The Everglades: An Endangered Garden on the Doorstep of Miami

Scientists warn that, by the year 2100, the sea level will rise more than six feet, progressively flooding the wetlands of South Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, January 3, 2018 — An immense grasslands with tones of yellow and green extends up to the horizon, and Miami’s skyscrapers can be glimpsed in the distance, like blue boulders. Far from the metropolis, where more than six million people live, one of the largest and most famous wetlands of the planet crosses to the west and south: the Everglades, an immense subtropical garden that is endangered by climate change and contamination.

On board a hovercraft, thousands of toursists every day cross only a small part of the subtropical national park, which is the largest in the U.S. With its nearly 1,500 square miles, the National Park of the Everglades is approximately the same size as the province of Guantánamo, or double the size of the state of New Jersey, on the northeast coast of the U.S.

It’s calculated that more than a million people visit these wetlands every year, and they are counted by the tens of thousands as they pass through the entrances. continue reading

“The main dangers we face are the increase in sea level and environmental contamination,” explains a tourist guide, who drives the airboat, which is a peculiar flat-bottom craft that uses an airplane propeller to avoid harming animals and the ecosystem.

Scientists warn that, by the year 2100, the sea level will rise more than six feet, progressively flooding the wetlands of South Florida. A report on Univision that quotes several experts from Florida International University indicates that the Everglades is being reduced to half its former size and receiving only one-third of the fresh water it used to receive.

Declared an International Biosphere in 1976, a World Heritage Site in 1979 and a Wetland of International Importance in 1987, the Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles, which can reach some five meters in length and weigh 1,100 pounds, live alongside alligators and caimans. In addition, hundreds of endemic animals like manatees, deer and pumas can be found, including invasive species such as pythons, which can reach almost 20 feet in length.

The heart of the South Florida wetlands is Lake Okeechobee. Rains from the wet season make it overflow, and the waters flow south, progressively flooding large areas of terrain.

“In the first half of the twentieth century, over 1,400 miles of canals were constructed with the aim of containing the flooding from Lake Okeechobee, and, thanks to this, cities like Miami were able to grow,” explains the guide. Beginning then, there was the desiccation of large quantities of land for urbanization and cattle ranches, as well as the construction of highways, affected the wetlands.

“The construction in 1928 of the Tamiami Trail highway caused a cut-off in the flow of water coming from the lake. There are plans to spend more than 10.5 billion dollars to raise part of the highway in order to restore that flow and to intervene for preserving the wetlands, but they are advancing slowly,” he explains.

Along the Tamiami Trail, a long road that links Miami with the west coast of the peninsula, work is underway on the constrction of bridges to permit the passage of water toward the south. It’s a project that, among other things, seeks to ensure the water sources for the city.

“If you drink a cup of tea in Miami, you’re consuming the same water that we have in the Everglades,” jokes the guide. Although his statement is an exaggeration, the flow of water in the South Florida wetlands is vital for sustaining the Bicayne aquifer, which supplies the water used in the largest city of Florida.

Owing to the porous nature of the rocks under the marsh, penetration of the sea or the contamination of particular areas has repercussions for the whole ecosystem.

The tourists protect their ears from the deafening noise of the airboat propeller by using earplugs. When the motor is turned off, there is a sepulchral silence. In the middle of the wetlands, you hear only the sound of the crickets or the buzzing of the innumerable insects that inhabit the area.

“Also living here are the American Indian Miccosukees, a tribe originally from Georgia that, with the passage of time, was displaced toward the wetlands and resisted any attempt to assimilate them for more than 100 years,” explains the guide.

The Micosukees or Mikazuki, as they also are known, were recognized throughout Cuba as a sovereign country inside the U.S., from the time a delegation of the tribe visited the island in 1959. Fidel Castro personally received the delegation and acknowledged their indigenous passport, which was later validated by other nations.

In 1962, the U.S. Government approved the tribe’s constitution, and recognized them officially as an automonous indigenous tribe to which important fiscal benefits were conceded. Today, the Miccosukees are considered one of the most prosperous indigenous groups in the U.S., with their empire of casinos, restaurants and hotels.

“The wetlands of the Everglades are a treasure for everyone, which we must protect,” said the guide upon ending the excursion near the Tamiami Trail, and he said that he dreams of making visitors aware of the importance of protecting this environment, on which his family and a good part of South Florida depend.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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The Euphemism that Looks After Me / Alejandro González Acosta

‘El compañero que me atiende’ is for sale on Amazon and in some Florida bookstores. (14ymedio)

Alejandro González Acosta, 1 December 2017, Mexico City — Lichi[1] told me that the last time he was in Cuba[2], he went to visit a G-2 colonel at home, the brother of a famous Cuban historian who was Lichi’s good friend in Mexico. Between drinks and confidences, Lichi asked him:

“Come on, man, just between us: You’re surely watching me and having me cableao[3] [listened to] everywhere, right?”

“No, Lichi,” the other responded. “There’s no need because we already know how you think, even what you publish. In addition,” added the security officer, “we don’t have the technology[4] we used to have when the bolos[5] were here. There’s not much left that’s in good working order. And the little we have is directed toward the Central Committee of the Communist Party, because we’re interested in knowing what they’re thinking and planning.”

Perhaps this was just another one of Lichi’s many fictions, but I suspect that this one was true. continue reading

It makes me think of the anecdote that was recently published in El compañero que me atiende [The Compañero Who Looks After Me] (Hypermedia, 2017), the timely anthology that Enrique del Risco (“Enrisco” to his friends), an exiled Cuban historian in New York, compiled and edited.

Like so many other common expressions on the island, this title probably isn’t fully understood by someone who isn’t Cuban and hasn’t passed at least a part of his life in Cuba during the last 60 years. “The compañero who looks after me” can be, for foreigners, a waiter, a mechanic, some employee, who with kind and fraternal camaraderie procures some service or product for them. But we Cubans know that’s not the case: far from it.

Just like the “accomplishments” of the Cuban Revolution that were showcased with pride—every child would have education and every sick person his doctor—so every citizen can count on having his own policeman, solicitous and attentive to what he says, hears and thinks. This ubiquitous and omnipresent character, almost omniscient and supposedly omnipotent is, ultimately, “the compañero who looks after me.” In a totalitarian system like the present Cuban one, where “everything not prohibited is obligatory,” it’s normal that half the population monitors the other half, and even among that half, nothing escapes them.

Something really monstrous that escapes the comprehension of the rest of the “normal” world (Cuban hasn’t been a “normal” country for a long time) is that this “compañero who looks after me” has in turn his own “compañero who looks after him,” and this one possesses another “compañero who looks after him,” in an uninterrupted and infinite succession until you come to the top of the pyramid where that Big Brother who monitors everyone and perhaps even himself is busy looking suspiciously into a mirror of informers. Everything is possible in that surrealistic Caribbean world.

Enrique del Risco understands this perfectly, and thus gives his pertinent commentary about The Trial and The Castle, written by the famous and prophetic Czech author, which he includes in his preface. It’s been said—and it’s no joke—that “if Kafka had been born in Cuba, he would have been a genre writer.” For modern Cubans, The Trial and The Castle have a solid and macabre arquitectonic symbol: Villa Marista, the “home sweet home” of all the compañeros who look after us.

If anybody knows this theme of a “compañero who looks after me” it was Lichi. His famous Informe contra mí mismo (Informing Against Myself) is nothing more than the response, after years of boredom, that he gave to the seguroso [State Security officer] who was trying to get him to inform on his own family.

This matter of citizen spying is almost a genre of opposition Cuban literature: Antes que anochezca (Before Night Falls), by Reinaldo Arenas, would be another response to that “compañero who looks after me.” And Contra toda esperanza (Against All Hope), by Armando Valladares, also. And En Cuba Todo el mundo canta (In Cuba Everybody Sings), by Rafael E. Saumell. And Fuera del juego (Out of the Game), although you would have to say here “the compañero who takes of ‘us’,” since it should include his then-wife, the poetess Belkis Cusa Malé; En mi jardín pastan los héroes (Heroes Graze in My Garden); La mala memoria (Bad Memory), by Heberto Padilla; Mapa dibujado por un espía (Map Drawn by a Spy), by Guillermo Cabrera Infante; La nada cotidiana (The Daily Nothingness); La hija del embajador (The Ambassador’s Daughter); La noche al revés (Night in Reverse), by Zoé Valdés; and 20 años y 40 días (Twenty Years and Forty Days), by Jorge Valls. Even El hombre que amaba los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs), by Leonardo Padura, is, in its own way, also a novel about permanent vigilance.

For Cubans of this epoch, the Forest of Eyes in Alice in Wondertown is a reality with nothing imaginative about it: Everything is seen and known in this total fortress that is the Cuba of the Castros. Thus, this work of Lewis Carroll served Jesús Díaz for his brilliant interpretation of Alice in Wondertown (1991), with a characterization of the unforgettable Reynaldo Miravalles in the powerless role of the Director of the Sanatorio Satán (Satanic Sanitorium) in the town of Maravillas de Noveras, with his bony accusing finger, descending from the heavens in the rattling elevator.

A little before, Díaz had managed—finally!—to publish his unforgettable novel, Las iniciales de la tierra (The Beginnings of the Earth), where the protagonist Carlos Pérez Cifredo confronts another variant of the “compañero who looks after me”: the interminable autobiographical document that so many Cubans have written, the famous cuéntame tu vida (Tell me about your life), the implacable and intrusive spreadsheet of entry to a political organization. This can also be considered a parallel genre to what Del Risco puts forth later. In some place on the island—perhaps in the Villa Marista—there must be an enormous archive with all the “tellmeaboutyourlife” stories that have been written in these almost 60 years. A Library of Babel of denouncements and, worse even, self-denouncements, saved for memory, disgust and posterity. We should then have a new V. Chentalinski to do with this what he did with The Literary Archives of the KGB.

