, life would be extremely boring.”

“Besides,” he adds, “my cousin watches nothing other than series like Cold Case, and that is not something broadcast on state television.”

Alejandro Batista, 38, affirms, “I prefer to spend a dollar over being a zombie. Cuban programming is no good, it’s stagnant…well, actually, we are stagnant!” he added with a wry smile. Packet prices vary according to the day of the week. On Sundays the “weekly packet” of 1 terabyte is priced at 10 dollars, on Mondays and Tuesdays, 2 dollars, and other days, 1 dollar.

Tomás González, 32, is a distributor of the weekly packet. “Every Monday I receive the packet for 2 dollars,” he said. He then downloads the content onto USB drives of 4, 8 or 16 gigabytes (Gb), which provides an alternative (to the hard disk) way of distributing programming to individual households.

“I sell the 4-Gb USB drives for 10 Cuban pesos, the 8-Gb for 20 pesos, and the 16-Gb for 30 or 40 pesos,” González explained. The younger generations don’t waste time on state television. Miguel Ponce, 21, had this to say about state-run television: “Cuban TV holds no interest for me and, as far as I know, none of my friends wastes their time on that. Now, HD movies are a whole other thing…”

With its lack of variety and offerings that do not meet what the public wants, Cuban TV loses ground.

Alejandro Batista notes that “the government for so long refused to broadcast foreign programs and now we have them on USB drives. But,” he asks, “what makes me wonder is, how long can Cuban television continue, if each day the public leans more towards the foreign programs that we can get on the packet?”

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Fidel’s Shocking Silence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

fidel-castro-barack-obamaCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 December 2014 — After the brief speech by General-President, Raúl Castro, about the release of Alan Gross and of “a Cuban-born citizen” at the service of the CIA, and of other prisoners who received “prison benefits, including the release of individuals the US government was interested in,” a speech which also included the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, everyday life in the capital continued its course, just as if we were not witnessing a moment of historical significance that puts an end to 50 years of uninterrupted disagreement between our two countries.

With agreements reached after months of negotiations, the regional political landscape changes dramatically, while such a controversial decision should, in principle have a greater effect inside Cuba, since Cuba’s excuses have run out about “the enemy” that besieges us, blockades us, and hampers our social and economic advancement. continue reading

Of course, it would be naïve to assume that the regime will make essential changes or allow an opening in political or human rights matters, particularly those relating to freedom of expression and association, just to name the some of the more “dangerous” elements for the survival of the regime. It’s the same quasi 56-year-old dictatorship of totalitarian power, and it is likely the regime will make use of any trickery to evade changes that endanger its authority in Cuba. However, that does not mean that the do-nothing strategy on the part of the US foreign policy towards Cuba was a good formula.

The strategy launched today by the White House, though risky, placed the Cuban leadership against the wall, especially in the face of the international community that, to date, has passively tolerated the ongoing violations of human rights in Cuba, and has even praised the Castro satrapy for its achievements in health and education through the continuation of a belligerent policy towards the most powerful country on earth and the supposed need for the regime to defend itself from it. With the ending of the stagnation and the re-establishing of relations, now we will have to see in what direction the actors move and the resulting changes that the new stage will produce.

We know the weakness of the nascent Cuban civil society, of its legal orphanhood and of the absence of supporting autonomous institutions, so that, on the road towards the achievement of democracy, the support and goodwill of civilized countries and of global agencies cannot be absent, under penalty of sentencing to their doom the efforts, sacrifices and aspirations of several generations of democratic Cubans. The US President seems to be aware of it, since he expressed his commitment to those hopes in his speech.

May Day march in Havana
May Day march in Havana

An Indifferent Cuba

The news came as a surprise to Cubans. However, contrary to what might be expected from so many years of the “struggle for the return of the Five,” and after the substantial resources invested in international campaigns to achieve their release, there or was no apotheosis of people taking to the streets, no calls for a gathering to welcome them home, no live TV broadcasting the arrival of the much awaited “heroes.”

Havana continued its normal routine, altered only by the unexpected delivery of a pound of fish (mackerel) per consumer, an event that overwhelmed people’s expectations, at least in Centro Habana, and the corresponding lines began to form in front of the state-owned butcher shops.

