Raul Castro’s Inconclusive Reforms / Ivan Garcia

Cartoon balloons: Díaz-Canel (left) asks Raúl Castro, “Can I promise them a glass of milk?” Castro responds, “Don’t even think about it.”

Iván García, 10 May 2018 — It seems a lot of time has passed since the night of July 31, 2006 when Fidel Castro’s former secretary, Carlos Valenciaga, announced on the eight o’clock news that the bearded former guerrilla leader was retiring due to illness.

Most Cubans remember what they were doing at that moment. Fifty-six-year-old Pedro Antonio, a worker at a steel plant on the outskirts of Havana was having dinner with his family when the news produced a solemn silence at the table.

“We thought ‘el Fifo’ was vanishing into thin air. Everyone was wondering how things would be under his brother Raúl, who had a reputation as a strongman. I remember that there was a hurricane that year and they sent the black berets* out into the streets. Anyone found carrying a carton of eggs without a good explanation was sent to prison. At my workplace people were stealing hand over fist. But once Raúl was in charge, he started taking measures to end the theft. Before that, if they caught you stealing, they just fired you. Now if they catch you, you’ll go to jail,” says Pedro Antonio.

He adds, “Raúl began a series of measures that won him popular approval, such as increasing self-employment, legalizing the sale of cars and homes, allowing Cubans to stay in hotels for foreign tourists, letting people have cell phones or to travel overseas without so much red tape. If you compare it to Fidel’s era, I think things are better.”

That was a decade ago. Sergio, a 69-year-old retiree, has only seen the internet in a movie broadcast on state television on Saturday nights. Seated under a leafy ceiba tree in Córdoba’s La Víbora Park, south of the capital, he can talk to his son, who lives in Miami, using the IMO video call app in one of the more than 300 wifi hotspots set up by the regime throughout the island.

Until July 4, 2013 the internet seemed like science fiction to a wide segment of the Cuban population. On that day a little more than 160 navigation centers were opened. Previously, wireless networks had been set up in hundreds of parks and public squares.

In the fall of 2017 the Nauta Hogar service became commercially available in certain areas for customers with landlines. ETECSA, Cuba’s only telecommunications company, plans to begin offering an internet service for data on mobile phones this year.

“Before 2013 I was spending between 6 and 10 CUC for an hour of internet service at Havana hotels in order to communicate with my son by email. It fell one CUC, from 4.50 CUC an hour, which is what it was costing in at the beginning of 2013. That was still expensive. It’s the equivalent of two days pay for an average worker. I have been able to visit my son and grandchildren in the United States four times. That’s the good part. The bad part is that, with the meager pensions they pay retirees — around ten dollars a month in my case — a lot of elderly people, some with serious illnesses and senile dementia, have to go out into the streets in search of four pesos in order to survive,” says Sergio.

Retirees have been the biggest losers from the Castro regime’s timid economic reforms. Their pensions are frozen in time. “My check goes to buying produce and rice, and paying for electricity,”  says 72-year-old Mercedes who, in spite of persistent arthritis, sells peanuts at bus stops.

The aging population is a big unsolved problem for the country’s leaders. Within seven years, 20.1% of the Cuban population will be over 60 years of age. There are not enough material or financial resources for social services to deal with what comes next.

Emilio, an economist, believes that the “accelerated aging of the population coupled with an alarming rise in emigration” — between 2013 and 2017 almost one and a half million Cubans emigrated, though that has been curbed by repeal of the so-called wet-foot-dry-foot law in the United States — “will lead to a significant labor shortage, in both skilled and unskilled occupations, by 2030 if not before. This is already being seen in manual labor jobs such those in construction and farming. The money needed for social services could be generated by abolishing the armed forces, as Costa Rica has done, considering that it consumes between eight and ten percent of GDP.”

Officially, Raúl Castro ruled the country for ten years, doing so initially on a provisional basis. During that time he approved a string of very popular measures that expanded self-employment and repealed absurd regulations that turned Cubans into third-class citizens in their own country. Later, however, he put the brakes on privately operated 3D movie theaters and clothing stores in favor of the government owned corporations run by the military.

In a speech in Camaguey, a province 350 miles east of Havana, he promised every Cuban a glass of milk. He also promised prosperity and sustainability, wholesale markets for the private sector, changes to the constitution, new laws governing press and film production, abolition of the two-currency system, a regulatory framework for small private companies and expansion of the cooperative business sector.

For a variety reasons, more political than economic, he failed to fulfill these promises. The biggest failure was his agricultural policy. He authorized the lease of public land to farmers, modified the regulations governing agricultural cooperatives, shut down operations that were inefficient and negotiated better payment terms for meat and dairy producers.

But it was not enough. Agricultural production remained tightly controlled and the sector showed no growth, not in the sugarcane nor in livestock.

A glass of milk, a glass of orange juice and a steak remain luxuries for most Cubans. Unless you are a child under the age of seven, if you want milk, you must it buy it in stores which only accept hard currency.

Only 21% of the major elements of Raúl Castro’s reforms, referred to as guidelines, were implemented. Excessive state control, fear of small family businesses accumulating large quantities of cash and opposing factions within the government led to a reversal of economic reforms.

In foreign affairs, Raúl Castro II succeeded in reestablishing economic relations with the United States after a year and a half of secret negotiations. And for the second time in Cuban history, a US president — Barack Obama — visited the island.

His historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro still resonates with a large segment of the Cuban population which is hoping for profound change. But Obama’s popularity and his strategy of favoring the private sector aroused discomfort in the regime, which abruptly halted the reforms.

The regime managed to have a large portion of its foreign debt forgiven and negotiated better financial terms with its Club of Paris creditors. Cuba’s military regime, along with the Catholic church, also played a key role in negotiating peace agreements in Colombia.

Raúl Castro never intended to initiate reforms of a political nature. Dissent will never be legitimized in a Castro-affiliated government like that of newly elected Miguel Díaz-Canel. Nor will political parties, a free press and independent civic organizations be allowed.

According to a Communist Party source, “different government agencies have conducted opinion polls, so the public’s frustrations and discontents are well-known. Almost all are related to the economy. That is where the new president will focus his efforts.”

In other words, we can expect economic reforms from the new regime. But democracy will have to wait.

*Translator’s note: Special police forces who are deployed during emergencies such as natural disasters or to apprehend dangerous criminal suspects.

"Today’s Cuba is Not the Cuba of the 80s," Say the Self-employed / Iván García

Source: Diario de las Americas

Iván García, 14 May 2018 — While walking among the metal stands with canvas roofs staffed by sellers using their hands as megaphones — “Get the best meat,” or “You’re going to miss out, we sell the best pork legs” — Dani, 35, owner of a cafe in the south of Havana, does not want to condition a future negotiation with the regime’s officials on talking about politics.

“Business is business, man. These people (the regime) support us but they don’t listen to us. If in addition to having strength on their side, you play the fool and demand democracy and human rights, they shut you down. With them, you have to play it gently, I believe that now with Diaz-Canel, no matter if he’s as communist as the other generation, he has to negotiate on better terms,” says Dani, while continuing to look over a piece of pork loin. continue reading

Later, in the kitchen of his house which functions as a cafe, he tries a fritter and tells the cook, “you have to take it out of the pan earlier, or else the meat gets too dried out.” Grabbing a glass with a little guava juice he takes a sip and tells his employee, “Luisita, this is five-star juice.”

Then, he opens the fridges, looks at what food he has left and mentally does his accounts. Later, with a Cristal beer in hand, he lowers the temperature on the air conditioner and continues his lecture:

“Today’s Cuba is not the Cuba of the 80s. Today there is internet and the state is so bad at administering services that it has no choice but to open new spaces. We (he says, referring to a group of entrepreneurs) have opened a well-organized Facebook site. ONAT (the state institution that regulates private work) sat down to talk with many self-employed people and taken note. That may not mean anything, but before they didn’t listen to you and did whatever they wanted.

“We have to wait for the new regulations to come out and for them to start handing out licenses again for the businesses they have now stopped issuing them for. They’re afraid and they’re going to try to take more control. Without shouting, or getting upset, we have to talk to the officials and explain things to them and show them that they are wrong.

“I think with a new president there will be greater receptivity. Not because he likes private business, but because now, the way the country is going, they have no room to maneuver. The self-employed must press Diaz-Canel to establish new rules of the game and the future Constitution must recognize small private companies.”

Osniel, the owner of a private restaurant and two cafes is not so optimistic, but agrees with Dani’s statement that “it is time to speak clearly with the government. Why can’t you have more than one license? What is the amount of money that the State considers rich? Why can’t we import food and supplies? There are many topics to discuss. I agree that the payment of taxes is sacred, but they taxes must be realistic, not used to prevent businesses from growing, because that encourages double accounting and theft.

“I also approve of entrepreneurs helping the community. When they have activities at the school near my restaurant, I send them snacks and sweets. I have helped families on my block to paint their houses, also to fix the street and the lighting of the block. You can move forward if there is goodwill, for the good of the country and the consumer,” says Osniel, and he adds:

“For me, I don’t think much of Diaz-Canel. He seems mediocre, but this is what we have. We have to demand of the government, once and for all, that they open a wholesale market, because as the prices rise in the retail market and the black market, where we buy the supplies for our businesses, the price of food automatically rises. If they say they can’t create it because they lack the resources, then authorize the (private) importing of food. If they do that, and the United States allows it, the amount of food bought in Miami would be huge. The state has to understand, and this isn’t a threat, that if they continue to apply the brakes, people are going to do things under the counter.”

Not all businesses are profitable like those dedicated to food service, transportation, hairdressing and lodging. According to Eduardo, an economist, “between 10 and 15% of the half million private workers have accumulated enough money to meet their material needs and have even saved to invest and improve their businesses. It is the dynamics of any particular company: grow, expand and bet on excellence.

“If the government tries to stop them, they depress a sector with a labor force that makes five or six times more than the state salary. The most practical thing is to adapt the interests of the State to the wishes of the population and the aspirations of the business owners. But I have my doubts. The Cuban government has never been conciliatory and does not look favorably on private employment. Diaz-Canel has a golden opportunity to go out on an economic limb that will undoubtedly benefit society.”