We can’t deny it: The German film The Life of Others and Kundera’s The Joke are, for Cubans, part of a vital daily bibliography, a kind of Caribbean self-help literature, and this book confirms it. But wise friends are warning me that these references should also include classics like The Rebel, by Camus, and The Captive Mind, by Milosz.

Fifty-seven living authors participate in this “work of multiple creation,” all of them Cuban, the majority outside the island, but also some who live there, for whom the very fact of publishing in this book could have serious consequences—at the very least, a friendly visit from “the compañero who still takes care of them.” There are 57 testimonials, but there could also be 11,616,004 (the total population of Cuba according to the last official 2017 census), since all have, had or will have a similar story (without counting the 2,000,000 in exile). And all the Cubans dispersed throughout this broad and alien world since 1959 have at least one anecdote about that solicitous companion of our terrors and fears.

But let’s not be naive: The perversity of this system is not limited to Cubans alone. Everyone on the island is suspect, even if the opposite is proven. Correspondents and foreign diplomats also have their “compañero who looks after them,” although organized under other façades: the International Press Center, first, and the General Protocol Directorate, second, both camouflaged under the cover of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

And vigilant attention is not limited to Cubans on the island, either. In the Exterior, they also continue being the object of the watchful supervision that is organized from the Regime’s embassies, always scandalously overpopulated and with an intense espionage activity, under the façade of the Chancellery, supported by that large Ministry of Exterior Police that is the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People.

Thus, this book is fully registered in the testimonial genre that the Cuban Revolution gave birth to itself, in works like Operación Masacre [Operation Massacre], Trelew [Trelew], and many more, but from the other camp, the other side of the door… or the wall. Although the official “critics” say that if testimony is not “progressive, revolutionary and committed” it is not testimony, Reality contradicts them. In fact, today the testimony of the victims of communist repression is much more alive and convincing than that of the repressors who are determined to deny it or misrepresent it.

The intellectual who is monitored and persecuted in Cuba has been around for a long time. Convinced that they were harassing him, Manuel Zequeira pretended to make himself invisible by putting on a sombrero. José María Heredia left the country disguised as a sailor, an authentic proto-balsero, fleeing from the police. José Jacinto Milanés ended his days in a mental hospital, in a fog of paranoia. José Martí traveled to Cuba as “Julián Pérez” in order to outwit the pre-Castro customs and immigration. Virgilio Piñera was permanently obsessed with “an old panic,” expecting them to come for him. Raúl Hernández Novas, in spite of going about hunched over, couldn’t really hide himself because he was very tall. He committed suicide after experiencing “the enigma of waters,” and he rushed headlong—da capo—to a liberating death.

A typical Cuban feels himself permanently under surveillance. Even when he finally manages to escape the island-prison, for a long time he searches for microphones in lamps and underneath tables if some unwary person asks him something he considers compromising. He never says what he thinks, because he knows very well the price he will pay. He’s been trained. Later he loosens up and even talks too much: Some joke that they pay him to talk and then pay him more to shut up.

The image of a guard holding a sharp, threatening machete and a wide-open eye, watchful and omnipresent like something out of Santería, are the symbols of the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), the most pernicious, corrupting and demeaning of all the gruesome inventions on the Island of Doctor Castro.

I’m listening to you, whispers the emblem. Without knowing it, those frustrated old ladies, bitter and needing to feel they’re useful for something, the classic cederistas, are the descendants of the Parisian Bluestockings of the Place de Grève and the fisherwomen of the Marais. They are not named Charolotte or Lisette, but rather “Cusa of the Committee.” What the hell!

A joke about the government can be fatal. In my time, among friends, as an exculpatory and prophylactic exorcism, expecting the presence of microphones—or people with the same mission—after hearing a “joke against the government” we would finish roaring with laughter with a sentence: “On the record: If I’m laughing it’s because of indignation.” And in Cuba, even when we hung up the phone, it listened to whatever was said nearby, an old tactic from the NKVD and the KGB.

A person who is very dear to me lost his promising career as an economist because he told a joke about Nicolás Guillén with a mocking version of his poem, Tengo, in a group of supposed friends, and one of them ran to inform the Cuban Securitate, who expelled him from the University of Havana. Everything culminated in a grotesque scene: the then Rector (Reptile) obliterated him with a critical sentence: “Between doubt and the Revolution, I stand with the Revolution.” Later, this same rector was gloriously dethroned: Such is life in these tropics, dearest. Because the best thing about this story is that the earth is round (although some nuts still doubt it) and continues to turn….

The deeply religious mentality of communism, and especially that of the two former students of schools that were directed by severe priests, as were Stalin (in a seminary) and Castro (in the Ignatius College of Belén), creates a system of constant “examination of conscience,” of which “the compañero who looks after us” is a fortunate confessor in civil clothing. These “castles of the soul” and the Marxist-Ignacius “spiritual exercises” that culminate in the famous auto-criticism (much better and more effective if it is public and humiliating), are part of a process of continual and interminable catechism and purification. Everyone needs to be reviewed periodically, and in this way, one is offered the generous possibility of “repentance.” What is not pardonable is to decline the confession and the auto-inculpation, and even less to persevere in the error with the disastrous bourgeois “auto-sufficiency” that opposes accepting the charges and sins….

One thing that is especially perverse about this “head police” is that, against every presumption, it doesn’t hide; on the contrary, it is shameless. It exposes itself; it demonstrates that it’s always present and that it’s everywhere, because its principal mission, in addition to causing fear, is to dissuade and advise—lovingly and persuasively—almost like a friend: “Don’t burn yourself, dude.” “Don’t create problems.” “I understand you, compadre, but….” It is, let’s say, a kindly, sensitive executioner, almost deliquescent and ethereal. A “guardian angel” in shirt sleeves, who not only can expel you from Paradise but also put you in prison, which is Purgatory or Hell, depending on the sentence.

Enrique del Risco aptly baptizes it Género totalitario policíaco, the totalitarian police genus. It could also be a species of communist bildungsroman, a kind of Cuban formative novel, the “sentimental education” of the “new man.” Or also police eschatology, because of the persistent phantom who always is persecuting you. Or the neo-Gothic novel of castrismo, with its horrendous monsters. Or comic surrealism. A chance Orwellian 1984 but in the continuous indicative present, up to date, 2017.

The kindness of “the compañero who looks after you” goes in two directions: to control and support you, but also to look for your cooperation, to convert you from being someone suspicious to being an informer. Because creating a snitch is the jewel in the crown for the compañero, and there are many who have been persuaded and are now limping along this path.

Informing has been presented historically as a “revolutionary virtue” from a very old date. In the Soviet Union of Stalin the example of the little pioneer, Pavlik Morózov (1918-1932) was very popular. In a supreme surge of generous militant communism, he denounced his parents and grandparents, who were executed. Then he died, according to the propaganda, assassinated by other vengeful family members, but the latest research in the KGB archives allowed Catriona Kelly to make sure in her book, Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero (2005), that apparently it was the “compañero who looked after him” who liquidated the talkative Pavlik, following higher orders, in order to later dedicate to him statues, books, songs, a symphonic poem, opera and even a movie by the laureate, Sergei Eisenstein (Bezhin Meadow, 1937). This should serve as a wise warning to incautious collaborators that their task is extremely dangerous, not only for their victims, but also for the compañeros themselves. “If there were no heroes, you would have to invent them, whatever the price.” So said the good Koba behind his smoking pipe.

One of the most diabolical perversions of the system is that, in addition to having a mandatory Identity Card, every citizen has a File, but unlike the first, which he must always carry, he never sees the second, although it decides his life the whole time: whether he progresses or not, if he makes progress or fails, if he goes forward or falls back, if he lives or not. And this file has a permanent, dedicated scribe, who is, precisely, the compañero, that “annihilating angel” who doesn’t miss a step or a footfall, a bloodhound always sniffing your tracks, that devoted scribe who writes your Book of Life.

In the twisted, repressive logic of Communism, everyone is guilty and thus punishable. If we are alive, of course we’re committing some sin and various crimes. It’s only a matter of finding out. Therefore, if the Power decides to investigate your life, it will always find something for which to blame and punish you. And if nothing appears, it’s invented: Ángel Santiesteban knows something about this.

It’s a shame that Fidel Castro wasn’t able to read this book, which has him in it as a permanent presence. I imagine he would have enjoyed it a lot, because he would have recognized his most transcendent work. He was fortunate to have a long, although sterile, life, always surrounded by the veneration and obsequiousness of his terrified close friends, and he surely would have enjoyed knowing about the creativity of his subordinates to whom he delegated the honorable task of being vigilantes, in that government that’s a carbon copy of Minority Report, constructed “with the delight of an artist.” The ideal for him was that everyone carry his own vigilante inside, a kind of tortuous doppelgänger or devious old uncle, embedded in the subconscious. This compañero is, therefore, a kind of vampire, insatiable and contaminating. After sucking your blood, he prolongs your life, but also makes it impure, in his image, like his spawn.

But I have a terrible suspicion: In reality, the system and its agents are not really worried about what people think, but rather what they say and do. It’s a kind of tacit complicity that although they imagine, suppose and even know what you think, what really matters is what you do and say, obliging people to act falsely without a break, in a permanent performance, a schizoid, never-ending performance, with an irreparable psychic dissociation which forms the character of the present “new man”: “I know that you don’t like me, but what’s important is that you obey and venerate me.”

Without doubt, one of the most cruelly delicious and masochistic experiences will be when this nightmare regime finally collapses, and people can read the bulging files (that I hope they don’t destroy in their precipitous fall), guarded by State Security, the grand fabric of the “compañeros that take care of us.” I trust that they won’t eliminate them because I know that, perversely, they would want to leave the seed of discord to be sown for 100 more years. But, finally, with the sad truth would come mental, social and individual health. “In 100 years,” said the French aristocrat while he climbed the stairs to the guillotine that awaited him, sharp and thirsty, “all this will be only an anecdote.”

