The Golden Dream of A Prostitute / Cubanet, Gladys Linares

cubanet square logoCubanet, Gladys Linares, Havana, 5 December 2016 — I don’t remember exactly how much time had passed since I’d seen Cristina, but it must have been more than three years, because today, when I saw her at the home of a mutual friend and asked about her daughter, who had caused her so many headaches, she responded, very content, “She’s good, calm, married and has a son who is about to turn two.”

When Cristina turned 16 and was studying in high school, she started to change radically. At first she made up the story that she was studying with some classmates, and was late or that she slept over at some girlfriend’s house. And so, little by little, until she stopped showing up some night at all, although she continued in high school and some teachers said she was a good student.

Then she left school and started to disappear more often, sometimes even for a week. Desperate, her  mother went out looking for her and tried everything to discipline her, from persuasion to violence, but without results. According to a friend, the young woman said she didn’t continue her studies because even if she graduated she would not be able to meet her basic economic needs, and that what she needed was “a yuma [foreigner] to be able to live well.” continue reading

Among her clients was a Spaniard three times her age. This gentleman wanted to meet her mom and came to collect her at home. The girl ended up pregnant. The Spaniard repaired the house, which was in very bad conditions. When the child was born he married her and came by even more often. He took her to live in Spain for a time, but she couldn’t adapt. His family lived there, his kids, his grandkids — some of them older than she was — and she didn’t feel comfortable among them.

Then, he bought her a mansion in La Vibora, on Santa Catalina Avenue. It had land with fruit trees, a swimming pool, servants and it was peaceful. The Spaniard even bought a car for when he was in Cuba, and when her husband was gone she had a chauffeur.

Although I can’t think that this is what Cristina as a mother would have wanted for her daughter, the truth is that at least the young woman is not spending her nights in the streets looking for clients, being extorted by pimps or police or risking going to jail at any moment.

This story of the life of a prostitute is not the happiest, but in today’s Cuba, this has become the golden dream of a prostitute. Nor is it the exception: many young women come to the oldest profession to escape the poverty and the homelessness our population faces.

For years, Fidel Castro thundered that the Revolution had ended gambling and prostitution, “the evils of the capitalist society,” although later he was forced to publicly recognize its existence: “Our prostitutes are the healthiest and best educated in the world,” said Castro, which is also a lie.

And with the economic crisis that began in the ’90s, the so-called “special period in times of peace,” prostitution spreads like wildfire. Today, thousands and thousands of young people throughout the country turn to this practice to satisfy their economic needs and/or their anxiousness to emigrate. Surprisingly, the hookers are not looked badly on by a broad sector of the population, but in many cases are admired, because in general they display a higher standard of living that is possible in Cuba on the salary of a job.

No More Blackouts? / Cubanet, Gladys Linares

The blackouts occur very frequently “at the time of the water,” in those 4 or 5 hours on alternate days that the liquid arrives at our houses
The blackouts occur very frequently “at the time of the water,” in those 4 or 5 hours on alternate days that the liquid arrives at our houses

“If water and electricity have the same owner, why do they turn off my power when I need it most?”

cubanet square, Gladys Linares, Havana, 28 April 2015 – The word “blackout” was eliminated by the Electric Company.  Nevertheless, blackouts continue, managed, disguised, masked with terms like free channel, breakdown, maintenance, pole change, broken cables, etc., causing a thousand and one miseries among the population.

For Andres, a self-employed man who sells pizzas, spaghetti and smoothies in Lawton, the blackouts, he says, have turned into a nightmare.  He says that  recently he cannot sell a smoothie because the fruit pulp was spoiled in a blackout, and as his oven is electric, when the lights go out he cannot make pizzas, either. continue reading

Several times a week the same hell confronts those who are obligated to cook with electricity; without it there is no food.  There are those who solve the problem with a cylinder of gas (almost always bought on the black market because few have the 500 pesos necessary for getting a contract for the unrationed gas canisters).

The Island stopped in time

The first electric plant was established in Cuba in 1889 (in Cardenas), only seven years after New York’s first electric plant was inaugurated.  For the republic’s half century, few complained about blackouts.  But after 1959, the Cuban electric system did not escape the disaster, and as in so many spheres of our calamitous economy, it was at the point of collapse.

In the Tribune of Havana newspaper of August 15, 2010, the program’s chief engineer, Pedro Felipe de las Casas, declared that he had carried out 75 percent of the necessary improvements in order to offer a high quality service to the capital’s clients, and among those works he mentioned were: rush changes, increased transformer capacity, improvements in street lighting – though not in the outlying neighborhoods – and to conclude he said, “So far 3,109 low voltage areas have been eliminated which stands out as one of the results most noticed by the people.”

Power lines and untrimmed trees in Calzada de Porvenir, Lawton

In spite of the government’s triumphant propaganda about energy efficiency, frequent fluctuations in voltage continue which damage appliances, and in the neighborhoods we spend long hours without electricity.

The pruning of trees that damage lines that hang from poles is only carried out in a marathon manner in the face of an imminent cyclone. The branches are another of the frequent cause of electric service interruption or of accidents. On Friday, April 10 in the suburb of Abel Santamaria, a 12-year old boy climbed a tree to knock down mangoes and was electrocuted by a line that passed through the branches.

The lights go out when the water arrives

The blackout happens very frequently at the “water time,” that is to say, in those 4 or 5 hours in which on alternate days the vital liquid arrives at our houses.  When this happens, you can hear the curses of the neighbors who had washing machines going (although many have to wash by hand).  Worse occurs in the case of multi-family buildings or other multi-story houses: without electricity the motors don’t start, and without motors to run the pumps, the water does not get to them.

