The Ordeal of Cuban Dissidents / Ivan Garcia

After a life of poverty, disease, and repression, Lisset Naranjo Girón, opposition figure and a Lady in White, died in Havana on April 10, 2021 at the age of 36. As the photographer and activist Claudio Fuentes wrote on his Facebook, from where this photo was taken, “the lack of protection of dissidents and political prisoners in Cuba is not only the responsibility of Castroism.”

Ivan García, Desde La Habana, May 2022 — For the act of writing this article, the regime – were they to deem it pertinent to do so – could prosecute me and slap me with up to twenty years in prison, according to the current Law 88 which was approved in February, 1999. For collecting payment for my contributions to Diario Las Américas, the new Penal Code says that I could be sentenced to ten years in prison.

If I were to leave the following comment on social networks – “Simply because they are enemies of the United States, their enemy the Cuban regime supports a comic-opera dictatorship in Nicaragua and is an ally of a nation like Russia that violates the rights of homosexuals, and of an autocratic asylum like North Korea” – the punishment could vary. Depending on the judge, I could be sentenced under Law 35 to pay a fine of three thousand pesos, or if Law 370 were applied I could be subject to three years of criminal sanctions.

The colleagues who produce the digital newspaper 14ymedio in Havana could also be sanctioned for “affecting world peace” or some other legal nonsense used for cracking down on free expression in Cuba – in addition to being charged under any current law that exists to muzzle independent journalism.

I do not consider myself a hero. But ever since I began writing in December 1995 for the independent press agency Cuba Press, directed by the formidable poet and journalist Raúl Rivero who died on November 6, 2021 in Miami, I have accepted the consequences of my way of thinking.

If there is something that those who oppose Castroism have never lacked it is laws and sentencing rules to forewarn us of long prison terms and even the death penalty.

Therefore, the new Penal Code, wherein the regulations against dissidence are expanded upon, is more of the same. Another roundabout message from the regime to warn us that we live on the razor’s edge, that we have few options to defend ourselves. If they open a case against us, not even the best lawyer in the world can keep us out of jail; the sanctions against opponents are pre-established by the State.

Years ago, I decided to be transparent. My opinion that Cuba will – sooner rather than later – begin the path towards democracy is one that I have always written and to which I have signed my full name in the digital and print media, where I have published for more than 25 years.

I am an uncomfortable journalist. I have no commitments to any opposition group or political current. My commitment is to journalism. I recognize that the newly approved Penal Code intimidates some sectors of the opposition and free journalism. And faced with the prospect of future criminal sanctions, members of those sectors often decide to leave the country.

When a dissident appears on State Security’s radar, the harassment that ensues is inhuman. The hostility of the political police affects the individual’s family, friends and neighbors. Almost all activists and reporters who have left the country have been arrested multiple times, faced imprisonment, and been harassed in countless ways.

Independent journalist Camila Acosta has been evicted at least eight times from the rental house where she lived because of pressure from State Security on the owners. Luz Escobar has been held under house arrest by State Security in her own home. continue reading

The repression in Cuba is constant. For this reason, opponents and journalists – particularly the youngest ones – have left their homeland or are packing their bags.

Currently, the internal opposition and ungagged journalism are at a low ebb. When you chat with any dissidents, they tell you about their plans to emigrate.

As the political refugee program of the United States Embassy in Havana has not been operating for several years, activists plot their itinerary like any other irregular immigrant, to try to reach the southern border of the United States and, once there, request asylum or cross illegally.

I remember the case of Ramón Arboláez, from Villa Clara, a cancer patient, who in 2016 fled Cuba with his wife and two children, harassed by the political police. Thanks to the involvement of Maite Luna, a reporter in Miami, and follow-up by Diario Las Américas, Arboláez was granted a humanitarian visa after being stranded in Mexico for two months.

Oppositionist José Daniel Ferrer, the artists Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Osorbo, and independent journalist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca have been in prison for months without being tried. The regime has proposed exchanging imprisonment for exile for all four. They have not accepted it. Activist Anamely Ramos is a victim of political exile in the 21st century.

The dissidents on the Island have it increasingly difficult. Like the vast majority of Cubans, they are suffering from the economic crisis, rising inflation, and widespread shortages. They have to queue for hours to buy a package of chicken or a bag of detergent. The health status of several opposition veterans is fragile.

Juan González Febles, an independent journalist who turned 72 on May 21, suffers from senile dementia and urinary incontinence. “He and his wife Ana Torricella, also an independent journalist, are going hungry,” a mutual friend tells me. Febles and Luis Cino founded the online newspaper Primavera Digital [“Digital Spring”] in November 2007; in June 2012 they also began publishing a printed edition that boasted a weekly circulation.

In Cuba, dissidents and independent journalists do not enjoy job protections, nor the right to take sick leave, vacations, or retirement. One example is that of my mother, Tania Quintero Antúnez, born in Havana in 1942, and since November 2003 living in Switzerland as a political refugee. In August 1959, at just 17 years old, she started working. On April 4, 1996, a 37-year career working for State-run institutions was cast aside when at age 54 she was expelled from the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (where she worked as a reporter for the Cuban Television Information System) for having signed on as an independent journalist with Cuba Press. They did not pay her a penny of the pension to which she was entitled by national and international law.

Some die destitute. Vladimiro Roca – a prominent dissident who in 1997, together with Martha Beatriz Roque, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcassés (he died in 2017 of a heart attack, blind and forgotten), authored the 1997 paper, The Homeland Belongs to All* – sold his residence in Nuevo Vedado and moved into a small and stuffy apartment. The money from the sale supports him in his old age.

Luis Cino, 62 years old, a brilliant columnist, lives on the edge. He cares for a sick aunt and supports her family with a salary of around 15,000 pesos a month, but due to rising inflation, barely has enough to buy food. “If I, who earn almost four times the average salary in Cuba, am having a hard time, imagine those who earn less or whose pensions are lower. I have friends and neighbors who go to bed hungry.”

Neither the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), nor Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have budgets to send stipends or subsidies to journalists living in dictatorial regimes. Instead, the latter must leave their countries because their lives are in danger or because advanced age or health problems have prevented them from writing.

A few years ago, there was a program in the United States, run by Cuban exiles, that every two or three months sent packages of food, personal hygiene products, and medicines to the most-needy dissidents in Cuba. For unknown reasons it was abolished, it no longer exists.

Due to economic hardships and constant threats of imprisonment, oppositionists in their 60s and 70s are emigrating. “It is preferable to be in a care home in Miami than to live without knowing what you are going to eat every day in Cuba, and with State Security harassing you 24 hours a day,” confesses an activist from Santiago de Cuba (who, because he lives far from Havana, is not known). Many compatriots in the diaspora, out of their own pockets, help dissidents on the Island. But something more than altruism is needed.

Iván García

*Translator’s Note: Archived copy of the Spanish original here: La Patria Es De Todos.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Shipments to Cuba to be Paid for in Miami

Taken from the Shipments to Cuba section of the Cuban Directory

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 4 April 2022 — After shaving his incipient beard, Sergio, 36, a software programmer, gets his smartphone and goes online. Using the WhatsApp tool Infotienda, he tracks down which market in Havana is stocking cheese, toilet paper, and milk powder.

His 10-year-old daughter and two of her friends play The Sims on a state-of-the-art PlayStation in the living room, while Mildred, his wife of 34 years and owner of a hairdressing business, seasons chickpeas in the kitchen. Sergio can’t complain. He lives in a two-story villa with a patio and garage in El Casino, a quiet suburb of the Cerro municipality thirty minutes from the center of Havana.

His house is equipped with all the comforts of modern life: appliances, air-conditioned rooms, and a small jacuzzi. He drives a 2018 KIA Picanto that cost him $55,000 on the informal market. This young professional couple, successful entrepreneurs, would probably not attract attention in any other country. But in Cuba, where on average people stand in line four hours a day to buy bread or food, that comfort level is the exclusive domain of foreign residents, or of the opulent olive-green* bourgeoisie who preach social justice while living the high life.