This “compañero who takes care of us” is also a character out of cinema, a comedian in a guayabera or safari outfit, with pockets full of pens and pants, with one pant-leg carelessly but elegantly tucked into a boot. Don’t forget that the dark glasses are an essential part of the image. He deserves a movie that would be shown in festivals of horror films and involuntary humor, like the series Mobil 8 and Sector 40, with that sinister and mocking “Manquito” chasing us everywhere.

You would have to expect now the passionate testimony of the other side, written by them; it could be entitled The Compañeros Who Served, where the magnificent influence that the ones watched had on the vigilantes would be appreciated, obligating them to read philosophy, history and art, and even listen to curta music, in order to understand and be able to monitor their prey better. Such a grand cultural level they would attain thanks to that! Because, let’s not forget—supreme irony—they also have been permanently monitored by their own “compañeros who look after” them.

But the “compañeros who look after you” have also been good teachers and have educated outstanding disciples, and now their presence is not required, since their pupils have become very capable themselves. The cultural officials—Barnet, Prieto, Arrufat and several others—are already so good at that Dark Trade as were in their time the “compañeros who looked after them.” You can’t deny that they had excellent teachers and became magnificent students.

Those “attentive compañeros” have been the same “literary advisers,” “curators of exhibitions,” “vigilant publishers,” “omnipotent and decisive jurors of literary competitions,”… truly protean and know-it-all. And, in addition, very proud of their mission. I remember a famous painter and graphic designer, who proclaimed cheerfully and loudly that he was a “trumpet,” meaning a snitch on his colleagues, for which he was compensated and decorated with the Medal for the Twentieth Anniversary of the Ministry of the Interior. It’s the small vanity of the miserable, the joy he couldn’t hide for this variant of ideological bullying, a surprising cross between a cat and a rat.

If anyone inside this genre merits that a novel be written about him, it would be José Abrantes, perhaps the most dramatic figure in recent times in terms of the artistic tension of conflicts. Possibly someday one of his descendants will decide to write it, since the former Minister was the first instructor and creator of the “compañeros who looked after,” before being looked after himself by his trained trainees.

Although they often are solitary, the “compañeros who look after” can operate in harmonious duos, not at the same time but rather successively: First Good Cop appears, and if you don’t understand the lesson, Bad Cop shows up. Or the opposite, according to the individual. But they’re well distributed, coordinated and organized. They’re a didactic couple, in the purest Makarenko style: all a pedagogic poem. They’re the Stakhanovites of culture and thought, the Lunacharskys of ideas, the Dzerzhinskys of metaphors. In sum: the Dear Enemy.

Enrique del Risco qualifies this large anthology as an anomaly, because the genre obviously will not enjoy commercial success in countries where it’s a living reality, since it belongs to the “literature that is rigorously monitored,” and also because—for understandable mental health reasons—it doesn’t want to be remembered or revived in a society where it has already been eradicated. Thus, it is a thankless and upsetting genre, but one that is necessary so that the experience will not be repeated. This anthology-book (in both meanings) is, then, a text that is not only literary and historic, but also informative and educative. It constitutes a whole Practical Manual of Totalitarian Teaching that is operational. If only for this reason, it deserves to be widely read. Perhaps it would serve others to know—although no one learns through others’ experience—what Cubans have gone through and already suffered (and continue to suffer): those beings that are happy, unworried, playful and always under suspicion, Cortázar’s anxious cronopios and esperanzas, permanently monitored by severe famas.

This book is, on the other hand, a work of catharsis and exorcism, and it could be the genuine Book of Text of the Grand Ministry of Social and Political Domestication. It also can have another use: showing the interior mechanisms of spying and snitching, and it can be an antidote and a preventive prophylactic, with recipes that the great artistic maestros elaborated from their unhappy personal experience of evading, confounding and deceiving that vigilante, that monstrous euphemism that is needed to “look after us,” in order to survive as an efficient and productive element of a dreadful mechanism. This book, possibly, is a collection of recipes to neutralize it.

 Translated by Regina Anavy

[1] Eliseo Alberto de Diego García-Marruz (Arroyo Naranjo, September 10, 1951, Mexico City, July 31, 2011).

[2] The last time he was alive. Later he returned, now cremated into “beloved ashes,” to fulfill his wish to be scattered on the murky waters of the river near the home of his birth, by his Herculean twin sister, Fefé (Josefina de Diego), his striking daughter, María José, and a group of close friends.

[3] With hidden microphones.

[4] The technology, equipment, microphones.

[5] Russians.


The Crisis in Zimbabwe is Barely Mentioned in the Cuban Media / Iván García

Fidel Castro receives Robert Mugabe in the Havana airport, June 8, 1992. Taken from CNN.

Iván García, 20 November 2017 — While Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the oldest dictator in the world at age 93, was giving a televised statement from Harare, surrounded by soldiers and elegantly-dressed officials, many miles away from Zimbabwe, Edna, a history professor at a pre-university, was washing clothes in Havana, in an anachronistic Aurika from the Soviet epoch.

When I ask Edna her opinion on the political crisis in Zimbabwe, she shakes her head and tries to find words that don’t sound trite. “If you ask my kids, I’m sure they don’t know who Robert Mugabe is and they wouldn’t be able to find Zimbabwe on the map. People here are disconnected, although I don’t include myself in this group, since I try to keep up with what’s happening in Cuba and the world,” says Edna, and she adds: continue reading

“I went on internationalist missions twice in Africa, once in Angola and another in South Africa. And I can tell you that those freedom fighters, like José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, ended up being dictators. The honorable exception was Nelson Mandela. Mugabe was in power for 37 years, olympically violating human rights and committing fraud in fake elections. Our press treats him like a king, because in addition to being an ally who always votes in favor of Cuba in international forums, our rulers are a reflection of him. Joaquín Sabina, my favorite singer, says in an interview that the Cuban revolution and the Venezuelan revolutions aren’t aging well. The same is true of the African independence movement, in which Fidel Castro played a big part; the same thing happened.”

To find someone on the streets of Havana who will seriously comment about a foreign event is hard. Most reject a question with a shake of their heads or muddle through with a mechanical response.

But an independent journalist like Juan González Febles always has a response: “It’s logical that the Regime doesn’t offer information. There’s a kind of club of dictators who indulge each other. With the Argentina dictatorship, Fidel Castro did business with the soldiers and offered them aid during the war in the Malvinas. Beginning with Honecker, passing through Ceausescu and ending with Mugabe, the Cuban Regime decorated the whole lot of them with the Order of José Martí. Right now a high-level delegation from North Korea is in Cuba. Almost no other country would permit an official from that rogue state to visit. The media silence comes from a debt of gratitude that the Cuban dictatorship has with the rest of the totalitarian governments in the world.

The State media have barely mentioned the grave political crisis in Zimbabwe that will mark the end of the Mugabe era.

In spite of the slow connection, browsing on the Internet I found that Prensa Latina published an article, reproduced Sunday, November 19 by Cubadebate, with the headline, “President Mugabe deposed as the political leader in Zimbabwe.” The same story was also released in the online editions of Bohemia and Tiempo 21 from Las Tunas. Previously, two “decaffeinated” commentaries were published: one on Thursday, November 16 in Granma (“Zimbabwe, the headline of the week”) and the other on Friday the 17th in Juventud Rebelde (“Discussion of the situation in Zimbabwe”).

However, Telesur, a channel funded with the petrodollars of Hugo Chávez, on Sunday the 19th transmitted the televised conference of Mugabe surrounded by soldiers and officials.

In Cuba, all news media, national or provincial, are directed by the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. And they are always cautious and careful about condemning or criticizing communist governments, governments with leftist tendencies or any that are economic allies.

Nothing has been published on the Island about the corruption in China of the children of high officials and their spectacular lifestyles, and the press is silent about the relatives of Xi Jinping who are implicated in the Panama Papers.

The monarchist tyranny of North Korea is treated with the utmost respect. And you’ll never see the official analysts, experts on the U.S. or the European Union political systems, write an article condemning the testing of nuclear missiles by the Hermit Kingdom Kim family.

However, there’s a surplus of space and ink for counting killings in the U.S. or pointing out statistics on capitalist poverty. But about Zimbabwe, hardly anything is known. Cubans don’t know about the terrible economic situation, with 90 percent of its citizens unemployed, or that the average life span isn’t more than 40 years.

With Africa, the information blackout is redoubled. The role of the Castro autocracy in the struggles for emancipation on that continent is known. Fidel Castro maintained a special friendship with Robert Mugabe. In August 1986, Castro was in Zimbabwe to participate in the Eighth Summit of Nonaligned Countries, which was celebrated in Harare, the capital. For his part, Robert Mugabe made several visits to Cuba, on the following dates: September 1983; 1986 when he was decorated with the Order of José Martí; June of 1992; July of 2002; September of 2003, and September of 2005, according to photos found on Google. His last trip was in November 2016, in order to attend the funeral of his “brother, Fidel.”

Hence the scarce news on what is happening in Zimbabwe with the old friend of Castro the First. Nor do the Cuban media mention the enormous fortune accumulated by Isabel dos Santos in Angola, or the scandals of Teodorín Obiang, son of the intolerable dictator of Equatorial Guinea.

As for Latin America, we’ll never see a reproach against the regimes of Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales or an analysis of the litigation against Lenin Moreno and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The National press never qualified the FARC of Colombia as a terrorist organization. Nor did it publish one line on the detention for narcotrafficking of the nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife.

The media in Cuba are an arm of the Regime. It uses them for the benefit of publicity. The ideology department of the Party isn’t stupid. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot with the monster that they themselves created.

