Russian Millionaires Come to do Business / Tania Diaz Castro

Havana, Cuba, November 2013 – Mr Rodrigo Malmierca, minister for external trade and foreign investment, said that in the 31st Havana International Fair (HIF), held from November 3 to 9, the participation of various foreign delegations shows that “our country is not alone and there is no economic blockade of worldwide power that is capable of changing our course”.

Does this mean that the Castro regime will stop requesting the end to the blockade or commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States?

The embargo was imposed in October 1960 when Fidel Castro illegally occupied properties owned by North American citizens and companies.  In 1992 the embargo became law when Castro refused to take steps towards democratization or to show respect to the Universal Charter of Human Rights.

More than twenty years later, the Cuban military dictatorship continues to violate the world’s most respected citizen rights and further impoverishes the country.

On the streets many ask what purpose 31 fairs that look for countries to trade with Cuba have served if Cubans continue to live in poverty, subsisting on incomes much less than a dollar a day, the same as those who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

it isn’t understood why numerous Cuban companies received prizes and mentions for many of their products exhibited at the 2013 HIF while in Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, the poor quality of the country’s products and services are criticised almost daily.

If the 2013 HIF welcomed Russian millionaire businessman — there are more than 20 in the country including one woman, Mrs Yelena Baturina, wife of the mayor of Moscow — why isn’t anything known of the commercial agreements that were reached with them?

How can we forget February 22 of this year when Russian president Dimitri A. Medvedev, visiting the island, signed an agreement about the “adjustment of Cuban debt to the Russian Federation, for credit granted during the period of the defunct USSR?

How can we forget that days afterward on May 22, the president of the Russian Federation Council, Ms Valentina Matvienko, expressed to Granma “We are pleased to have found a solution for the readjustment of debt”.

It is said that it refers to thirty billion dollars, an impressive figure.

How then will the insolvent and inefficient Cuban dictatorship be able to pay?  Why haven’t the technical aspects of the signed agreement signed by Ms Matvienko and the Cuban National Assembly “for a prompt ratification of debt and approval in the Russian parliament” been explained to the people?

Nothing is known. Only that the Russian business advisor in Cuba, Vadim Tiemnikov, visibly moved on television, thanked the Cuban authorities celebrating the 96th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, despite having dismantled socialism some twenty two years ago.

Despite the Havana International Fair of 2013, Cuba will continue to be a country weighed downed by marginalization, by the shortage of basic food products, with miserable salaries and fields infested with the invasive marabou weed, without a fishing industry or merchant navy, the livestock industry on its knees, the sugar industry in its worst state in history, an obsolete ration book system (Lenin’s idea) and a military dictatorship that asks the people to change their mentality although the people still doesn’t know how the hell they should change their mind.

Tania Díaz Castro

Cubanet, 13 November 2013

Translated by Peter W Davies

Through Havana with Laura / Tania Diaz Castro

Laura is a Cuban woman who has lived in Spain for more than twenty years. She speaks like a Spaniard. She looks like a Spaniard. Her husband, children and grandchildren are Spaniards. But in spite of the passage of time and the distance separating us, she still considers me her best friend. Or so she tells me.

She is a little older than me, though we are both elderly. Nevertheless, we began planning a trip to Havana.

“Like old times,” she told me.

“Like old times,” I said.

Because those times remain in our memory and form part of our experience. The adventure of visiting Havana — that beloved city of ours that continues to struggle for survival in spite of the neglect and apathy brought on by half a century of socialism — is something I just have to tell you about.

We got into an almendrón, a taxi fashioned out of one of those old 1950s American cars, in Séptima de Santa Fe, a coastal town outside of Havana. We asked the driver to drop us off at Galiano and Zanja streets, located in the very heart of the Cuban capital.

What we saw would impress anyone. At the intersection of these two streets is El Curita Park, named in honor of Sergio González, who today is considered a pillar of the “July 26th Movement.” In March 1958 he was shot to death by Batista’s police for having committed numerous terrorist acts.

Though it was during working hours, we counted several hundred young people of both sexes in the park and its surroundings. They were standing or sitting on its low walls, or leaning on cars, engaging in an odd way of wasting time, or worse. They were fishing for pesos. The commotion spoke all too clearly about the lack of employment opportunites from which our society suffers.

“What do they sell?” I asked an old vagabond who extended his hand to us, asking us for monetary help.