For these reasons, more than a few are outraged, and some wonder: if in 48 hours we only have water for 5 hours, maybe 6, generally 4 hours, if it is true that they turn off the electricity to make repairs, if the water and the electricity are from the same owner: Why do they have to take my power when I need it most?  Is it that you cannot make the repair in the other 40 hours?

On one of these days that corresponded to the arrival of the water, an affected neighbor, who asked me not to mention her name, called 18888 and asked the operator how long was the blackout was going to be.  She countered her: “In Cuba there are no blackouts.”

On another occasion another neighbor called to find out, and they told him that a pole at 16th and Conception (Lawton) had caught fire.  To verify it, he went out for a spin on his bicycle in the area but did not manage to find the supposed incident.

Julia Cecilia Ramos, an old lady who receives a monthly pension of 240 pesos (less than US$10), was due her payment on March 26.  She arrived at the CADECA closest to her house, and the store was closed for lack of electricity.  She continued to the bank, and there found the same situation. The old woman told me that she decided to return to her house, “because the blackouts in Cuba, although they no longer exist, they last hours.”

Caption:  Blackouts and water shortages go hand in hand in the daily tribulations of Havana
Caption:  Blackouts and water shortages go hand in hand in the daily tribulations of Havana

About the author

gladys-linares.thumbnailGladys Linares.  Cienfuegos, 1942.  School teacher.  She worked as a geography teacher and a principal in different schools for 32 years.  She joined the Human Rights Movement at the end of 1990 through the Women’s Humanitarian Front organization.  She actively participated in the Cuban Council and the Varela Project.  Her chronicles reflect the daily life of the people.

Translated by MLK

The Gardens of Indigence / Cubanet, Gladys Linares

For the environmental project, “A Rose-Colored Planet,” children would be responsible for beautifying the green spaces of the capital. Dilapidated Havana requires much more than a community gardening project: sanitizing the city is the urgent business.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Gladys Linares, Havana, February 27 2015 — Now it turns out that children have the responsibility for creating green spaces for the enjoyment of the public, and ending more than fifty years of governmental neglect.

This is unheard of!

In the article, “They celebrate the work day in order to promote the beauty of gardens,” the newspaper Juventud Rebelde describes the environmental project, “A Rose-Colored Planet,” and an interest group composed of 500 children that would be responsible for beautifying the green spaces of the capital.

Will children be able to solve the problem created by the public services that go around collecting the large garbage and debris heaps that proliferate in the city, with 14-ton front-end loaders that destroy the sidewalks, curbs and gardens, and leave craters that become breeding grounds for mosquitos, rats, and other carriers of disease?

Any idiot knows that the complexity of this task requires continue reading

much more than a community project, because the duty of maintaining green spaces in good condition — as well as of implementing public health and sanitation projects — falls to the public administration.

Will children be able to solve the shortage of wheeled bins needed to collect the 20-thousand cubic meters of waste that our city generates? This dearth of bins is often the result of mishandling by Comunales * workers (who are not held accountable for their actions), or acts of “social indiscipline” such as wheels being removed, junk being discarded in the bins, the bins being set on fire, etc. Such actions convert densely-populated neighborhoods such as Diez de Octubre, Centro Habana, Arroyo Naranjo and San Miguel del Padrón into sites for those large garbage heaps referenced above.

Will our children be able to require that the workers who are currently installing the water meters in Marianao not leave behind debris, trenches and water leaks upon completing these projects?

But it is not only Aguas de La Habana which leave behind their mark of shoddiness. The gas company does it, too, when they complete some road “repair” project. They claim that covering-up and fixing the sidewalks is the Comunales’* responsibility, and despite efforts often made by area residents, these projects are not finished adequately.

All this negligence on the part of the State has provoked an exacerbation of acts of “social indiscipline.”  In the absence of parks and recreational areas, the children play in the streets, annoying the neighbors. In the absence of containers, the public alleges (rightfully) that garbage cannot be kept inside the house, so they throw it in the street. Perhaps it is no coincidence that we hear so often of neighbors and relatives of friends dying of leptospirosis, as happened last week to a young man and his dog, who lived less than 100 meters from one of those garbage heaps.

“A Rose-Colored Planet” includes among its objectives the creation of gardens for the enjoyment of hospitalized children and residents of elder-care facilities, applying the methods employed in French gardening — a fine and noble task. Starting at early ages, this community project develops civic consciousness, which we so need today.

But much more than children’s projects is needed to return Havana to its green lushness.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison, and others

Translator’s Note:

* Comunales is the state-run waste management company in Cuba. For other articles in Translating Cuba about related issues, click here.

They Taught Us to Lie, Steal and Pretend / Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba – Very often we hear the officials of the Ministry of Education stress our country´s successes in this field from 1959 onwards, and we ask ourselves how can they possibly talk about this without the slightest shame, ignoring the profound loss of values confronting Cuban society, when even Raúl Castro, on July 7, 2013 at the 1st ordinary session of the 8th Term of the National Assembly of Popular Power recognised that for the more than twenty years of the Special Period “there has been an acceleration of the decline of moral and civic values such as honesty, decency, shame, respect. honour, and an absence of sensitivity toward other peoples´problems.”

With these words he recognised that the destruction of Cuban society did not start in the Special Period. What happened is that, from the start of the totalitarian Castro dictatorship, Cubans have had to lie, be dishonest, distort childrens´ education and many other things in order to survive.

Now they say that the school and the family are fundamental in the development of the citizen, but for many years they have not cared about the training and care of the educators. In Cuba, before 1959, they had achieved great advances in public education, and although even more effort was needed to deal with the serious deficiencies in rural education, our schools were forming professionals capable of improving the culture and education of our people.

While it is true that the literacy campaign was an important event in the fight against illiteracy, not everything was wheat, because at the same time a difficult period was starting for Cuban teachers.

