The Difficult Task of Eating Lunch and Dinner / Leon Padron Azcuy

HAVANA Cuba – Imagining a Cuban nutritionist in a health centre is like flying a kite without air. Given the general scarcities, these specialists in healthy eating, in their efforts to propose adequate diets to patients with obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes, have to act as circus magicians.

How can anybody guide you on what to eat to improve your health when you can’t obtain essential foods such as milk, beef, fish, seafood, when malangas (a kind of sweet potato) are available occasionally and potatoes are unobtainable?

Carmen, a nutrition specialist in various hospitals, finds her work makes her sad. “We all know what deficiencies we have to put up with. It pains me to see the looks on the faces of the old people who ask what they should eat, and complain about the impossible prices of fish, a pineaple, or oranges, from the healthy eating suggestions I give them so that they can recover their good heath”, she told me.

Most people – Carmen included – can’t afford fruit, on their miserable incomes. Imagine an old lady whose social security payment doesn’t even allow her to buy medicines, or a single mother without economic support from her child’s father.

Worthless junk food

A balanced diet is necessary to control certain conditions, but it’s also necessary to maintain your health. The worthless junk food eaten by Cubans is really an insult to the palate, is responsible for the small stature of today’s kids, the early loss of teeth, and the use of canes on the part of many under-70’s, due to deterioration in their bones.

It’s impossible to avoid catching diseases, when we are eating our monthly ration of “enriched mince*” (whose ingredients no-one knows), the little bit of chicken you get when there isn’t any fish; and other “leftovers”, dating back to the 90’s, of the notorious Special Period**, which never ends.

Who would tell the Cubans of the island that their food would be much worse than the diet the 18th and 19th century colonist farmers gave their slaves? In the plantation barracks they did not go without dried beef, bacalao (a type of fish), beef, milk and other valuable nutrients.

The 1842 rules regarding slaves specified that the masters must give their slaves two or three meals a day, with eight ounces (230 gm) of meat, dried beef or bacalao, and 4 ounces (115 gm) of rice or other kind of grain, accompanied by 6 or 8 plantains every day, or their equivalent in sweet potatoes, yams, yuccas or other types of tubers.***

Before 1959, the chef Nitza Villapol, became popular with her television recipes Cooking by the Minute. Later, in order to survive in the revolution, Villapol (by then a party militant) adapted her recipes to fit what you received in your meagre ration card. And ended up offering a recipe for “grapefruit steak”.

Even our very own Fidel Castro didn’t escape the temptation of offering cooking recipes. He recommended Cubans to drink some milk with a little bar of chocolate. It seemed like a joke: “what chocolate, and what milk?” asked the desperate mothers at home, who did not know what to dream up to feed their kids.

It’s absurd that the government can’t guarantee every citizen a glass of milk, and doesn’t allow Cubans to set up private businesses to supply milk and meat. It’s hypocrisy to blame the low livestock output on theft of cattle, when it is nothing else but another product of our misery.

What can we look forward to? Today’s slave-owners refuse to relax the state monopoly, the reason why Cubans can’t enjoy a balanced diet. What can Carmen, the nutritionist, say to the elderly person lacking in vitamins who asks her what should I have for lunch and dinner?

Translator’s notes:
*”Mince” refers to “minced meat” which, in Cuba is likely to be a “mystery substance” rather meat.
** Fidel Castro coined the term a “special period in times of peace” to refer to the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the sudden loss of the USSR’s financial subsidy plunged Cuba into a severe economic crisis
El Ingenio, Manuel Moreno Fraginals

Cubanet, 4 April 2014

Translated by GH

Colome Ibarra, Alias Furry, the Enriched General / Leon Padron Azcuy

HAVANA, Cuba, January 8, 2014. – The Cuban Military’s upper echelons are enriched with multiple businesses right in the faces of Cuban citizens. In the block between B, C, 29 and Zapata streets, Army Corps General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, popularly known as “Furry,” exhibits part of his family patrimony which is booming.

The minister gave his son José Raúl Colome a beautiful two-story house here to use — as do other residents of that area — to rent to foreigners. José Raúl also owns the STAR BIEN restaurant, one of the most patronized by Havana’s elite.

Located at No. 205 29th between B and C, this restaurant was recently renovated to become a jewel of the capital’s culinary establishments, competing in price and quality with the best restaurants in the hotel sector of the capital.