Sergio has shielded himself in these times of crisis. Gates, security cameras, burglar alarms and a pair of intimidating Rottweiler dogs protect the property. But “resolving”** the food problem, even with money, is a not-infrequent problem. “Getting food is a very tough battle in Cuba. You can buy beef in government hard currency stores, but it isn’t always available. They also run out of chicken breast sometimes as well as quality sausages, and the seafood costs an arm and a leg. On the black market you can buy some things like fresh fish and shrimp. If you buy beef you have to have a trusted contact, because many times the meat that is sold is not suitable for human consumption,” he says.

“The other big problem is the high prices and minimal variety,” Sergio continues. “For example, two weeks ago I bought eight kilos of beef and six kilos of veal from an MLC [hard currency] store and it cost me $237. Or, I could buy it in one of those places that sells food to Cubans living abroad. Some have better deals than others. For me, the two best are Supermarket and Katapulk, which sell food imported directly from the United States such as chicken, pork, rice, milk powder and toiletries, among other things. But the prices are scandalous and these places have a discriminatory policy against Cubans who live on the island, because you can only pay with Visa, Mastercard or some other foreign bank card.” continue reading

I’ll give you a price list. Katapulk, a mysterious agency founded by Hugo Cancio, a Cuban-American who presents himself as a businessman and also runs the online site OnCuba News, sells a pack of four five-kilogram bags of milk powder for $279.96. A 25-kilogram sack of long grain rice at $60.79. A small pig for roasting, 12 to 16 kilograms, for 131 dollars. And two pigs’ legs of 24 to 26 kilograms at $178.47. All Made in the USA.

Despite the vaunted economic embargo, Katapulk offers everything from frozen chicken, juices, compotes, smoothies, instant soft drinks, soaps, Colgate toothpaste, Palmolive shower gel and shampoo, to cereals and frozen green plantains*** brought directly from the United States. Cuban food producers sell beef, seafood, pasta sauces, juices, sausages, dressings, ice cream and cookies on Katapulk. This last fact is a reason for discontent among the population, because such items are rarely found in the poorly-stocked “peso” markets, or even in the so-called “MLC” [freely-convertible currency] stores.

Such is not the case with Sergio, a Havana man who in a month can earn up to three thousand dollars selling software and can afford to have cards from foreign banks that allow him to buy on sites enabled for Cubans living abroad, especially in Miami.

“If you travel to another country, what you do is open an account there, or you get a relative who lives abroad to send you a Visa or Mastercard. When I get paid, I deposit part of the money directly onto the card. You must use an address, email and telephone number of a relative or friend who resides outside the country. For home delivery they charge you between 15 and 18 dollars, depending on the site. You have the advantage that you can buy food that is not sold even in the MLC stores. But the prices are outrageous. Even for me, who makes a salary much higher than the average salaries in Cuba, buying in those markets is unsustainable. What I do is combine my sources. There are things that I get on digital sites, others on the black market and others in MLC stores,” Sergio confesses.

For María Elena, an 80-year-old retiree, her children in Miami send her food and personal hygiene products purchased on one of the more than 25 digital e-commerce sites designed for the Cuban emigration. “My children spend a fortune, from 400 to 500 dollars a month on food and toiletries for their family on the Island.”

A former foreign trade official comments that “most of these sites are camouflaged businesses of high-ranking government officials. The Council of State, with its Palco enterprise, is behind many of these businesses. COPEXTEL, owned by Ramiro Valdés, has also set up a beach bar. All these stores sell food at between three and eight times higher prices than in any Western country. They squeeze the pockets of the emigrants as though they were oranges. They are extremely lucrative businesses.”

The question that ordinary Cubans ask themselves is where and how does the regime spend all that money. The water leaks that abound in the country, the cracked streets,  and the 50 percent of houses that cry out to be renovated, are a sign that these profits are not invested in improving the quality of life of the people.

The only investments in Cuba right now are the construction of four- and five-star hotels. These are executed by GAESA, a military company that is a parallel State within the State. It’s likely that part of the foreign currency that enters the country through this route stays there.

Iván García

Translator’s Notes:
* “Resolving” is how Cubans refer to dealing with, or surmounting, the many daily impediments they face in meeting their basic needs.
** “Olive-green” is a reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.
*** Green plantains are used in Cuban cuisine to make the popular chips,
tostones, and other dishes. 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Why Don’t Foreign Baseball Players Flee Their Countries and Why Didn’t Cuban Players Flee Before 1959? / Dimas Castellano

César Prieto, Cuban baseball second baseman in the uniform of the Cienfuegos team.

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 31 May 2021 — César Prieto, second baseman for the Cienfuegos Elefantes and member of the Cuba team at the Americas Pre-Olympic Tournament, escaped on May 26 as soon as the delegation arrived in Florida. The frequency of this occurrence, although not considered newsworthy, becomes of analysis.

Why do Cuban baseball players, who before 1959 never used to flee their country, do so now? Why don’t players from other countries do so? The answer lies in history. Let us go there:

In Havana, between 1939 and 1943, five Amateur World Series were held, of which the Cubans won four. In the 1940s, the Cuban League was founded with the Havana, Almendares, Cienfuegos, and Marianao teams, and the Gran Estadio del Cerro [the Grand Stadium of El Cerro, today known as the Latin American Stadium] became the headquarters of Cuban baseball.

In 1949 the Caribbean Series, which opened in Havana, won seven of the 12 editions in which it participated — the last five in a row. Since 1954 the Cuban Sugar Kings (a Minor League team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, based in Havana, that played at the Triple-A level from 1954 to 1960) played half the time in the Cerro stadium and the other half overseas.

In 1960, Cuba had 98 players in the Major Leagues and 68 were candidates for the Hall of Fame. The Cuban League was the main circuit in Latin America and second in the world. These and many other achievements turned baseball into a passion in Cuba. continue reading

Although the General Directorate of Sports was created in the 1940s, amateur and professional baseball was managed by private companies and civil institutions. Starting in February 1961, with the creation of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER), the rules of the game changed. Professional sports were banned, North American baseball broadcasts were suspended, and anyone who tried to participate in “slave” baseball was branded a traitor.

Baseball was nothing but a particular case of the absorption of everything and everyone by the State, which assumed all expenses in exchange for absolute control and fidelity. Athletes turned into “gladiators” were sent to represent the State in international competitions.

The sport’s subordination to non-sports-related factors is illustrated by the discourse of the Leader of the Revolution:

1- “Someday when the yanquis decide to coexist with our country, we will beat them also in baseball, and then the advantage of revolutionary sport over exploited sport will be proven” (January 1962).

2- “Professional sport was eradicated, and above all, it was eradicated in that sport, which was one of the most popular: baseball” (January 1967).

3- “The essence of the success of our sport is the disappearance of professionalism” (March 1970), and:

4- “If in other countries of Latin America there is no social revolution… no matter how much technique [they use]; no matter how many coaches they hire; no matter how many things they come up with, they will not be able to obtain the successes that Cuba obtains in the sport.” (October 1975).

The exodus

Given the INDER’s prohibitions, many of the Cubans who participated in the Major Leagues settled in the United States. In 1980 a group of them left the country through the port of Mariel, including Bárbaro Garvey, the first Cuban from the National Series who played, in 1984, with the Detroit Tigers.

He was followed by others such as pitcher Edilberto Oropesa and shortstop Rey Ordoñez. In 1991 René Arocha, pitcher for the Industriales, was the first to leave an official delegation. After him, Euclides Rojas — a reliever from the same team, who escaped with his family by sea in a homemade boat during the Maleconazo stampede in 1994 — did the same.

The permanence of the getaway, and the ineffectiveness of repressive measures to stop it, indicate the existence of a deep cause, whose common denominator is the inability of the athletes to realize their dreams in Cuba. Some like Orestes Miñoso — a glory of baseball for all time — died without ever returning to their homeland. Others, as Euclides Rojas declared, did not leave to play ball, but to seek freedom.

Subordinate baseball

With the rise of the totalitarian system began the decline of Cuban baseball. Our supremacy was established in the Central American, Pan American, and world amateur competitions — what was prematurely described as the victory of the “free baseball” over “the slave baseball.”