With the intention of imposing an educational system which would answer to the interests of the new government, they introduced the law nationalising teaching and set up a unitary educational system under the pretext that the schools we inherited were schools which tended to serve the “spurious” interests of imperialism. Those teachers who were against this were removed from education. The Kindergarten “Normal” Schools, as well as the “Normal” schools for teachers, disappeared, and distinct programmes started up for turning young people into a new type of teacher, like the voluntary teachers (who took intensive courses in the Sierra Maestra). the Makarenko teachers and, more recently, the emerging teachers.

In 1975, in view of the scarcity of teachers, they started the Teacher Training Schools, where 6th grade pupils entered, and which functioned until 1990. These schools started up again in the 2010-2011 academic year, now with 9th grade pupils. There are 22 in the country and this year will be the first graduation.

This is the way they improvised teaching: with kids, adolescents and young people without either the teaching experience, nor the necessary knowledge to carry out the complete activity of teaching and educating.

At the same time, the arbitrary programmes applied in the system, like the boarding schools in the country, where the students had to devote a part of their day to farm labour, separated the children and young people from their families at decisive stages in their upbringing, which accentuated the loss of values.

Also, during all those years, there was the continuous exodus of teachers, driven by the low salaries (no more than 400 Cuban pesos a month, less than twenty dollars U.S.), as well as the poor teaching methods, which impacted on their professional evaluation, and the very bad working conditions.

Nowadays the Cuban school is characterised by the absenteeism of pupils and teachers, by the inappropriate form of dress and way of addressing each other, and also some teachers frequently use obscene words to control the students. And we can´t avoid mentioning the deterioration of the state of the facilities.

As a result of all this, the recent scandal about fraud in the maths exams to enter higher education was no surprise, which came to light when the echoes of the previous case were still reverberating, in relation to the maths test for the eleventh grade the previous year. And the worst of it was everyone knows these weren´t the only incidents, just the ones which were made public. And, sadly, I would dare to say that they won´t be the last. I hope I´m mistaken.

Cubanet, 6 June 2014, Gladys Linares

Translated by GH

The Sewer Waters’ Phantom Truck / Gladys Linares

Many Havana streets barely have any pavement. The drains are clogged. With the rains the overflowing sewers allow sewage out. They try to justify these difficulties with the Special Period, everyone knows that the neglect began in 1959.

Cubanet, HAVANA, Cuba, June 13, 2014 — We residents of the capital have seen how the streets and avenues have been deteriorating for more than 50 years, arriving at the critical situation in which they are today. Although roads are an expensive activity, and the government says it has assigned millions to the rehabilitation of the capital’s main arteries, if a profound drainage restoration is not undertaken, the situation, which is critical, the problem of the floods, as well as the sewer water in our streets, will not be resolved.

The sewer system was designed for a certain number of residents, but Havana’s population has been growing by leaps and bounds, and this creates difficulties. A few days ago through the media it was announced that the government was engaged in improving the capital’s pipeline system.

Barely two years ago the official media released a lot of propaganda about the repair of the avenues, among them Calzada de Dolores, Lacret, Porvenir, Diez de Octubre. But, as is already customary, these jobs were not well done, and a few days ago it made headlines again that the avenues already need new repairs. continue reading

Today many city streets are practically back roads, full of dirt, because there is barely any pavement left. The drains are clogged, and as the sewage system networks are not rehabilitated, when heavy rains flood the streets, the overflowing sewers allow sewage waters to get out. Although there is an effort to justify these problems with the Special Period, everyone knows that the neglect dates from 1959.

Many Havana neighborhoods exemplify this reality. To just mention one, in Santos Suarez, Diez de Octubre municipality, in Rabi and Enamorados streets the situation is critical. But that is not the only place where this occurs. Today Ricardo, a young man who lives on Lagueruela street in Lawton, told me that his patio was full of dirty water that smelled like a grave, and that as the downpour got worse, more came out and ran through the halls towards the street. Also the neighbor, an older lady, called him, startled because water was coming out of her bath drain.

For some time, some people have been removing the drain covers when the streets flood. They think that this way the water will drain faster and so they will prevent the flooding of their houses. But as these grills almost always are in the middle of the streets, this constitutes a danger not only for the pedestrians who try to cross the streets, but also for vehicles like bicycles and motorcycles. Jorge, a neighbor, tells me that recently a man caught his attention and directed him to call the high pressure truck that extracts black water, and he looked at him mockingly and shot back: “Buddy, that truck is a ghost!  I’m tired of calling it and it not coming!”

Translated by mlk.

14 June 2014

Fernando’s Eggs / Gladys Linares

Monte and Aguila. Photo Gladys Linares
Monte and Aguila. Photo Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba. – Some “fighters” have done as Fernando, who when he decided to retire, began to think about how to increase his pension without courting trouble, because he was tired of “resolving” to feed his family.  One day, on passing through the farmer’s market at Diez de Octubre and General Lee, he saw that they were selling newly hatched chicks, and he bought 20 in order to begin his brood. He had found his little business. He knew that the government sells the unrationed feed for three pesos a pound. Also, rearing poultry was nothing new for him because in his childhood in Palmira, Cienfuegos, his parents kept hens in the backyard, and he and his siblings would sell the eggs in the city.

Fernando thought that this way he would have guaranteed eggs for his own consumption and even would be able to sell some in the street. He was sure he would have no problems with the police because he had bought the animals as well as the food from the State.

But, the poor man, he forgot that he was in Cuba: A few days ago he was walking the streets selling eggs when a police officer intercepted him. As much as the poor gentleman tried to explain that he was not a reseller, the officer took him to the station where they confiscated the merchandise and imposed a fine. They told him that individuals are prohibited from selling eggs, that only the State can do it.