Nora, owner of a hairdressing salon, says “I expect the government to commit to creating a legal framework that legitimizes all private businesses. A permanent dialogue channel must be established. When people talk, they understand each other and fears and prejudices go away. What needs to be fought is poverty, not those who make money and benefit society.”

Many entrepreneurs consulted believe that the authorities should reverse the productive framework and accelerate a wage reform that allows state employees — currently 75% of the workforce on the island — to earn fair wages.

They must close inefficient companies, which are the majority, or privatize them, allow greater autonomy or create real cooperatives where workers are the owners.

At present, apathy prevails in Cuba and a large percentage of citizens do not believe that things will change and more than a few self-employed consider that the time has come to demand a better deal. We will have to wait for the will of the new president.

What Do Cuban Dissidents Think About Diaz-Canel? / Ivan Garcia

On Monday, 22 March 2016, during his visit to Cuba, President Barack Obama met in the United States Embassy in Havana with a group of Cuban dissidents, among them Manuel Cuesta Morua (to Obama’s left), and the independent journalists Miriam Leiva (to Morua’s left) and Miriam Celaya (to Obama’s right). Source: Cubanet.

Iván García, 30 April 2018 — Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a 55-year-old Afro-Cuban historian of average height and thin build, is probably one of Cuba’s most intellectually gifted dissidents.

Morúa’s political proposals are based on a social democratic model. He has tried different strategies, looking for a legal angle that would allow him to carry out his projects legitimately. The military dictatorship, however, has thwarted him. He considers himself to be a man of the left, a position from he articulates his ideas.

The arrival of Miguel Díaz-Canel — a 58-year-old engineer from the town of Falcón in Villa Clara province, about 300 kilometers east of Havana — marks the first time someone born after the triumph of the Cuban revolution has ascended to power. He is part of a generation that, for differing reasons, began to dissent from the Marxist, anti-democratic and totalitarian socialism established by Fidel Castro. continue reading

The hardline, diehard generation is passing away. In the current political climate, the most eloquent spokespersons, both official and dissident, were born during the height of the Cold War. They experienced the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the international communist bastion, the former Soviet Union.

The dialectical struggle will not be resolved at the point of a gun. The system will have to reinvent itself, unleash productive economic forces and rely on the private sector if it wants to bring an adequate level of prosperity to Cubans frustrated by the precarious conditions of their lives.

At one time Díaz-Canel, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Luis Cino, Angel Moya and the economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello were all in the same ideological trenches. For reasons of their own, they stopped applauding Fidel Castro and began a long, arduous journey aimed at establishing a democratic society in their homeland.

For Morúa, the transfer of power to Díaz-Canel, “can be read in several ways, all of them interesting. The generational change, no matter who is its public face, puts society on a more equal footing when it comes to dealing with those in power,” he says.

He adds, “The only thing left to do now is make demands. Díaz-Canel is an obstructionist president. He has very little legitimacy. He is not a historical figure and he has not won an election. Every person on the street says, ’I didn’t vote for him.’ The government is incorrect when it claims that Cuba holds indirect elections. Elections here are by acclamation. To date, this president has no agenda. He comes off as a clone.”

When I ask him if he thinks it is time for dissidents to change tactics and devise a strategy to reach out to ordinary citizens, Cuesta Morúa responds, “I think it’s time to think more about politics, to offer a clearer alternative. It’s time to step up to the plate, but in political terms.”

In Lawton, a neighborhood of low-slung houses and steep streets on the southern outskirts of Havana, is the headquarters of the human rights group The Ladies in White. Most of its members are mothers, wives or daughters who had never before been interested in politics.

Their dispute with the regime centers on their demands for release of their sons, husbands and fathers, who were unjustly imprisoned by Fidel Castro. Their protest marches, during which they walk carrying gladiolas, were brutally suppressed by agents of the regime’s special services. The Cuban government’s actions led to strong public condemnations from the international community.

After entering into negotiations brokered by the Catholic church and the Spanish government, Raúl Castro’s regime agreed, for the first time, to release some political prisoners and to grant The Ladies in White space along Havana’s Fifth Avenue to carry out peaceful protest marches.

After their release most of the seventy-five former political prisoners left Cuba. The Ladies in White are still subject to brutal repression by the Castro regime, which has denied them access to the space it once gave them permission to use.

The Ladies in White’s main strategy involves street protests. Angel Moya Acosta, the 53-year-old husband of Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, believes “that the Cuban political opposition needs to confront the regime. If we want people to take to the streets, the dissident community has to take to the streets and to actively persuade the people. This is not a problem about unity. Changing the electoral system in Cuba is up to the opposition and — except for some exceptions such as UNPACU, the Pedro Luis Boitel Front and the Forum for Freedom — that is not happening. Anything else is an excuse for not doing anything.”

According to Moya, the selection of Díaz-Canel was expected. “Nothing in Cuba will change. Repression could even increase. Díaz-Canel indicated that major national decisions will still be made by Raúl Castro. And he ended in inaugural speech with the outdated slogans ’homeland or death’, ’socialism or death’ and ’we will win’.”  Everyone on the island knows that real power in Cuba still rests with Raúl Castro.”

Luis Cino Álvarez, 61, one of the strongest voices in independent journalism, says he “does not expect any political reforms from the Díaz-Canel government except, perhaps, some slight fixes to the economy. He has already stated what we can expect: more socialism and a continuation of the policies of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Stagnation in its purest form. I believe that now is the time for dissidents to come up with a better strategy for confronting the regime.”

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, a 71-year-old economist, thinks that “Díaz-Canel is a person with many illusions. He held a meeting of the Council of Ministers that was illegal, saying that new appointments to the council had been postponed until July. Díaz-Canel feels very comfortable governing. And that is not a positive thing. When they govern, all the word’s presidents feel pressure due to multiple demands from different sectors of society.” She adds,”Cuban dissidents followed the wrong path. They should have taken the road of the people. But with each step they get further and further away from it.”

If there is anything upon which the fragmented local dissident community agrees, it is that the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel represents the beginning of a significant new era. They face two dilemmas: either find a way to motivate thousands of citizens to demand democracy or watch the military dictatorship celebrate the centenary of Fidel Castro’s revolution with a parade though the Plaza.

 

Blacks and Mixed-Race, in Cuba’s Dissidence and Council of State / Iván García

The vice presidents of the State Council elected on 19 April 2018, Inés María Chapman Waugh, from Holguin, a hydraulic engineer and president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, and Beatriz Johnson Urrugia, from Santiago, a chemical engineer and president of the Provincial Assembly of the Popular Power of Santiago de Cuba. Taken from Afropunk.

Ivan Garcia, 7 May 2018 — Fidel Castro’s revolution was always more political than economic. He was never able to produce sewing needles and disposable diapers. He had an incredible ability to multiply poverty, reduce livestock and, based on nonsense, bury the sugar industry.

The sooty pots on the stove remain empty and what was left of the Cuban ‘New Man’ wanders amid the frenetic reggaeton, drinks alcohol distilled with industrial coal, and dreams of itinerant plans to emigrate.

The majority of Cubans do not take the new government seriously. Pánfilo, “the old man who inhabits ‘Vivir del Cuento’ [Living By Your Wits] on TV on Monday nights, should be the president, because he always reflects the real problems of Cubans in his television programs,” says Eddy, a mulato who sells religious objects in the Calzada de Diez de Octubre. continue reading

Miguel Diaz-Canel and the renewed Council of State is a joke. And believe me, it’s not a metaphor. To Nilda, a nurse, ’guajiro of Falcón’ — as Diaz-Canel is sometimes called — and Salvador Valdés Mesa, his second-in-command, they represent “ebony and ivory,” recalling the old song by Stevie Wonders and Paul McCartney.

In Cuba there is an overflowing racism that goes from personal prejudices, black segregation to inverted discrimination, that is, blacks who are more racist than the worst white racist. There are cruel jokes. Offenses abound around the color of one’s skin. And fear that some ‘smut’ may be part of your white family.

Blacks were always discriminated against. They were left at a disadvantage that morning in 1886 when the Spanish Crown abolished slavery on the island. They had no property, no money, no academic training.

They paid the price, and they would continue to pay it in the years to come. They are the poorest of the poor. They lead the ranking in numbers in prisons and commit the most despicable crimes. They live in the worst houses. They receive fewer dollars from remittances from family abroad. And those who run private businesses are a minority.

They tend to triumph in music, sports and lately in politics. Both in the dissidence and within the regime, the numbers of blacks and mestizos have increased.

There are numerous black and mixed-race opponents and independent journalists. Among those who are at the head of groups are Berta Soler, Oscar Elias Biscet, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Juan Antonio Madrazo.

A free journalist, who preferred not to reveal his name, says that the first time he went to a dissident meeting, “he was amazed at how many prietos there were. According to the last census, the total black and mixed-race population is thirty-one percent, but I believe that currently in the opposition it’s more like 60 percent. And beware.”

Rosa Elvira, who works on a farm, believes that “in Cuba racism is a fairy tale. Yes, there are prejudices, but more and more you see more mixed couples. Here blacks and whites are equally screwed. There are whites worse than the most criminal blacks. And blacks who are real bad luck stories.”

On the current Council of State, the president is white (Miguel Diaz-Canel) and the first vice president is black (Salvador Valdés Mesa). Of the six vice-presidents, three are women, two of them black (Inés María Chapman and Beatriz Johnson) and one white (Gladys Bejerano). The three male vice presidents are white. Of the rest, black women are Miriam Nicado, Ileana Amparo Flores, Yipsi Moreno and Felicia Martínez. Mixed-race women: Martha del Carmen Mesa, Bárbara Alexis and Rosalina Fournier. White women: Teresa Amarelle, Susely Morfa, Elizabeth Peña, Ivis Niuba Villa and Reina Salermo. Of the men, of dark skin there is only one, Carlos Alberto Martínez, director of the Calixto García hospital.

“They may appear on their ID cards as whites, but in the Council of State there are some who are really mixed-race,” says Aleida, a retired teacher (referring to Roberto Morales, Homero Acosta, Ulises Guilarte, Rafael Santiesteban, Raúl Alejandro Palmero and Yoerkys Sánchez) . It’s just that in Cuba, el que no tiene de congo tiene de carabalí,” she laughs, using a phrase that suggests everyone in Cuba has some African heritage.