For Cuban readers, Zimbabwe is a socialist democracy and Robert Mugabe is a hero of African independence. And his wife, Grace, repudiated in her country for her love of luxury and her delusions of grandeur, if we give credit to the commentary published in Juventud Rebelde, is an innocent woman who was a child when the war of liberation took place.

If someone wants to be informed objectively and know other points of view, then he must pay one convertible peso, two day’s minimum salary, to navigate on the Internet for one hour. That’s the only way.

Translated by Regina Anavy

A Debt to Bogota / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 25 April 2017 — I had thought of writing about the first impressions that Bogota has left me, impressions deepened by the contrast of a people so warm that they do not seem to carry the burden of six decades of violence. I had thought of writing about a city dominated by churches and bricks, of green mango with lemon and pepper, of the beautiful cadence they give to the Spanish language, even from the loathsome loudspeakers of industrious street vendors. Of that and more I thought to write as yesterday I walked along Seventh Street, full of families on bicycles or Sunday strollers.

But that was yesterday and today, Monday, I can see the details of the standoff in Venezuela, with its macabre stasis. I see Lilián Tintori denouncing the the Public Defender’s office. I see Maria Corina, enormous, confronting an arrest warrant. I see Venezuela without the filter of its state-run network, TeleSur. continue reading

I also saw confirmation that Karla Maria Perez, a young, talented student at the Central University of Las Villas, had been expelled from the school of journalism by her classmates. The reason? She was a member of Somos+, a political movement considered “illegal,” like every group not allied with the government.

On one hand, the Venezuelan people want to rescue democracy. On the other, they deviously send ahead a group of young people, fearful themselves of losing their future if they aren’t convinced. These young people of the Student University Federation who have been deprived of innocence with a cruel lesson, incapable of articulating a question about the disappearance of the bust of Mella in that postcommunist space that now is the Manzana Kempinski (formerly the Manzana Gómez).

No, Bogotá. I can’t write the chronicle that you would have deserved.

The Compañero Who Looks After Me

Angel Santiesteban, 16 October 2017 — Another title of this book could be A Cuban History of Fear. The fear of living (and, above all, of writing) surrounded by an army of police, undercover agents, collaborators and simple snitches in charge of rounding up the misguided souls of Cubans, be they writers or not. But “this book is not a monument to grievance,” insists the anthologist. What is intended is “to collect a small amount of Cuban contributions to a genre already proclaimed by Kafka from the first pages of his unfinished novel, The Trial. The first chapter of the novel, which announces in the first sentence that K. “without having done anything bad, was detained one morning.” A genre that Orwell would continue in 1984, with the addition of hope: “You are a difficult case. But don’t lose hope. Everybody is saved sooner or later. In the end, we will kill you.” A recompilation that stretches from the time of almost artisanal vigilance up to that virtual panoptic that is Facebook. And beyond.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cubans Want More Severe Laws for Criminals / Iván García

Cuban prison. Taken from the blog of Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta.

Iván García, 6 May 2017 — Some people in Cuba, not just a minority, want blood. And more severe laws for criminals.

While the Catholic Church and different international institutions are advocating a crusade to eliminate the death penalty on the Island, there are people who, for many reasons, think firing squads should be reactivated.

If you ask Gisela about the subject, her eyes fill hopelessly with tears. At one time this woman, who is pushing 50, was a brilliant nurse. She formed a model family together with her spouse, an ex-official of a foreign business. They lived in a well-cared-for apartment in Reparto Sevillano, in the south of Havana. continue reading

But the night of December 14, 2010, their marriage took a dramatic turn. “They killed our only son. He was only 15. He was with some friends in El Vedado. A gang assaulted him to take his clothes. Before running away, they stabbed him twice in a lung. After his death, our life changed and got worse. I always wonder, if God exists, where he was that night,” says Gisela.

After the loss of their son, the marriage dissolved. She became a habitual alcoholic. They sold their car and later exchanged their apartment for a smaller one. The money was spent on rum and psychotropics.

Gisela divorced the father of her deceased son, and they put him in a psychiatric hospital. When you ask her opinion about the death penalty or more severe laws for certain crimes, she answers without subtlety: “Whoever kills a person ought to be executed. Look at my case. The criminal who killed my son got 20 years in prison, and for good conduct he served only six and is now back on the street. It’s not fair.”

Those who have lost a family member or friends of violent crime victims are more susceptible and hope for the return of executioners and a State that decrees death.

In Cuba, the crime rate is notably low. Although official statistics are unknown, the Island is a safe place. But gangs of juvenile delinquents and home robberies have increased.

Since 2005, the Cuban Government has had a moratorium on the death penalty. The last convict executed was called “Crazy Victor” in the world of the marginal underground, and he was a sinewy mestizo almost 6’6″ tall, with an assassin’s soul.

At the end of the ’90s, he killed an old woman inside her house in the neighborhood of La Vibora. The day of his arrest he had a shoot-out with police in the style of an American action film.

In the spring of 2004, the Council of State ratified the death penalty for Victor, which was carried out in the adjacent courtyard at the Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison on the outskirts of the capital.

Fidel and Raúl Castro have not held back from pulling the trigger. From the very beginning of January 1, 1959, they used the death penalty to eliminate their recalcitrant enemies and even peaceful dissidents. A lawyer, now retired, relates:

“When an objective academic study is done, without political passion, the exact number of Cubans that the government of Fidel Castro has executed will be known. On principle, they eliminated criminals from Batista’s police and army. Several of these trials were real Roman circuses, televised to the whole country, without the proper judicial guarantees. They took advantage of the situation to deliver justice in order to liquidate the enemies of the revolution.

“In one step, the laws sanctioned the death penalty for betrayal of the country by soldiers, as in the case of General Arnaldo Ochoa. Or the execution of 19 people in an air base in Holguín in 1963, most of them war pilots. Fidel, Raúl and Che signed quite a few death penalties. The figures vary, according to the sources. Some say that 500 were executed; others, 3,000 or more.

“Dissident jurists consider these to be crimes of the State, because they were established offenses that didn’t necessarily call for capital punishment. But the Government claimed it was being persecuted by Yankee imperialism.”

In 2003, after a summary trial, three young black men, residents of Centro Havana, were executed for trying to hijack a boat to leave the country, which they weren’t able to achieve. “It was a counterproductive political error. It was an an act of Fidel Castro’s meant to set an example that cost him the condemnation of world public opinion,” said the ex-lawyer.

In the spring of that same year, among the 75 peaceful dissidents punished with long years in prison by Fidel Castro, who used only words as a weapon, the Prosecutor of the Republic requested seven death penalties. “It was something appalling. Luckily the Government didn’t carry it out. It would have been a crime in all meanings of the word,” said the old lawyer.

As in any revolutionary movement, whether in France, Russia or Cuba, violence begins with force. The death penalty always was a weapon of combat for intimidating the enemy. However, several people consulted considered that while political adversaries were sanctioned excessively or executed in a pit in the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, Cuban justice was too permissive with some blood crimes.

“Right now someone who kills a cow gets more years in prison that someone who kills a human being. I know cases where they got only four or five years in prison in spite of having killed someone. Those who slaughter beef cattle are condemned to 20 or more years of privation of liberty,” says an ex-prisoner.

There are quite a few ordinary Cubans who think that crimes like robbery in occupied homes, sexual violations and other mean-spirited acts should be considered by the State as crimes, and the killers should be executed.

“Although my religion is against the death penalty, I’m in favor of executing those who commit horrendous crimes,” confesses Mayda, who defines herself as a practicing evangelical.

Saúl, who works for himself. considers that in addition to “executing serial killers or psychopaths, they ought to punish other infractions with more years. As in the United States, where they give them life imprisonment for these same crimes. The thugs would think twice before breaking the law.”

But in the opinion of another lawyer, in the case of major crimes or by resuming the death penalty, “the State could be tempted to condition these laws and carry out a purge of the opposition. The subject of the death penalty, whether to abolish it or keep it, should be debated nationally and the citizens should decide by vote.” But Cuba isn’t Switzerland.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Havana: Clandestine Business Deals, Poverty and Glamor / Iván García

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski at night.

Ivan Garcia, 26 April 2017 — When night falls, it’s not advisable to walk through certain neighborhoods in Havana. Like the one from El Curita Park, on Reina and Galiano, up to the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos.

In addition to the disagreeable odor from the sewer water running through the streets, you’ll see propped-up buildings, beggars and drunks hanging out in the doorways, and poor cheap whores on the hunt for the incautious.

More than 10,000 compatriots of the eastern provinces who flee poverty reside illegally in Havana. In the case of Zenaida, a woman from Santiago, who with a bag full of cones of peanuts and chickpeas for sale ambles along toward a rickety room in a rooming house on O’Reilly Street, which she rents. continue reading

There, under the light of an incandescent bulb, she loads several pails of water and waits her turn to bathe in one of the three shared bathrooms of the tenement. After reheating her meal, she turns on the old Chinese television and hopes for the arrival of her 22-year-old son, who makes a living by pedaling 12 hours in a bicitaxi.

“This is what it’s like to live in poverty: eat badly and make a few pesos to survive in the lion’s den. Yes, because in this zone of Havana you have to be a lynx if you want to make a little money,” says Zenaida, seated in an iron chair.

In spite of everything, she doesn’t complain. “In Santiago de Cuba we were worse off. The water supply on the outskirts of the city comes every 40 days, and the money just goes. At least in the capital, although we live like animals, you can make enough money to eat and send detergent and clothing to relatives in Oriente. If I were younger, I would be hooking like some women in the building. But now I can’t do that kind of thing,” confesses Zenaida.

The old part of the city is a network of narrow alleyways with broken asphalt and deteriorated buildings where Cubans live who know their way around the streets.

Here illegalities are not hidden. Any neighbor knows who sells imported marijuana, cocaine delivered from a boat on the coast or who rents half an hour in a room in his house for convertible pesos, so that a client can have a toss in the hay with a prostitute who charges in the national money.