Meanwhile, a group of students were mobilized at the University to do some cheering and shouting; though it still unclear whether the real reason for their joy was the release of the spies or the sudden opportunity to leave the classroom earlier than usual.

Only the primetime evening news ran a brief story, carefully prepared and intended to stir the popular sentimentality, showing the reunion of the released spies and their families, and the words of ringleader, Gerardo, expressing to the General-President his availability to follow his orders. “For whatever purpose,” stated the unrepentant servant. It did not occur to the little soldier to think that, in an environment of good relations that should begin to flow between the two countries, a new espionage adventure would not look good.

The truth is that, in contrast to Alan Gross’s obvious physical deterioration, the Cuban spies looked fat and pompous, as if, instead of having stayed in harsh prison conditions that the official media had blasted, they had returned from a picnic or a long vacation.

May Day march in Havana
May Day march in Havana

The topography of absence

Perhaps the most significant finding on the day of a journey inside Cuba is Fidel Castro’s shocking silence

His absence from the media had already been sufficiently notorious during and after the celebration of the ALBA summit, ten years after the creation of that pipe dream for him and his pupil, Hugo Chávez. But his silence, in the presence of two events so linked to his existence as the end of a story of conflict on which the revolutionary legend was cemented and the arrival on the Island of the central characters of his last “battle,” is highly eloquent.

It is very significant that the return of the three spies has been so rash. This may be the happiest event year for the reflective chief, yet not a single apocryphal note with a copy of his well-known signature at the bottom of the page has appeared. Everything indicates that, either the highest druid has definitively plunged into a deep vegetative state, or he has already left this “valley of tears.” If that should be the case, don’t count on mine.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Discontent to Joy in Twenty-four Hours / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

reconciliacionCubanet, Miriam Leiva, HAVANA, 18 December 2014 — President Barack Obama announced a new direction in US policy toward Cuba, on December 17. The Cuban population has expressed great joy at the news, both within the archipelago and abroad. It is a brave and historic decision, because it provides the opportunity to finally eradicate the existing environment of confrontation of almost 55 years and initiate fruitful relations to benefit of the Cuban people. The measures taken by the US president have been greeted with enthusiasm and hope by millions, although other Cubans remain cautious, because they commonly face harsh living conditions and repression.

President Raul Castro announced he was open to extensive negotiations with the United States, on all subjects, in a televised appearance coincident with that of President Barack Obama. The reasons to promote the rapprochement with Washington may be very extensive, including the deepening of the Cuban economic crisis, the need for foreign investment for recapitalization and development, social discontent over the socio-economic deprivation, loss of public confidence, and the need to improve Cuban’s international image. To achieve freedom and democracy, civil society will have to traverse the long and difficult path imposed by a totalitarian regime that seeks to prolong itself through its heirs. continue reading

The exchange of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba in 2009, for 3 prisoners sentenced as spies in the United States, was a necessary condition for the US government to be able to initiate the process of normalization of relations and to achieve results with new measures directed toward the Cuban people. In addition, the island government agreed to release an American citizen after some 20 years, and 53 other political prisoners. The tradition of the American government is to not abandon any of its citizens, and to provide for their exchange or rescue with military action.

The efforts of lawmakers from both parties, the diplomacy, and members from all sectors of American society have had an important role in these developments. Pope Francis has once again demonstrated his wisdom, aided by nuncios accredited in Havana, and the Cuban Catholic Church, headed by Cardinal Ortega and the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops who have continued to accompany the nation and the people with their traditional patriotic and religious vocation.

The measures announced include initiation of talks to restore diplomatic relations; regulatory reform to empower the Cuban people with more efficiency; favoring the expansion of general permits for travel to Cuba and increases in the amount of remittances; expanded authorizations for commercial sales and exports of certain goods and services from the US; authorization for persons living in the United States to import additional goods to Cuba; facilitating financial transactions between the two countries; initiating new efforts to increase access to communications in Cuba and people’s ability to communicate freely; updating the application of sanctions on Cuba in third countries; establishment of negotiations with the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss the unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico; beginning of the process of reviewing Cuba’s as a state sponsor of terrorism; discussion of the participation of Cuba in the Summit of the Americas in April 2015; a firm commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society, including strong support for improving human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba (a summary of an extensive Fact Sheet issued by the Office of the White House Press Secretary).