According to some sources who preferred anonymity, the site was acquired behind the scenes, and adding the costs of restoration, equipment, atmosphere, service and decor, the property is valued at no less than 100,000 CUC (about $110k US). continue reading

It has an excellent economic management based an admirable job of marketing and promotion, having priority in the plans of Havanatur and Cubatur (two tourism companies run by the Cuban military) over prestigious restaurants and private establishments such as La Guarida and Gringo Viejo, to cite just two examples.

Meanwhile Havana collapses

Every night tourist buses can be observed at STAR BIEN, which is also surrounded by a long line of the luxury cars owned by the diplomatic corps accredited in Havana, or by well-known artists, athletes and other figured who frequently go there to eat the delicious menu items.

Some residents who found employment at this place, when interviewed, avoided commenting for fear of losing their salary which is obviously higher than in State-owned restaurants. However one of watchmen at Colomé’s properties, whose name I omit for his safety even though he no longer works there, dared to tell me, “It’s humiliating to see that most of the businesses of ordinary Cubans closed or never prospered, because of the weight of the limitations they faced, while the military’s businesses bloom like daisies.”

While a significant number of houses collapse like soldiers in a war, General Colomé’s family, always loyal to the dictatorship, owns several luxury properties, in addition to those mentioned. They also own a comfortable apartment in the building on 705 B Street between 29th and Zapata, a gift from José Raúl to his mother, where the children of the elite communists are taught English and which is sometimes used for holiday accommodations.

It’s a travesty that these generals of Communist Cuba have divvied up our land like a piñata, while leaving for the starving people the rotten slogan: Socialism or Death.

Leon Padron Azcuy, Cubanet, 10 January 2014

Paramilitary Units and Organized Mobs Lay Siege to Meeting of Cuban Dissidents in San Juan y Martinez / Leon Padron Azcuy

HAVANA, Cuba, November 11, 2013, León Padrón Azcuy/ The home of opposition activist Sandra Ace Rramos in the town of San Juan y Maritnez was the scene this Saturday morning of a seige by pro-government “Rapid Response Brigades” and paramilitary forces, organized by provincial State Security officials in Pinar del Rio Province. The government-organized mobs were mobilized to disrupt a meeting of provincial opposition leaders scheduled for that day.

According to a report by phone by local activist Maiker Alexander Hernández of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), who attempted to participate in the dissident meeting, the mobs began surrounding the home in the early morning hours, and were organized by State Security officers José Manuel Crespo and Captain Orestes Ayala. The furious mob shouted obscenities and threats against the opposition activists gathering inside, with the intention of intimidating them into not proceeding with the event. “It as a classically fascist tactic, something never seen in this town before”, said Hernández.

Despite the intense repression and physical aggression, thirteen of the eighteen planned participants were able to enter the house located at 145 Leopoldo Pérez Street, in the town of San Juan Y Martinez. The structure is the site of the independent library Amor Paz y Libertad, run by Ace Ramos.

Five of the activists attempting to participate in the meeting were arrested and taken to the local station of the National Revolutionary Police and released later in the day, around 5pm.

Among the participants in the opposition gathering were Raúl Risco, President of the Pinareña Democratic Alliance, and Eduardo Díaz Freitas, former political prisoner belonging to the famous “Group of 75” (from the Black Spring of 2003) recently released from prison for health reasons. Mr. Díaz declared by phone link: “We organized this gathering because we have resolved to bring together all of the opposition groups in Pinar del Rio Province, something we’ve been wanting to do for some years now”.

Independent librarian Sandra Ace, who hosted the gathering, stated: “We’re really moved, because despite the intense repression and aggression that surrounded us all day, many neighbors helped the participants make it into the house”.

The fascist-style event this Saturday in the town of San Juan y Martinez against peaceful opposition activists is not an isolated event. Pinar del Rio has seen a wave of repressive activity this year against dissidents, similar to that seen in all other parts of the country — a level of repression which is expected to only get worse with time.

It’s no secret that the disproportionate repression on the part of the government of Raul Castro reflects a fear of loss of control. According to the Cuban Reconciliation and Human Rights Commission (CCDHRN), led by Dr. Elizardo Sánchez, in the month of October alone there were 909 politically motivated detentions in the country, one of the highest rates for a single month in over 20 years. This is in addition to incidents of violence by police and para-police units (Rapid Response Brigades), as well as acts of physical aggression against opposition activists.