Just in front of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, formerly Manzana de Gómez, which is close to being inaugurated, several blue buses with large windows in Parque Central pick up more than 100 workers from India who are putting the final touches on the first five-star plus hotel in Cuba.

Seated on a marble bench in front of the Kempinski Hotel, José Alberto wonders, “Why are they paying an Indian, 500 dollars a month and Cuban workers, adding up pesos and hard currency, don’t even get 60 dollars?” And he answers himself: “These people (the Regime) don’t respect us. Havana now is the same as during the epoch of Batista. Luxury hotels are for the foreigners, surrounded by poverty, whores and guys who have to clean to earn four pesos. The worst is that there’s no end to this.”

José Alberto is a perfect wildcard. He gets money from the illegal Cuban lottery, parks cars for a home restaurant in the area and fills the cistern with water for the “retired guys in the neighborhood.”

Under the protection of night and avoiding the black-uniformed police with their German Shepherds who patrol the streets at this time, José Alberto asks for money from passing tourists. “The ones from the State (United States) are the most generous, and the Japanese, if they like you. Europeans are the most stingy.”

Old Havana has two opposite faces, distinct levels of life and many ways to earn money, outside the law or behind its back. In the areas restored by the historian Eusebio Leal, with their cobbled streets, renovated buildings, innumerable cafes, restaurants and hard currency shops, the panorama is beautiful.

Two blocks up or down, the landscape is something else. At the entrance to crowded quarters, shirtless men standing in the heat seem to be waiting for a a miracle. Around them are screaming neighbors, Reggaeton at full blast and kids playing soccer with torn tennis shoes and a deflated balloon.

On calle Chacón, a few meters from the Museum of the Revolution, where a garrison of young soldiers at the back of a patio guard the Granma yacht and other relics and trophies of the delirious guerrilla saga of Fidel Castro, there are three elegant bars where tourists calmly drink mojitos and nibble on garlic shrimp.

Nearby, a group of boys, mainly black, sitting on the sidewalk pavement, wait for the foreigners to leave the bars, restaurants or home restaurants to ask them for money, chewing gum or pens.

The revolution of the humble, so promoted by the Castro brothers, today is a slogan without meaning for the poor people of Havana.

Iván García

Note from Tania Quintero: The night photo of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, the first with five-plus stars in Cuba, was taken by Iván García. Up to this date, the hotel installations had not been officially inaugurated, but after putting in shops and luxury boutiques on the ground floor, with showcase windows on the street, every day hundreds of people go to look at and even photograph the clothing and accessories exhibited, with prices that are not within reach for the large majority of the population. Already the first incident happened when they removed the bust of the student leader, Julio Antonio Mella, which had been installed in 1965, from the central patio with access to the public.

An installation artist held a silent protest with a sign that said “Where is Mella?” Without using violence, the police took him away, put him in a vehicle and drove him home. The hotel, constructed by Kempinski, a Swiss company founded in 1897, occupies the space of the old Manzana de Gómez, the first commercial center on the Island, located on Neptuno, San Rafael, Zuleta and Monserrate streets, in the heart of Havana.

Inaugurated in 1910, along its history the Manzana de Gómez housed law offices, commercial businesses, restaurants and cafeterias, among other facilities. The management of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is under Gaviota S.A., a Cuban tourist corporation administered by the military.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Interview with El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) in San Francisco

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, in San Francisco. (Regina Anavy)

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is in San Francisco, planning for the opening of his art exhibit, “Angels and Demons,” at the Immersive ART LAB, 3255A Third Street, May 11, 6-10pm. His exhibit is sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation as part of its Art in Protest series. This interview took place with the translation help of Alexandra Martínez.

Link to exhibit on Facebook

Regina Anavy: Danilo, I know that you’ve already had interviews with the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and other people about your experiences as a political prisoner in Cuba. Now I want to ask you about your artistic process. How you were able to create art while you were in prison?

Danilo Maldonado: I wasn’t able to paint in prison. I could only draw.

RA: How did you get drawing materials?

DM: To draw, all I need is pencils and plain sheets of paper.

RA: Did you have visitors who brought you these materials?

DM: My family brought colored pencils and pens and paper.

RA: Did the authorities try to prevent you from having these materials?

DM: Yes, that happened. They search everything, and a lot of the things they take away. For example, they didn’t let my mother take in my asthma medication, but I could get pens and little notebooks, as long as there was nothing already written on them. continue reading

RA: What did you do without your medication?

DM: A friend provided it for me until my mother finally was able to bring it in.

RA: How did you have the space to draw in a cell with other people?

DM: The same place where I was living and sleeping was the place where I could draw: my bed. I wrote letters but also spent my time drawing.

RA: How did you get your drawings out?

DM: In Valle Grande, I could always get somebody to help me take out the drawings. Someone who worked with an official but who wasn’t part of the searching, even sometimes an official.

RA: So people were mainly sympathetic to you?

DM: Some, yes. When I was in the isolation cell in Valle Grande, a doctor at one point gave me a sheet of paper and a pen so I could draw.

RA: It’s good to know that there were people inside the system who wanted to help you.

DM: Yes.

RA: How long have you been living in Miami?

DM: I’ve been here for roughly four months in total in the U.S.

RA: Are you here permanently or are you planning to go back to Cuba?

DM: At the moment it doesn’t make much sense – it’s not very logical – for me to be in Cuba. I can’t keep going to jail every five minutes. I can’t help my family. Now I’m trying to start a new life here, and I’m trying to focus on my career. There are a few motives for me to return, of course, because that’s my country, that’s my place, but I’m not sure when that will be.

RA: I understand you’re having a baby with Alexandra. Congratulations. How did you two meet?

Alexandra Martinez: I met him over a year ago in Miami. I’m a local journalist in Miami, and he was there for an art show, and I interviewed him, and then a few months later I went to visit family in Cuba and we started dating.

DM: It was her plan to be together. She went after me. And she’s been supporting me ever since. There have been a lot of dark moments but also some nice moments.

RA: Alexandra, are you still working as a reporter in Miami?

Alexandra Martinez: Freelancing. I went with him to Cuba for a month, and I was reporting from there. That was our original plan, for me to do that from Cuba with him, and then he went to jail. There was a moment when they didn’t want me to visit Danilo. They tried taking my camera away, and then when he was in jail they wouldn’t let me see him at first. They said that I was American and I wasn’t really his spouse. So I couldn’t see him. And then I was with his mom trying to visit him, waiting outside the prison, and in that very moment we hear Danilo’s voice, and he’s screaming, “They’re taking me to Combinado del Este.” And that was the first time that Danilo and I had seen each other in a month. They move prisoners around without informing the family. Families have to struggle to find out where the prisoners are, and it was lucky that we were out there.

DM: In 55 days I was moved to six prisons.

RA: And each time your family didn’t know where they had taken you?

DM: No. But I would always find a way to relate the news back to my mom. Whether that was through a prisoner who had recently been released or a friend who worked there, I would always find a way to get the news back to her.

RA: Were you allowed to have telephone calls?

DM: No. It was always very difficult for me to get to the phone. It was complicated, because if the guards helped me they would get into trouble.

RA: Did you have trouble getting a visa to come to the U.S.?

DM: No. I have a five-year travel visa.

RA: Are you planning to study art here?

DM: If they pay me, I will teach. I’m not a student anymore. I absorb what’s going on around me, and it would be difficult for someone else coming from a different tradition, a different place and time to teach me something. I’ve always drawn from when I was little. I had art history professors; then I studied marketing and public relations.

RA: I understand your mother is in Cuba and you also have a daughter there.

DM: Yes, but my mother can’t travel. She doesn’t have a passport. My daughter has a British passport, like her mother, and I’m trying to see if they will be able to come over here, so I can see my daughter.

RA: Is your art recognized in Cuba as much as it is outside?

DM: There are many people who know me, who recognize me in many parts of Cuba, in my neighborhood. I didn’t make myself famous on social media at first. I’m a graffiti artist who invaded the street, and the people on the street know me. It’s a different type of thing, because bloggers, journalists and people who tweet or do interviews are famous on social media, but I’m coming from the street and this gives me a different type of visibility. For example, on May Day, May 1, the activist who went out with the American flag and was beaten, many people had known him and seen him before, but never on the television screen. Although many people would never dare do that, many people now know about him, like the famous Reggaeton artist, Chacal. They will give a shout-out in a concert, and the popular rap group, Los Aldeanos, who are on film, critical of the Regime, have made songs about me as well. Now is when I’m able to take my career to another level of visibility. I’m really just trying to show and teach others through my own conduct.

RA: Do you feel now that you’re outside that you’re getting more information about what is going on in Cuba with opponents of the Regime?

DM: Yes, now I can get a lot more, but I already have my network and I’m well connected. I know what’s going on in my neighborhood.

RA: Is this through the Internet, telephone, word of mouth?

DM: Facebook.

RA: What was your reaction when Obama suddenly ended the wet foot /dry foot policy?

DM: Unfortunately the issue of immigration and people entering the country is really only a concern for the president of that country. Really it was Obama’s decision whether or not to end the policy. The reason Cubans emigrate is not really Obama’s fault. The blame is on the Castro Regime for forcing people to leave. And at the end of the day, I’m more concerned about the problems facing the Cuban people. Even I could have been a victim of the change, of not being able to come into the country, but really the people to blame is the Castro government. The main concern is changing things inside Cuba. The dictatorship is to blame for me even being here right now. The country’s a prison. Look at all the people who attacked the man with the flag. There are people who get attacked and don’t appear on television. But we need to be very clear about who’s to blame here, because maybe even if they [the Castro Regime] are brought to international trial, they could be set free, and we need to be very clear. Who’s to blame? The guard in the prison? The police officer who didn’t want to open the door for me or the security guard who was beating me up for saying something? In this case both of them are guilty.

