Zunzuneo: Subversion or Breaking Censorship; / Odelin Alfonso Torna / HemosOido

HAVANA, Cuba — The Cuba-United States confrontation increased its pitch with the publication by the daily Granma of the article, Zunzuneo: The Noise of Subversion, commenting on a report by the AP news agency about ZunZuneo and Piramideo, two text message services (SMS) accused of having illegally complied a list of telephone numbers to which it sent unsolicited messages on innocent topics like sports and culture, but which later would become subversive messages to young people, considered “susceptible to political change.”

According to Granma, the cornerstone of the ZunZuneo plan — a network that emerged in February 2010 — was to access the “data and phone numbers of Cubacel users,” the branch with the most ETECSA users.  In the same paragraph, the Communist Party daily suggests: “It is not clear to the AP how the telephone numbers were obtained although it appears to indicate that it was done in an illicit manner.”

Maybe the AP does not know that the ETECSA database — guide of mobile and fixed (residential and commercial) telephone numbers — was leaked in early 2010 to laptop and desktop computers all over the Island.  And that, immediately, promotional texts began to appear issued by Cuban artistic groups or clubs and bulk messages — unsolicited — demanding freedom for the five Cuban spies.  I remember perfectly one that said:  “To love justice is to defend the five.  End injustice!  Freedom now!”

The official ETECSA database is updated every year. The latest version that circulates in the population accounts for 60 per cent of the mobile phones, some 200,000 users, not counting the residential sector. The weight of this application in megabytes is between 200 and 450 (by design) and can be copied in any digital format.

Is it possible that ZunZuneo got 25 thousand subscribers in less than six months without the need of a database as the AP well reflects?  Why not talk about the so popular data leakage by ETECSA and the proselytizing in its unsolicited text messages?

Thanks to a friend not tied to the internal oppositon or independent journalism, I subscribed to ZunZuneo in 2010.  It was all very simple, it just required sending an SMS to a phone number outside the border and you would receive news about sports, culture or science or technology.  Also, one could subscribe on the Internet, at a time when the number of connected Cubans was barely 2.9 percent of the population.

Often senior citizens receive in Cuba promotional messages about a reggaeton concert, also the “March of the Torches Parade in Havana — The Great Country” is convened through Cubacel, as happened January 27 this year.  Is this not, perhaps, the equivalent of infringing on “the laws of privacy” as Granma says of ZunZuneo?

Nothing is said about the database leak by Cubacel, software that has generated groups of clandestine users and even phantom prepaid top-ups within the informal Cuban market.

This Thursday, the US government responded to the AP’s accusations. White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that his government was involved in the program and that it even had been approved in Congress. But the spokesman for the State Department, Marie Harf, denied on Thursday that the social network was the product of a secret or undercover operation. “We were trying to expand the space for Cubans to express themselves,” said Harf.For his part, White House spokesman Jay Carney denied that ZunZuneo had an undercover nature although he clarified that the US president supports efforts to expand communications in Cuba.

AP and international media that have reproduced the “scandal” of ZunZuneo should know that the ZunZuneo application never was used for any “subversive” movement in Cuba. Instead, the Cuban government used the ETECSA database to send text messages advocating the liberation of the five spies or the attendance at pro-governmental political events.

About a year ago, the ZunZuneo messages stopped. Cubans still do not communicate freely.

Cubanet, April 8, 2014

Translated by mlk

The Self-Employed: Unemployed or Illegal / Odelin Alfonso Torna

HAVANA, Cuba — January offers to close its curtains with 100 empty stands in the country’s markets, self-employed who hope for job relocation, government fines  shielded in absurd justifications and the promise of a wholesale market that does not arrive.

While the print and television press emphasize new regulations for the private sector in 2014, the so-called “small businessmen” line up in municipal offices of the Tax Administration (ONAT) in order to turn in their licenses.

Rosa Maria, resident of Washington Street and Bejucal in the Havana township of Arroyo Naranjo, is one of those who delivered her license recently.  As a seller of ice cream and slushes, Rosa received innumerable visits from inspectors:

“The last fines were 50 and 500 pesos (2 and 20 dollars at current exchange), both from Public Health.  The 50 was because of my long nails and the 500 because there was dust on the counter of the cafeteria; now I’m tired!” she exclaimed.

La Cuevita Market before its closure

According to the Ministry of Work and Social Security, at the close of February 2013, 450,000 individuals worked for themselves.  An official economist, Ariel Terrero Font, said on television that judging by growth in the first months, it would not be possible to reach “half a million self-employed workers” by the close of that same year.

Nevertheless, after the prohibition on the sale of imported clothes and hardware items bought on the retail market, the body of licenses awarded by the ONAT for private work, say food vendors, cabbies (we call them “boatmen”), clothing and hardware sellers, decreased sharply.

The tsunami that passed through Havana

Hundreds of tarps lie empty in the capital’s markets.  It is said unofficially that at a national level, a mid-range of 62,000 individuals have frozen or turned in their licenses.