At the time this report was release, the opposition activists who had gathered for this meeting expressed their gratefulness to media outlets abroad that attempt to generate international awareness of the true state of affairs inside Cuba.

León Padrón Azcuy,

Cubanet, 11 Nov 2013

The Hell of Traveling to the “Interior” / Leon Padron Azcuy

National Bus Terminal, Havana, photo by author.

HAVANA, Cuba, September 25, 2013, Leon Padron / In the new “Cuba Says” segment on the TV National News, they addressed the problem of transportation. But it was not a simple confrontation between between some critics among the people and the accustomed triumphalism of the officials.

The Transport Ministry officials insisted that the minibus cooperatives, at a price of five Cuban pesos, have improved transportation in the capital. But they didn’t even remotely address the torments of those who have to travel to the interior of the country.

The national bus and train terminals are always crowded with anxious travelers, prisoners of inefficiency, delay and corruption. The ticket resellers have tickets at four times the official price.

The waiting list

La Coubre is  located near the avenue of the port, where travelers headed for the eastern provinces converge without reservations. The embarkation depends on the faults at the national bus terminal, for those who have to put their names on a long waiting list.

Interior of the station. Photo by author

It is here where stoicism is put to the test, because sometimes people have to wait for whole days, sitting on the floor, or standing, with the worst filth, great heat, and a persistent clamor that is only comparable to the torments of hell.

At La Coubre I met a man from Holguin who for two years has come to the capital every month for his son’s medical treatment, because of lack of equipment in the hospital in his town. When I asked him how he arranged these trips, he said he sometimes he spends more than eight hours waiting for passage to Holguin and has to sleep on the floor with his sick child.

Chinese Buses

Nearly nine years ago, the Cuban authorities acquired a batch of Yutong buses in Chine, which improved inter-provincial transportation service. Today the reality is different. Most of these buses are out of service. Armando, a driver who covers the Havana-Moa route, told Cubanet, “These buses turned out pretty good, working without maintenance and without spare parts,” adding, “When I heard them talk about transportation on TV, I thought they would mention that the drivers, when the cars breakdown, we have to pay, from our own pockets, for the maintenance and the parts if we want to continue.”

Leon Padron Azcuy,

From Cubanet

25 September 2013

Political Police Kidnappers Identified / Leon Padrone

The political police agent known as Camilo followed the route of the P1 bus, on which the Ladies in White were traveling.

HAVANA, Cuba , September, – Recently , blogger and freelance journalist Joisy García Martínez  wrote via the phone to his account on Twitter, @criolloliberal: “Raul Castro ratifies the kidnappings in Cuba, but not the [UN Human Rights] Covenants.” The fact was related to the severe repression by the political police on about 30 human rights activists who, on the first Sunday in September were to provide support to the Ladies in White, during Mass and their traditional march down 5th Avenue in the Cuban capital.

Joisy own statements as well as those of Rubén Carthy, independent journalist and former prisoner of the Group of 75, and Eduardo Diaz Fleites, witness to the event, said that on that day,  at the end of the press conference with the Ladies in White, they and six other activists were arrested by the political police, when they were at the bus stop on 3rd and 20th in the Miramar neighborhood. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a large group of soldiers, most in plain clothes and supported by a caravan of several Lada cars, Suzuki motorcycles, two police cars and an 8-seat bus, intended as a cell during the kidnapping.

Several sources said that, subsequently, the entire repressive squadron under the command of the officer known as Camilo, followed the P1 bus route, on which several Ladies in White and other dissidents were traveling. All of them were arrested when they got off at different stops. The Ladies in White and other passengers who were also on the bus witnessed how agents violently forced the opponents into the vehicles.

Throughout the journey, which had its destination in a confusing area beyond Cotorro, far from the center of Havana, the cruelty of the Castro agents was clearly made evident. One of the soldiers who participated in the operation slapped the face of the young man Adrián Chirino García, a member of the Commission for Assistance to Political Prisoners and Families ( CAPPF ), who desperately asking them to open the window, as he couldn’t get any air. This officer was identified by his badge: No. 2228. The license plate of the Lada car was that driven by officer Camilo, HH122. In addition, the number of one patrol car was 529, and the badge of the driver was 00884.

This is not an isolated event, and it marks another black page in the history of the regime in terms of human rights. And it further confirms that during the presidency of Raul Castro he has maintained the method of kidnappings which, although not new the island — in the past many members of the democratic opposition have experienced it — is being reactivated as one of the main forms of repression  in the present.