Without its own economy, this supremacy was achieved thanks to Soviet subsidies. At the Munich Olympics (1972), the year in which Cuba entered the Council for Economic Aid (CAME), the Cuban team ranked fourteenth in the medal count. In Barcelona (1992), it rose to fifth place. However, in Rio de Janeiro (2016), Cuba dropped to eighteenth place — four below where it had been in 1972.

Another demonstration of decline was at the World Baseball Classic. In the first version (2006), Cuba ranked second. In the second version (2009), it went to fifth place. In the third version (2013), the Cuban mentor assured that the team would win, but they couldn’t get beyond the fifth position. The final reckoning came with the sweep they suffered in 2013 at the hands of North American university students, whom Cuba had previously defeated in eight out of ten playoffs.

Finally, after 53 years of absence from the Caribbean Series, Cuba rejoined in the 56th edition (2014), played on Margarita Island, Venezuela, where it ranked last.

The results leave no doubt: the controversy between “free” and “slave” baseball was decided in favor of the latter.

The “blockade”?

The official explanation that the “blockade” imposed by the United States is the cause of the disaster and that Cuban baseball players cannot take part in the competitive circuits of that country hides the fact that the conflict began with Cuba’s decision to ban professional baseball and to classify disobedient players as traitors. Such a hackneyed argument is used to try to sustain the unsustainable.

In March 2017, the Cuban national baseball director, Yosvani Aragón, declared that “there will be no unified team until the United States eliminates the embargo rules that affect baseball players — and certifies that there will be no concessions that involve opening doors to those who have disavowed their country or abandoned delegations that were counting on their efforts.”

However, nothing is said about the responsibility borne by Cuban totalitarianism, much less about correcting this error, and even less about restoring freedom to baseball and Cuban baseball players.

Meanwhile, as happens with the economy, there is an insistence on getting out of the stagnation using slogans and speeches. On May 20, six days before César Prieto’s escape, the president of Cuba appeared at training to repeat the well-known harangues to the “gladiators” of the team.

Upon learning of César’s departure, the official statement from the Cuban Baseball Federation says that the athlete’s decision is “contrary to the commitment made to the people.” Fearing that others would follow his example, they ordered — according to what is known — a confiscation of delegation members’ phones to prevent further escapes. And, it is said, César’s family will be evicted from the house that the Government gave him, which shows that such a gift is in exchange for submission.

This behavior on the part of the State explains the degree of dependency to which Cuban athletes are subjected and the true cause of the escapes. The dependency in which the sport is held and the lack of freedom of the athletes provide the answer to why Cuban ballplayers did not flee before 1959, why they flee now, and why players from other countries do not flee.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Another Baseball Player Joins the List of ‘Escapees’ from the Cuban National Series

Wilfredo Aroche, 37, played 13 seasons with the Industriales team. (Photo credit: Tribuna de La Habana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2022 — Four days before the start of the 61st National Series, the desertions continue to multiply in Cuban baseball — this time, from Havana’s Industriales team. Veteran Wilfredo Aroche, 37 — with 13 seasons playing for the “Blues” — left the country to try his luck in Italy.

The player signed his own, independent contract with the Italian Baseball League, according to the sports site SwingCompleto. Aroche had been practicing in the Italian circuit in recent years, but this time he left Cuba without permission from the Cuban sports authorities. This caused the immediate suspension of the 61st Series.

This loss for the Industriales makes a dent in the team’s regular lineup and puts its captain, Guillermo Carmona — who considered Aroche a key piece — in check. Now, they’ll have to move the bench to replace the shortstop with less than a week to go before the tournament.

For the moment, Carmona will have to settle for 39 men on the team. Aroche was already in the roster, which impedes his replacement, according to the rule approved by the sports authorities. continue reading

Industriales, the capital city’s team, has been heavily bleeding talent for years. What was once an impetuous team that competed for the top spots in the national league has become one of the main sources of departing athletes, thus diminishing its quality and the enthusiasm of its followers.

“The situation leaves a lot to be desired for baseball fans in this country,” stated Dairán, a connoisseur of Cuban baseball, speaking to 14ymedio.  “Our baseball was one of the best in the world, and now it isn’t worth a penny. To a great extent, this is because of the constant departures of the best players to other countries where they are paid what they should be,” added the young man, who resides in Cerro [a borough of Havana], very near the Estadio Latinoamericano.

The 61st series is being hit by players unexpectedly leaving as well as outbreaks of Covid-19 among the personnel. Barely a week ago, two young players in the Camagüey team — Yosimar Cousín and Yunior Tur — were discharged for “non-appearance at the conference,” according to sports authorities. Meanwhile, on the east side of the Island, the Holguín team was forced to quarantine its players after five of them tested positive for coronavirus.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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Message from Yunior García Aguilera of the Archipiélago Collective

From the blog of César Reynel Aguilera, Montreal, 15 October 2021

Guest post from Yunior García Aguilera

In the year 2022, the country of our birth will mark 70 years without democracy. My parents have never been able to freely choose their ideology, their party, or their president. They have had to resign themselves to the decisions of others and have had to ratify those decisions to avoid trouble. In Cuba, unfortunately, to keep quiet about what we really think is seen by many as a sign of intelligence. They always ask us to wait for the right “time” and “place” — which never really come.

Almost my whole generation grew up hearing the phrase, “For your sake, speak softly.” Most of my friends have already left the country and others dream of doing so soon. I don’t want my phone to be recharged or a pair of shoes to be sent to me.* I want Cuba to be the nation to which everyone can return whenever they want — regardless of how they think — and from which no one, any more, will want to leave.

The Revolution promised rights, justice, freedom and free elections, but instead we turned into a Soviet appendage. It promised to be green as the palms, but instead wrapped itself in a red cloak with a hammer and sickle patrolling the Lone Star.** One sole ideology, censorship, and political persecution have been the daily bread of any Cuban who does not submit to the control of the bosses. And the end of the Cold War only increased our misery. We are survivors of an unfinished war, in which we were neither the victors nor the defeated, only hostages of an obsolete dogma, of a clan of officials clinging to power and its privileges, of a whim propped up with Russian-made rifles.

It is true that there were some achievements and wins — it’s not all gloom and doom. But what good are benefits if they will be used to blackmail me later? What is the value of my education if I am later forbidden to think with my own mind? Many slaves also learned to read. And they did not pay with money for their little corner of the barracks or their lunch, they paid with obedience and the sweat of their backs. If any of them happened to demand a change of regime, the whip, the stocks and the shackle would certainly await them. continue reading

I have already repaid the cost of my studies. Of this you can be sure. I went to all the schools in the countryside, I cut sugarcane, harvested potatoes in Artemisa and coffee in Pinares de Mayarí. I completed two years of social service, receiving the illusion of a salary. I owe a lot to my teachers, but as for the State, I have already paid my debts — stop dredging it up. Also, do not continue to use my work with cultural institutions as blackmail. To work is a right, not a privilege. And I have given as much as or more than what I have received.

I write these words while besieged by a cowardly campaign of lies against me and against the organizers of the march. The baseness is such that they have cut off our Internet services so that we cannot even defend ourselves within our networks. But I am not going to play the victim. Cuban ingenuity also knows how to circumvent these internal blockades. My only concern was for my parents. I know how much this hurts them, I know how much they fear for me. But I also know that they know their son. They have both overcome their fear and called just to tell me to be strong, and to say that they are proud of me.

It is obvious that nobody pays us [the protest organizers] a penny. No one would be such an idiot as to face all this (and the fury to come) for money. We do it out of conviction, and that has a desperate power. Nor does anyone, from anywhere,  give us orders. There are marvelous minds in this country and we are already learning to debate and find consensus, without need for false shows of unity or “maximum leaders”***. What they call “alliances” is nothing more than honest dialogue involving all Cubans, without discriminating against anyone. No regime will ever again tell us which Cuban we can or cannot talk with. We are not going to reproduce their scheme of prejudice, stigma and demonization.

I am infinitely grateful for the enormous solidarity we have received. If there were justice and we had 15 minutes on national television, the entire lie that the power structure has fabricated would collapse instantly. I respectfully ask for a stop to the lynching perpetrated against any Cuban who honestly defends his principles, regardless of political color. When we say “with everyone and for the good of all,”**** we mean it.