We Shall Fight to the End for the Liberty of Cuba / Cubanet, Ernesto Garcia Diaz

From left to right, Guillermo Fariñas, Antonio G. Rodiles, Félix Navarro and  Ángel Moya (Photo: Ernesto García Díaz)
From left to right, Guillermo Fariñas, Antonio G. Rodiles, Felix Navarro and Á”ngel Moya (photo by author)
  • Leaders of the opposition call Obama’s reconciliation with the Cuban government a “betrayal” during a press conference in Havana

Cubanet, Ernesto García Díaz, Havana, 18 December 2014 — From the headquarters of the Estado de SATS project in Miramar, on Wednesday afternoon (12/17/14), Cuban opposition leaders held a press conference for national and international media, to make known their positions regarding the new political stance of the United States towards Cuba.

Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought and Coordinator General of the United Antitotalitarian Front (FANTU), referring to the steps taken by the governments of Cuba and the United States, stated the following:

“We can applaud the release of Alan Gross, who really was used by the Island’s government to blackmail the American administration. But Obama has been inconsiderate with the civil society that is challenging Cuba’s tyrannical government In Miami, back in November of 2013, Barack Obama promised Bertha Soler and me that any action he would take with respect to Cuba would be consulted with the civil society and nonviolent opposition. Obviously this did not occur. These actions are now accomplished facts, they are reality, and Cuban democrats were not taken into account. continue reading

Guillermo Fariñas
Guillermo Fariñas

This amounts to a betrayal of Cuban democrats. We must now adapt ourselves to the new scenarios, which means that we must ask the American government to keep in mind the demands that these negotiations should require, to avoid colluding with the communist dictatorship of the Island. If the United States government listens to us, I believe that we can hope that this is not one more maneuver of complicity and help towards a regime drawing its last breath.”

The leader and opposition activist Antonio G. Rodiles, coordinator of the Campaign for Another Cuba and of the Estado de SATS project, made the following assertion:

“History has been made when, in 1994, the country [Cuba] was finding itself in a profound crisis and the explosion of 5 August 1994 occurred. The North American government’s response was to accept the exodus and later to sign the migration accords which provide for an annual cap on [US] visas issued annually [to Cuban nationals]. The result has been that during more than 20 years, the country’s human capital has been bleeding out and Cubans have opted to leave Cuba and not provoke change. This truly has been a disaster and the United States government cast a lifeline to the regime so that it may survive.

“The rancid Castro regime, as is common knowledge, in on the point of ending from natural causes. Obviously what they are trying to do is to cement the foundation for a mutation to Neo-Castroism, which is the family and descendents, who are trying to continue to governing, which is a grave danger for Cuba and for the entire region.”

Antonio Rodiles
Antonio Rodiles

“Today’s measures – without taking into account the opinion of Cuban civil society, of the political actors in the Cuban opposition – is a serious message, it is a bad message, and if the upcoming process of negotiation does not include our participation, the results will not be positive at all. We still have ahead of us the Summit of the Americas [to be held in Panama City in April, 2015], but what happened today does not make us feel optimistic.

Opposition member Ángel Moya Acosta, coordinator of the Democratic Freedom Movement for Cuba, had the following to say:

Angel Moya
Angel Moya

“We rejoice at the liberation of Alan Gross. But the measures that the United States government has implemented today, of relaxing the embargo and reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the people of the Island. The steps that have been taken will reinforce the repression against human rights activists by the government of the Castro regime. The regime will augment the resources and sinecures to its forces so that they will continue to harass and repress civil society activists. An example was the military reinforcements exhibited by the regime in advance of anti-demonstration activities on 10 December, ‘International Human Rights Day.’ ”

Félix Navarro Rodríguez
Félix Navarro Rodríguez

Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Coordinator General of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and president of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy, had this to say:

“The conditions that brought about the United States’ embargo against Cuba in 1961 have not changed. It is well known that the government is totalitarian, dynastic, that it does not recognize the rights to free expression, free assembly and freedom of the press. As long as the political opposition, the different strains of political thought and a multi-party system are not recognized and general free elections are not called, we cannot point to anything beneficial for the people.