Fernando already has forty hens and a production of 30 eggs daily. And after that day, he only sells hidden in his home.

Eight eggs per month per person in 1965.  Now the quota fell to five.

On January 2, 1965, in one of his long speeches, Fidel Castro said: “The great battle of the eggs has been won. From now on the people will be able to count on 60 million eggs each month.” With this affirmation he demonstrated his scorn for Cubans because given the then-population, that quantity in reality represented around eight eggs a month per person.

That same year, he would create the Animal Science Institute (ICA) whose main objective must have been the search for better alternatives for feeding cattle and poultry, an objective that the Institute still has not achieved 49 years after its creation.

El Carrusel, Virgen del Camino, line for eggs – Photo Gladys Linares

In reality, in Cuba before 1959, more than 85% of the farms were dedicated to raising poultry and selling eggs. It was also a rare country family that did not have a small brood whose eggs constituted a product for quick sale. Also, in Havana, at Villas and Oriente, there were big poultry production centers so the sale of live animals and eggs was no problem for the population. It is after the arrival of the revolutionary government, with the intervention in farms dedicated to poultry, that the scarcity of this food begins.

Calle Monte market – Photo Gladys Linares

Also, with the objective of increasing the poultry production, the Institute of Poultry Investigations was created in 1976. By the way, according to reports it published, in Cuba there are 10 million egg layers, although we all ask ourselves where are the eggs. The government sells by ration book five eggs a month per person, so the five additional that cost 90 cents were excluded from regulated sale. After that point, eggs have practically disappeared, and when they are sold unrationed their price is 1.10 pesos national currency.

The scarcity of this protein causes long lines, in great demand among the population not only because of its nutritional value but because it is the cheapest sold in the country. And the old people are the most affected. In the opinion of many, it would be preferable to raise the price 20 cents instead of eliminating them from the ration book.

Cubanet, 24 March 2014, Gladys Linares

Translated by mlk

The Tax Man and his Aladdin’s Lamp / Gladys Linares

Private taxi — photo Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba. — In 2010, Elvira was dismissed from her workplace. She had no option other than to get a license and open a snack-bar in her home in order to support her mother and son. She started selling coffee, soft drinks and sandwiches. She remarks that working for herself was more convenient, and she believed that she owed nothing to anyone because every month she duly paid her taxes.

Nevertheless, when she heard talk for the first time about the sworn statement about personal income as part of the “perfection” of the Cuban economic model, she never imagined what would happen to her: one fine day, they notified her that she owed nine thousand pesos national currency in debt to the tax authorities, and 500 in fines for fraud in her sworn statement, a total of 380 CUC [around $400 USD, close to two year’s average income in Cuba], hard currency and unattainable.

On inquiring at the Office of National Tax Administration (ONAT), the responses she received left her bewildered.  According to the official, in order to monitor the sworn statement, they consider the work hours, quantity of products sold and their prices, as well as the place where the snack-bar is located. continue reading

Private taxi -- photo Gladys Linares
Private taxi — photo Gladys Linares

Elvira asked how they could know all that, and the worker replied that the evaluation might be direct or indirect.  “You may know that we observe you, but equally we have the option of evaluating you without your knowing.”  And she added that if she did not agree, she could complain.  Elvira, getting to her feet, told her: “I see now that you all get information from Aladdin’s Lamp.” Today she is thinking of turning in her license and working under the table, but first she must devise a way to pay the debt.

A carrier who did not want to reveal his name said that he turned in his license more than three months ago because “the streets are in a very bad state, and I barely earned enough to buy tires and fix the car.”  In spite of that, a short while ago they notified him of a tax debt of 30 thousand pesos national currency, some 1,200 CUC.

One of the topics that lately has caused a commotion among the people is the great quantity of money the self-employed have to pay by way of taxes and fines.

Julio, an honest and enterprising neighbor, closed his private restaurant and turned in his license some time ago. He says that when the matter of the sworn statement about personal income began at the end of the year, he did not understand why, if all those months he paid 10% of his income, he had to pay again at year’s end.

“Marino Murillo said,” complains Julio, “that the payment to the tax system is to diminish the inequalities among the citizens. And I say what must be done for that is to take away privileges from the leaders, officials and their families, who are the ones who live well in this country, at the expense of Cubans.”

Cubanet, February 27, 2014, 

Translated by mlk.

Goodbye to the Self-employed Worker / Gladys Linares

Dragones and Galiano after prohibition of imported items — photo by Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba, January, — For the majority of us, January generally is a month of privations. For decades people often have been heard lamenting in the first days of the year about how difficult their situation is, but never like now. This 2014, according to some, the scarcity is felt more than at other times.

Many think that this is due, in great part, to the arbitrary measure applied to self-employed workers since the November 2, 2013, news brief in the Granma newspaper announcing the prohibition of the sale of articles imported or acquired in the state commercial network. In addition, it gave a brief term of 59 days (until December 31) for liquidating merchandise. This order caused the failure of many of the self-employed because in spite of having good demand from the population, the term was not sufficient.

One of the damaged sellers — who did not want to identify himself — had a license as a producer-seller of several items for the home. A great portion of his merchandise was acquired through a friend who travels to Ecuador. For three years inspectors visited him, always looking for a way to find some fault, but they never told him that he could not sell imported items. continue reading

Another one injured used to sell clothes imported at the Virgen del Camino fair; she commented — anonymously — that although she is unionized, she did not approach the union because it answers to the Government. Also, she adds, “If I make a claim, I stand out; better to keep selling behind closed doors.”

Many times the Government tried to blame shortages on the self-employed who “monopolized” the stores in the absence of a wholesale market. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the great majority, now the falsity of this hypothesis has been demonstrated because after the new prohibition, the shelves of stores, kiosks and state containers are emptier than before.