On November 15 we will march without hatred. We are assuming a right that has never been respected in 62 years of dictatorship, but we are going to assume it with civility. Everyone will be looking towards Cuba that day. We know that the power structure plays dirty, that it gives combat orders against its own people, that it lies to our faces, that it would even be capable of infiltrating its paramilitaries into the march to generate violence and later blame it on us. Each citizen must be responsible for their conduct and defend the peaceful and firm attitude that we have called for.

November 15 can and should be a beautiful day. Wherever a Cuban lives, we know that his heart will be in Cuba. May the powerful not insist on behaving in a cowardly fashion against their own citizens. Do not repeat the crime of July 11. May officers and soldiers understand that there is no honor in obeying immoral orders. I also hope that no foreign power interferes in an issue that we ourselves must resolve with true sovereignty, that of citizens.

Let us commit to courage, dignity and frankness. It is past time to say what we think out loud.

I send you a hug.

Yunior García Aguilera

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:
*Refers to types of material help  commonly provided to Cuban nationals by relatives abroad.
**By tradition, Cubans refer to their country’s flag as “The Lone Star” (“La Estrella Solitaria”)
***Here, the writer alludes to a popular epithet for Fidel Castro, “el máximo líder.”
****An allusion to the title of a tract written by José Martí. The phrase has been deployed as a rallying cry by the Castro regime throughout its tenure.

The Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba Pleads for Non-Violent Resolution of Differences

Dionisio García, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, during his homily this Sunday. (Capture)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 19 July 2021 — In his Sunday homily, Dionisio García – archbishop of the easternmost diocese of Santiago de Cuba – pleaded for the resolution of differences on the Island through peaceful means, and “never with violence and intolerance.”

“In the midst of the difficulties, the protests, the demonstrations of recent days, and because of the arrests that have been made, the repressions, the Church wants to intercede for all Cubans, for all of Cuba,” said García during his first mass following the antigovernment protests that shook various localities of the Island a week ago.

Speaking in the National Shrine of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint, the prelate said that the petitionary prayers that Sunday are “above all, that there be no violence, that the logical differences that may exist in each people may be resolved through dialogue, mercy and forgiveness, and never with violence and intolerance.”

The Archbishop of Santiago recalled that the Cuban Catholic hierarchy has advocated for the need to realize “changes that will give hope and trust to our people, who need to feel respected whenever they wish to express how they feel and view continue reading

our realities.” He also referred to changes that would help the people of the Island “to plan a better future and the wellbeing of their families, and that this may result in the wellbeing of the nation.”

García, a member of the permanent committee of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC), also prayed that in the current public health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, patients and the medical personnel who attend to them may have the resources they need. He emphasized the responsibility of all in the face of this situation.

Early this week, the Catholic Church in Cuba defended the right of thousands of people who took to the streets of the Island to express their displeasure with the deterioration of the economic and social situation during the unrest of last Sunday and Monday, which left one dead, several wounded, and a hundred arrested*.

In a statement, the COCC warned that “violence begets violence, the aggression of today opens wounds and feeds grudges for tomorrow that will take much work to overcome.”

Along those lines, the bishops invited “all to not energize this crisis, but rather with serenity of spir and good faith, promote listening, understanding and the attitude of tolerance, to consider and respect the other, so that together we may find ways toward a just and adequate solution.”

Pope Francis, this past Sunday, expressed his concern over the “difficult moments” that Cuba is undergoing because of the protests and called for “dialogue and solidarity” in that country, following his recitation of the Ángelus from his window at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

“I am close to the dear Cuban people in these difficult moments — in particular the families, who suffer the most. I pray to the Lord to help build in peace, dialogue and solidarity a society that is ever more just and fraternal,” said the pontiff, who has on two occasions (2015 and 2016) visited the Island.

The protests of last Sunday (July 11), the most extreme that have been documented in Cuba in the last six decades, occurred while the country is submerged in a grave economic and public health situation unleashed by Covid infections, along with a severe shortage of food, medicines and other basic necessities, in addition to long-lasting power blackouts.

*Translator’s note: Much higher numbers of arrests were reported by others.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Secret Video Shows the Deterioration of Castro Enclave ‘Punto Cero’* / Juan Juan Almeida

This video, secretly recorded and exclusively provided, shows the deterioration of what was once the jewel of the Cuban crown, and which today is nothing more than the refuge of a bunch of defenestrated heirs.

Punto Cero, the residential complex where the ex-dictator Fidel Castro and his family holed up, was always a place kept in good condition: the grass well-mowed, curbs painted, access points signalized, the guard posts strategically located. Even the waste containers were well-attended to.

No less than the garbage at Punto Cero was treated as a state secret. But after the death of Fidel Castro, the ensuing power struggles extended even to the legendary family bunker’s decay.

*Translator’s note: Point Zero. A highly secured government compound on the outskirts of Havana where members of the Castro family and other high-ranking officials live.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Colors of the Cuban Flag Will Illuminate the Headquarters of the Regional Government of Madrid

The president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso. (EFE).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 14 July 2021 — This Wednesday night, the Royal Post Office — headquarters of the Madrid regional government chaired by Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the Popular Party — will be illuminated with the colors of the Cuban flag in homage to “freedom fighters” on the Island.

The Community of Madrid president herself tweeted the announcement while issuing a statement in which her government “strongly condemns the criminal dictatorship that has turned Cuba into a giant prison and has condemned its inhabitants to poverty, hunger or exile for the last 62 years.”

Her autonomous government will always be, says the document, “on the side of the Cuban people, who in these times are demonstrating throughout the Island, demanding freedom and democracy.” Similarly, the text continues, “we reject the violent repression that the dictatorship is exercising over its own people, and we call for the immediate release of all those arrested as well as the safe return of the disappeared.”

The statement refers in particular to journalist Camila Acosta, a contributor to the Spanish newspaper ABC — who, according to close sources, remains under arrest, in Havana’s Infanta and Manglar Police Station, and will be prosecuted for continue reading

“contempt” and “public disturbances.”

Madrid — which calls itself “Kilometer Zero of Liberty” — asks the Cuban people for unity “in the face of the regime’s attempts to divide them,” since history “has shown the importance of remaining united at the moment in which totalitarian regimes begin to collapse.”

For this, says the statement, “an exercise of generosity” is needed: “The unity of the democratic opposition is an essential requirement for freedom to triumph.” This eventual triumph, the document predicts, “will undoubtedly have consequences in other countries of Latin America. The fall of communism will bring, sooner rather than later, the liberation of countries that, like Venezuela or Nicaragua, still live under its yoke.”

In its declaration, the regional government is tough on Spain’s national government, chaired by the socialist Pedro Sánchez, demanding that it “abandon ambiguity, dispense with euphemisms and act without equivocation on the side of freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

The declaration thus refers to statements by the head of the Spanish Executive on Tuesday, when he said that “it is evident that Cuba is not a democracy,” without calling it a dictatorship — as did his government’s spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez when she evaded the issue before journalists by declaring that “Spain is a full democracy.”

For opposition leader Pablo Casado, the ambiguity of the head of the Spanish government “is not accidental,” but rather responds to the fact that Pedro Sánchez is president thanks to Unidas Podemos [United We Can], the “partners of Maduro and the Castros.”

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

What Really Interests the Cuban Regime? / Ivan Garcia

Photo Credit: Dominoes, from Diario de Cuba.

Iván García, Havana, 21 June 2021 — On July 4, 2016, in the splendid residence of the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Cuba located west of Havana, there was a celebration of that country’s Independence Day. Hundreds of guests nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, sipped red wine or cold beer, and chatted on sundry topics in small groups. Following the re-establishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba on December 17, 2014, the harmony between the two peoples was noticeable.

At the long tables dressed in white tablecloths and under the canopies set up in the gardens, you could see renowned artists, business executives, prelates of the Catholic Church, as well as activists, opponents, and independent journalists. A blues soundtrack could be heard in the background while I conversed with a Spanish businessman based in Florida, who told me how the huge state bureaucracy was preventing him from opening a ferry line between Havana and Miami.