“Anything, ladies,” he said to us:  sex, drugs, jewelry.  Whatever you need.  But be careful.  If you deal with one of them, you will be lost in a heartbeat before the eyes of whoever, through the mysterious stairs of this neighborhood.

We entered an old family restaurant that in previous years I had visited on Aguila and Dragones, inside a small dwelling, without natural light or air, but where they served, for only 30 Cuban pesos, a little more than a dollar, a magnificent creole meal composed of black beans, well roasted pork meat, white rice and a typical dessert.

My friend Laura seemed horrified by the place and we left.

“Let’s enjoy a good Spanish meal,” she said.

And a bike-cab took us through the famous Prado, while its driver told us that in the back of all those wide gates, which seemed in good shape, there were as many uninhabitable tenements as in any slum neighborhood of the city and that the water was in such short supply that many bathed in the dirty waters of the Malecon, in spite of the danger that this represented.

On the Malecon, between Genio and Crespo, the driver stopped and we entered the restaurant of the Castropol Asturian Society, founded in Cuba in 1929.

My old friend was right. A good meal is better enjoyed in a comfortable and agreeable place. There we enjoyed some delicious chickpea fritters which I recommend to my Cubanet readers.

Tania Diaz Castro

Cubanet, November 8, 2013

Translated by mlk

Rosa Berre’s Great Achievement / Tania Diaz Castro

Havana, Cuba, October, – It was a great achievement by Rosa Berre (Havana, 1941 – Miami, 2006) to publicly expose the mass media of Fidel Castro, whose writers were willing to lie in exchange for crumbs.

When, at the beginning of the internet, with the help of an old computer, a fax machine, her ingenuity and her strong personality, she thought about organizing a group of reporters that would write about the truth in Cuba, from the lion’s mouth, many thought that she was insane.

Who would dare to report about the situation of political prisoners, the inefficiency of leaders in governing the country, the systematic violations of Human Rights, the opinions of citizens, and everything that the national press hides?  And what would happen to those who had such tremendous audacity?

From her home kitchen in Coral Gables, Florida, at the beginning of 1994, that lady with a sweet demeanor, but energetic, founded the page Cubanet: A refuge to all those who, marginalized, couldn’t put to use the freedom of speech, a truthful challenge to the long political hand of Castro, that could reach up even from their own neighborhood.

In that year Rosa made her wish come true and as months passed, that group of brave people increased in numbers and professional quality, with the goal of having a Cubanet with a power to influence the emergence of a civil society and inform the world of the Cuban reality.

The history of Rosita, as we used to call her with love and respect, is not well known.  She graduated from the Normal School for Teachers, she studied journalism at the University of Havana, and since she was very young she belonged to that generation that trusted in the Revolution of 1959 as a solution to solve social injustices.  She worked at the Periodico Hoy, which disappeared in 1965, and at the end of the 70’s woke up from the romanticism that so much pain caused to many and she was accused of having “ideology problems,” along with her life companion Carlos Quintela, who died in exile in 2001.

Both of them were expelled from their jobs and punished by being sent to do, agricultural work in Pinar del Rio; they were called “reprobates” by Raul Castro, but they kept going “…with the dignity of those who break with the Revolutionary fallacy from power,” as  our Human Rights champion, Ricardo Bofill, expressed it.

In 1975 Rosita started doing crafts. Looking for the scent of freedom, in 1980 she, her husband and their two young daughters entered the Peruvian Embassy, where this family, dignified and honorable suffered for many long days perhaps the worse nightmare of their history.

Then, she suffered in the flesh the ruthless policy of Fidel Castro of inciting the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution masses to beat and harass everyone who preferred to leave Cuba, in the so-called “acts of repudiation.”

With that bitterness, with that traumatic and sad experience, Rosa and Carlos together undertook the arduous path of exile through the Port of Mariel, from where, in April of 1980, more than 125,000 Cubans began their exodus to the United States.

Today, almost twenty years after its foundation and seven years after Rosa’s death, on 19 October 2006, Cubanet continues their work to support the independent press and the right to freedom of speech and promotes the strengthening of the Cuban civil society, “… a legitimate element of democracy,” as stated by professor Vaclac Havel.

With the physical disappearance of Rosa, many in Cuba thought that Cubanet would also disappear, but, perhaps as if with unknown invisible threads the great friend, committed to Cuba’s freedom, is still protecting us; Cubanet continues to keep her legacy alive.  Needless to say, each new published text in this page constitutes a tribute to Rosa Berre.