From Cubanet

12 September 2013

To Live in a Tenement, Without Hope / Leon Padron Azcuy

Photos: León Padrón Azcuy

Havana , August, – Over a year ago, the Havana news channel reporter, Graciela Resquejo, tried to report the terrible living conditions, life-threatening, in which many families live in the solar — tenement — at No. 12 Jesus Maria between San Ignacio and Inquisidor, in Old Havana.

But to no avail. That report was censored by political commissars of Cuban television.

Resquejo apologized days later to neighbors and urged them to relentlessly pressure the institutions responsible for housing, so that one day they might get out of this hell.

The solar at No. 12 Jesus Maria is a disaster. Its tenants live in fear of a collapse, or the spread of disease, because when it rains, the water penetrates the roofs and walls, leading to a steady drip, even hours after the sky clears. Nor do they have drinking water, which comes through a pipe installed between sewer pipes, and rats and cockroaches swarm everywhere.

Neighbors have appealed, time and again, to the government. But the problem persists in every session of the Popular Power. Finally they went to the Department of Citizens Support of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, who toss the ball back to the municipality.

One of the biggest frustrations of tenants, was in 2007, when they were assigned to some old offices in a four-story building near the tenement. They only had to wait until the bathrooms and kitchens were put in. But while waiting for the arrangements, the government itself gave these offices to other victims who had lost their homes because of a cyclone. Back to square one.

Year after year, this miserable citadel of San Ignacio Street waits for the fulfillment of the promises of the authorities. But promises are always empty .

One of the neighbors of the tenement, whose husband recently had a heart operation, said, “The authorities remember us every time a hurricane comes,” adding, “their cynicism knows no bounds, at times we’ve been asked to find our own shelters, on others they’ve taken us to a multipurpose room at Avenida del Puerto, and as soon as the weather improves, we returned to our citadel, ignoring the building collapses that happen when the sun comes out.”

A young woman who works as a waitress at the pizzeria at 264 Prado and who has lived in the tenement for seventeen years said, “We are not asking for a palace in Miramar or Vedado, we want at least a roof with better conditions, but we are always victims of deceit and manipulation.”

The nine families the No 12 Jesús María tenement, living without hope, victims of government neglect .

FLASH GALLERY photos Leon Padron Azcuy

29 August 2013

The "Yumas" Pay Between 80 and 120 CUC per Night / Leon Padron Azcuy

HAVANA, Cuba, Recently Cuban “parliamentarians” discussed the issue of prostitution among young people. According to the press official, they drafted strategies to face this evil, as well as pandering, widespread today all across the Island.

It is known that, since 1959, the regime openly proclaimed that women would not have to sell their bodies, since the revolution would provide work and wages. But it all ended up in the book of failure. Currently prostitution is a survival option in Cuba.

The maneuvers to eradicate it have only been from the repressive order, without hitting the target. Deportations to the interior of the island, temporary detention centers, police operations, jail for social dangerousness, and countless fluctuating measures have been implemented, but all are useless.

So I doubt that the alleged Cuban parliament has the solution in hand to solve this problem that corrodes Cuban society on a daily basis.

“No matter what profession we have, it doesn’t do us any good. Only through going to bed with tourists do we have the opportunity to visit the most famous restaurants, cabarets, clubs and hotels in the island, to buy good clothes and shoes, and to solve the pressing problems of our family, until one day we can get out of this country.” Thus spoke Yeilis, a young woman from Guantanamo, age 19, who has lived in the life for two years, in Havana.

Another prostitute, who declined to be identified, said, “La Cecilia, Dos Gardenias, the Salón Rojo at the Capri, La Mesón, Don Cangrejo, El Diablo Tun Tun and las Casas de la Música, among others, are our favorite resorts to link up with tourists. Here the payments of “yumas” (foreigners) to the prostitutes range from 80 to 120 CUC* per night, excluding payments for security and surveillance, police and custodians, and bribes for the staff at the rented home.”

It is noteworthy that at this point Gen. Raul Castro laments the gloomy Cuban outlook with regard to the crisis of values, especially among youth. And while it’s better late than never, the General wasted the opportunity to recognize the direct responsibility of the regime, whose only concern over the years has been to maintain its sole command, regardless of the deterioration of “moral and civic values, decency, shame and decorum” that the nation exhibits.

Maybe his daughter, the “parliamentarian” Mariela Castro Espín, unlike the supreme leader of the revolution, could propose something more profitable to combat this scourge.