“We are in total disagreement with what has been produced today, because we consider it a betrayal of those of us who, from inside Cuba, are opposing the regime to obtain a definitive change for the wellbeing of all Cubans.”

Following the opposition leaders’ statements, the floor was opened to questions.

Associated Press (AP): “We walked the streets extensively today, and found the people to be happy, beyond the message. It is notable that all of you hold a position so different from ordinary people. Does this mean that you will alienate yourselves from the will of many people now living in Cuba?”

Antonio Rodiles: “People are disoriented, surprised by what has happened. On the street, in the taxis, people were not excited, others said that the pie was cut, the [Castro] family and the governing elite are strengthening their business positions. It isn’t the people, the person in a small cafeteria who is being watched by inspectors, people don’t know what is going to happen.”

Ángel Moya: “In the midst of the secret negotiations that were going on between the two governments, on 10 December the Havana dictatorship was repressing 75 Ladies in White and 35 human rights activists. In Cuba, laws are in force that are designed to guarantee the impunity with which the repressive forces act. What guarantee is there that the Cuban government will recognize civil society?”

CubaNet: “Has the United States government or any of its officials, following these declarations, contacted the leaders of the opposition, in accordance with the commitments Obama made in 2013?”

Félix Navarro Rodríguez: “We have not been consulted. This has all developed in strict secrecy between the two governments. There has been no encounter with Cuban civil society nor with its leaders. Nor do we know if they are willing to meet with us. As of today, they continue to repress the Ladies in White and twelve of us prisoners from the [2003] Black Spring; we remain on parole, deprived of our rights and liberties.

“The commitment by Obama to Berta Soler and Guillermo Fariñas was not kept. In Cuba everything remains the same. Now, in the midst of this avalanche, we will reorganize and will fight until the end, we will press for the recognition of our civil rights and for democratic freedoms.”

At the end of the press conference, Guillermo Fariñas, by way of concluding remarks, asserted this:

“We need to channel our demands. The government of the United States has a moral obligation to all democracies in the world. It gave to the Cuban government a possibility to start instituting some democratic reforms. Now, it will depend on the actions we Cubans take.”

Attending, among various other officials of accredited diplomatic missions on the Island, were diplomatic representatives of the European Union, and of Sweden. Also present were human rights activists, among them Gorki Águila Carrasco (artist in the group Porno Para Ricardo), Hablemos Press, AP, and others.


Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A “Clandestine” Meeting with Ernesto Londoño / Miriam Celaya

Ernesto Londoño
Ernesto Londoño of the New York Times editorial board

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, HAVANA, Cuba, 2 December 2014 — Young journalist Ernesto Londoño should feel very gratified professionally: he has not only managed to raise a bitter media controversy in recent weeks, stemming from his uncharacteristic editorial which appeared in the New York Times (NYT), in favor of bringing closer the governments of the US and Cuba and the lifting of the embargo, among other proposals, in line with the Cuban official discourse; but these days he has taken a “business trip” to the Island and has held several meetings with some media, including the most official media of all, the newspaper Granma, at whose headquarters he was cordially received on Monday, November 24th by the editorial team headed by its director. Londoño published several photographs of the occasion on his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the 25th, the magazine OnCuba welcomed him at its headquarters in Havana, where “he talked, asked and responded to our concerns” according to an interview published by that journal, which states that Londoño is conducting research that will allow further development of the Cuba issue at the NYT. The page overflowed with photographs that testify to the meeting, depicting a smiling and relaxed Londoño.

And indeed, it appears that Londoño’s intention and that of his editorial bosses is to gather as much information as possible from diverse opinion sectors in this controversial trip. Or at least, that is what his phone call on Friday the 28th to the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, evidenced. During that call, he requested to meet with her, and she agreed to conduct a meeting which should also involve other team members, including 14ymedio‘s editor-in-chief Reinaldo Escobar, reporters Luzbely Escobar and Victor Ariel González, Rachel Vazquez, in charge of the cultural section, columnists Eliecer Avila and this writer, Miriam Celaya. The urgency of the meeting precluded the presence of provincial correspondents.