When you ask her why, precisely now the regime has decided to increase its quota of blacks and mixed-race, she shrugs her shoulders, opens her eyes wide and responds:

“I think it’s to shut people up out there. Imagine, the United States, which they always told us was the most racist country in the world, chose a dark president. And every time you watch an American TV show, there are blacks. These people (the government) had to up their game. And they began to change the Central Committee and the Council of State. What worries me is that, to be up-to-date, they put blacks wherever they want, but the professional quality leaves something to be desired. That Estaban Lazo, may God forgive me because I am black, is thick as a plank. And Salvador Valdés, people call him ‘the mute’ because he doesn’t even speak. This having so many blacks and women in the government is just hypocrisy, because in Cuba those who decide are the same as always, the old white people who fought in the Sierra.”

Cándido, a busdriver, believes that “stronger than racism, is the fact that in Cuba, whether you are white, black, mulato or Chinese, you can not get out of poverty. No matter the color of those who govern, they do it with their backs to people. It is not a race or sex problem. It is a matter of listening to the people, solving problems and being efficient. It seems to me that they put those blacks and those women that nobody knows on Council of State just to make up the numbers.”

Jordán, a lawyer, thanks the government for putting in more women, blacks and mestizos. “But nothing is gained if everyone votes unanimously and they don’t stand up in the National Assembly to raise the problems suffered by the people. The issue is not black or white. It’s about having the balls to say what is really happening in Cuba. They say that in the dissidence there are many blacks, but they are invisible to the majority of the population. Few people know them and when the government talks about them they label them as terrorists or mercenaries.”

All the interviewees approve the increase in the number of women and blacks in the government and also in the ranks of the Communist Party. But they want them to be able to make important decisions.

They want them to sit in parliament not only to raise their hands to vote yes on everything, but to take advantage of the presence of the higher ups to speak up and say things. To be something more than a black face to those watching internationally. They want women and men, black, mixed-race or white who do not have the surname Castro, to really govern.

Cubans Air Their Views on Miguel Diaz-Canel / Ivan Garcia

Miguel Díaz-Canel (white shirt and raised arm) and his wife Lis Cuesta, surrounded by State Security agents, go to vote at their electoral college in Santa Clara, on Sunday, March 11, 2018. Taken from USA Weekly.

Ivan Garcia, 20 April 2018 — Summer 1993. When night fell in Falcón, a little place next to the Central Highway, crossed by the Sagua la Chica and Jagüeyes rivers, people were sitting by their front doors, telling stories, and drinking home-made rum distilled with cow-shit.

Those were the difficult years of the “Special Period“, and in Falcón, like in the rest of the country, with officially-decreed twelve-hour-long power cuts which turned Cuba into a dark and silent island, people killed time like that, trying to make the summer heat more bearable. continue reading

Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the great-grandson of an Asturian, Ramón Díaz-Canel, who emigrated to Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century looking for a better life, was born in Falcón, in Placetas, Villa Clara, some 320 km east of Havana.

Falcón is an idyllic spot, where you can hear the cocks crowing in the distance. Most of its 6,000 inhabitants raise cattle, pick tobacco, and grow fruit, root plants and vegetables. The main celebrations are the parades, which go through the Sagüeros y Jagüeyeros river neighbourhoods. The Falconers, including Díaz-Canel, still remember the floods of 18th and 19th August, 2008, when many people had to run for a nearby hill, because of the fierce rains of the tropical storm Fay. There were no fatalities or injuries, but important material possessions were lost.

Antonio, who is retired and a native of the area, tells us that “some years back, Díaz-Canel was slim, wore his hair long and liked American music. His family and he were, and are, good citizens. Before he was elected First Secretary of the Party — a kind of mayor — in Villa Clara, he held an important post in the Communist Youth Union. But the man came home in the blackout and played guitar for his CDR bodyguard or talked about sports, to anyone.

He was well thought of in the nine years he administered Villa Clara, a province with 13 councils and just over 8,000 inhabitants. Elpidio, a resident in La Esperanza, Ranchuelo, Villa Clara, remembers that, “The fellow went about all over the city on his Chinese bicycle, and, in spite of the shortages, he was always worrying about the people there. A programme started on the local radio called High Tension and listeners could phone in and report their complaints. He was the first Cuban politician to authorise a night centre with performances for homosexuals and transvestites”.

In 2003, he was promoted to First Party Secretary in Holguín province, 800 km northeast of Havana. Daniel, a Holguinero, now living in the capital, recalls that “In Holguín, Díaz-Canel was not as spontaneous as he was in Villa Clara. He stopped smiling, and put on weight, like the other party leaders and government functionaries. He talked in bureaucratic jargon”.

In Holguín he met his present wife, Lis Cuesta Peraza. He did something not all that common in the macho behaviour of the Communist bureaucrats: instead of having her as a lover, he divorced the mother of his two children and married Cuesta, a professor in the Instituto Superior Pedagógico José de la Luz y Caballero. “Hopefully she will become the First Lady. That would give her prestige, because presidents don’t look so good if they are alone, like single people or widowers. Better to be accompanied by a lady, especially if she is well-prepared, like her”,  says Mercedes, a retired teacher.

In 2009, Díaz-Canel was appointed Minister of Higher Education, a post he held until 2012. At that time he used to wear a typical white guayabera the uniform of the Chinese creoles [there has been a substantial Chinese population in Cuba since the mid 19th century]. “In those three years as a Minister, I don’t recall Díaz-Canel doing anything out of the ordinary. On the contrary, he continued plodding along on the same old socialist treadmill, quoting stuff from Fidel, and repeating the refrain that the University is Only for the Revolutionaries”, says Sergio, an engineer.

The olive green autocracy, an insane system of personality cult, never showed any sign of providing good quality politicians. Fidel governed. The rest of them applauded and followed orders. In July 2006, Fidel had a gastrointestinal perforation and, in a historial arbitrary act, appointed as his successor his brother Raul, a natural-born conspirator with dictatorial obsession, but who, out of habit, worked on a team and listened to other points of view.

According to the gossip merchants, Castro II likes people who are like him. Whether it was because of his appearance, or his CV, what we do know is that, when he took over from his brother, he had already looked carefully at Díaz-Canel, a guy who had some forty-year-old women sighing over him.

In 2012, when he appointed him as Vice President of the Consejo de Estado, Raúl put him on the ladder to the presidency. Six years have passed, but Díaz-Canel still looks a bit nervous in public.

“He behaves as if he is still living in Falcón”, says Antonio, a retired chap. “Sometimes he looks ill-at-ease, or acts like a fool”, says Yadira, a university student. “His behaviour is contradictory. I remember he was the first leader to show up with a tablet at a party meeting”, adds Victor, another student. In the opinion of Rogelio, a private taxi driver, “One day Canel talks like a liberal, and the next day like a dictator”.

One good thing people in Havana do know is that, thanks to Díaz-Canel, ICRT transmits live the games between Real Madrid and Barcelona. “The man is a Barcelonista to his dying breath. People like that get high blood pressure when Barcelona loses. I think that when he finds his feet as President, they will put out live transmissions of the NBA and the Big Leagues. He loves sportS”, says a state TV producer.

The Puerto Rican journalist, Benjamin Morales, from El Nuevo Dia, wrote last April 17th: “Guaracabulla, in Placetas, has a ceiba tree there marking what is said to be the centre of the island, and, from this week, it could also be said to mark the centre of Cuban leadership, when Miguel Díaz Canel, its most famous son, becomes the first president not called Castro Ruz and who also was not a guerilla”.

After seeking opinions on the street — which did not include those of Antúnez, a well-known opposition figure in Placetas — Morales continued: “The people are  overcome with enthusiasm, but don’t let themselves get too carried away, because they understand that change is good, but only when it doesn’t affect people’s well-being”.

For most people in Havana, who spend all their time trying to put food on the table for their families and to survive the shortages of Caribbean socialism, the much-proclaimed presidential succession has not fulfilled their expectations.

“It’s more of the same. Seems like more Castroism, by another name, setting us up with “Canelism”. I don’t expect much from him. If he manages to sort out the disaster that Cuba has become, they’ll have to put up a statue to him”, says Diana, a bank employee.

Miguel Díaz-Canel could just as easily turn into an Adolfo Suárez (Spain’s first democratically elected prime minister after the Franco dictatorship) as become another Nicholas Maduro (current president of Venezuela). We’ll have to wait and see.

 

Translated by GH

Cuba: We Have a President (or a Puppet) / Iván García

Miguel Díaz-Canel. Taken from Huffpost.

Ivan Garcia, 23 April 2018 — Lacking the solemnity of a conclave in the Vatican to elect a pope or the white smoke announcing the new Holy Father, on Thursday, April 19, at the Convention Center, west of Havana, the new Council of State and its president were announced, those who will rule the destinies of Cuba in the next five years.

There were no surprises. The script was already written. Raul Castro awarded the position of president of the Councils of State and of Ministers to Miguel Díaz-Canel, an electronics engineer born on April 20, 1960 in the village of Falcón, a rural municipality in Placetas, Villa Clara province, about 200 miles from the Cuban capital. continue reading

Now we’re in a wait-and-see time before the performance of Diaz-Canel. In the history of the Castro dictatorship, camouflaged as a country in a perennial revolution, there were two presidents*: Manuel Urrutia and Osvaldo Dorticós, managed at will by Fidel Castro.

The novelty in this comedy is that there will be a kind of cohabitation. A president of the nation next to the first secretary of the Communist Party.

Who will have greater power? According to the quirky Cuban Constitution, which was reinforced in the summer of 2002 by Castro I with a perpetual Marxist socialism, the lead role is held by the Party.

The brothers from Birán, by-the-book autocrats, performed both functions when they governed.  But now Diaz-Canel has his hands tied.  A kind of Big Brother will supervise him from the headquarters of the Central Committee.

In practice, what has happened is a distribution of powers. An elderly lover of vodka with orange juice like Raul Castro, simply got bored with controlling internal finances, self-employment and the unsettling double currency system with its seven types of exchange rates that distort the national economy.