In the Electrico neighborhood market, located at Camilo Cienfuegos and Calzada de Managua, Arroyo Naranjo township, 17 stands have closed since the beginning of January and only two operate with the sale of pirated CDs and handicrafts.  The market located on Porvenir Avenue, between San Gregorio and Georgia, in the same township, closed totally: more than 70 stands offered clothes and imported shoes, including four cafeterias that used to serve the self-employed.

Self-employed market after closure by authorities

In one of the best attended markets of Arroyo Naranjo, sandwiched between Atlanta and Diez de Octubre, 43 stands have remained empty since January 6. The occupied stands, a total of 32, offer tailored clothes, handmade shoes, and costume jewelry.  In Central Havana, another of the leading markets in supply and demand, located at Angeles and Reina, barely keeps 3 or 4 stands active out of approximately 60 mini-kiosks.

Nevertheless, while in the main the extermination of taxpayers is visible, others give the impression of recovery. That is the case at the Virgen del Camino Market, situated on San Miguel and B Street, San Miguel del Padron township. This market, which reopened at the beginning of January, has 55 abandoned sales stands and 63 in service, above all with the sale of shoes and leather items.  This township is characterized for being the greatest producer of handmade shoes.

For Natividad Jimenez, a specialist in physical planning for the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) in the capital township of Arroyo Naranjo, the taxpayers who used to sell imported clothes were never unemployed because some have accepted relocation and others have not.

“No place has been closed. They (the sellers) were alerted since last year, nothing has been done outside of the law. Many of the sellers from La Cuevita (Havana’s most prolific market) were illegal, that’s why they haven’t done anything, they haven’t complained and they have remained quiet,” Natividad pointed out.

Unemployment:  A secret tax?

Three-D theaters were the first required to close

At the close of 2011, the Office of National Statistics (ONE) published its last report about the numbers of taxpayers enrolled at the ONAT, a total of 391 thousand self-employed workers.  Nevertheless, statistics published in the official press reflect, until that date, a mid-range of 444,109 individuals registered with the ONAT.

Given the growing number of taxpayers cancelled in the ONAT, the municipal and provincial offices close ranks when it comes time to offer information.

The black market as a solution

Maybe the ONAT, charged with receiving the liquidation of taxes for private workers who seek cancellation, does not register in its data base the number of licenses turned in?

Judging by the official statistics, since December 2011 to date, only 54,000 Cubans have sought a license in the offices of ONAT. This tells us that the private sector remains at the bottom of the sewer, in spite of the grandiloquent displays of “transparency and timely information.”

Cubanet, January 30, 2014, 

Translated by mlk.

Living in a Shelter Comes to Seem Normal / Odelin Alfonso Torna

HAVANA, Cuba , September, www.cubanet.org – For ten years, the issue of housing has topped Cuba’s social problems. The state, unable to meet demand in the medium and long term, commits to offering its abandoned and unrepairable properties. Families of victims, calling on their meager resources and their own efforts, are divided out among warehouses, factories, schools, offices and even in abandoned police headquarters.

Offices of an old abandoned factory in danger of collapse, located in Cuervo road in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, were previously assigned, provisionally, to three families of victims. In the warehouse of the dismantled La Ideal cannery, in the capital municipality of San Miguel del Padron, shelters other families by whatever means possible. The San Francisco de Paula railway station, in the same municipality, has served as a “temporary” roof for three families since the end of the ’90s.

These spaces donated by the State already existed, to a lesser extent, before 2006, the year that Fidel Castro delegated his powers for reasons of health. Already since 1996, part of the International School of Sports and Physical Culture (EIFD), in the Cotorro municipality, was enabled for dozens of victim families to temporarily stay overnight. These families and their descendents are still living in EIDF.

Transition communities like Gambute, Mantilla, El Comodoro and Martín Pérez, all in the capital, have been operating for more than fifteen years.

According to the ousted vice president Carlos Lage, 2006 ended with 111,373 housing units built, 78,833 more than were constructed in 2011 (32,540). Data provided by the National Housing Institute shows that Cuba must build between 60,000 and 70,000 housing units. However, the State is building some 16,000 while between 8,000 and 10,000 are built through private efforts. The State insists that its priority is to “solve [the problem of] those sheltered because of collapses.”

Does Havana, receiving more than 20,000 new residents each year, especially from the interior of the country, record in its annual housing construction plan the spaces and “transition communities” that are offered each year to victims and social cases? Looking at the nationwide housing stock of more than 3 million units, according to the National Statistics Office (ONE) 61% are in good condition, and the rest are “regular” or “bad.” Annual demand is predicted to be twice the plan figures for construction and repair of housing units.

Oris Silvia Fernández, president of the National Housing Institute, interviewed for the new news show “Cuba says,” argued, “We have a very complicated situation in the country’s capital because we have 5,471 families in shelters, and we have to say that there are other families who live in critical buildings with rather complicated structural situations in the capital, and we are talking of a total requirement of 28,000 homes.”