RA: Our mutual friend, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo wants to ask you this question: Was it easy to find a tattoo artist willing to put the image of the martyrs, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá on your skin? Tell us about that experience and what it means to you.

[There is a You Tube video of the tattooing.]

DM: Yes. A friend made the appointment. I explained what I wanted to do. He told me, “Don’t record my face.” And immediately I had a solo appointment just for me. Another problem with art is that tattoo artists in Cuba are persecuted by the Regime. It’s not a legal business. They don’t give out licenses. Everyone is persecuted.

RA: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has another question: In 2011, in the first article ever published about you, which appeared in Diario de Cuba, he quoted you as saying that you were like “the noise of the people.” Today, six years later, what do you feel is the noise of Cuba?

DM: I believe that there’s some “noise” now with respect to graffiti. There are a few graffiti street artists, like Yulier [Yulier Rodríguez Pérez]. I love his work. He does graffiti on the street, very morose-looking surrealist creatures. He’s not outrightly political; he doesn’t associate himself with anything political. Right now I’m in a process of war against the bad in Cuba, and even heroes like José Martí had to leave Cuba and go into exile for some years. So I consider what I’m doing now to be part of this process, part of this war that I’m fighting. I didn’t leave to forget about what’s going on. I don’t stop working. I don’t stop thinking every moment, every day, about what I started and what I want to achieve. So there’s a lot left to do.

RA: What about what’s happening in Venezuela. What would it take for a movement like that to happen in Cuba?

DM: No, it’s a different situation. The people in Venezuela are completely different.

RA: What do you predict will happen when Raúl steps down in 2018?

DM: I don’t like predictions. The future belongs to the future. But I believe that what comes after Raúl is going to be another Castro. They will put different faces, different people to control the economy, different people to control different sectors, but at the end of the day they’re all puppets for the Regime. And one day they can put up on the television that so-and-so, like Miguel Díaz Canel, is betraying the revolution. Mariela Castro knows what she’s doing with the homosexual community, running around with the flag, and they’re trying to make out that what she’s doing is not a political campaign, not a political strategy, but of course it is. What’s coming is Mariela. That’s what they’re preparing. She’s taking a political platform. And if it were the sons, they would have created a political campaign for them. But the only thing people see is Mariela Castro going around, touting herself, doing whatever she wants and getting away with it, so we can only imagine that she is staging a political campaign to build the next face, the future of the revolution, something progressive, a human rights activist, a woman.

RA: But she wont be officially replacing her father.

DM: No. I wouldn’t dare make that type of prediction, but I can see that she’ll be the president; she’ll be the one controlling everything from behind the scenes. It will all be the same.

RA: So we should talk about your upcoming art exhibit in San Francisco.

DM: I’ll be inside of a cell for three days not eating anything, just drinking water.

RA: And at night?

DM: Same thing. I’ll be drawing portraits of political prisoners to raise awareness not just in Cuba but also in the whole world.

RA: What about a bathroom?

DM: There is one inside the cell.

RA: Are you going to have more of your paintings up in the gallery?

DM: There will be a total of about 20-25 paintings, all the drawings I did in prison and the most recent ones. They will be for sale.

RA: And this exhibit is going on how long?

DM: Two weeks, but I’ll only be there for three days.

RA: What are your future plans?

DM: I’ll continue with my work here. First I’m trying to take my art to the next level. Not just in the U.S. but in the whole world, the free world. Now there’s a show coming up called “Angels and Demons,” on May 11. Then I’m going to Europe for an Oslo Freedom Forum and Internet event, and then in September, this same show is going to Houston. The goal is to not stop working, to build a larger platform, so that when I decide to go back to Cuba, I will have a larger following, a larger layer of protection. We’re dealing with a group of murderers, of assassins, and we don’t know if they will detain me or not, so I have to keep doing what I’m doing. That’s my job.

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, and Alexandra Martinez in San Francisco (Regina Anavy)

Note: This interview is © by Regina Anavy

Exercising Independent Journalism In Cuba Is A State Crime / Iván García

Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro, independent journalists from Camagüey, accused of “usurpation of legal capacity.” Taken from Martí Noticias.

Iván García, 30 March 2017 — Fear has the habit of first knocking on your door. On any night, in a work center or a house, an official of State Security can give a citizen an official citation with an intimidating look.

It could be your sister, a close relative, childhood friends or a neighbor. The strategy is always the same. The assassination of the dissident journalist’s reputation by combining half-truths with treacherous lies.

They play all their cards. From one’s commitment to the Revolution to blackmail and social isolation. continue reading

Since I began a relationship with my wife, a telecommunications engineer, her professional career has been stalled. They control her email and the contents of her work through a magnifying glass. The same thing happens with friends who collaborate on my journalistic notes. It’s an insolent and arbitrary harassment.

The political policy officials in Cuba know they have an all-reaching power. They perform, Olympically, the violation of their own laws of autocracy.

An official of the National Revolutionary Police told me about the problems the State Security agents cause among their staff instructors. “They consider themselves to be above good and evil. They come into the unit and mobilize personnel and resources to detain or repress someone in the opposition. Or they take over an office without even asking permission. They’re a bunch of thugs.”

If you want to know the methods they use to create tensions among families and friends and to cause marital problems, I recommend that you see the documentary on political prisoners in Cuba, Avatares de la familia, made by Palenque Visión and recently premiered in Miami.

When someone gets involved in peaceful dissidence or exercises independent journalism, the family pays the price. If it’s not enough to create concern when a mother, father, spouse or son isn’t going to sleep at home one night; the treacherous State Security tries to dynamite intimate relations with accusations of marital infidelity.

The Regime surely washes its hand like Pontius Pilate when it declares, in international forums, that the Island doesn’t assassinate the opposition or independent journalists. But the fabrication of files with false proof is also a punishable crime.

The beatings of dissident women on public streets or in front of their children have increased. The occupation of work teams and the harassment of independent journalists have become a habitual practice of the political police.

Creed, religion or ideology doesn’t matter. It’s the same repression for neo-communist bloggers like Harold Cárdenas (El Toque Cuba), foreign correspondents like Fernando Rasvberg (Cartas Desde Cuba) or pure reporters like Elaine Díaz, who founded a digital newspaper (Periodismo de Barrio), which covers the country’s vulnerable communities.

For Raúl Castro’s government, disagreeing is a symptom of insubordination and the first step toward dissidence. In the midst of the 21st century, the olive-green State  affirms its right to give permission about what should be written or expressed. Anyone who doesn’t fulfill this precept is a criminal outside the law. Of course, for the openly anti-Castro journalists, the repression is more ferocious.

In the spring of 2003, 14 years ago, Fidel Castro ordered the incarceration of 75 peaceful opponents, 27 of which were independent journalists, among them the poet Raúl Rivero, whose “weapon” was a stack of ballpoint pens, an Olivetti Lettera typewriter and a collection of literature from universal writers.

Some colleagues who write without State permission and with different doctrines believe that the subject of the dissidence in Cuba — although it is packed with problems, divided but real — is hidden by the ideological police, and that those who support the status quo, the cultural policies and ideological thought on the Island, are rewarded.

Recent facts show that the mantle of intolerance, which at times resembles fascist behavior, has no borders. They insult Rasvberg with crude swearwords and detained Elaine and several of her colleagues from Periodismo de Barro when they tried to report on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, just as they systematically harass the independent journalist from Camagagüey, Henry Constantín Ferreiro, who has been the regional Vice President of the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa for some months.

I know Henry personally. He’s a quiet guy, unaffected and creative, and right now the authorities are trying to accuse him of “usurpation of legal capacity,” the same as his colleague, Sol García Basulto. His “crime” is to exercise independent journalism and direct a magazine without State sponsorship.

We Cuban journalists should show solidarity with each other when the State tries to roll over us and shut us up. It doesn’t matter what each of us thinks. We all have the right to freely express our opinions.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King: You don’t have to love me, I only ask that you don’t lynch me.


Translated by Regina Anavy

Volunteer Blood Donors Ignore The Cuban Regime’s Business Dealings / Iván García

Mobile blood bank in Santiago de Cuba, Take from Changenewstoday.

Iván García, 6 March 2017 — A sloppy piece of cardboard painted with a crayon announces the sale of a discolored house in the neighborhood of La Vibora, 30 minutes by car south of Havana.

If Amanda, the owner, who is raving poor, manages to sell the house for the equivalent of 40,000 dollars, she intends to buy two small apartments, one for her daughter and the other for her son.

The house urgently needs substantial repairs. But Amanda’s family doesn’t have the money needed to undertake the work. Frank, 36, her son, is the custodian of a secondary school and earns a monthly salary of 365 Cuban pesos, around 17 dollars, and to help support the family, he’s a blood donor. continue reading

The Cuban regime doesn’t pay for these donations. Frank, who gives blood up to two times a month, should receive some 10 pounds of meat, a half-kilo of fish and three pounds of chicken.

“There are always delays. It’s a pain. In every municipality there’s a warehouse assigned to distribute this food to the blood donors. But it never happens. And what is worse, the government doesn’t reinstate you. For example, you never receive fish. Several of us donors sent a letter to the Ministry of Public Health complaining about the lack of supplies, but we’ve never received an answer,” complains Frank.

The material insecurity in Cuba is brutal. A growing number of families have furniture in their homes that is half a century old, or more. They lack modern appliances and must make their clothing and shoes last forever.

But the biggest problem is food, which devours between 80 and 90 percent of the average salary, which, according to official data, is the equivalent of 26 dollars a month.

Odalys, a nurse in a blood bank, says that “most volunteer donors give blood in order to take some food home. There are also people who occasionally give blood in order to receive a little snack of ham and cheese and a soft drink.”

The CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) are paramilitary organizations, created as embryos of support for special services, to collect commodities. They also conduct night patrols to expose dissidents and those suspected of “illicit enrichment,” an aberrant judicial heading applied by the Castro government to any person who improves his quality of life.