*Translator’s note: Roughly equivalent to the same amount in dollars.

24 July 2013

Two Offspring of the Regime / León Padrón Azcuy


I don’t imagine Cubans putting up with another fifty years of “castrismo”.  I say this because lately one can observe an induced and growing role by two offshoots of the Castro-Ruz family that don’t suggest they will distance themselves much from the actors of the past.

Incidentally, these two little kids of Daddy 1 & 2, have been planted in sectors very sensitive to the public eye, which could be a strategy of the regime, with the end result of assigning them as possible heirs to the power acquired by Fidel and Raul, authors during this more than half century of the oldest Communist dictatorship in Latin America.

For some time now, Dr. Antonio Castro –youngest son of Fidel– has been promoted from the premises of Cuban baseball.  An institution which, as a physician for the Cuban team, placed him in the kingdom of the national sport of the island, to wit showing off today the powerful position of vice-president of the Cuban Amateur Baseball Federation (Federación Cubana de Beisbol Amateur).  An opening which permits Tony to handle an extensive sector, to which he shows an increasingly visible “benevolent” face.

The other case is that of sexologist Mariela Castro –daughter of current president Raúl Castro– and director of the National Center for Sexual Education of Cuba (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual de Cuba), who right now counts on the unlimited backing  that has catapulted her into the public arena, using a social program in defense of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights.

A great part of this social segment, so needy of God and not Mariela, naïvely lends its shoulders so she can place her hands and elevate herself on behalf of a supposed fight for the breach of taboos present in Cuban society and the world in general.  An open opportunity for Castro Espín, with her a consistent and “dosed” publicity, so she may scale positions and fame, not only within the island, but face to face with worldwide public opinion, which she is starting to manipulate at her whim with surprising aplomb.

At the start of this year, Mariela made a little jaunt to Europe, where she caught the attention of the secular press after her skillful visit to a neighborhood in the Dutch capital where prostitutes operate.  Her praise, for the conditions in which these women work, reminded us of the declarations of her Uncle Fidel, who some years ago raised backyard prostitutes to the skies, of course, in spite of having held since the beginning of his revolution that this legacy engendered by capitalism would be eradicated.

Recently the sexologist also traveled to the United States, a country that gave her a visa without much thought other than to the great game of the possible  flexibility of the “blockade”.  From Californian territory, Mariela stood out as a dangerous instrument of change that moves between two powerful forces:  the Cuban exile community and the Communist dictatorship.  The most reluctant of the first, reacted with a laundry-list of diatribes that –reasonable or not– stamped her with an excessive resonance that kept her in the headlines of the great North American press, to whom she expressed –among other things– her support for the reelection of Barack Obama.  A message probably originating from the aging Castro-Ruz dynasty which takes advantage of the situation to sell Castro Espín as a leader with a progressive eye capable of maintaining the Communist ideology of her family.

The daughter of the Cuban president.  A “gifted” sexologist of authoritarian and intolerant customs, presents herself in all plazas not only as a defender of homosexuals, but also as the ultimate protector of the politics of the regime headed by her father.  Her irony goes so far as to elude the touching realities at the levels of violence, sex and alcohol present in Cuban society, to which we must add the use of an emphatic language trying to “refute” the violations of human rights in Cuba, lamentably substituted by sexual rights.

Her duplicity is made clear once and again when she won’t move a finger in defense of homosexuals who belong to  Cuban civil society, who on repeated occasions the political police have arrested and beaten in order to stop their marches and actions, even if they are in support of the public activities of Castro Espín.  One thing is certain, if there is something that this family knows how to do to the detriment of others, it is the manipulation of techniques of disqualification to exclude  all those within the island who don’t agree with the system.  Thus with the same “mastery” of Fidel and Raul, in front of professionals at a San Francisco hospital during her recent trip to the United States, Mariela Castro took it out on philologist Yoani Sánchez whom she accused of being a mercenary paid by the empire, and branded the Cuban exile community as a mafia, holding them responsible for paralyzing a normalization between Cuba and the United States.

It is crystal clear, the Communist monarchy just like North Korea, is betting on a leader who will vindicate the Castro surname. Apparently one of its females (Mariela) possesses genes of the same stock. Her familiar “fidelity”, makes it a given that the regime expects to extend itself even more. Blog: leonlibredecuba

Translator: Maria Montoto

5 June 2012