According to the ONE, the Cuban capital has more then 6,000 tenements and former mansions and old houses subdivided into rooms, plus 46 shantytowns — among them the transition communities — on the periphery, where more than 18,000 people live. All of them, and the new generations that come along, have been waiting for more than twenty years for dignified housing. However, statistically, are these cases resolved by the government?

For the long list of victims, offers of land by the State do not seem to be on the table. And despite Decree Law 217 (1997), which regulates the flow of migrants to the capital, the arrival of emigrants from the eastern part of the country increases the total housing needs in the capital.

Hurricanes and tropical storms over the last ten years have affected more than one million homes. Hurricane Sandy, which hit eastern Cuban in October 2012, most affected the provinces of Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo, causing the complete destruction of 22,396 homes. As of the first half of the year, 20,710 remained unaddressed. From previous cyclones — I’m referring to Gustave, Ike and Paloma — 40,000 totally collapsed homes remain unaddressed, according to Silvia Fernández.

The eastern province of Santiago de Cuba has a housing stock of 329,191 homes, with 40% in fair or poor condition. With this as a starting point, Hurricane Sandy affected 171,000 households, and only 44% of the victims have resolved their situation.

Given the low production of materials and a government program to build housing that does not exceed 20,000 annual units, temporary solutions appear necessary  It remains to be known if this is a permanent state.

By Odelín Alfonso Torna — odelinalfonso@yahoo.com

12 September 2013

The Houses She Never Had / Odelin Alfonso Torna

Elsa Velázquez Mata wanders between delusions and afflictions. She’s always seen carrying a portfolio where she saves several records of housing she never received, despite being dependent on welfare, letters sent to her from ministers, medical certificates that attest to the congenital heart condition of her youngest son, and a diary (little notebook) that holds her laments over 17 years.

Elsa, a 43-year-old agronomist, has suffered physical abuse, eviction, prison, and worst of all, the mockery of a government that says it defends the rights of women.

Elsa Velázquez lives with her son in the home of an aunt, in the Santa Maria del Rosario neighborhood in the Havana municipality of Cotorro. “Someone lives because of me, eats because of me, I have no record of identity and residence,” she says while showing an identity card made for her: a piece of white cardboard where her personal data appears in cursive, her photo and fingerprint in methylene blue.

Five years in prison “for burning her husband”

Her life took a sharp turn in 1997 when she was the victim of domestic violence on several occasions. She was sentenced to five years imprisonment for burning her former husband with hot water. But Mata Velázquez always denied the incident. She says her ex-husband, aided by his brother, a former police officer, carried out the attack on himself to have her charged so he could stay in the house.

This Cuban woman has been watched by the authorities for 17 years. In 2004, after serving five years in prison, and with her two-month-old son, the Director of the Convention Center in Havana, Abrahán Maciques, promised her that before the baby started eating she would have a completely legal apartment, Maciques headed in the Provincial Department of Housing and under the protection of the functionary Rafael Martinez, initiated her first housing file for priority cases, number 290 of 2004.

She occupies an abandoned post office

After a year of waiting without receiving the promised housing, the Popular Power in Havana opened two new files for Elsa, numbers 6000 and 6017 of 2005. Two years later, on September 15, 2007, the case was transferred to the Popular Power of Guanabacoa, and Elsa appears on the housing waiting list with case numbers 05272 and 1146. On December 23, 2009, the municipality of Cotorro took over the case and two other files were opened (061285 and 04568), the latter corresponding to a disabled home in the town of Santa Maria del Rosario. All these files were traded (sold), because according to Elsa, “in the civil registry she appeared with another identity.”

Weighed down by being shunted around so much, in January 2008 Elsa decided to take her child and occupy an abandoned post office, located in the town of Santa Maria del Rosario. Aware of the violation, she decided to send a letter to then postmaster of Cuba, Luis Enrique Blanco Prieto, so that this place would be legally handed over to her. On the 28th of that month she was evicted by force. She says that in her absence, the police broke the lock of the room with gunpowder and took the roof, the windows and a rice cooker donated by Social Security.

On May 24, 2010 Elsa response from Luis Enrique to assess the case. But it was too late, that post office had been taken over by a police chief named Daniel.

The houses she never had

February 13, 2010, was her last attempt to demand a “comfortable” home, as she had begged for in each of the files. She made this demand to Juan Contino, then President of the Popular Power in Havana. In reviewing the records of “social cases Liudmila Mejía and Orlando Nunez, the latter second in command of the Popular Power in the capital, found that Elsa Velázquez Mata appears as the owner of six apartments.

Today Elsa, among her delusions, demands “compensation” for the houses she never had. Maybe that’s why she keeps all the meticulous files on the homes, the dates of appointments with officials, letters, eight ration books, newspaper clippings, speeches by Fidel Castro and even the official donation of an abandoned post office.

About the author

Odelín Alfonso, born Havana, 1970. Graduated in 1989 in industrial electronics from the former Eduardo García Delgado Technology Center. In 2004 he joined the internal opposition as eastern region coordination for the Liberal Orthodox Party, and, in 2005, the independent press.

e-mail: odelinalfonso@yahoo.com

19 August 2013