The Hotel Saratoga, a “Neutral” Venue?

On Saturday, November 29th, at 11 am according to our previous agreement, we met with Ernesto Londoño at a “neutral” venue as the mezzanine of the hotel where he was a guest, the Saratoga, located on Prado and Dragones Sts., right across from La Fuente de la India and adjacent to the Parque de la Fraternidad and the Capitol, where some of us connect to the Internet at the astronomical price of 12 CUC per hour, and to put up with the anguish of slow service and full of “blockades”. In fact, coincidentally, during our close to three-hour conversation, there was no connection.

Ernestro Londoño meeting with On Cuba
Londoño at the publishing offices of OnCuba

All around us, the ill-concealed movement of the agents of the political police in their ridiculous disguises as ‘guests’, employees or clients of the cafeteria, reminded us that, under totalitarian regimes, neutrality is always a chimera. In all that time, not even one of the waitresses came near us to see if we wanted to order at least a coffee, something remarkable in a country where Cuban born citizens cannot remain sitting, occupying a table if we are not “consuming”.

Anyway, all that police deployment was a useless waste: we, the disobedient ones, did not go there to share secrets or to make compromises, but to express ourselves as freely as we usually do in our writings, so we didn’t even take the trouble to lower our voices.

The first impression, after the introductions with the journalist-revelation of the moment, was disappointing: Londoño could not answer the questions that each of us had prepared for him because “he must ask for the approval” of his NYT bosses. The essential requirement was for us to submit the questions in writing and wait for his answers. We also could not photograph him during the meeting. Any opinion he expressed personally at that meeting could not be published by us.

Suddenly, what we thought would be a meeting between colleagues in two different media, at which we would exchange views and discuss topics of crucial interest for Cubans, was turning into a “clandestine” date, with a certain tinge of adultery, a sort of media conspiracy designed to feed and diversify knowledge (his) about the Cuban reality, but without our ability to disclose his view points, his motives about our country or where his interests were headed.

In stark contrast to his stay at Granma newspaper, the meeting would have a restraint (embargo?) imposed precisely from the anti-embargo defender, the NYT. Live and learn!

Londoño at the offices of the Communist Party newspaper Granma
Londoño visits Granma Newspaper. Here, in the photography department, in the presence of Antique cameras.

Nevertheless, the representatives of 14ymedio present at that meeting agreed to offer Londoño our opinions about anything he was interested to know about our country, but we would be free to publish whatever we stated on our own… because such are the advantages of those who don’t need permission to express themselves.

A Gift for the NYT

Thus, based on rigorous ethical issues and honoring the commitment we agreed to, I will only present here a summary of my impressions and commentaries about the meeting and, at no time, the questions and opinions of the foreign visitor.

It is impossible to summarize in only a few words the variety of topics of conversation on that Saturday evening; although I would dare say that Londoño must have been surprised to discover such a diverse group of ages, professions and opinions grouped in the same project. Undoubtedly, he must have noticed the absence of the monotonous “choirs” of unanimous agreements or hesitation among cronies, and he certainly must not have noticed in other meetings the flow of ideas as critical, free and spontaneous: there was no agenda or orders to speak one’s opinion, or taboo subjects. Nobody lead the meeting, nobody moderated, and nobody censured. A real present for a visitor who tries to get close to a reality where entrenched, social auto-censorship reigns.

Politics, economics, society, history, law, Cuba-US relations; new laws; myths and realities of Raúl’s “reforms” and their results so far; necessary steps for real changes in Cuba, which we would like see reflected in the editorials of the NYT; what kind of journalism we Cubans want and what we recommend to foreign researchers if they really want to know Cuba were several of the countless of topics not yet exhausted, but that surely marked the difference between what we are and what they had told Ernesto Londoño we were.

At any rate, despite the limitations and how dreadful what he has written so far in his quasi-perverse editorials, about which I offered my sincere opinion, expressed in several articles published in Cubanet, I’m glad this young journalist has had, so far, the opportunity to listen to opinions from positions and commitments so different as those of the barricades of the official press or the free spontaneity of at least a portion of the voices of the independent press. We hope he will learn to feel the pulse of the Cubans at the bottom rungs, those who subsist in neighborhoods near his expensive lodgings. I hope that, going forward, he is more responsible, or at least that he assumes the consequences of his writings.