With the fever of self-employment, Havana came to life. Fixing and painting dwellings and facades and taking advantage of idle or under-used spaces for new cafeterias, small restaurants, second-hand shops, or kiosks, hanging cheerful posters of all kinds advertising offers and causing the comings and goings of onlookers and customers, it is indisputable that those who began to test their luck changed the urban landscape.

Among those new places, the Caridad fair came to be one of the most attended in Central Havana. It is located on the corner of Dragones and Galiano, on land equipped by the Government for renting to self-employed but that today is found vacant given that the majority of the stands were devoted to the sale of imported items.

Space equipped by the State, now empty -- photo by Gladys Linares
Space equipped by the State, now empty — photo by Gladys Linares

But the sellers are not the only ones hurt with this measure. These self-employed meet many needs of the people who now have nowhere to go because historically the State has not be able to provide us with certain products.

One of the affected clients is a neighbor who needed two water faucets, but since the sellers of plumbing supplies in Lawton closed their businesses, he had to go to Central Havana to see if he could find some. On returning in the afternoon, tired from walking and without faucets, he commented: “The stores are empty, the stands and kiosks, ’bare.’  First they authorized the self-employed to sell and now they prohibit them. In short, as Cantinflas* would say, ’There are moments in life that are truly momentous.’”

*Translator’s note: Cantinflas was a hugely successful Mexican comedic actor, on the level of a “speaking” Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin called him “the best comedian alive”).

Cubanet, January 31, 2014,

Translated by mlk

Queen-Brand Pots, Chinese Refrigerators and the Little Gas Cylinder / Gladys Linares

Hornilla-casera-de-carbón_foto-cortesía-de-la-autora-300x200HAVANA, Cuba, January, — With the change of domestic appliances in the so-called energy revolution devised by Fidel Castro, there began for us a series of problems that each day gets worse.

We were warned to exchange old Russian refrigerators and air conditioners, or American ones from the pre-“revolutionary” era, for Chinese equipment supposedly of lower energy consumption, payable through a bank credit that people are paying off still today.

During that period they also sold, in certain locations, fans, water heaters, electric stoves, rice and multipurpose cookers (the so-called Queen brand pots), at the same time that electric rates were increased.  The gas sale cycle for these families was extended to six months for each 20 pound drum (the so-called “little balls”) “just in case some day the electricity flow is interrupted,” which happens quite frequently.

Due to their poor quality, these pieces of equipment quickly broke, and the shortage of replacement parts has obliged Cuban families to adopt different alternatives in order to be able to cook.  Some do it with charcoal; others buy a gas cylinder on the black market. continue reading

Such is the case of Erlinda, who has prepared a little charcoal stove although she complains that sometimes it is difficult to get one; with much difficulty it can be bought on the black market.  She says that now she knows the cause of its scarcity: according to what she read in the Granma newspaper of January 14, charcoal is an export item.

Refill hose for cylinders  -- photo courtesy of the author
Refill hose for cylinders — photo courtesy of the author

For some, the quota of gas is not sufficient, but they don’t have the money to buy a cylinder on the black market, so they try to get a “shot” (the residue) from a neighbor or friend, almost always emptying one drum to another with the appropriate hose, a dangerous operation that has caused more than one explosive accident costing lives and homes.

A while back, one afternoon, Raudel, a gas courier, tried to help a neighbor in this procedure, and although he did the maneuver in the doorway, someone who was passing at that moment lit a cigarette and everyone ended up in the burn room of the Calixto Garcia hospital.

When Raul Castro, in his speech on December 13, 2012, announced that he was increasing the production of petroleum and gas, a rumor began to circulate that its sale would be freed from the rationing system.  But what no one expected is that in order to consume gas by the pound he would have to enter into a contract with the State to rent, for 500 pesos, an empty cylinder, and only with this could he then get it filled for a price of 130 pesos.

During the eighth legislature of Parliament, the deputies Attention to Services Commission voiced the difficulties presented by the electric domestic appliances and recognized that more than 80% were in disuse.

Near Barrio Obrero, gas transport -- photo courtesy of the author
Near Barrio Obrero, gas transport — photo courtesy of the author

As a “solution” to this problem, the State widened access to the bank credits in CUC, applying the prevailing exchange rate (25 Cuban pesos for 1 Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC) so that those affected might buy their appliances again and undertake more debt, although they also have the “option” of buying the unrationed gas through contract with the State.

On learning the news, a friend exclaimed:  “I don’t know why they are surprised, if this bloodsucking Government takes a step, or makes a change, or applies a measure, it’s only to suck our blood!”

Cubanet, January 29, 2014, Gladys Linares.

Translated by mlk.

Dining Rooms for the Elderly Are Pathetic / Gladys Linares

Havana, Cuba, November, – The Cuban Constitution, in Article 48 says: “The State protects through social assistance the elderly without resources and any other person unfit for work who lacks family members in a condition to lend them help.” In Law 105 of Social Security and Regulation 283 the requisites are established for fulfilling the mentioned article.

But in spite of the government propaganda about the important resources that it invests in social assistance, for old people it is very difficult to achieve this protection because of the series of obstacles that are imposed on them.

Tomasa is one of these old people.  She says she never worked for the government: she used to sew for the street and now arthritis prohibits her from doing so.  She made efforts to get the aid, but as she has a son, they refused it for her.

“I live alone,” she says, “because although my son is listed in the Address Register and in the ration book (I do not want him to lose the little room when I die); he is married, has two children and lives with the woman. His salary is not enough for them.  What conditions does he have to help me?  And in spite of that, he gives me money to pay for the refrigerator and to get my quota on the ration book.”