Also, the CDRs have campaigns for blood donations. A resident of Lawton, the president of a CDR, affirms that “every time there are fewer people who want to donate blood. The CDRs have become a mess. They’re only busy snitching on the dissidents. They haven’t done night duty for some time on my block, much less organized recreational activities.”

Danaisis, who’s been a doctor for three years, recognizes that “even in the large hospitals in Havana, where there are dozens of surgical interventions every day, they don’t have sufficient plasma in their blood banks. When a patient has to have an operation, family members must donate blood. Or buy it from people at 20 dollars a donation.”

Like Frank and the rest of blood donors in the 10 de Octubre municipality, the nurse, Odalys, and the doctor, Danaisis, don’t know that the State exports, annually, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of human blood derivatives.

According to María Welau, the executive director of the Cuba Archive project, in an article published June 4, 2016, in Diario de Cuba, “For decades, the Cuban State has coordinated a multimillion dollar business, based on the commerce of blood extracted from its citizens, who ignore this trafficking and don’t receive any remuneration for their donations. Already in the middle of the 1960s, reports indicate that Cuba sold blood to Vietnam and Canada. In 1995, Cuba exported blood worth 30.1 million US dollars, and this commerce represented its fifth export product, surpassed only by sugar, nickel, shellfish and cigars.”

Werlau provides figures. “These exports don’t appear in the official statistics of the Cuban Government, published by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), but data from the world commerce indicate that in the 20 years between 1995 and 2014, Cuba exported 622.5 million dollars worth of human blood derivatives — which gives an average of 31 million dollars a year — under the category of Uniform Classification for International Commerce (SITC 3002), for human blood components (plasma, etc.) and medical products derived from plasma (PDMP is the acronym in English).

Cuba: Exports of human or animal blood prepared for therapeutic uses (in dollars)

In this article, the Cuba Archive Director denounces the fact that “the largest amount of these exports has been allocated to countries whose authoritarian governments are political allies of Cuba, probably to state entities that apply less strict criteria and have the same ethical standards (Iran, Russia, Vietnam, Algeria until 2003; then to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador).

“According to Cuban Government reports, 93 percent of all units of human blood collected are broken into their components, which permits a much more lucrative business than if only plasma is sold, and facilitates the production of derivatives of high value, like interferon, human albumin, immunoglobulins, clotting factors, toxins, vaccinations and other pharmaceutical products. This export commerce gives Cuba a considerable advantage over its competitors, because it saves the usual cost represented by payments to the doors, whose blood is the raw material of the business.”

Exporting plasma, whether animal or human, isn’t a crime. What’s despicable is the lack of transparency of Raúl Castro’s regime. Or that Cubans like Frank have to give blood in exchange for a handful of meat and a few pounds of chicken. Food that the State doesn’t deliver most of the time.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Cuban Regime Survives by Fear / Iván García

Black berets with dogs patrolling the center of Havana. Taken from the Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios.

Iván García, 21 March 2017 — In the slum of Lawton, south of Havana, the need for housing has converted an old collective residence with narrow passageways into a bunkhouse. With dividers made from cardboard or bricks recovered from demolished buildings, “apartments” have appeared where a dozen families reside, living on the razor’s edge.

Among the blasting Reggaeton music and illegal businesses, cane alcohol, stolen the night before from a state distillery, is sold and later used in the preparation of home-made rum; or clothing with pirated labels, bought in bulk from stalls in Colón, a stone’s throw from the Panama Canal. A while back, when cattle were slaughtered in the Lawton or Virgen del Camino slaughterhouses, you could get beef at the wholesale price.

These overpopulated townships in the capital are cradles of prostitution, drugs and illegal gambling. Lawton, like no other neighborhood in Havana, is the “model” for marginalization and crime. People live from robbing state institutions, selling junk or whatever falls from a truck. continue reading

But don’t talk to them about political reforms, ask them to endorse a dissident party or protest about the brutal beatings that the political police give a few blocks away to the Ladies in White, who every Sunday speak about political prisoners and democracy in Cuba.

Let’s call him Miguel, a guy who earns money selling marijuana, psychotropic substances or cambolo, a lethal mix of cocaine with a small dose of bicarbonate. He’s been in prison almost a third of his life. He had plans to emigrate to the United States but interrupted them after Obama’s repeal of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

Miguel has few topics of conversation. Women, sports, under-the-table businesses. His life is a fixed portrait: alcohol, sex and “flying,” with reddened eyes from smoking marijuana.

When you ask his opinion about the dissident movement and the continued repression against the Ladies in White, he coughs slightly, scratches his chin, and says: “Man, get off that channel. Those women are crazy. This government of sons of bitches that we have, you aren’t going to bring it down with marches or speeches. If they don’t grab a gun, the security forces will always kick them down. They’re brave, but it’s not going to change this shitty country.”

Most of the neighbors in the converted bunkhouse think the same way. They’re capable of jumping the fence of a State factory to rob two gallons of alcohol, but don’t talk to them about politics, human rights or freedom of expression.

Mi amor, who wants to get into trouble? The police have gone nuts with the businesses and prostitution. But when you go down the path of human rights, you’re in trouble for life,” comments Denia, a matron.

She prefers to speak about her business. From a black bag she brings out her Huawei telephone and shows several photos of half-nude girls while chanting out the price. “Look how much money. Over there, whoever wants can beat them up,” says Denia, referring to the Ladies in White.

Generally, with a few exceptions, the citizens of the Republic of Cuba have become immune or prefer to opt for amnesia when the subjects of dissidence, freedom and democracy are brought up.

“There are several reasons. Pathological fear, which certainly infuses authoritarian societies like the Cuban one. You must add to that the fact that the Government media has known very well how to sell the story of an opposition that is minimal, divided and corrupt, interested only in American dollars,” affirms Carlos, a sociologist.

Also, the dissidence is operating on an uneven playing field. It doesn’t have hours of radio or television coverage to spread its political programs. The repression has obligated hundreds of political opponents to leave the country. And State Security has infiltrated moles in almost all the dissident groups.

“The special services efficiently short-circuit the relation of the neighbors of the barrio and the people who support the dissidence. How do you overcome that abyss? By expanding bridges to the interior of the Island. I believe the opposition is more focused on political crusades toward the exterior. The other is to amplify what the majority of Cubans want to hear: There isn’t food; to buy a change of clothing costs a three months’ salary; the terrible transport service; the water shortage….There is a long list of subjects the dissidents can exploit,” says Enrique.

I perceive that around 80 percent of the population has important common ground with the local opposition. The timid economic openings and repeals of absurd regulations were always claimed by the dissidence, from greater autonomy for private work, foreign travel or being tourists in their own country.

According to some dissidents, many neighbors approach them to say hello and delve into the motives for their detentions after a brutal verbal lynching or a beating. But there aren’t enough.

Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, the leader of the Alianza Democrática Oriental (Eastern Democratic Alliance) and director of Palenque Visión (Palenque Vision), felt frustrated when street protests demanding rights for everybody were taking place, and people were only watching from the curb of a sidewalk.

“One night I was in the hospital’s emergency room, since my son had a high fever, and I initiated a protest because of the poor medical attention. Several patients were in the same situation. But no one raised their voice when the patrols arrived and the political police detained me by force. That night I realized that I had to change my method to reach ordinary Cubans. Perhaps the independent press is a more effective way,” Lobaina told me several months ago in Guantánamo.

Although independent journalists reflect that other Cuba that the autocracy pretends to ignore, their notes, reports or complaints have a limited reach because of the lack of Internet service and the precariousness of their daily lives.

For the majority of citizens, democracy, human rights and freedom of expression are not synonymous with a plate of food, but with repression. How to awaken a Cuban from indifference is a good question for a debate.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Qatar Complains About Cuban Care Providers With HIV / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 February 2017 — Qatar authorities presented an official complaint before Eumelio Caballero Rodríguez, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Cuba, because during the obligatory health exam of the Cuban health workers they detected some cases of Cuban doctors infected with HIV.

This was expressed in an email from the Embassy of Cuba in the State of Qatar, which landed like a tsunami in the office of the Minister of Public Health of Cuba. Here are a few fragments:

“Beginning now, all [Cuban] care providers who leave for Qatar must bring a certificate from the Provincial Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology that shows the results of an HIV test.” continue reading

“Urgent,” says the message. “These 15 cases listed here arrived in Qatar the past month of January without said document, and three of them tested positive in the required check for entry to the country, and now we are requesting an explanation for this.”

“Gentlemen,” continues the missive, “This must not happen again. It is required that you take disciplinary measures against the provinces of the implicated care providers.”

It should be pointed out that Qatar is a State mediator and negotiator in Middle Eastern conflicts, and its principal interest in Cuba is concentrated in medical services, considered the backbone of relations between both countries. This is why, in January of 2012, the Hospital of Dukhan was created, which today has more than 400 Cuban professionals, including doctors, nurses and technicians in the fields of rehabilitation, odontology, medical laboratories, bio-medicine and radiology.

Furthermore, the incident puts at risk the confidence of the Arab Emirates, which, with the third largest world reserve of natural gas and the largest income per capita on the planet, has shown interest, in addition to health, in exploring other spheres of business, for example: financing the extraction and commercialization of Cuban marble, the construction of five-star hotels on the island and the implementation of an airlines operation between Qatar Airways and Cubana de Aviación.

Of course, I’m convinced that we won’t read anything about this disagreeable incident, absolutely nothing, in the official Cuban press.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector / Iván García

Police raids against private vendors are common in Havana.

Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2017 — Marino Murillo, the presumptive tsar of economic reforms in Cuba, a prime minister with broad powers, passed up a seat in the first row next to the senior staff of a long-lived revolution governed by an exclusive club of elders who, as a group, have lived almost 500 years, to take a seat in the third row, far from the spotlight and the cameras.