That July 4th, I remembered that in November of 2015, Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons — of the Alabama-based tractor manufacturer Cleber LLC — had made the news when they wanted to install a small tractor assembly plant in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which would have been a beneficial business for the unproductive agriculture of Cuba, especially for private farmers and agricultural cooperatives. Berenthal and Clemmons intended to sell the tractors in national currency. It seemed that the Cuban authorities were going to approve the deal, as it was profitable for both parties. By then, the Sheraton hotel chain had opened a property in Miramar in partnership with the military-run company Gaviota. continue reading

Day in and day out, famous Americans would visit Havana and roam the city in antique convertibles. Travelers from the United States were amazed to see no advertising in the capital city, to have no internet connection, and they lamented the deterioration of buildings that were architectural jewels. On the streets of Havana, Barack Obama was more popular than Fidel and Raúl Castro. From balconies, bicitaxis and collective taxis, you could see the American flag waving next to the Cuban. Paladares (private restaurants) and private lodgings were bursting. At Sloppys Joe’s — a bar located next to the Hotel Sevilla that before 1959 was frequented by the actor Errol Flynn — between mojitos and “ropa vieja” (shredded beef) sandwiches, a bartender told me that on a bad day, he would earn 150 dollars in tips thanks to American tourists.

During that honeymoon period — when many Cubans naively believed that in ten years, skyscrapers would once again grace the Havana skyline and Starbucks and McDonald’s franchises would be seen everywhere — I would have assumed that the Spanish businessman from Florida was optimistic. But the Cuban government had applied the brakes. The official press and functionaries of the dictatorship were accusing Obama of not doing enough to dismantle the embargo. And the amanuenses were issuing warnings about the cultural “danger” inherent in thousands of American tourists being on the Island.

That afternoon in 2016, I was unaware that the Castro brothers’ order was to return to the Cold War trench. The Spanish businessman warned me: “They are not interested in businesses that benefit the people. All business has to be with military companies, and they must make good profits. I told a senior government official about my project to open a ferry service, which would lower travel costs. In addition, Cubans living in Florida could bring 300 pounds of luggage, and even cars. The official told me privately that this was not in the government’s interest, as it would affect the military companies that run the foreign exchange stores. And he confessed to me that the business they were interested in was cruise ships.”

Obama approved at least three packages of measures that favored the private sector in Cuba. When you chat confidentially with Cuban private entrepreneurs, they recognize that the internal blockade, the government’s distrust, and excessive taxes and controls affect them more than the U.S. embargo. Two business owners who were at the meeting with Obama said that “if the government wants it, we can import food, raw materials, and other items from the United States.”

One of them told me that they “imported cuts of beef from Canada. But when the authorities found out, they banned it. There is no manifest will for private businesses to flourish. All that support for entrepreneurs expressed by the rulers is what they say publicly. But the reality is different. They drown you with absurd taxes, excessive controls, and a lot of corruption. They force you to cheat and commit illegalities in order to be profitable.”

It was the regime that never approved, nor cared, that the measures passed by the Obama administration would strengthen the private sector. The dictatorship and its military companies were never interested in opening businesses that would benefit the families of émigrés by authorizing them to bring hundreds of pounds on their ferry trips. It is the Cuban government that charges excessive sums of money for the shipments sent from abroad by émigrés. A box weighing five kilograms mailed to Cuba requires the recipient to pay about two thousand pesos to receive it. It is a way of discouraging imports to poor relatives on the Island.

The Cuban government is lying when its officials try to sell the story that “it is the U.S. blockade that affects the Cuban family.” The regime has never cared about the Cubans who leave, except whether they support the system and do not publicly express their differences with it.

In the spring of 2015, I covered the exodus of Cubans to Central America together with Celeste Matos, a formidable reporter based in Florida. We traveled from one end of Costa Rica to the other, from Paso Canoas, on the border with Panama, to Peñas Blancas, bordering Nicaragua. Dozens of Cubans told me that the Cuban Embassy in San José never gave them any help or legal advice. Cuban émigrés are only useful to the regime as ATMs.

Never has the autocracy apologized for the verbal abuses and lynchings to which they subjected Cubans who wanted to emigrate. According to a former Interior Ministry official, in 1980, Fidel Castro ordered the delivery of only two thousand food rations during the occupation by more than ten thousand Cubans of the Peruvian Embassy. “He did it on purpose, to create riots, fights, and present them to the world as a savage scum.” A few days later, Castro released hundreds of dangerous and mentally ill criminals to contaminate the exodus that was leaving through the Port of Mariel.

The regime charges Cuban émigrés very high prices for their passports and permits to visit their homeland. Emigrés have absolutely no political rights. They cannot vote or be elected to public office. This new measure to suspend the use of the dollar is another act of arrogance against expatriates and their relatives in Cuba. The authorities, because of the economic madhouse, mismanagement, and the unproductive state sector — a kind of sit-down strike by the workers due to their insufficient wages — cannot offer a decent life or efficient public services to the population.

There are several ways to dismantle the embargo. The measures approved by Obama are still in force, so if the State were to allow the private sector to import food and goods from the U.S., to later sell them in their businesses, this would alleviate the fierce shortages.

The government itself can buy food from the U.S., as long as it pays in cash. If, as the Central Bank of Cuba officials say, they had their vaults full of dollars, they could buy tons of beef, fish and sausages in addition to the usual frozen chicken. If the regime is unable to guarantee the supply and production of food, why does it not allow foreign chains to import and sell food in Cuba?

The dictatorship only issues measures that allow them to stay in power. They detest private business. They have prohibited Cubans from accumulating wealth. They speak of authorizing investments by Cubans who reside abroad, but they delay approval, because it is a contradiction for their ideological adversaries to return to Cuba as successful entrepreneurs. Each new unpopular measure decreed by the government headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel digs its own grave deeper. Authoritarian systems doing things half-assed crumble on their own. Cuba is not going to be the exception.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Despite the Embargo, 10 Million Syringes Are En Route to Cuba from the U.S.

A volunteer participant in Phase 3 of the Abdala vaccine trial in Santiago de Cuba. (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 17 June 2021 – To immunize the Cuban population against Covid-19, along with those foreigners going for the “mojito with vaccine” vacation deal, the authorities have figured that between 20 and 25 million syringes will be needed. It is a goal could be within reach, given the donations – almost half the number and despite the embargo – that are coming from the U.S.

It is “Washington’s cruel and immoral embargo,” which is invoked by Edward Asner, American actor and member of Global Health Partners (GHP), an organization based in New York that is coordinating the donations. According to a recent statement by GHP, “the initiative is being handled through the Saving Lives campaign and includes dozens of local and national organizations – including MEDICC, DSA, CodePink [among those promoting the Nobel Peace Prize award to the Henry Reeve medical Brigade], IFCO, and the Center for Cuban Studies.” The group foresees taking around 10 million syringes in  containers to “relieve the shortage caused by the U.S. embargo.”

Paradoxically, the association – which since its founding in the mid-70s, has launched various campaigns to fund medical projects in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in addition to Cuba – relies on a U.S. Department of Commerce export permit to realize the donations. The embargo impedes the ability of the Cuban state to buy the material, but at the same time, the American government itself facilitates the acquisition of the product without one cent being paid. continue reading

Asner – winner of multiple Grammies and Emmies, U.S. Army veteran, and fervent socialist – details in his fundraising letter the importance of thanking the Island for all it does for the world through its medical missions and pharmaceutical products. “With this track record and their solidarity, we are in an ideal position to make this syringe campaign a success,” Asner argues.

According to GHP calculations, a donation of $ 1,000 would enable the shipment of 28,571 hospital-grade syringes, $360 would be enough to vaccinate 10,265 people, and $150 would finance the transport of 4,285 syringes to the island’s health centers. To encourage giving, the organization reminds the reader that donations to this cause are tax-deductible.

According to Asner, GHP has already delivered to Cuba more than $190-million dollars in medicines and medical supplies that are in short supply – thus confirming that the distribution is ongoing, despite the embargo.