In Cuba there are 2,045,000 old people, who represent 18.3% of the population according to figures from the most recent census carried out in 2012 and published in the newspaper Granma on November 8, 2013.  As a strategy to confront the aging population, 17 years ago the System of Attention to the Family (SAF) was created, consisting of dining rooms to sell cheap food to the elderly who receive a pension of 200 Cuban pesos or less (around $8 US).

In all these years, the SAFs have not increased. Very few exist in each township. Some have closed because of the danger of collapse, and in almost all the rest the building conditions are bad. The kitchens are improvised and the lack of sanitation is alarming.

It is depressing to pass through one of these places and see the elderly standing in line while they wait to be served in their containers the badly prepared food that they then improve in their homes.

But still knowing all these difficulties, the elderly fight to be enrolled.  Rebeca is one of these. She used to receive help from her sister abroad, but the sister died, and Rebeca is not economically solvent.  She complains that the requirements for social assistance are many.

In the year 2010 with the policy of suppressing freebies, many old people who used to receive social assistance were excluded. Linet is 73 years old. She used to live with an older sister who had a son with mental retardation. On her death, the young man was awarded her pension. Linet, who had worked almost always as a domestic, then sought social assistance, and they awarded it to her.

Nevertheless, in 2010, her assistance was withdrawn. As much as she has written to all the authorities, they have not restored it to her because a pensioner lives in her house — the nephew — who supposedly is obliged to support her.

The part about the relatives “who have conditions” having to help the elderly without resources, is supremely debatable, if one takes into account that in Cuba they are quite few (if there are any) the people who are self-sufficient on their salaries alone. The responsibility for apportioning a decent existence through social assistance falls to the State.

Gladys Linares

Cubanet, December 2, 2013.

Translated by mlk

“With The Misery that We Have in This Countr”: Listening to Citizens Unburdening Themselves / Gladys Linares

“The transition now is taking place in the most important place, that is, in the soul and mind of Cubans, frustrated and disillusioned by so many broken promises.”
Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Havana, Cuba, November, — Every day the discontent of the people becomes more evident. It is not unusual for strangers to take advantage of any forced waiting to let off steam about their own problems, and in many cases, shared problems.

So, now it is customary to hear complaints and curses against the government at bus stops, in lines at the bodega, the butcher shop, the bakery, and in line at the medical clinic.

For example, in line at the clinic, one Saturday at midday, the following scene took place.

The almost thirty seats of the waiting room of the 30th of November Polyclinic  were practically full, because there was only one doctor on duty.  The really needy patients stayed, with no other option than to arm themselves with patience, but some left, figuring that they would not get out of there in two hours.

Catalina had no other option than to do like the former because she urgently needed a prescription and already at the Lawton Polyclinic they had “steamrolled” her: that doctor showed her her pitiful supply of three prescriptions, which, she said, demanded that they economize, so if it was not urgent…

And here the woman was now, waiting, like another twenty-odd people, for her turn.  After a while, a man of about fifty years of age arrived, aching, and asked who was last in line, so he would know his place, in a bad humored voice because of the number of people.

When a woman told him that there was only one doctor on duty, the man answered her that it was natural, if all the Cuban doctors are in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil or Haiti, or in whatever country except Cuba.  That is why so many clinics are closed and lines are so long in the ones that are open.

A very correct and well dressed young man intervened, who added that, it seems, the medications have gone with the doctors.  Another agreed, convinced that the same thing had happened to medical devices, judging by the news of NTV, in which they often spoke not only of medications freely shared, but entire hospitals donated by Cuba to those countries.

A girl asked where the Government gets what it gives, since when you go to a hospital, there is almost never anything with which to do tomography, nor a plate, nor a blood analysis, to which the gentleman replied that surely it has to do with donations which, instead of delivering them to the Cuban people, for whom they are managed, the Government uses them to earn followers in all of Latin America. Those present were in agreement that that was criminal, with the misery that we have in this country.

And so, between complaints and opinions — that if Maduro goes down the same road, that if medical attention that is worth it in Cuba is that of Cira Garcia or what the Venezuelans receive — time was passing.  Suddenly, another doctor with a foreign appearance arrived, who a little later opened the other consultation room.

Coincidentally, it was this one to whom Catalina was assigned when her turn arrived.  The woman entered with fear that this time too they would refuse her prescription, but by luck the complete opposite happened.  This doctor had an enormous bundle of them, and did not hesitate to give one to her and another to the gentleman who “slipped” in to ask for it.

Catalina left the clinic very happy, because now she could continue with her treatment.  On passing through the waiting room, she heard the patients who were continuing to unburden themselves: that if my cousin was a prisoner in UMAP for having long hair and listening to the Beatles, that if “this guy” is a cheeky one, so much that he prohibited them, and then to send him to make a statue of Lennon and to say that “he too is a dreamer,” that if the scarcity is in agriculture, because in the hotels and in the houses of the “pinchos” — the nomenklatura — nothing is lacking, that what they are going to do to recover the investment of those who had set up video rooms, that they commanded them all to shut down their businesses overnight, instead of giving them a license. . .

And for background music, Juan Gabriel on the laboratory’s mp3 and a blast of water falling from a tank on the roof.

Translated by mlk.
27 November 2013

Are Private Small Business Owners the Scapegoats? / Gladys Linares

LA HABANA, Cuba, November, – To us, the most interesting part of the National Television News is the weather report. “There is no use in watching the news,” says Julio, an octogenarian neighbor, “just to hear that the whole world is screwed up and in Cuba everything is going very well”.

After a speech on July 7th, 2013 by General Raul Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and president of the Councils of the State and Ministers, a speech in which he criticized the Cuban people’s loss of values and the chaotic situation of the country, the news started transmitting on Tuesdays a series of reports titled “Cuba Says”.