That disastrous puzzle is now in the hands of Diaz-Canel. To move the economy forward in Taliban mode, there will need to be a magician or a suicide. If the changes upset the most conservative sector of the party, they will pass the bill to Diaz-Canel. He is a disposable politician. He is not untouchable.

But if within five or ten years the economic and social situation of Cuba continues along the same paths or gets even worse, there will be a shot at the target, a culprit, who can pay for the broken dishes.

With the presidential relay, Raul Castro, eternal conspirator, ran out of revolutionary gods. Diaz-Canel and the majority of the current Council of State, with the exceptions of Ramiro Valdés, Leopoldo Cintra Frías and Guillermo García, are dispensable.

Diaz-Canel appears to be faced with mission impossible, as long as the current economic model is maintained. After nine o’clock in the morning, when he strode into the session at the convention center, along with his political manager Raul Castro, dressed in black suits and red ties, the new president looked like a deer in the headlights.

The ratification of the positions, selected by a mysterious commission, was a piece of cake in a nation like Cuba, where the parliament votes unanimously, or almost, on any election or bill put before it.

Diaz-Canel’s first speech was lousy. Quotes from Fidel Castro and singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez. Monotonous pronunciation, a bland tone, no enthusiasm. Fortunately, he does not have the diction problems of the primitive Esteban Lazo, president of the National Assembly, nor make mistakes when reading.

Miguel Diaz-Canel left many Cubans open-mouthed, like the child who was promised an ice cream and then deceived by being given a purgative. To Elier, a taxi driver, the very first words disappointed him. “He said he did not come to promise anything and that he was going to continue to work along the same lines. Wow, everything stays the same. I expected him to make important announcements or at least to talk about what will happen with the self-employment licenses that have been suspended. But nothing, the guy did not talk about that, as if the fact that the economy is a disaster was not important. The kitchen robot should be an actor in a telenovela, not the president of a country that is bankrupt.”

A brigade of bricklayers who are repairing an apartment in Havana’s La Víbora neighborhood listened to the new president’s speech on the radio. “Something else was expected. From what I heard, the man has nothing on the ball. His first speech was pure drool to Fidel and his compadre Raúl, whom he has to thank him for giving him the job without even holding a raffle,” says Manuel, bricklayer.

On a tour of Diez de Octubre, Havana’s most populated municipality, looking for the impressions of ordinary people, a butcher, who was cutting chunks of frozen chicken with an ax and putting them in a refrigerator confesses that he did not have time to see the speech. “What did he say?” He asks. And upon learning that he did not say anything new, he replies: “I imagined it. This isn’t any kind of arrangement. The guy had a reputation in Villa Clara for being a good and liberal person, but then he climbed the ladder and now he doesn’t laugh. One more opportunist who coasts. Who takes advantage, because the opportunities are all bad.”

Carlos, a sociologist, is not surprised by the appointment of Díaz-Canel or his dull inaugural speech. “You can’t get blood from a stone. The self-centeredness of Fidel Castro clipped the wings of Cuba’s political class. Diaz-Canel is not creative and is more accustomed to listening and following directions from ‘above’ than having any autonomy of his own. I would be surprised if he was different, he’s Raul Castro’s private satellite. He’s in his pocket. He will not do what he wants. If he departs from the script, he will find himself in Combinado del Este (prison).”

Everyone interviewed believes Diaz-Canel is a puppet. To Douglas, a seller of online navigation cards, “the guy doesn’t rule on his own, he receives orders from the Padrino. These people (the regime) are like the mafia.”

Luisa, a clerk in a cafe that charges in hard currency, believes that “you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the man does things right. What we can say is that we have the best-looking president in all of America.”

Idania, a priestess in the Santaria religion, recalls that one afternoon in 2013, “at the headquarters of the Yoruba Association, Diaz-Canel did a few dance steps from our religion. The man could be stuck in the past or take the country forward. Of course, he will have to change many things and fight with an army of prejudiced bureaucrats.”

Elvira, a teacher, was the only one consulted who mentioned the word democracy. “As long as Diaz-Canel is in the government or Raúl Castro is in the party, they will not implement an openly democratic system. a real one, not a fake one, Cuba will be bogged down in the same swamp. The Cuban problem is economic, but also political.”

The new president is facing difficult times. An economy adrift, an aging population, low productivity, widespread apathy among citizens, especially the youngest, and aspirations to emigrate from an important sector of society.

The demands are multiple. From lowering the prices of food and items sold in stores that deal only in hard currency, raising wages to cover current inflation, improving public transport, expanding private work and small business, stop extorting Cubans living abroad with exorbitant passport fees and allow them to participate actively in national political and economic life.

In baseball terms, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, comes on as a relief pitcher with the bases full, no one out, and the best batter in the league at the plate. He does not have easy.

On April 20, the day of his 58th birthday, in his bedroom, next to his wife Lis Cuesta Peraza, the first lady, he will be able to analyze coldly the dimension of the assignment that Raul Castro has left him.

Any mistake can bury the fragile system that his predecessors insist on calling Revolution. There are some gifts that may be poisoned.

*Translator’s note: In the early years of the Castro dictatorship there was the position of “president” — currently the person formally designated as President of the Council of State fills that position.

The Castro Regime, an Aged Boxer Who Won’t Leave the Ring / Iván García

Cubanet

Iván García, 16 April 2018 — By all accounts it is like a bad divorce. No one remembers the exact moment when things went from applause for every revolutionary project, no matter how ludicrous it might have seemed, to a torrent of unfulfilled promises and hollow rhetoric.

Martí Noticias wanted to solicit opinions on Cuba’s social, political and economic situation and on the country’s future prospects. It first chatted with three well-informed people, then it asked thirteen ordinary Cubans if they feel they are represented in the current power structure.

One of those interviewed was fifty-five-year-old Igor, who worked in Moscow’s railway industry during the Cold War and views politicians as a necessary evil but believes that “they are the ones who rule the world.” continue reading

“Not everyone can be a politician,” he says. “They have to have leadership skills and a gift for oratory in order to mobilize large segments of society. They must rely on image consultants and experts in specific fields. They need surveys to gauge levels of popular support and to determine what people want.”

Igor believes that a government has to govern on behalf of all its citizens, not just its supporters. “That is the main problem with the Cuban system,” he says. “Its leaders don’t listen to those with different opinions. Most of the island’s current politicians don’t know how to behave or express themselves in public. They have trouble reading and problems with diction. They have no empathy and seem to be improvising. My impression is that both the old government and the new government have no idea how to get us out of the current quagmire.”

In Igor’s opinion, they are just throwing stones, stalling for time, unable to grab the bull by the horns. “[President-designate] Miguel Díaz-Canel isn’t unattractive like other Cuban leaders, who come off like stock characters from a Soviet-era movie. When he was the party’s first-secretary in Villa Clara province, he was more spontaneous. Now he seems like a remote-controlled robot. He speaks without moving a muscle in his face, which is a sign that he doesn’t believe what he is saying. I don’t expect anything new from Díaz-Canel. Exhaustion is what will bring about real change in Cuba, when they realize they are just thrashing around aimlessly.”

From the time he was an adolescent, twenty-one-year-old history student Damián, was that rare individual who actually felt compelled to read the Communist Party newspaper Granma and watch state television news shows. He followed politics like a soccer fan. “At first, I believed what the state press said. But not now,” says Damián. “I read between the lines. I realized that communism is a utopian dream. And a society cannot afford to waste several generations, as has happened in Cuba, chasing a fantasy. The socialist ideal sounds nice — to give voice and a better quality of life to the dispossessed — but Marxist-Leninist ideology has failed all over the world.”

Damián asks himself what kind of society Cuba aspires to be. “We went from the Batista dictatorship to a totalitarian regime with overtones of nationalism. It made excuses for the lack of democracy because it felt it was under siege by the United States. That era has passed but Cuba doesn’t realize it. Díaz-Canel, or whoever takes over, will continue following the same script. That’s why Cubans don’t have any expectations. I hope I am wrong but what the Castro regime most closely resembles is an aged boxer who refuses to leave to ring, who wants to keep fighting even after the bell has rung.”

What most bothers Carlos, a sixty-six-year-old sociologist, is having been fooled for so long by Fidel Castro’s rhetoric. Carlos is no dissident. He is an intellectual who, like so many others, believes that time is up for Cuba’s current system. “Its time ran out decades ago. Behind all the clatter about a ’sustainable and prosperous socialism’ is bad faith and a hunger for power. Planned economies don’t work. [The regime] could opt for the Chinese or Vietnamese models, which have capitalist economies and autocratic one-party governments, but they don’t dare,” he says.

The worst part, he says, is that it has killed the aspirations of many talented people. “Men and women alike, almost all with university degrees, have seen emigration as the only way out. The National Assembly only represents the interests of the regime. It doesn’t matter that blacks and women make up forty percent of its delegates; every measure it votes on is approved unanimously. I see Miguel Diaz-Canel as a Russian matrioshka doll. He always follows a prepared script. Maybe I’m wrong, but Diaz-Canel represents the continuation of a failed system.”

The perception one gets from conversations with less well-informed Cubans, people who are apathetic about politics, is that they are not part of the game. They live in another dimension, one focused on survival. Of the thirteen people interviewed by Martí Noticias, six did not care who succeeded Raúl Castro as president, whether it was Díaz-Canel or the ballplayer Yulieski Gurriel.

“Man, what problem is that stone faced parasite (Díaz-Canel) going to solve? Here people just want a few pesos to get drunk, have something decent to eat, capture some fresh ’mangoes’ (girls) and play pululu (a video game app),” says a young vendor who sells internet SIM cards in a Havana park.

Three of those interviewed believe things could get better under Díaz-Canel. One of them is Anselmo, a forty-nine-year-old bus driver. “We won’t be worse off,” he says. “If Trump can meet with the fat guy from North Korea, he can meet with the man from Villa Clara. We’ll see what happens. We can’t count on Venezuela or Brazil any more. It would be ironic if we find ourselves once again in the arms of the bolos (the Russians). If that happens, it will be the overseers who have to lose the most.”