I am glad that he has also been in the company of the makers of “critical” publications so light that they enjoy the privilege to work in legal offices in Havana, another reform miracle that betrays the type of changes that the Cuban government has implemented and that constitutes a clear signal of the long road that we Cubans must travel in order to defend our interests, so different from the long Cuban dictatorship and from those that Ernesto Londoño himself has defended with as much ignorance as vehemence from the biased NYT editorials.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Rebellion on the Walls / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Down With Fidel (Photo by author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, 20 October 2014 — Contrary to the image of calm and stability that the Cuban government likes to project abroad, numerous posters are appearing with messages of protest and denunciations every morning around Havana streets and in the rest of the country, in spite of severe laws that prohibit expressing disagreements against official politics.

“Down with Fidel”, “Down with Raúl”, “Down with the dictatorship” or “Cuba is a corrupt country”, along with phrases of solidarity with Venezuela — where radicalized populist measures are taking place that have put democracy at risk — are some of the messages that proliferating in Cuba, despite the government sparing no expense to punish these acts of rebellion.

Sometimes written with regular pencils, and other times, simply scraping the wall with a piece of metal and with the haste of one who knows that, in Cuba, manifestly dissenting is a crime pursued with excessive fury, most of the graffiti only get to express in a direct manner the opposition to a system of government which very few people are betting on by now.

It is public knowledge that in Cuba just the appearance of a simple poster in the workplace, school or public place id enough to have all hell break loose, in the form of police investigations, harassment and arrests that not even a blood crime or a violent robbery can mobilize, since some forms of open opposition, even more so when they involve acts of association or are an enticement to rebellion, can be considered very serious crimes against “state security”, which is proof to the phrase “whoever sets the law, sets the trap”.

Nevertheless, men and women who cannot bear to continue to keep silent, assuming the risks, go out clandestinely at night to scribble their complaints, even knowing that in a few hours someone will make their messages disappear in the clumsiest manner.

Sometimes the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party is responsible for covering the messages using unsightly stockades covered in partisan slogans; Other times, a brigade of workers or students will cross off the graffiti with brushstrokes, fulfilling an urgent task of the syndicate or of the Union of Young Communists. This was described by a young man who has chosen to remain anonymous so as not to harm him at his place of employment. He used to be Secretary of the Youth of his class during his years as a university student:

“Since the university faculty is in an area without lighting at night, signs that read there ” Down with Fidel “and other things frequently appeared. My hair would stand up on ends because I knew that the problems would follow. The police would go crazy asking questions among students and teachers, They would treat everyone as if we were guilty. They treated us as if we were guilty, they looked at us with suspicion. Since I was in the Union of Young Communists, it became my job to put together a small brigade to paint over the signs to cover them up. The worst thing is that the painting appeared immediately, but when we would ask for paint for the classroom windows, they would tell us there was no money, but for covering the signs there was.

A worker at an automobile workshop in [the neighborhood of] El Cerro (where one can still see, even with the paint strokes, one of the signs by the Patriotic Union of Cuba UNPACU), comments:

“If you asked me, I would leave them, but if we don’t cover them up, there would be a big problem. The Party members gang up on us and the cops appear immediately as if someone had been killed. They fired the custodian because of that sign. They had to take it out on someone because it’s really impossible to know who scribbled it. Since the sign is on the walls of the workshop, then it’s our problem. They are about to paint the whole wall because what was written can still be seen.

Judging by the storm of official ideological propaganda that is invading the city, the Cuban people appear to be a homogeneous, monolithic mass, and, above all, happy with their status as a subdued herd. If we focus our eyes on those sloppy cover-ups and the paint stains on some other walls, then we will begin to understand that there is a silence that begins to break down.

Radio, television, web pages, the very few newspapers and magazines circulating all under the Communist Party baton, and even the boxes of matches and the covers of the school notebooks are, besides vehicles of manipulation of the popular masses, an expression of the paranoia of the main leaders in the most unsuspected places are a lesson in dignity and its persistence.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Young Cuban Denounces New Human Rights Violation / Cubanet, Yusmila Reyna Ferrer

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba, 12 October 2014, Yusmila Reyna Ferrer  — The Island’s government has denied the right of Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, youth leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), based in Santiago de Cuba, to travel to the Czech Republic, as invited by organizations based in that European country, on Saturday 11 October.