The one aired this week has given rise to a series of commentaries among the people, for example, that the large amount of inspectors imposing high penalty fees and suspending licences is part of an arranged operation, without doubt created against the private small business owners, because in the State’s good service centers everything seemed to be too organized: employees wearing uniforms, talking about hygiene norms… for many it was obviously staged.

A neighbor was commenting: “Before giving the private owners the licenses to process and sell food products, they were inspected by Public Health, because that is what happened to my son before he could open the restaurant. How is it possible that right after they get closed because they don’t meet the requirements?”

“They are clipping their wings, it’s not like they are becoming rich with their businesses”, another man says, “They are not fooling anybody: they gave out all those licenses to mask the massive layoffs in 2010, but as always, that’s a way to keep them in check and controlled”.

The lack of hygiene in the state centers where they process and sell food products is nothing new, unfortunately. Just to give an example, the bread that people eat daily, is left on a counter for hours, full of flies. The same employee handles the bread, money, and writes down on the food booklet with his bare hands. When the bread is covered we all know it is because an inspection is due. They deliver the bread to the so-called Paneras — where the bread is sold but not baked — transporting the bread in carts pulled by horses, a cart or a bicycle cart, and it is stored in open boxes, made out of plastic, wood or woven baskets.

People prefer the service of privately-owned cafeterias because of the quality of the products, the speed and quality of customer service that most of them offer, while in state-owned cafeterias the menus are very limited, and many times flies are part of the menu. Even the more expensive establishments, like some of the pastry chain Sylvain, have missing glass on the counters and flies have free access to the pastry.

The cockroaches find a home in hospitals, urgent care facilities, and doctor offices, but also in food processing establishments: lunchroom, bakeries, and restaurants of selling in the national currency, the Cuban peso, or in CUCs, the Cuban Convertible Peso. This is the case of Plaza Carlos III or the cafeteria in La Rampa Movie Theater.

In the “bodegas”, where food rations distributed by the State are sold, rats are also found camping, that is why some employees have a cats in these establishments, hidden from the view of the customers. A neighbor was telling me how she didn’t dare to buy the rice last month, because she saw how the seller killed a mouse inside a rice bag and he didn’t even bother to throw it away.

The lack of concern on the part of the Government about the lack of hygiene is detrimental to the health of the population. The water pollution, the bugs in the trash that is not picked up for days, and other ills, are some of the consequences. People need their problems to be addressed with a real solution, instead of drawing attention away from them and using the small business owners as scapegoats.

Gladys Linares

Cubanet, 21 November 2013

Retired Cubans, the Agony of Collecting a Pension / Gladys Linares

Retirees line up to collect in Virgen del Camino. Photo Gladys Linares
Retirees line up to collect in Virgen del Camino. Photo Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba , November, – As we have said on other occasions, the daily life of the elderly in Cuba is a great challenge. Confronting every day the lack of money, scarcity of food, difficulties in receiving medical care, and bureaucratic obstacles imposed by the Government, among other problems, make the last years of our existence difficult.

Our archipelago is among the fifty countries of the world with the highest proportion of people over sixty, which represents 17% of our population. Most are retirees or pensioners; despite this, the State is not about to assume a truly effective policy to improve the lives of citizens in the “third and fourth age.”

For pensioners, the monthly pension is an agony rather than cause for jubilation. In Cuba, your pension can be collected in banks, the post office, the CADECA currency exchanges, or through magnetic cards on a designated day of the month.

The magnetic card often becomes a problem. Many times the ATMs are not working, or there aren’t bills of all the denominations needed, or the cards are locked.

anciano-cubanoTo Ramon, a resident who collects his pension from this system, once had his card locked at an ATM at Dolores Metropolitan Bank between 18 and 19 in Lawton. He says he will never forget that hard time, because he had to wait 12 days for someone to help him draw it out, as the sign said on the door.

Some, like Hilario, collect their pension at the post office. According to him, they allow the check cashing there. Some time ago they had a courier to bring the pension to the house. He asked, but they didn’t have any personnel then and never has been.

But Jorge is not among those who can collect it at the post office, and as the bank is too far, he almost always goes to the CADECA, where the line is faster.  There, however, the downside is that sometimes there is not enough cash. Last month, for example, after two hours of waiting, he had to leave because the money ran out.

At the CADECA at Dolores and 13th, in Lawton, there are generally two separate lines, one to collect pensions and one to change money. However, a few days ago there was a single, immense and slow line, because they were only paying at one window. Until a man passed by on a motorcycle and made a sign very significant in Cuba which consists of touching your shoulder with two fingers (it was a warming that a boss or some important official was coming). Not three minutes had passed when they started working three windows.

ancianos-Cola-Jub-Banco-Víbora-300x214In the bank, on the other hand, although there should be no risk of running out of money, the line becomes slow for this same issue of management. For this reason, those who seek to collect their retirement must spend long hours in the street, on their feet, in the sun or rain. Sometimes an elderly person faints; it’s not uncommon for them to have had nothing more than a sip of coffee.

Panchito is one of those who collects at the bank. Yesterday he was soaked because it was raining and he didn’t find any shelter. And, like very month, he complained the pension isn’t even enough to eat, and says that’s why he plays the lottery.

Felipe, 84, waits in line all night to be the first to collect. He pays his installment payment on his fridge at the bank, then he pays the electricity, and runs his errands for the month. And the pension is gone. He confesses that he survives the rest of the month doing a little carpentry.

La China, a good-natured neighbor, adds that collecting her pension is difficult, but it’s harder to see how it flows out of her hands almost before she even begins.

Gladys Linares

Cubanet, 7 November 2013

“In 2020 we will have street lighting” / Gladys Linares

Cuban blackout
Cuban blackout

HAVANA, Cuba, October, — At the end of the ‘80s a neighbor whose name escapes me stuck a sign on his bike basket that said: “Friend of Perestroika.” One day I heard they had searched his house and taken him prisoner. That caused a lot of talk among the neighbors, because he was a Communist Revolutionary. That was the first time I’d heard of perestroika.