Tania Díaz Castro, Cubanet, 17 October 2013

 Translated by LYD

The Bad Neighborhood of the Bright Light / Tania Diaz Castro

The Housing Authority offices
The Housing Authority offices

HAVANA, Cuba, October — It is called the Bad Neighborhood of the Bright Light, a hamlet situated to the west of Santa Fe in Havana province. Its residents, almost all black and mixed (emigrants from areas to the east), say that in the beginning, more than twenty years ago, the houses on the edge of the sea were huts, lifted on a base of old posts and materials found in the trash, and that very few of its residents are registered in the Identity Card offices, nor are their houses, now in better repair, legalized by the Housing Authority.

A few days ago Claribel returned to this neighborhood; she is a Cuban who escaped on a raft to the United States five years ago. Such was my curiosity, that I asked a neighbor, a friend of her family, to take me to meet her.

We took a bicitaxi and with great fear braved the convoluted, dangerous and muddy streets to the little house where Claribel’s family lived, a few yards from the sea. The sight was depressing. She is a twenty-something girl, tousled hair, with the face of a black doll and a contagious smile. But in the hut, still made of broken boards and a cement-fiber roof, lived her parents, brother and grandparents in deep poverty, or as they themselves told me, barely surviving.

“I’m not surprised. It’s all I knew,” Claribel told me. “They can’t even drink a glass of milk a day. The monthly wages of my brother don’t last half a month, they still haven’t fixed the streets, there’s no piped drinking water, no toilets with plumbing, no bus that comes here, and what’s worse, the money they have isn’t enough for proper nutrition for the eldery, because the products in the “shopping” are very expensive. In a word: My family lives as badly as when they came to the Bad Neighborhood of the Bright Light some ten years ago. It was called that from the beginning because everyone lacked gas for cooking. Today many of them still use the old dangerous burners.”

I didn’t want to say goodbye without asking them why they’d left the eastern provinces, and the grandfather answered:

“There, in Santa Cruz del Sur, our social life regressed because everything was deteriorating little by little. The hopes that the Revolution gave us evaporated like will-o-wisps. The Haiti sugar mill shut down. The young people gave themselves over to drinking. Nothing functioned, not the bakery, the mail service, the little restaurant. The village became a ghost town, while Fidel kept giving the same speeches, talking about the crises in other countries, without saying that Cuba was more than dead. Me, I was proud of my native home, when we left, everything was destroyed, just like so many forgotten villages in Cuba.”

Before we left, we asked if there was a paved road out of there, so we could avoid the bicitaxi. There wasn’t any. Back in Santa Fe, despite its broken streets and its sidewalks overgrown with grass, we thought we’d come to Paradise.

Tania Díaz Castro

9 October 2013, From Cubanet

CDR: The Number of Spies is Not Rationed / Tania Diaz Castro

In Every Neighborhood, Revolution

HAVANA, Cuba, July, Cubans know that Fidel Castro’s government, since its inception, violated citizens’ right to privacy of. On September 28, 1960 he founded the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), an organization with fascist roots, whose program is “Everyone spies on each other.”

I know — because I worked as a young woman in that organization for four years — that even Raul Castro himself did not like the idea of the CDR.

This organization not only served to divide the people, but also to systematically violate the privacy of everyone, to end the right of each individual to his or her own privacy.

Perhaps Mr. Edward Snowden, fugitive ex-CIA agent, as they say here, for trying to alert Americans about government wiretapping, does not know much about the history of our dictatorship, nor is he interested to know. But what is incomprehensible is that it is definitely the Cuban government and its unconditional friends of ALBA, who are the most ardent supporters of this man, who supposedly fights to defend the right of individuals to privacy.

The history of the CDR has left a bitter taste in Cuban society. Gossip, slander, envy, lies and hatred all proliferated.

From the 1980s, the phones of those of us who are in the peaceful opposition, along with those of hundreds of thousands of citizens who do not support the Castro regime, were tapped through a listening center of the Interior Ministry, a program widely criticized by civil rights advocates, in clear violation of the Constitution.

I remember in 1987, my little girl picked up our home phone and heard a man say he was going to crush me with his car, because I was a counterrevolutionary cockroach — as Fidel Castro publicly called those who opposed him. My daughter, crying, could barely repeat the words of that person who was complying with an order from State Security.

Then there were no more threats. The phone service that I had since long before the Revolution was suspended, along with that of all those who belonged to the Human Rights Movement in Havana. And to make us feel watched, a video camera operated 24 hours a day in front of our houses.