In closed societies, where rumors are more truthful than the information offered by the State press, you have to learn to read between the lines. Lacking a government office that offers public information to its citizens, academics, journalists and political scientists, you must look with a magnifying glass at the most insignificant signs. continue reading

That morning in December 2015, when the autocrat Raúl Castro feigned indignation before the more than 600 deputies of the monotone national parliament about the abusive prices of agricultural products, was the beginning of the end for Marino Murillo.

Castro II requested that measures be applied. And not very consistently, alleging the law of supply and demand that governs the produce markets, Murillo mumbled that he would try to implement different regulations to try to curb the increase in prices.

Apparently this wasn’t sufficient. The previous super-minister fell into disgrace, and now not even his photo appears in the official media, although theoretically he continues at the front of the agenda, charged with implementing the economic guidelines, a kind of commandment that moves at a snail’s pace and with serious delays: In six years, only a little more than 20 percent of the guidelines have been implemented.

With the fading-out of fatso Murillo, the dynamic of timid economic reforms — together with openings in the obsessive defense of Fidel Castro, who transformed Cubans into third-class citizens — the game began to be directed by the most rancid and conservative of the military leadership.

It was essential to open to the world and repeal the feudal exit permit needed to travel outside the island, to permit Cubans to rent hotel rooms and to buy or sell houses, among other normal regulations in any country in the 21st century.

There is no doubt that this was a leap forward, with barriers, absurd prices and spite for people who make money. Yes, in Cuba they sell cars, but a Peugeot 508 is worth more than a Ferrari, and you must pay cash.

The Internet and cell phones are not exactly tools of science fiction, but the price for service is insane for a country where the average salary is 25 dollars a month.

The supposed reforms were always incomplete. They were left halfway. Cubans cannot invest in large businesses; professionals don’t have authorization to work for themselves, and the State claims the right to establish a ridiculous list of jobs that are or are not permitted.

Of the 201 authorized jobs, there are at least 10 or 15 enterprises where, with creativity and effort, you can make large sums of money, always taking into account the Cuban context, where anyone who earns 10,000 Cuban pesos a month (about $400) is considered “rich.” This is a country where for almost 60 years, the average citizen is sponsored by the State.

Of course the regulations, excessive taxes, harassment by State inspectors and a deadly clause in the Government’s economic bible, which prohibits persons or groups from accumulating large sums of capital, hinder prosperity and the boom in private work.

In a nation where the Government has been in charge of clothing, shoeing, rewarding or punishing its citizens, a margin of liberalism, as small as it is, was an oasis for a half million entrepreneurs who now live on the margins of the State.

The starting shot that would put the handbrake on the reforms began on December 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and General Raúl Castro, of mutual accord, put an end to the incredible Cold War between Cuba and the United States.

Once out of the trenches, Obama began to launch packets of measures with the marked intention of favoring private workers. The Regime didn’t like that.

They wanted to do business with the gringos but with their own State enterprises, not to empower the private ones. Then, progressively, the Castro autocracy started to slow down the dynamic sector, probably the only one that was growing on the Island, that paid salaries from three to five times more than the State, and which gave employment to some 20 percent of the work force.

In autumn of 2015, a negative dynamic began. Presently only 30 percent of the supply-and-demand produce markets are functioning. The State harasses and penalizes the cart vendors who sell meat, fruit and vegetables, and they have declined by 50 percent. The State closed the largest produce market in Trigal, south of Havana, and the Taliban juggernaut expects to increase with regulations and taxes on all the buoyant businesses in gastronomy, transport and hotel services.

What’s this new “revolutionary offensive” about? I don’t think it has the reach of the confiscations of french fry stands and shoeshine stalls of 1968, or the counter-reforms for certain openings in the 1980s and ’90s.

But it’s undeniable that the Regime doesn’t want the train to derail. Presently there’s a small segment of Cubans, between 60,000 and 100,000 persons, who have amassed small fortunes thanks to their taste and talent for business.

We’re talking about 100,000 dollars going forward, an insignificant figure in any First World country, but extraordinary in a country impoverished by the poor management of the Castro brothers.

In addition to pleasure and social status, money engenders power. While Castroism functions in Cuba, private businesses will not be able to prosper. This is the reason for the brakes put on the private owners.

A word of advice to the olive green Regime: Be careful with excesses. In December 2010, an abusive fine on the owner of a food stand, Mohammed Buazisi, who out of contempt immolated himself, put a final end to the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali and unchained the Arab Spring.

In its present offensive against the private taxi drivers, the Cuban authorities shouldn’t forget what happened in Tunisia a little more than six years ago. In societies of order and control, the devil is always in the details.


Translated by Regina Anavy

Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Taken from Habana Live.

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era. With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. “When I stop driving, it’s felt in the house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that’s not true,” says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad. continue reading

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. “There are two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each year, by using some ruse,” he comments, and he adds:

“The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren’t working are erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us for, is something that they haven’t resolved. If my business is one of supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices. It doesn’t concern the State. If they want to improve public transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can see how low prices have fallen,” says Pastor, who, as we’re chatting, becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the conversation.

“This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State doesn’t give a shit about helping us. They don’t give us so much as a single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed prices on a route,” says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will note their barely-contained irritation. “It’s simple: If the government continues fucking with me, I’ll surrender my State license tomorrow and work under the table. Actually, there’s a ton of people who are doing that. They don’t have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal taxi drivers,” says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his accounting. “I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban pesos daily. But I don’t have any rest. I kill myself working.”

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of the authorities. “What would it cost the government to meet with us and negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It’s true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State, but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force it on people, an old government custom.”

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8, the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in Havana. “The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they’ve had the balls to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución, but don’t try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the passenger,” comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de la Fraternidad.

“The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who’s really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. “It’s an undeclared war on private workers. Why don’t they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs.”

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the State as a leasing fee.

The government isn’t stupid. They’re not going to start a battle with taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García

Caricature by Pinilla taken from Diario Las Américas.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — As if by magic, the irreverent and prosaic Donald Trump is the man of the hour for Cubans who have plans to emigrate. “He’s the guy; there’s no one else. If he orders it, the United States will open its doors,” says Miguel, emphatically, while he drives a ramshackle collective taxi down Infanta Avenue.

His comment intensifies the polemic of five passengers who shout above the odor of gasoline that filters through the old car’s patched-up exhaust pipe and the unbearably loud music.

“Obama is a real son-of-a-bitch. If Cubans allow their Government to step all over them it’s because they have the possibility of hauling ass out of Cuba. Tell me who here doesn’t have a family member in the States?” asks a corpulent mulatto. continue reading

Everyone wants to talk at once and give their opinion on the subject. Some analyses are puerile; others border on political science fiction, like that of Magda, a primary school teacher, who, from the back seat of the taxi, advises Trump to “accept all the Cubans who want to leave. Most will work at anything. You think there isn’t space in the U.S. for 11 million Cubans?” she says, and the other passengers smile.

Right now, the fashionable subject in Havana is the repeal of the wet foot-dry foot policy. A collection of sad, crushed people react to the announcement as if they received a direct blow to the chin by a heavyweight.

“Listen, brother, I sold my house to go to Guyana. My plan was to cross the Mexican border and enter the U.S. Now it’s impossible. But I’m going to get out anyway I can. Even through Haiti, I’m telling you,” says Jean Carlos, a veterinarian.

At Christmas time, Diego flew to Uruguay with his wife to travel to Laredo and cross the border into El Paso. “I’m devastated. I didn’t leave with much money. Now I’ll look for a job in Uruguay and see later where to go. But I’m not returning to Cuba. I have nothing there. I sold everything. If I’m going to start all over let it be in any other country,” he says by Internet.

The same thing happened to Yosvani and his wife, Mildred. The couple flew to Rome in November, on a tourist package. With a one-month visa they crossed the border and settled in Spain.

“Here we’re together with a group of illegal Cubans. My wife found a job taking care of an old man. I worked for a week cleaning a bar, but the owner paid me only four euros. My mother already sold my apartment in Havana and sent me the money that I wanted to use to go to Cancun, Mexico. But now with this news I have to stay here. My hope is that Trump will reverse the measures that Obama approved,” he says, through Instant Messenger.

The new panorama, presumably, will not put the brakes on those who have plans to emigrate. “It can change everything. But then people will try their luck in another country or will come to the U.S. through marriage or by other tricks. I have my eye on Panama. I liked the city and the people when I went to buy junk to sell in Havana. The one place I can’t be is Cuba. You can’t do anything here. You can’t move. The last person who leaves, please turn off the lights in El Morro,” (the castle fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay) confesses Maikel in a wifi park in Vedado.

Even those who have relatives in the U.S. don’t think they have enough patience to get there by family reunification. “My father has been in Miami for five months and is already working. When he has his residence papers he’s going to claim me. But how long will all this paperwork take? Three, four years can go by. If I can, I’ll leave before. Here in Cuba I have no future,” comments Germán, a university student.

Obama has passed from being a hero to being a villain. From that president, who 10 months ago in Havana gave a memorable speech, saying that Cuba should change and bet on democracy, to being persona non grata.

It’s the opposite with Donald Trump. The Cuban who drinks only coffee for breakfast, indoctrinated by the international press, always saw the wealthy New York businessman as an extravagant weirdo. A rich guy who by pure caprice got into the world of politics.

“The guy’s a time bomb. When he explodes, no one knows what’s going to happen. Trump thinks that politics is a reality show. It would be a miracle if in the next four years the world equilibrium doesn’t change. He’s poorly educated, an egomaniac with the soul of a tyrant; and thousands of Cubans who are thinking of emigrating are placing their faith in him,” says Norge, a political science graduate.

Like in an Agatha Christie crime novel or a suspense film, the roles have been reversed. Goodbye Barack Trump. Welcome Donald Obama. The world has been turned upside down, and not only for Cuban emigrants.

Translated by Regina Anavy