Also at that time a colleague of my husband, who had studied in the USSR and returned home with a Russian wife, spoke with great enthusiasm about the reforms, perestroika and glasnost. Because of this he had problems with the political police and lost his job. Later we didn’t know how that managed to get out of the country.

It was hard to get news about those events. Soviet magazines such as Sputnik, which might have information about them, stopped circulating. On the other hand, a great number of Cuban students and workers who were in the USSR didn’t return home for fear of being controlled by State Security, which tried to avoid, at all costs, the expansion of these new ideas. Many of them stayed in Europe later managed to settle in the United States. They were called “red worms.”

As these transformations occurred in the USSR, relations between the Cuban government and the socialist camp were deteriorating. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, at the end of 1989, most Cubans were excited because we were so eager for political change.

In those days, the opposition was growing, and taking off from the disappearance of Communism in Eastern Europe, engaged in a strategy of peaceful struggle to eliminate Communism in Cuba and to establish a democratic society with a market economy.

For more than twenty years, the Cuban people have confronted an economic and moral crisis. Despite this, it is very important to see how new generations look at the future from a different perspective, and are no longer silent about what they think.

With respect to this, the economist and opponent wrote, “The transition that is already taking place is the most important one, that is, in the hearts and minds of Cubans, frustrated and disillusioned with so many broken promises.”

A few days ago, a friend told me: “I’m not psychic, and predicting the date of change is difficult, but it is good to set short-term goals. That’s what encourages us to move forward and not lose momentum, so I like to imagine that by 2020 this dictatorship will be over.”

On the Malecon in Havana
On the Malecon in Havana

After thinking a bit, she continues, “When that happens, we will not have to steal to eat because our wages will be enough to live decently. We will travel along well-maintained streets, and at night we won’t have to be afraid to go out because they will be lit. The transportation problems will be resolved, perhaps with trains or, why not, with electric trams, that will circulate round the cities.

“I’ll take a stroll around the shops,” she adds, “which will have nice things in beautifully decorated windows. There will always be sales that the poor can take advantage of, and we will even be able to buy with easy payment. The houses and buildings and will be repaired and painted, and Havana will be even more beautiful than before 1959.

“In 2020 we will be better off than now, because anything is better than this. From time to time there will be real elections where we elect the president from among several candidates from different parties.

“My son, who lives in Miami, will come to see me more often, and, as in the past, we will have good relations with the U.S., where a large part of the Cuban people live. Some will come back and some wont.” She concludes, “Change will not be easy, but we will achieve it, and we will be here to see it.”

By Gladys Linares

From Cubanet, 30 October 2013

No Good, Attractive, Cheap Shoes in Cuba / Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba, August 2013, — The school year is about to begin and parents are now shopping around for shoes for their kids. It has been many years since those lace-up leather shoes, known as school shoes, have been sold. They complimented school uniforms well, were durable, protected children’s feet and were fungus resistant.

For some time they have been selling black tennis shoes called Pioneers instead. They go for 120 Cuban pesos, or about 5 CUC (approximately five US dollars). Although children do not like them, they are popular with parents because they hold up well if you reinforce the soles. According to some people, however, they can be hard to find them in the correct size, if you can find them at all.

If Pioneers are not available, then parents have to turn to the hard-currency shopping mall, where quality is not great and prices are high. Finding something that looks good is difficult. Another problem is that after a month’s wear you have to take them to a shoemaker to have the soles repaired.

Shoes for running errands

Similarly, it is impossible to find the kind of closed toe, low-heeled ladies’ shoes appropriate for those daily errands that require long walks. There is no justification for this, especially considering the number of women over fifty in this country.

Some time ago the National Office for Standardization acknowledged that imported goods in Cuba — including shoes — were of poor quality. Then why are they so expensive? This means they remain in the display windows of shoe stores so long that, on those rare occasions when they finally go on sale, they already show signs of wear.

A neighbor, Juan Alberto, bought a pair of shoes at a boutique. He paid 46.75 CUC* for them. The second time he wore them, the leather started to come apart.

Orthopedics, forget about it.

“Looking for a pair of shoes is like finding your way through a maze,” says Gloria, a seventy-two year old woman who needs special footwear because of paralysis she suffers resulting from a stroke. Gloria went to a custom shoe store after her orthopedist wrote her a prescription. She was told she would have to call and make an appointment because they were not filling new prescriptions at that time.

Finally, after several months, it was her turn. Once at the store they took her measurements and told her she could  pick them up in ninety days. Imagine her disgust, however, when, on the day she went to pick them up, she found out they were two sizes too big and were made with velcro instead of buckles. When she complained to an employee, he acted annoyed and told her, “This is it. Take it or leave it.” Gloria took them home and now uses them as slippers.

There is a popular alternative one can often find in building entryways or areas near commercial centers: people selling shoes recovered from buzos, or trash dumpsters, which have been repaired and cleaned. Prices vary between four or five CUP and ten CUP. Believe it or not, there are always customers, especially among elderly retirees.

About the autHor

Gladys Linares was born in Cienfuegos in1942 and is a school teacher. She worked as a professor of geography and as director of various schools for thirty-two years. In late 1990 she joined the Movement for Human Rights through the Women’s Humanitarian Front. She was an active participant in the Cuban Council and the Varela Project. Her writings reflect daily life in Cuba.

September 1, 2013

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban peso, or CUP, and the convertible peso, pegged roughly one-to-one to the dollar. The price paid for the shoes mentioned above represents more than two months wages for the average Cuban.

3 September 2013