Four people are very pessimistic, among them Dania, a thirty-six-year-old dentist. “This situation has been going on for a long time in Cuba,” she says. “The best solution is to leave the country, whether things change or not.”

One option for a large segment of the population is to decamp to other shores. Watching the situation from afar is pleasanter than fighting for democratic change from within. That is a job for patriots.

 

Concerning When We Ate Cats in Cuba / Iván García

Iván García, 7 April 2018 — “I was born during the Special Period, in 1990. Twenty years later, my parents told me the truth: my birth brought them to tears,” says Ricardo, today a university graduate.

I can understand that. In my house, too, we went through difficult times when my sister gave birth during the height of the “Special Period in Times of Peace.” As ostentatious as that was the official name given to one of the blackest intervals suffered in 59 years by the Cuban people–and that is saying a lot.

An old proverb says that a child comes into this world with a loaf of bread under his arm. But in the 90s, to have a child in Cuba meant the opposite: to lose an arm, if not both, just to get a piece of bread. continue reading

The story of this war-without-cannon-blasts could fill multiple tomes. In 2018 the mere mention of the Special Period to a Cuban is enough to send shivers down his spine.

The first time I had any notion of the “Special Period” was in the summer of 1989. Upon inaugurating an AKM rifle manufacturing plant in Camagüey, Fidel Castro made mention of what we would be facing. Later, during a function at the Karl Marx theater in Miramar, he half-jokingly told the women in attendance, “Take good care of your wardrobes–you’ll need them in the coming years.”

The people on the Island never lived abundantly. There was always a shortage of something. Besides holding back individual liberties (about which those of us born after the Revolution had no concept), Father State guaranteed to each of his citizens a poor life, but a dignified one. Thanks to the petroleum pipe from Moscow.

Prior to that silent war, we could buy two pairs of pants a year, three shirts and one pair of shoes, with a ration book for “industrial products.” These were paid for in Cuban pesos, the national currency.

The ration book for groceries back then was more generous. Nothing to write home about, but less emaciated than in later years. There were foodstuffs for sale in unregulated venues. At the dairy stores, boxes with bottles of fresh milk, yogurt containers, and cheeses would be delivered at dawn, and nobody even entertained the thought of stealing them.

That was in the 70s or 80s. Back then we could not imagine the “surprise” that the olive-green* socialism had in store for us. It was terrible. People dropped weight as if they were going to a sauna every day. We were always hungry. Lines would form for half a day to buy pizza topped with boiled potato instead of cheese.

Starving and toothless old people would jam into the little cafés just to down a kind of infusion made with orange or grapefruit rind. As for animal products, you can only imagine. Culinary monstrosities appeared. The state laboratories hastily churned out soy hash, “meat” mass, oca pasta, and fricandel [a kind of “mystery-meat” hot dog], among other horrible inventions.

The dollar was prohibited, and what few valuable items there were, people would sell to afford food. When in July 1993 the dollar was decriminalized, my mother sold her record collection of Brazilian music for $39.

Others sold their furniture or exchanged it for a pig, which they would hide in the bathtub. It became fashionable to breed chickens on balconies and roofs. Many cats ended up in pots, in place of rabbits.

Exotic diseases appeared, such as polyneuritis, optical neuritis, and beriberi. On the streets, more than one person dropped like a fly from locomotive deficiencies. Public transportation disappeared and in its place emerged horse-drawn wagons, which are still functioning in rural towns. Tractors were replaced by ox-pulled plows.

The bicycle became the official vehicle of the people. The top brass, of course, continued getting around by car. There was serious talk about Option Zero, a plan to have army troops go though neighborhoods giving out food.

What prevented people from starting to die off in massive numbers from hunger, and Cuba becoming the North Korea of the Caribbean, were the measures adopted by Fidel Castro. Venturing far from socialist philosophy, and taking a liberal and market economy approach, the government allowed small business start-ups. The possession of hard currency was legalized.

All of this proved effective. Hundreds of citizens were able to progress, and the government stashed millions of dollars into its coffers.  But in 2009, a real crisis emerged that affected the entire planet. Facing a worldwide drop in oil prices, coupled with internal instability and squandering, Hugo Chávez–the new ally–whispered a message to the Castros: “I am running out of cash.” The Brothers from Birán** took the hint. And they started proclaiming the same decades-old speech they have sold to the Cuban people: Savings must be made. The belt must be tightened. One more time.

And so we go. In the midst of a storm. Without umbrellas. With an economy that is taking on water. And with foreign partners who view the regime with distrust for the absurdity of its investment laws and the dishonesty of its dealings. With thousands of Cubans leaving the country or trying to leave, to go anywhere, tired as they are of the aged government, and never forgetting the crude reality of the Special Period when in Cuba we ate cats.

Translator’s Notes:

*A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders. This epithet is often used by dissident Cuban writers when alluding to the Cuban government, its socio-political system, and its bureaucrats.

**A reference to the town in eastern Cuba that is the birthplace of Raúl and Fidel Castro.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

To Be "Rich" in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

In Cuba it is considered “rich” to have a private or successful restaurant, such as Porto Habana, on Calle E No. 158 between Calzada and 9a, Vedado, visited by celebrities passing through Havana. Taken from TripAdvisor.

Ivan Garcia, 4 April 2018 — From the twentieth floor of a building near the Havana Malecon the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean look like you could touch them with your hands. From that height you can’t see the disastrous infrastructure of Havana. Or its broken streets, water leaks or the buildings torn apart by bad state management.

When Victor, owner of a micro-lodging business, feels frustrated, he spends an hour on the balcony with a cup of coffee watching the panoramic view offered by his apartment in the central neighborhood of Vedado. Before venting his worries about the rumored new government measures that will curb private work, he runs a a pocket comb over his gray and sparse hair. continue reading

“Do you know why Cuba is not flooded with fruit, food and quality services?” he asks, and before answering pauses to savor his coffee. “Well, it’s the government’s fault. If the State did not harass private individuals and, instead, empowered them, agricultural, dairy, livestock production and housing shortages would not be as dramatic as they are now.

“It is the government that has to answer for those deficiencies. Every time there are timid openings the creativity of the private sector is on display. If there were a legal framework, impartial courts and wholesale markets, business owners would not be forced to violate the laws, to try to find ways to avoid taxes and to practice double accounting.”

The Havana entrepreneur rents his apartment for the equivalent of 50 dollars a day, which would be 1,500 dollars a month. “Discounting taxes, I clear 1,100 dollars. Enough for the expenses of my wife and I who live in another apartment in the same building. My children are in Miami. With what I save, in any other kind of society, I could expand my business buying homes in poor condition or outsourcing those services to people who want to rent their homes, but do not have the resources. It’s the business cycle. Save money, then invest and earn more. I do not see any kind of crime in that intention. I do not know why the government wants us to always live in poverty.”

In the third section of the Economic Guidelines approved in 2010, a kind of road map instituted by the regime of Raúl Castro, it is stated that concentrations of wealth and capital will not be allowed for Cubans on the island. Eight years later, a segment of private entrepreneurs has accumulated a quantity of money, whether legally, with subtle subterfuges or under the table.

Onel, an economist, believes that “between 10 thousand and 20 thousand small business owners have been able to hoard between 10 thousand and 250 thousand dollars, some may even have amassed more than a million dollars. But, given that this is Cuba, gaining capital is a crime and you mark yourself as a suspicious person or presumed criminal, so those people invest in buying houses from relatives, or works of art or take the money out of the country, because they have relatives abroad,” he says and adds:

“Among them there are repatriated Cubans, who because they have more capital at the time of starting their business and knowledge of marketing, they have generated profits faster. There are also Cubans who live in the United States, who live off the income of their businesses on the island or share the profits with their families,” says the economist.

To have a fortune in Cuba is to travel through a minefield. When self-employment was forbidden by the autocracy of the Castro brothers, clandestine managers of businesses, warehouses and restaurants made money by stealing from the State. Most Cubans do not believe that the means of production are owned by all, as Marxist theory says. And at the first chance, they defraud the state in order to survive in the harsh conditions of Island socialism.

Carlos, who lives in Florida, recalls that “the first time I raised half a million pesos, the exchange rate of the time artificially equated the peso with the dollar, and I threw the money on the mattress of my room and slept on the bundles of notes,” he says with a smile from a restaurant in Miami.

“I was a supplies manager in a luxury hotel. I sold whatever I could under the table. Then, the money I earned was exchanged for dollars one-by-one with the hotel’s accounting manager. A negotiation. My plan was to fill my pockets and get out of that shit. I have friends who thought they could be millionaires in Cuba and ended up in jail. Like Roberto, the former manager of the World Ice Cream Parlor, on Santa Catalina Avenue,” says Carlos.

As he tells it, “Roberto came to grief because of the typical envy of the top leaders. He had a better Lada than the higher-ups. One morning, passing through Avenida Boyeros, Ramiro Valdés, who was then Minister of the Interior, observed that a bodyguard greeted Roberto as he passed by. He asked who that guy was and the bodyguard told him he was a compañero of State Security. Ramiro found out and discovered that he was a simple corrupt administrator and broke his balls. It is a very envious breed, if you presume to have more than them, they make your life impossible. Only they can be rich.”

Nobody in Cuba knows the limit of what you can and cannot have. The amount of money that sets off the alarms in the police apparatus of the regime is not known. “In the statutes, the determined amount of money that violates the laws is not specified. For example, Silvio Rodriguez [the singer], Alicia Alonso [the dancer] or the ballplayer Alfredo Despaigne, who plays in a professional league in Japan and has a millionaire’s salary, have six zero incomes and no one challenges them for economic crimes. The reason is ideological. If those who make money are inside the apparatus or comply with government rules, they are allowed. If they earn money through their own efforts, they will always be suspects,” says Beatriz, a lawyer.

On the island, acquiring certain material goods can pigeonhole a citizen as being suspected of ‘illicit enrichment’. “I used to sell toiletries and clothes. I was able to raise enough money to build my own business. I had two air conditioners, three plasma televisions, several appliances besides repairing my house. They opened a file on me for violating the laws, that is to say selling without the required license, they confiscated all my merchandise and electrical appliances, alleging that they had been acquired with dirty money. Ultimately, I was sentenced to three years in prison,” says Luis Alberto, a resident of the municipality of Diez de Octubre.