Europe is expected to send a shipment of similar volume.  Europe is believed to be in a position to imminently supply an additional 10-million syringes, the result of a campaign coordinated by the solidarity network mediCuba-Europe, based in Agno (Switzerland) and the participation of member organizations from thirteen European States (Germany, Sweden, Italy , Ireland, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland, Norway, Spain and Austria). In addition, there are partner organizations from three other countries, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health has placed an order for 10 million syringes and needles for a total price of $800,000 euros, which we hope to finance thanks to European solidarity and the collaboration of the Swiss Embassy in Cuba (SDC),” reads the introductory text of this initiative.

This is the third campaign GHP have carried out since March 2020. Previously, the network has raised more than 600,000 euros together with 250,000 Swiss francs (about 230,000 euros) from that country’s embassy, in Cuba with which they have acquired fans, laboratory reagents for PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests, and laboratory equipment for the production of vaccines on the Island.

Now, for the syringes campaign, the same embassy has raised about 380,000 Swiss francs, and members of the GHP network continue to gather support. The latest known data has been provided by Sodepaz, a promoter in Spain that aims to supply three million syringes, and on June 10 placed at 2,643,000 the number it can send with its collection. In the European context, the goal of the 10 million may have been exceeded, since as of April 27, it had already garnered 6,500,000 syringes.

MediCuba-Europa boasts that their shipments have contributed recently to the development of five vaccine candidates. “This is a considerable achievement of the health system and of national scientific institutions, which demonstrates not only the high level of quality and strong professional commitment of the island’s research community, but also the will and tenacity of the authorities to guarantee health care and services to the entire population, despite a precarious economic situation exacerbated by the deepening of economic, financial, and commercial measures imposed by the Government of the United States of America – that is, the illegal, arbitrary blockade, inhumane and against international law, as the United Nations General Assembly remembers it every year,” they argue.

The Island’s government has not wanted for aid from Latin America either. Albeit more modest, the region’s campaigns have managed to collect almost five million syringes from different countries, as confirmed to Prensa Latina by Humberto Pérez of the board of the Martiana Association of Cuban Residents of Panama (AMCRP).

The Panamanian organization raised money from Cubans, pro-Castro groups, unions, politicians, businessmen, and parties in countries such as El Salvador, Bolivia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Uruguay.

“On April 3, we sounded the call in Panama, based on an idea that emerged in Canada last year,” said Pérez, who collected 900,000 syringes from his country alone that have already been arriving in Cuba.

Thus the idea proceeded from the north of the continent, which has also collected almost two million more of the product. The campaign started in Canada on January 8 and already by April 1 the Canadian Network of Solidarity with Cuba announced the arrival of 1,920,000 syringes.

Nor is Argentina absent, having on June 1 sent a shipment of 380,000 syringes and 359,000 needles to Havana. “The contribution of the Argentine Movement of Solidarity with Cuba (MasCuba), the Union of Cuban Residents in Argentina (URCA) and other groups sensitized to the Cuban cause, was fundamental to the ability of carrying out this work, which is of a deeply human nature,” said the Cuban official press.

Although possibly one of the most peculiar campaigns is the one that comes from a pro-Castro YouTuber and blogger known as Guajiro Citadino, who raised about $10K for syringes through a project which, curiously, he named “Patria o Muerte” [“Homeland or Death“].

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison    

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Regime Expropriates My Sister’s House, But Celebrates My Father’s Birthday / Juan Juan Almeida

Monument to Juan Almeida Bosque in Santiago de Cuba: “No one surrenders here” (EFE)

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2021 — When my father died and they put on that little show in the Sierra Maestra, Raúl Castro promised one of my sisters – who lived outside of Cuba – that, as long as she “behaved herself,” he would respect her house.

He gave her a hug, they exchanged tears, and the pledge was settled at the feet of the deceased.

So then, complying with her part of the bargain, my sister behaved very well. And now, while the super homage is being paid to our father, she gets the notification from the court.

And when someone inquires at the office of Raúl Castro, to find out what’s happened with that pledge, he is informed that she did indeed behave VERY WELL – and for this, the General was most appreciative. However – and this is how they put it – the “pledge to Behave Herself also included controlling me and shutting my mouth. Therefore, through my fault, she is losing the house.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Surviving in the Cuban Jungle / Ivan Garcia

A crowd of people lining up in front of a store in Havana, waiting for their turn to shop (Photo Mario Muñoz – Facebook).

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 10 May 2021 — It is the law of survival of the fittest: only the most quarrelsome, opportunistic, and worthless citizens can get ahead. From top to bottom, today’s Cuban society is a jungle. A failed state that lives off ideological propaganda, promises it never keeps, and a chaotic subsistence economy.

If you ask Magda – a 40-year-old from Havana who supports herself by reselling for dollars the merchandise she buys at exclusive stores and has made a business out of managing the long lines of shoppers – why this is so, she will give you a concise answer: “The system forces you.” She is silent for a few seconds and then makes the following case:

“The Cuban system works by caste. The mayimbes (bosses) do not want for anything, nor do the senior officers in the armed forces. They get free housing and food, and they can take vacations at recreational villas for reasonable prices. Mid-level party officials also enjoy their little privileges. The cuadros (administrators) of tourism, domestic trade and other ministries and large companies, they live by stealing and profiting from food, fuel and construction materials. We – those at the bottom, the marginalized, almost all blacks – who live in poverty, we have to fight each other for the crumbs. Wherever money can be made, that’s where I’ll be. I’m not afraid to fight, and I’m not afraid of the police. Whatever it takes.” continue reading

Then in a calm voice, Magda recounts how since childhood she has had to deal with family violence, husbands who beat her, and neighborhood fights. “I have been imprisoned twice. There, you have to be a lioness. It’s not that I’m a bad person, but I don’t have too many options. Either I sit on my hands while my children go to bed hungry, or I go out and fight in the street for money and food. Necessity forces me to fight like a beast to get ahead.”

Like Magda, many women and men in the capital and in other provinces make a living by earning dollars organizing the lines, buying food for resale, and bribing police officers and officials who are supposed to be ensuring the social order. “You also have to grease the palms of store managers and employees. There are people who spend a week in line and never reach what they need. If you don’t pay 500 or a thousand pesos to a colero (someone who stands in line – “cola” – for others) you won’t get anything. If it’s a freezer you’re after, you have to pay them $70 or $100. It’s hard, but right now in Cuba, the law of the jungle rules,” Magda explains.

At any store in Havana, the coleros have organized a corrupt structure in cahoots with store managers and employees. On the outskirts of the market at 5th and 42nd in Miramar, half a thousand people await entry to go shopping. A policeman tells the crowd that only the first 150 will be allowed in. “The rest of you, please go home,” he says. Those who have not advanced to one of those spots have an alternative: they can, for a higher price, buy food and toiletries at private homes nearby.

Let’s call him Hiram, who works by walking the lines and quietly selling places for a thousand pesos. “In this country there are three types of Cubans. Those who rule, who do what they want and are accountable to no one. Those who have no choice but to silently endure the foot that the government puts down on them. And the dissidents, who are cocky, but lacking weapons, are not going to overthrow the regime. Most of the population are terrified of joining the opposition, because they can lock you away for many years. Criminals don’t want anything to do with the opposition, either. However, there is an unwritten pact between the government and the underworld: they let you do what you want as long as you don’t get into politics,” explains Hiram.

He goes on to say: “That’s why you see a bunch of people in the worst neighborhoods of Havana selling stolen items, and the police don’t even show up there. Drug dealers generally work for the police, as do the higher-level prostitutes. I don’t like communism. In 1980, when I was 23 years old, I got into the Peruvian embassy. We were ten thousand people and Fidel only sent a thousand boxes of food and bottles of water. They would do this to get us to fight with each other. Now it’s the same thing. (Cuban President) Díaz-Canel’s strategy, he has said, is to break off little pieces of problems, not solve them. I was in the United States and I was arrested, and they returned me as undesirable. I have to live off something. And the best I know how to do is be in the jungle, the fights and the illegalities. When you see two old men wrapped around a package of sausages, you realize that things in this country do not work.”