This organization of tips or snitches even has its museum, Fidel Castro’s idea, for anyone who wants to know its entrails. It is located on busy Obispo Street, at number 310, in Havana. Exhibited there are historical documents which reflect the spying of some CDRs, with multiple complaints to neighbors, humble people, so-called internal enemies of the Revolution.

This ancient and valuable building on the capital boulevard today represents one of the most unfortunate and unsuccessful stories of Castro, in which a good part of the people served as volunteer protagonists, to police one another, in order to prop up a bankrupt regime.

The significance of this organization in times of structural changes, occurring now under the Raul Castro regime, remains to be seen. The neighbors are no longer the “eyes and ears” of the Revolution, the fundamental element for detecting the unhappy. Today almost everyone is unhappy. So the question is who spies on whom, if everyone sees that Fidelista socialism is dissolving, like a handful of salt in a toilet bowl.

Monday, July 29, 2013 | By Tania Diaz Castro

From Cubanet

12 August 2013

The Suicide of Haydee Santamaria / Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba, August, -The suicide of Haydee Santamaria Cuadrado continues to be a problem for Fidel Castro.  The tragic event, which happened July 26, 1980, doesn’t appear in the 2007 chronology edited by the government. The official media almost never reviews the tragic incident.

The so-called “Heroine of Moncada” not only choose this very significant date to shoot herself in the mouth with a 45 caliber bullet, but it also coincides with certain events that had occurred days before, which perhaps could have been influential.

From April 6-9, her Revolution suffered a blow which had no precedent in history: more than 10,000 people penetrated the Peruvian embassy of Havana with the aim of fleeing Cuba, and only a few days later, another 125,000 left the port of Mariel, in boats heading to Florida, during a continuous 5-month exodus.

Did Haydee know that Fidel Castro himself gave the order to carry out “acts of repudiation” against those immigrants, that he offended their dignity by calling them scum, or that two boats, the Olo Yumi and the Veinte Aniversario, were rammed and fired-upon by military forces, to the North of Mariel and Canimar River, where 50 men, women, and children were killed trying to reach the shores of the United States?

I knew Haydee in the sixties. I heard her talking many times, she facilitated meetings with Cuban intellectuals and foreigners. She was a tremendously unassuming and humble woman, with only a 6th grade education in a small rural school.

Far from being a truly bossy type, such as Margaret Thatcher, it was evident that it didn’t matter much to her to have climbed the steep heights of Cuban politics: she was a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and Advisory Council of the State, as director of Casa de las Americas.

In no way was her manner that of an important woman.  She dressed like any other small town woman and assumed without vanity the title “Great Heroine of the Revolution” which was awarded her for having transported a couple of suitcases with firearms to Santiago de Cuba and for having completed six months of jail in 1953.  Also for contributing to the assault on the Moncada Barracks.

Someone told me that at times she cried in her office, when her son, Abel Enrique, confessed that he had hated Fidel Castro from he was young, because when she had promised to take him for an outing she had to cancel because of a meeting with Fidel.

This past July 28, sixty years since that bloody traitorous terrorist act, carried out in the early hours of the morning while the soldiers slept, Fidel Castro himself confessed that it wasn’t a rational act, “….given the low accumulated experience it would have been much more realistic and secure to start that battle in the mountains.”

Perhaps Haydee had noticed that the attack on Moncada was a crazy idea on the part of Fidel, for whose cause she had lost her boyfriend* and Abel*, the brother she loved most dearly?

Maybe the day of her death she felt remorse to think of the young soldiers in the army who, friendly and gentleman-like, helped her step down from the train with her heavy suitcases full of firearms, who perhaps were also killed by her friends dressed as soldiers?

Letter from Fidel Castro to the foreign leaders who visited the country, July 28 2013, Juventude Rebelde.
The “strange” suitcases of Haydee and Melba, June 30 2013, Juventud Rebelde.
– Cuba Chronology, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, 2007.

*Translator’s note: They both died at Moncada, reportedly tortured to death in the immediate aftermath of the attack.


Tania Díaz Castro
Tania Díaz, Villa Clara, 1939. Founder of the National Writers and Artists Union of Cuba. Poet. She has published five books. Worked as a reporter for 23 years on several magazines in the country. Spent a year and a half in prison in the mid-eighties for her activities in the Human Rights Party. Since 1998, writes for CubaNet.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 | By Tania Díaz Castro for Cubanet