Those who accumulate a significant amount of capital try to fly below the radar. They don’t buy sumptuous mansions in Miramar or Siboney. Nor the latest cars or a yacht. It is exposing oneself too much to the public magnifying glass in a command and control socieity.

In Cuba, members of the club of the rich often dress in olive-green.

 

Emma Gonzalez Also Has an Impact in Cuba / Ivan Garcia #emma4change

Emma Gonzalez at the March for Our Lives in Washington DC on 24 March 2018. Source: Teen Vogue.

Ivan Garcia, 2 April 2018 — On Friday, 23 March, with a temperature of 50 degrees and a warm sun melting the snow on the streets of Washington DC, a crowd of teenagers began to settle in, wearing T-shirts and caps stamped with the phrase that is now in vogue in the United States: #NeverAgain.

Flights arriving from cities all over America to the local Ronald Reagan Airport, were packed with young people with banners, many accompanied by their parents and teachers.

In a cafe, relatively close to the White House, children, teachers and family members waited for their boxes of pizzas and bottles of Coca Cola while listening to music on their smartphones. continue reading

“I’ve never seen such a big line so early in the morning. It looks like Saturday the 24th is going to be big,” said a clerk originally from Mexico.

The beautiful capital of the United States of America, is the best example of a variant of neoclassicism that arose in the United States between 1780 and 1820, defined as Federal style. The Capitol, the National Library and the Lincoln Memorial, among others, preserve the grandeur of ancient Greek temples.

The city has a European touch and it seems drawn with a brush. The buildings do not block out the sky and the people, despite the unusual spring cold, walk on the sidewalks. It is a pedestrian city with an efficient public transport, very different from Miami, where on any given day you lose two or three hours sitting behind the wheel of a car.

The National Museum of History, located in an area where museums abound, is usually full of schoolchildren who are attentive and respectful as they pass through the rooms that show important moments in the history of their nation.

In the five days I was in Washington DC, in hotels, Starbucks cafes or on the subway, the student revolution and a new law regarding guns was a matter of debate.

“Something we have to do. You have to stop these killings. It is not compatible with a society that promotes work and creativity. This country, unlike Trump or the gentlemen of the NRA, is multi-ethnic and people from all over the world come here to change their fate. It’s crazy that a young man, who can not buy alcohol in a liquor store, can buy an automatic rifle designed for war. It is a contradiction in a country that claims to be a standard bearer of the values of democracy and integrtation. With my two children I will go to the march (March for Our Lives),” said Irma, a Dominican-born maid who works at the State Plaza Hotel.

According to the authorities, on Saturday, 24 March, 800,000 people marched to express their discontent in front of the White House gates. A figure even higher than the protests against the Vietnam War in 1969.

The youth movement that emerged as a result of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a shooting that on 14 February left 17 dead and 15 injured, has not gone unnoticed in Cuba.

It is true that the Castro regime takes advantage of any school slaughter, revolt or the murder of a black American to fire up its propaganda machine against ’Yankee imperialism.’

But this time it has been different. The image of Emma González, 18, with her shaved heat and a military-cut jacket with a Cuban flag on her right sleeve, has generated sympathy in different strata of Cuban society.

In Havana’s Diez de Octubre municipality, very close to the Red Square of La Víbora, while waiting for customers, two transvestites seated on a staircase at the entrance of an art gallery, spoke about Emma.

“That girl rules! In an interview I read on the internet, she declared that she was Cuban and bisexual. Over there you do not have to be hiding your sexual orientation. She dresses like she talks. Not Obama. Her mother is American and her father, José González, arrived in New York [from Cuba] in 1968. I hope that in the future, if things change here, that little girl will run for president of Cuba,” says one of the transvestites. “I would vote for her,” says the other, wearing a leather skirt and high-heeled shoes.

On Tuesday, 27 March, Cuba’s National Television News, aired in its entirety Emma’s speech at the March for Our Lives in Washington and her overwhelming six minute and twenty second silence: the time it took the murderer to riddle students and teachers with the bullets from his AR -15 rifle.

Dianely, the mother of three children and professor of biology, confesses that in addition to “being moved by the speech, I was struck by the the capacity of high school students to deliver such high-level oratory. In the national press I read that an major share of American students don’t know where Cuba is on the map and that their education was deficient. But those Florida kids are very well prepared. Emma has earned respect in many countries. In Cuba, it couldn’t have earned less. She has our roots.”

In a global and interconnected world, the good or bad that happens on the planet, diffuses in a few minutes. The women’s movement against sexual harassment and the student revolution to stop the sale of automatic weapons in the United States have been echoed on the island. In the case of Emma González, Cuban pride has shined.

Cuba Milks the Tourists / Ivan Garcia

Cruise ship entering Havana. From El Nuevo Diario.

Iván García, 29 March 2018 — As the cruise ship sits docked at port, two ragged old men lie drunk on top of the seawall. An almost motionless gray-haired man tries to catch fish in the fetid waters of the bay. Around him, several stray dogs fight for the leftovers of a fried chicken that a passerby has thrown on the sidewalk.

Curious onlookers take snapshots of the imposing ship with their phones. A squadron of police is there to keep the peace and to prevent the populace and the local rabble from harassing the ship’s passengers as they disembark in Havana. continue reading

After an expedited passport check, a bland complimentary mojito and a brief performance by some mulatto women with make-up running down their faces and visibly tired from dancing to Compay Segundo’s “Chan Chan” in the cheesy reception that the official tourist agencies often put on, the travelers exit the terminal.

A young man speaking in a low voice and in rudimentary English offers “girls, boys, cigars, Cuban music DVDs” to a somewhat startled British tourist walking along the cobbled street of the Lonja del Comercio.

The official guides — they are dressed in green, yellow or white shirts, the colors corresponding to the hotel group to which they belong — welcome them and describe a wonderful night under the stars at the Tropicana nightclub.

Freelance guides, who speak German, Russian and fluent English, also have tourist attractions to offer: “Señor, a tour of Havana in an old convertible, a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, dinner at the private restaurant where the Obama’s ate and, to cap off the evening, salsa at Casa de la Música in Miramar, all for a hundred dollars.”

Outside the terminal swarm all manner of people, including hookers, male prostitutes and professional con artists. They have interesting cultural attractions to offer the newcomers.

From a distance girls in skimpy shorts — some overweight, with visible cellulitis — watch for tourists travelling alone, then approach them and offer them sex. Retirees selling peanuts or the dreary national newspaper Granma take advantage of the new crop of tourists, shouting, “Roasted peanuts for twenty-five American cents; Granma for thirty cents.”

The police try to scare off and intimidate the hustlers. But since these people know how the police operate, they wait for the phalanx of tourists to filter out through the old city streets before making their proposals, far from police radar.

A few noisy Europeans arrive at the Two Brothers bar and within a few minutes the placed is packed with others like them. In the area’s guesthouses, cafes and restaurants, half a liter of mineral water goes for three dollars and a beer for five.

Joel, a bartender at a guesthouse on the Alameda de Paula says, “Every time a cruise ship comes in, sales triple and prices take off. That’s why I stock extra bottles of rum, mineral water and beer. On a busy day, I can go home with 150 to 200 bucks.”

Private restaurants use assistants, with menus in hand, to invite strangers wandering nearby to come in. “For every American I bring in, the owner pays me a commission of three CUC. There have been days when I have brought in an entire busload of tourists,” says a gentleman who describes himself as a “private tourism manager.”

Most government-employed guides and drivers in the tourism industry have an under-the-table verbal agreement with the owners of private bars and restaurants. They charge fees of 5 CUC for single tourists and 100 CUC or more for a group of twenty or thirty. “Additionally, anything they eat or drink is on the house,” says the bartender of a private restaurant a stone’s throw from the former presidential palace.

Of course, the choices offered by the self-employed are more novel and attractive. Armando, the owner of a fully restored Chevrolet convertible, charges 70 CUC for a two-hour tour of picture-postcard Havana, including the restored colonial area, El Vedado and Miramar.

“If tourists are going to spend a bit more time in the capital, I suggest they visit Viñales, in Pinar del Rio province, which is the best example of a town with a range of high-quality private businesses. There are some foreigners with less money than others and then there are those who are quite stingy. The Japanese, Russians and Americans are the most generous. They give good tips and will invite you to lunch or to have a beer. Spaniards are despicable and foul-mouthed. I will only accept them as customers if there are no tourists from other countries available,” confesses Armando.

A recent development in the private tourism sector are those options described as “an experience in Cuba.” Usually, these are tours led by professionals with broad technical knowlege who introduce visitors to Havana’s rich architectural heritage. Others give casino dance lessons or teach people how to play the tumbadora. Former athletes offer physical training courses or provide instruction in the rudiments of boxing. But perhaps one of the most original options is offered by Olga Lidia, a former English teacher who invites tourists to live like Cubans for a week.

According to a smiling Lidia Olga, “Europeans — especially the Swiss and Scandinavians — and Americans love the idea. They sleep in a bedroom with an electric fan but no air conditioning. I give them a ration book to buy bread and chicken at the butcher shop. In the morning I put them on a city bus and take them to visit San Miguel or Arroyo Naranjo, where I have relatives. They can go online once, at a wifi hotspot in a public park. And they may have only a single meal on two out of seven days, like many Cubans. Some of them can’t take it and complain.”

While state-run establishments try to milk tourists, with prices comparable to those of New York but at much lower levels of service, private entrepreneurs are more creative and even offer discounts to visiting foreigners.

The Cuban Electoral Show / Iván García

Taken from Diario Las Américas.

Ivan Garcia, 12 March 2018 — After six o’clock in the afternoon, do not ask Daniela, a single mother of three children, her opinion about the Cuban electoral process or whether she was planning to vote on Sunday March 11 in the imitation-plebiscite that will ratify the 605 deputies to the parliament which, on April 19, will elect the new State Council and the President of Cuba.