For a high percentage of Cubans it is a big production just to eat, buy soap, or obtain medicines. Any errand takes five or six hours. The atrocious inefficiency of the olive-green* economic model forces the citizens to travel long distances and line up for miles to try to get a roll of toilet paper or a bottle of soda.

In the midst of the shortages, the eternal economic crisis, and the sustained pandemic outbreak (which has practically collapsed the healthcare system in Havana) the authorities – instead of calling back the thousands of specialists and doctors who work abroad to provide dollars to the State – bet on bringing doctors in from other provinces. Public health is at a low ebb in Cuba. There is a scarcity of healthcare personnel, dozens of ambulances are halted for lack of spare parts, and there is a brutal shortage of antibiotics, syringes, and medicines.

One doctor said that “physicians and nurses who work on the front line treating Covid-19 patients are exhausted. They have spent many months working in precarious conditions, deprived of the necessary security, and subsisting on a very poor diet. Government propaganda claims that the public health system here works wonders, but this is a lie. There are shortages from water to gauze and cotton swabs, not to mention broken medical equipment.”

Carlos, a sociologist, opines that “in times of economic crisis, the worst qualities of human beings come to light, such as selfishness and lack of solidarity. Civic values ​​are deteriorating, while speculation, theft and abuse of the weakest increases.”

These days, a 3-kilogram portion of Gouda cheese, which in foreign currency stores costs between 25 and 27 dollars (625 and 675 pesos at the official exchange), is resold on the black market for 1,900 or 2,100 pesos. A pound of chicken for 20 pesos is resold for 50 or 55 pesos. The pound of black beans that a year ago cost 10 pesos now costs 60. The kilogram of powdered milk that cost 40 pesos is offered at 300 or 350 pesos. Two packages of sandwich cookies and three of crackers, whose price was 70 pesos, are not available for less than 700 pesos. And worst of all, even with money in your pocket, you don’t always find what you’re seeking.

The biggest speculators are the regime’s commercial companies. The foods that are offered in stores for dollars – the so-called MLC (freely convertible currency) – obtain profit margins that sometimes exceed 300%, says an official of the TRD Caribe chain. And he gives this example: “A Samsung side-by-side refrigerator costs $1,870 here. At a retail store in Mexico, it might not even sell for $ 1,500. It’s abusive. If the reseller doesn’t murder you with his speculative prices, the State will gouge you with its inflated prices.”

The Cuba of today is an absurdity. A savage mix of dysfunctional, Soviet-style socialism and rudimentary feudal capitalism, sustained by a Zimbabwe-like public infrastructure, with prices comparable to those of Switzerland. Castroism continues to boast that its imperishable revolution was made by the humble and for the humble.

But the reality is that on the Island, the poorest eat a hot meal once a day and live in precarious huts made of aluminum and cardboard pieces. The Cuban model is a snapshot of rampant bureaucracy, full-throttle corruption, and mediocre officials. And in that jungle, people must manage as best they can to survive.

*Translator’s note: A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

‘All-Included’ Deals at Cuban Hotels Do Not Apply to Domestic Tourism

Dozens of customers wait in long lines at the Cubatur office located on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Lorey Saman, Havana/Mexico City, 20 May 2021. Since 7 am, dozens of customers have been lining up for more than two hours at the Cubatur office on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel to get in on a summer getaway deal advertised by the state-run agencies. Faced with the downturn in international tourism, the government has bet on Cuban nationals to fill its hotels.

“People come here with gigantic bundles of money, like this one young guy who just took out his wallet…it’s tremendous!” exclaims a smiling woman, who on Thursday morning made it over to the central office of Cubatur in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood.

Indeed, one needs a good sum of cash to pay for these “all-included” hotel packages — among the offers that most attract Cubans’ attention. Prices range from 984 pesos ($40 USD in exchange) per person, per night — not counting transportation, which is paid separately and generally comes out to about 600 pesos. continue reading

“The more economical offers are sold out, leaving the most expensive ones,” asserts another customer who, after checking with the tour operators, decided to get in line. “The minimum reservation one can make is for two days, with a money-back guarantee should the offer be cancelled due to the pandemic.”

The agency announced that the Islazul hotel chain prices were going down, therefore “they removed the signs outside that listed the costs,” according to customers who had arrived quite early.

The tourism packages can only be reserved in pesos, at the state-run offices within the country. No option to purchase from abroad exists should a relative or friend wish to gift a vacation to a resident of the Island.

The package prices run from 984 pesos to more than 3,000 per person, per night. (14ymedio)

“Somebody who goes to these things a lot told me that right now those hotels are like voluntary work camps — I don’t know how true that is, we’ll have to wait and hear what people have to say when they come back,” suggests another customer.

Along with the pool and the beach, the principal attraction of stay at the country’s hotels continues being access to a more varied menu than can be found in private homes, which are very affected by food shortages. Even so, various reports gathered by this newspaper warn of stricter regulations governing these “all-included” packages.

“They’re only allowing one heavy meal at lunch and dinner, while only a part of breakfast is included as a buffet item — the rest has to be ordered à la carte, such as cheese, egg dishes, sausages, and yogurt,” shared a Matanzas resident, speaking with 14ymedio after purchasing two nights at a Gaviota hotel in Varadero.

The woman, who claims to take such a trip annually (“except for 2020, because of the pandemic”), says that the hotel guests “act crazy” in the dining room. “When the servers bring out beer, the people stampede to get in line like they do at stores.” In her view, the food shortages affecting the country are evident “because the menu offerings are more limited and the amounts are smaller.” In any case, she observes, the getaway is still “enjoyable after so many months of being cooped up.”

In other parts of the country, such as Matanzas, since early May only residents of that province have been allowed to purchase packages for various hotels in Varadero*. At that tourist hub, the Island currently welcomes thousands of Russian vacationers, thanks to connections re-established in mid-April between Russia and Cuba, including seven weekly flights.

Meanwhile, some Matanzas businesses have offered discounts to Cuban customers who book before 31 May. Similar offers are available from Havanatur in Holguín, with a 10% discount for the Playa Costa Verde hotel, if the package is purchased by 30 June for stays between 1 July and 15 September.

In Mexico, the Vagamundos agency, which works with the Viva Aerobus airline, as of 7 May began promoting tourism packages to Varadero. A few hotels included in this promotion are also ones in the summer domestic tourism campaigns in Cuba, such as Kawama, Villa Tortuga, and Los Delfines.

Although no specific departure city is identified, tourists could book between four and six nights between 1 June and 31 December, 2021. Rates for four nights run from 784 to 1,186 dollars, with Tuesday and Saturday departures.

The packages include proof of Covid-19 vaccination three days prior to departure from Mexico, a health-check fee, ground transportation to the hotel, and travel insurance. The packages are available to “tourists or Cuban residents of other countries, and they may not depart from the tourist hub,” according to the agency. In addition, “family members will be allowed in the hotel as of the second day” as long as they show proof of a prior negative Covid-19 test and have booked their stay in advance.

In early March, Taíno Tours — a subsidiary of Havanatur — also offered tours departing from Mexico of between 200 and 400 dollars per week at Varadero hotels. These are “therapeutic” packages designed to “prevent diseases and health problems,” with treatments that include Interferon, PrevenHo-Vir, and Biomodulin-T — pharmaceutical products promoted by the Cuban authorities since the start of the pandemic to prevent coronavirus and other infections. However, according to independent analyses, these products have no proven scientific consistency.

*Translator’s Note: Varadero is in Matanzas province.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban Government Will Control the Internet and Social Media to "Defend the Achievements of the Socialist State"

The so-called “On Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technologies, and Use of the Radio Spectrum” standard will establish a legal framework for “counteracting attacks via radio frequency and in cyberspace.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 April 2021 — The Cuban government will widen its control of the Internet and social media with the passage of a new decree-law. In order to “defend the achievements made by the socialist State,” the measure will allow official regulation of new technologies and communication, according to Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella, Minister of Communications, who introduced the text on Tuesday, April 13, to senior government officials.

The so-called “On Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technologies, and Use of the Radio Spectrum” mandate will establish a legal framework for “counteracting attacks via radio frequency and in cyberspace,” among other things proposed by the minister.