According to reports from the young activist, when the customs authorities at Havana International Airport checked his documents, after separating from him the rest of the check-in line, and on looking at his passport, informed him that he could not travel, without giving a specific reason.

Carlos Amel says that such a violation demonstrates the intention of Cuban State Security wanted to silence UNPACU’s activist and to censor international exposure to the arguments of the organization in their fight for a pluralistic society within the island.

It is not the first time that the Cuban authorities have violated Amel Carlos Oliva’s basic right to travel. According to the activist, last September 30 he was also intercepted while preparing to go to a similar event in Chile.

With the repeal of the famous “exit permit” in January 2013, Cuban society appeared to take a step forward in achieving new freedoms. However, these facts show that what is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still subject to consideration by the authorities of the island, who continue to arbitrarily decide who can leave the country and who can not.

With the Port of Mariel, Cuba Reassesses its Geographical Position / Miriam Leiva

Mariel Port, Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba, 31 January 2014, www.cubanet.org – The position of the Port of Mariel has revalued the geographical importance of Cuba, lost with the end of the Cold War. The soldiers who for 46 years were the support of the government, when they began to direct everything in mid-2006 they found a country undercapitalized, productively and humanly.

General Raul Castro has moved the troops towards economic ends to confront the disaster that can not be overcome, despite his straitjacketed reforms that don’t encourage hard work and creativity to supply imports and increase exports.

As his travels through the friendly countries failed to achieve a financial injection for core investments and the replacement for the possible reduction or loss of petrodollars from Venezuela, he seems to have taken advantage of the changes in the 21st century, to preserve the fifty-year revolution, the “unity in diversity” of CELAC, beyond militant ALBA.

The transit of senior officers of the Armed Forces to create civilian businesses in innovative sectors began in the late 1980s and, especially, with the debacle of the “Special Period in Peacetime” and the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union and other countries of real socialism.

In the early ’90s, Fidel Castro authorized the company Gaviota to engage in tourism, the TRDs or stores for the recovery of hard currency, and Raul Castro sought the implementation of the successful business system in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, but passing into the civilian sector without the conditions of organizational control military did not give the same results. From here much of the current entrepreneurs emerged.

The Port of Mariel is the only great monument built by the Revolution and will remain as a legacy of Raul Castro. Companies of the Ministry of the Armed Forces appear to have met the schedule and built a quality container terminal, inaugurated by the president and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff last January 27.

Upon completion of all the works, perhaps it will join the seven wonders of Cuban engineering, like the Albear aqueduct, from the nineteenth century, still in use. Furthermore, the Special Development Zone boosts the national economy. A stark contrast to the legacy of destruction across the country, critically wrought over previous decades.

Undoubtedly, President Jose Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Mrs. Rousseff, calculated well the positioning in an economically asphyxiated Cuba. The Brazilians arrived in a big way to “help confront the northern neighbor,” to open American trade and tourism. The companies of the competitive Yankees advance with the best technology in the world.

Of course, it also entered the current priority calculations: Super Post-Panamax vessels, the Panama Canal expansion. In the Cuban press reports it was noted that the top leaders of the works are executives of the Brazilian company Odebrecht — the principal in the project — and Raul Castro said the administration of the container terminal will be in charge of one of the largest port operators in the world. Lamentable guarantee that inexperienced Cubans will not hard the adequate functioning.

As a prelude to the opening, the advantages of foreign investment in the Mariel Special Development Zone have been divulged. Russian, Chinese, German, British, French, Italian and Brazilian companies of course are mentioned as interested. The approach of the Mexican president could follow the same course. However, investors need guarantees that the old law doesn’t offer. Hence a new version has been promised.

As the project only benefits those who desire to hide their problems and arbitrariness, a greatly cultivated style in Cuba for decades, the presence of more European Union countries and the United States could be advantageous to the competence of the best economic opportunities, most advanced technologies, training, sources of jobs and less dependence.

Cubanet, 31 January 2014,