And when night falls, Daniela’s apartment is the closest thing to a small hell. While trying to prepare the food — spicy chicken, white rice, black beans and tomato salad — her children fight among themselves to watch certain programming on television or they start playing football with a ball that crashes into the walls, threatening to destroy the home’s furniture and decorations. continue reading

Around eleven o’clock at night, when her children are asleep, Daniela offers her verdict on the elections in Cuba: “All the elections here are a montage. What do they solve? Nothing. It’s a joke. It is part of the simulation that we live in this country. On Sunday I will go and leave my ballot blank as I have been doing for a while. Although that does not solve anything, whether I vote a blank ballot or do not vote at all, the future delegates are already chosen.”

Rosa María Payá Acevedo, daughter of the opposition figure Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who died in a traffic crash in July 2012 and whose family accuses the olive-green autocracy of having caused the fatal crash, has another point of view.

At the head of the CubaDecides organization, Rosa María, who lives between Miami and Havana, carries out a campaign for Cubans to annul thir ballots by writing the word Plebiscito on them.

In her opinion, “it would send a signal of rejection, both to the electoral system and to the government of Raúl Castro” and would support the proposal promoted by CubaDecides, to hold a binding plebiscite that would initiate a political transition towards democracy on the Island.

Other opposition groups, such as the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, headed up by Antonio Rodiles and Ailer González, believe that the road to follow to demand the rights hijacked by the regime is marching in the streets. They believe that participating in electoral processes is validating the dictatorship.

The dissidence, divided and without a popular base, has not been able, or has failed, to build bridges with ordinary Cubans. They speak the same language and have more or less similar aspirations — democracy, economic freedom and freedom of expression and free elections — but for now they are not working together.

Ordinary people see the dissidence in another dimension, either due to the official narrative or the poor performance of the opposition, which rarely appears in the community and lives from a discourse focused on the outside.

Given the lack of leadership, political apathy and fear that still grips many Cubans, the position of a broad segment of Cubans with respect to the elections on Sunday, March 11 is to continue the simulation. Or just stay at home chatting or watching television.

I chatted about the subject with several Habaneros. Ana, an engineer, will take advantage of Sunday to straighten her hair and organize her daughter’s closet. “I’m not going to vote. I do not swallow another story anymore. One can be deceived for ten, twenty or thirty years, but now it’s six decades with the same story and the people get nothing.”

Otto, a bus driver, is going to vote so as not to raise a red flag with his CDR — the block watch group formally named Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. “Living in my house without official permission are my wife and her mother who are from the east of the country. If I don’t go to vote the CDR will air my dirty laundry. I’m going to leave the ballot blank, or write a bad word or put an X through all the candidates, but none of these options will resolve our problems.”

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that the electoral process in Cuba is an infectious and undemocratic mechanism. “It’s pure formalism. Cubans do not elect the president directly. The vote on Sunday is not to elect anyone, it is to ratify a group that was already chosen by the authorities. Not going or leaving the ballot blank, perhaps it is useful for the statistics and you can see that popular support has been lost. But if just 50 percent of the voters attend, staying home will not prevent the nominated candidates from being elected. ”

Hilda, an official, will work in an electoral college in the municipality of Diez de Octubre. Without blushing, she repeats the regime’s tirade: “The elections in Cuba are the most transparent and democratic in the world. The polls are guarded by pioneers (elementary school students), not by soldiers. And at the time of counting, any citizen, even if he is an opponent of the government, can observe the count. Our electoral model is not perfect, but it is among the best on the planet.”

Faced with the questions of why Cubans can not directly elect their president; or why a person who does not belong to the Communist Party can’t run for office; or the prohibition on participating in the elections as neighborhood candidates, enforced against dozens of dissidents; or not allowing direct plebiscites on citizen proposals, Hilda responds:

“Our system to elect the president is parliamentary, just like in other nations. Cuba is a one-party democracy. The individuals who tried to participate in the constituency elections are mercenaries paid by the United States to overthrow the system. And we can not accept that. Holding direct elections on popular requests is more science fiction than reality,” the official argues.

Due to ignorance or disinformation, she did not know that direct plebiscites are carried out in Switzerland. Those in charge of the electoral processes of the Cuban regime should visit that country and learn how a real democracy works. And not continue congratulating themselves on a useless invention.

"Revolutionary" Offensive Against Private Work Began in 1959 / Iván García

Business signage in Old Havana in 1959. Taken from the blog Cuba Material.

Ivan Garcia, 23 March 2018 — On March 15, 1968, two days after the autocrat Fidel Castro finally confiscated the last 55,636 micro-businesses still operating in Cuba, Eusebio, 85, remembers walking with his father and two carpentry assistants to the family business in the Havana’s Santos Suárez neighborhood.

“Two blocks before we got to the carpentry shop, some neighbors told us that the police and the inspectors had shown up armed to teeth. As if it was the business of a drug dealer, they broke the lock, and when I arrived, they were already arranging the work tools and the wood to load them on a truck. Everything was fast. I signed some documents that authorized the transfer of the premises to the State and I returned home. The only thing that they left us was the orders that we had not yet delivered,” says Eusebio and adds: continue reading

“The team proposed that we would continue working in carpentry. To my father that seemed a proposal of incredible cynicism. They take away your business and then they want to hire you as a salaried employee. The old man got sick. The family business had been his whole life. Any carpentry work in the area was done by us. Ten years after the dispossession, in 1978, my father died.”

Bárbaro, an old man now who waits for death in a shabby state asylum in La Víbora, sits in a faded chair recalls his time in the Jacksonville bar, located at the corner of Luz Caballero and Milagros, in Santos Suarez.

“Apart from the bar, there was an inn that made the best ‘ropa vieja’ (shredded beef) in Havana. The owner, who has long since left for the United States, had three workers. Two people cooked, one delivered the food and I was the bartender. Santos Suarez was a pleasant area of the capital. Middle class people lived there and there were also poor people, but they were all very educated. In the morning, retired people used to go for drinks. In the afternoon, people arrived from work. On weekends, it became a club where we talked about politics, business and sports. Meanwhile, they listened to the victrola,” says Bárbaro, closing his eyes, as if trying to trap his memories.

Before Fidel spoke on March 13, 1968, Granma newspaper and Bohemia magazine began a campaign against small businesses, particularly against bars. “They accused us of being nests of drunks, marijuana growers and individuals who did not support the Revolution. I heard that speech on a radio I had at the bar. It was very long and he announced the closing of all private businesses, including fried food stalls. He said that bar owners earned a lot of money.

“It was not true. I earned enough to live. These businesses were family-run. The owner was like my second father. Besides me, my father and an uncle worked there. I earned 300 pesos a month, a fortune then, in addition to the tips. After they took the bar, I started working in a state bar on Heredia Street, where to earn four pesos you have to put water in the run and screw the customer,” explained Bárbaro.

Guillermo, an economist, believes that private enterprise is the antithesis of Marxism. “In all the communist societies of Europe, China and Vietnam, before starting their market economy model, large foreign and local companies and small businesses were nationalized. But those who took the confiscations to the point of confiscating micro-enterprises were the former USSR and Cuba. Other Eastern European nations did not go that far. Of course it was counterproductive. The State could not replace the private workes in food services and other services. It was a huge absurdity that assume that the government could competently manage a shoe stores.”

But communist governments are the only animal that stumbles twice on the same stone. Let’s make history. The deadly thrust against small private businesses was on March 13, 1968. But the crusade against free enterprise began in January 1959. In October 1960, the regime practically nationalized all the industry that had more than 25 workers. With the two agrarian reform laws (1959 and 1963), a greater volume of land was concentrated in the State than that of the large estates.

In Cuba before the Castros, microenterprises of one to 10 employees predominated, along with the small ones (from 10 to 49) and the medium ones from 50 to 250. Out of 2,300 industrial establishments, half were micro-enterprises, which shows how predominate they were. Although in the 1950s the transnational companies came to represent a third of the total investments, micro-enterprises constituted 45% of the business fabric and it is estimated that small businesses constituted 36%.

Most of these businesses were run by honest, visionary and entrepreneurial people. They paid their taxes and competed to earn market share through the quality of what they offered.

For every corrupt businessman, like the dictator Fulgencio Batista, who owned nine sugar mills, two refineries and other businesses, in addition to collecting a juicy benefit from the US mafia located in Havana through Meyer Lansky, there were hundreds of virtuous companies.

The pretext under which Fidel Castro initiated his campaigns was to crucify the owners of large, medium and small businesses as white-collar criminals and greedy capitalists who extorted money from the people.

The ineffectiveness of the unproductive socialist system has shown how terrible Castro’s strategy was. The current production statistics of plants, factories and state industries are lower than during the era of private businesses.

The autocracy itself, almost 60 years later, begs for more foreign investment to catapult the rickety Cuban economy. There is a convincing reality: today the State is a monopoly administered by a military junta that operates like the worst African capitalism.

Just like five decades ago, when Fidel Castro launched his Revolutionary Offensive against wineries, carpenters, bars and fried food stands, among others, the regime now sharpens the fiscal blade and oils its legal machinery to prevent the self-employed from accumulating riches.

It is a strategy of containment that the dictatorship applies cyclically. No matter whether it is October 1960, March 1968 or April 2018. In the gene of communism, a private business will always be an enemy. No more no less.

Cuba: Avoiding Reality / Iván García

From the Central Havana Scenes series, produced in January 2018 by the photo reporter Juan Suarez for Havana Times.

Ivan Garcia, 9 March 2018 — From the loudspeaker of a hot filthy state-owned bar in Diez de Octubre, a thirty minute drive from central Havana, Micha’s voice is blaring out — he sings reggaeton like a dock worker.

“Twist round tight on your toes,” Micha sings. A couple of mulatas with fat stomachs, with their faces stuck in the plastic cups of cheap beer in their hands, move their hips to the rhythm, up close to a fat guy blinged up with chains round his neck. continue reading

They are pissed. Like almost everybody in the windowless stinking bar which seems like a sauna at midday. It’s a working day. But the bar is packed, and, in between shouting and swearing, the regulars discuss the Caribbean Series and Alazanes de Granma getting knocked out. Or talk about under-the-counter business. Or women. Or nothing. And they down one beer after another in the wretched bar in Havana.