Perdomo also cited the need for the decree-law to regulate the computerization of the country, promote its sovereignty, and “safeguard the principles of security and invulnerability of telecommunications”, all with the aim of consolidating “the achievements of Socialism and the welfare of the population”. continue reading

Wednesday’s edition of Juventud Rebelde* featured an article reporting on the passage of this and two other regulations yesterday in the Council of State, wherein the Communications minister stated that this decree — whose content is as yet unknown — would be in line with the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, “as is the case with treaties and other international legal instruments.”

In July 2019, the Government had already passed legislation “regarding the computerization of Cuban society – Decree-Law 370, known as the “scourge law” — through which it attempted to “elevate technological sovereignty in benefit of the society, economy, security, and national defense” and to “counteract cyberattacks.”

Among Decree-Law 370’s most controversial articles was one that penalizes “broadcasting via public data transmission networks any information contrary to the public interest, morals, proper behavior, and the integrity of persons” — which was compared, for the virtual world, with the offense of “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

This legal concept is applied to dissidents and critics of the Government, and has been denounced by organizations such as Amnesty International and the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights for convicting citizens on allegations of crimes that they have yet to commit.

*Translator’s Note: Juventud Rebelde – literally, “Rebel Youth” – is a Cuban newspaper of the Union of Young Communists.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

For Washington, Cuba is Not a Priority / Ivan Garcia

Independent journalists Iván García Quintero (left) and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina on a street in the capital city of the United States. In March 2018, the two were invited to participate in a program on journalism sponsored by The Dialogue, a center founded in 1982, based in Washington, DC, and considered one of the leading think tanks on US and foreign policy.

Iván García, 15 February 2021 — As he drives a ramshackle Soviet-era Moskvitch down a central avenue west of Havana, Samuel, a retired athlete, explains why doing business in Cuba is very difficult. Eleven years ago, when Raúl Castro kicked off the expansion of private work, Samuel used the money he saved plus a loan from his New York-based brother to buy two Willys jeeps manufactured in the 1950s, but updated with modern engineering.

With his earnings from deploying those jeeps as collective taxis, Samuel acquired a brand-new 1958 Impala convertible that he would rent to the tide of North American tourists, who – seduced by the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the free marketing provided by the generous Obama Doctrine – rolled in on planes and cruise ships to get to know the communist Island of the Caribbean. Samuel had a fleet of two jeeps and two cars and was planning to buy a truck, recondition it, and use it for interprovincial transportation. But he never had legal backing.

“That is the main problem with opening a business in Cuba. There is no agreement or deal, a notarized document spelling out your rights and duties. All that happens is the State one day will tell you that it is authorizing this or that business (which usually was already operating illegally) and then it imposes a severe tax on you and too many controls. You can’t count on a wholesale market, and with every passing year – with no justification – your taxes go up and the inspectors make your life impossible,” Samuel  asserts, and adds this: continue reading

“Because of certain circumstances, the government has been forced to authorize private work. This has never been to promote free enterprise, so that the most talented will prosper and generate wealth. No. It has always been a concession by the State, forced upon them by their inefficiency or, like now, because they are trapped in an economic crisis and they will  let you run certain businesses – but always while pointing the finger at you and not allowing you to gain too many profits.”

Six out of nine entrepreneurs interviewed agree that self-employment is not usually to the liking of the regime’s apparatchiks. “It is a necessary evil that allows the State to reverse the economic depression and attract the half million state workers who between 2010 and 2012 lost their jobs. But, ideologically speaking, we are out of context. We are annoying. The usual suspects who engage in speculation, tax evasion, and personal enrichment. They see us as potential criminals or dissidents of the system, “says Geovany, owner of a body shop, a business that for many years has been in legal limbo.

Manuel, an economist, believes that if a society is committed to the progress of the country and the creativity of its people, then “private work should not be a problem. It is desirable for taxes to be as low as possible so that those business that are the genesis of future small and medium-size enterprises, and even of large companies, can flourish. Under Cuba’s circumstances, it would be very difficult for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos to become what they are today. They would not have passed the startup-in-a-garage stage. And if they had made a lot of money, they would have been accused of illicit enrichment or embezzlement.”

Onilio, a software programmer, prefers to give the regime a chance. Just one more. “I would like to believe that, this time, the announced opening of more than two thousand private jobs will unleash the creativity of Cubans. I intend to set up an electronic payment gateway for food, clothing and household appliances. But for that to work, the government must authorize imports. Either legalize the “mules” – or else make it so that we private entrepreneurs can purchase goods abroad on our own. If the level of importation is too high, then call upon the State-run import companies to manage it. We should have wide autonomy. And bet on ventures that have added value. Not just services.”

At the moment, the regime maintains some restrictions that prevent free importation. An entrepreneur who met with US President Obama during his visit to Havana in March 2016 is skeptical of the current Cuban government strategy.

“I hope I’m wrong and the authorities this time are serious and don’t put the brakes on private work. But the evidence and history make me pessimistic. I remember that as soon as I left the meeting with Obama, the ONAT (National Tax Administration Office) officials began to inspect my business. If there is no structure where to acquire raw materials, free import and export or doing business with foreign entrepreneurs is impeded, it is very difficult for businesses to be transparent. It is the regime itself, by not creating a specific legal framework and by imposing high taxes, which caused the self-employment sector to be distorted. To change things, the government must change its mentality.”

Ramiro, an analyst, considers that the expansion of private work as more a political strategy to seduce the current White House administration than a project to involve private entrepreneurs in Cuba’s economic future. “Too many coincidences. Recently, the government informed the president of Colombia of alleged terrorist plans by the ELN (Army of National Liberation), most members of which reside in Cuba.

What is the real intention here? To distance themselves from the Colombian terrorists? The Cuban government will probably leave the ELN to its own devices, sacrifice it in its attempt to negotiate with Washington. But I am left wondering if the efficient Cuban intelligence services did not know in advance of the attack on a police cadet school in Bogotá in January 2019. It is clear that this move is a message to Biden: that Cuba is willing to negotiate on any topic. It would be necessary to see if they do not sacrifice a bigger piece, such as [Nicolás] Maduro [the contested president of Venezuela]”, the analyst emphasizes and adds:

“Internally, regime leaders know that the White House’s policy guidelines favor relations with the private sector and dissidents. They yield on the issue of the private sector, hence the bait is tossed to expand self-employment, so as to continue repressing the opposition. The government knows it is racing against the clock. The historical figures of the revolutionary process will cease being valid interlocutors within a couple of years, since they are already of retirement age and close to death. It is the new breed of leaders, in my opinion, which must draw up a functional economic policy and a consequent foreign policy. The White House knows this. And within Cuba some things are no longer the same. As a result of the ‘tarea ordenamiento‘* – a strategy about which the people were not consulted – discontent, controversy and criticism from the population have changed the correlation of forces,” and he concludes:

“More and more citizens and sectors are betting on dialogue, transparency and democracy. This segment of civil society is not even dissident – something that has caught the government – which is aiming its media cannons at the opposition – by surprise, being that it is a vast majority of Cubans who seek to dialogue with the regime about the future of Cuba. And not for the regime to negotiate on its own with the United States.

On February 9, a bipartisan resolution presented in the United States Senate by Democratic legislators Bob Menéndez, Richard Durbin and Ben Cardin, and Republican Marco Rubio, expressed solidarity with members of the San Isidro Movement and requested the Cuban authorities to initiate a dialogue process with independent artists. The text also demanded the release of rapper Denis Solís, the cessation of repression against Cuban artists and the immediate repeal of decrees 349 and 370 as well as the other laws and regulations that violate freedom of expression in Cuba.

Local political operatives will choose to negotiate directly with Washington, trying to avoid a national dialogue. They believe that it is possible to return to the honeymoon period that lasted between 2014 and 2016, when the flags of the stars and stripes waved on the balconies and old collective taxis. A rupture that provoked the dictatorship itself, especially after Obama’s historic speech in Havana.

The bulk of the measures approved by the White House at that time benefited the private sector and the Cuban people, not the military companies. But this time the game board is different. The Island is caught in an extensive economic and social crisis. And on Biden’s agenda, Cuba is not a priority.

*Translator’s note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others.