Please, don’t discuss politics here. These people have had enough of it. They reply with slogans, like “there is nobody who will fix it, and no-one who will end it.” They take it as read that Fidel Castro’s revolution will last 100 years — at the very least.

“I’m outa here”, says Eduardo. “Plumber in a team with the Havana Water Company”, he repeats with emphasis. When I can, I pinch stopcocks to sell later to a private guy who has a licence to sell plumbing things. Half of the money, 200 or 300 pesos, I spend on food to take home. The rest of it is for drink or cheap prostitutes. Nothing left after that, dude. If you don’t chill out, the system drives you mad,” he adds, while he buys a round of beers, and casts a lecherous eye over the mulatas dancing one reggaeton after another, as if they were dolls on a string.

“They’re happy. When they give you the eye, a hundred cañitas (refers to coins, not drinks in this context), and they all gather round”, the plumber says, as if he’s teaching me something. He looks at the clock and adds, “And if not, you go off with another one. After three in the afternoon, they close in on the guys with no bread and for ten cuc you can have sex both ways”.

The best description for these groups of Cubans who are trying to get away from everything, from misery, from a nothing future, and from the revolutionary chanting (although they make out they are not political), was given by Carlos Manuel Álvarez, probably the best Cuban writer nowadays: he called them the tribe.

There are tribes located on the bottom rung of the poverty ladder. The people who rummage around in the refuse. The crazy street people. The homeless tramps. The incurable alcoholics. The people who touch themselves up in public. The cheap night-time prostitutes. Or the indifferent people who always ask what’s available at the convenience store or the butcher’s, but look vacant when you ask them about anything to do with politics.

These people have switched off. Floating. They survive watching soap operas, dancing reggaeton and boozing. In private, they complain. But, when they are in front of a foreign reporter’s camara, they pretend to talk about other stuff. And, they go and vote, so as to not stick out, and join in the Primero de Mayo processions, because “it’s party time”.

Two kilometers away from the dirty state-owned bar where Eduardo is hoping to make out with a local prostitute, there is an elegant and expensive air-conditioned private bar called Melao, where a Cristal beer costs 2.50 cuc, and a caipirinha made with cane sets you back 5 cuc. In the bar, various girls quietly alert the barman, who yawns if someone comes in, and they flirt with any customer who walks by.

It’s a different tribe to the other one, because it has a slightly better life style and culture than the poor people drinking state beer or cheap rum in the state bars. In this tribe,

you meet football specialists (Florentino, if you are looking for a substitute for Zidane, take a look around Havana). Guys with fitted shirts, tight pants, hairdos with too much gel, and shiny pointed shoes, who closely analyse for you the four-three-four play arrangement and explain to you that Cristiano Ronaldo is now rubbish, and that the future is Mbappe or Neymar.

Perfect jacks-of-all-trades. People skilled in getting you to offer them a  beer. Looking for chicks and drugs, who please whoever has the cash. They are a human equivalent of the iPhone Siri. They talk about anything. Apart from politics.

“What do you think about the next elections? How would you rate the Cuban government? What about Miguel Diaz-Canel? Those topics get in their way. So, they come over as cynics. “Change the record, my friend.I t’s swimming and keep an eye on your clothes. Find out how to make money without getting any mud on you. I’ve had it with politics. I’m into partying and pachanga,” says Adonis, a young night-lifer.

The Miami press is more interested in Gladiador’s problems than analysis of the Cuban political and socio-economic situation. When they emigrate, they don’t change their spots. They remain indifferent, apolitical, and frivolous, just like on the island. They care about buying the latest car or iPhone, seeing if they can come up good in the Miami lottery or win some money in the Everglades casino.

Nearly all of these urban gangs are allergic to talking to dissidents. They look the other way when they repress the Ladies in White, or independent journalists. And, to distance themselves from the Castro opposition, they call themselves socialists, neocommunists, social democrats, liberals, evangelists, masons, followers of santeria cults …

Nevertheless, the security folk, who are always ahead of things, don’t waste any time in labelling them. They are all counter-revolutionaries: they don’t respect the guidelines from the country’s highest leadership.

You can understand the indifference of lots of people, and that they use sex, alcohol, football and reggaeton as an escape valve from the madhouse they have had to live in for 59 years. But, for honest thinking people, the avoidance of reality can only be explained by one word: fear.

 

Translated by GH

How I Remember Cuba’s 2003 Black Spring / Iván García

The old Lourdes Clinic, today the House of Culture, in Carmen and October 10, in the Red Square of the Víbora, is very close to my home. Taken from Mapio.net.

Ivan Garcia, 19 March 2018 — On a mid-February day in 2003, a month before the repressive wave against the Cuban dissidence, sometime after 9:00 in the morning it took me almost an hour to board Route 100 bus, which at that time started its route at the corner of Diez de October and O’Farrill, in La Víbora, and ended in the Nautical district in the municipality of Playa.

Public transport, unaddressed by the regime, was chaotic. My destination was the house of Ricardo González Alfonso, on Calle 86 between 7th and 9th in Miramar, in the west of the capital, to deliver a couple of notes that would later be published in the magazine De Cuba, prepared entirely in Havana. continue reading

I had 40 pesos in my pocket: 20 to return to La Víbora in a private taxi and the rest to buy a pizza for lunch. The trip on Route 100 involved a lot of shoving and bad language. I got off at the Comodoro Hotel stop, at 3rd and 84th, and bought a Neapolitan pizza from a privately run snack bar just before 5th Avenue.

I then continued on my way to Ricardo’s home, a sort of itinerant newsroom for Cuba Press, the most professional independent press agency in Cuba, directed by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero.

Ricardo was a good guy. Demanding with regards to the work, he was always on the journalists to deliver two weekly articles. His house was also used as a press workshop, for literary or political gatherings, always with a thermos of coffee. There, Raúl Rivero taught journalism classes and it also served as a set for interviews with the foreign press.

It was at Ricardo’s home where, in 2000, the Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists Society was founded, which brought together the majority of the free correspondents in Cuba and where De Cuba magazine was created. The first number came out in December 2002 and the second in February 2003.

The journalists Luis Cino, a friend in good times and bad, along with Claudia Márquez and Ricardo, were in charge of the selection, editing and layout of the articles.

On any one day, in that house in Miramar, there were about ten to fifteen reporters, almost all of them with vast experience in the official press. The most inexperienced always received good advice from journalists like Raúl Rivero, Ana Luisa López Baeza, Iria González Rodiles, Tania Quintero or Ricardo González Alfonso himself.

Harassment and repression by State Security was part of daily life. We promptly denounced it on Radio Martí when they confiscated our money or work material, as well as the summons and threats of the G-2, the Intelligence Directorate. I remember that in those days of February 2003, when I spoke with Luis Cino, I told him that a security guy on a Suzuki motorcycle who called himself Jesus, on the corner of the so-called Red Square of La Víbora, had told me: “You people have little left.” I did not pay particular attention.

The repression was constant and at all times. The official media set the stage for the future raid against 75 peaceful opponents, including 27 independent journalists, by publishing editorial vitriolic against the opposition. At night, I would turn the sound down on the black and white television so that my grandmother, my sister and my 8-year-old niece would not hear the name of my mother, Tania Quintero, nor Fidel Castro’s public threats against the opposition.

At that time, Castro spent hours reading reports and citing the names of journalists and dissident activists who attended receptions and visited European embassies or the United States Interests Section. The atmosphere smelled like something was going to happen. Tania and I carried a spoon and a toothbrush when we went out, in case they stopped us.

On Tuesday, March 18, 2003, I had a difficult day. I lived with my mother, my grandmother, my sister and my niece in La Víbora, I had written an article for Encuentro en la Red (Meeting on the Network) and had to find a way to send it. But in the Sevillano neighborhood I had a daughter a little over a month old and in the afternoon, when I went to see her, her mother was dead tired because the baby was keeping her up at nights. I decided to stay, so she could rest.

I sat with the baby in an armchair was midnight, when she fell asleep. I put her in the cradle, I said goodbye to her mother and when I went to my house, down San Miguel Street, I was struck by the fact that Villa Marista, the political police barracks, was completely lit up.

The most veteran among the dissidents said that when “all the lights of Villa Marista are lit, it means something bad is happening or is going to happen.”

At the little kiosk on Avenida Acosta, I ate two fritters and an instant pineapple drink. When I turned the corner of Diez de Octubre and Carmen and was nearly at our apartment on the first floor, when I saw Tania waving at me from the terrace. I stopped and in a low voice she said: “Iván, they have several opponents and independent journalists. At any moment they are coming to look for us.” I felt a chill of fear.

I took a deep breath, hurriedly climbed the stairs, Tania was waiting for me at the door and I said: “Whatever happens will happen. Better lie down and try to sleep because Security starts its operations at 5 or 6 in the morning. ” The following days were terrible. The list of those arrested was initially a hundred, later it was 75.

It is said that the dictator made an account and arrested 15 dissidents for each of the 5 spies of the Avispa network who were imprisoned in the United States. The trials were summary. The sentences of the prosecution were appalling. For seven of the opponents they asked for the death penalty. Luckily, the autocracy did not go that far.

In November of 2003, Tania, my sister and my niece went into exile in Switzerland. Independent journalism remained in its death throes, but it did not die. Some continued writing without signing the articles. Others waited for the tide to go out to go back to writing.

Five years later, in 2008, journalism without a gag re-emerged with force. Supported by new technologies, various rebellious blogs appeared and the quality of websites on Cuban topics based inside and outside the country rose. International media, such as El Mundo, BBC and El País, among others, began publishing collaborations with unofficial journalists. It was the best possible shield: the regime was careful about repressing those who write in influential newspapers in Europe and the United States.

Today, more than 250 reporters, of different tendencies, write independently from the Island. The harassment and repression of dissent continues. But never at the level of the Black Spring of 2003.

Fifteen years later, Cuba is closer than ever to the road to democracy. It may take six months or six years. But it will happen.

See also:

Who Benefits From the Release of the Cuban Political Prisoners?

Liberation or Forced Exile?

Libertation or Exile?

The "Castro List"

http://translatingcuba.com/chronicle-of-my-trip-to-london-pt-i-pablo-pacheco/