Last summer, 48-year-old Lisván, owner of a small photographic studio in a neighbourhood in the east of Havana, personally suffered the consequences of the absurd prohibitions that the Castro regime imposes on its citizens.
With the profits made from his business and after saving a part of the money sent to his family from abroad, he stayed for five nights with his wife and daughter in the hotel Meliá Marina Varadero, for 822 pesos convertibles.
“On the beach I struck up a friendship with a group of Canadians. One morning they wanted to invite me to come fishing on a yacht they had rented. But, in spite of being a guest at the hotel, the marina hotel management did not allow it. No Cuban citizen, resident in the island, is allowed to get on a boat with a motor, without government permission” said Lisván.
Ten years ago, the prohibitions were even stranger. Cubans could not stay in luxury hotels, rent cars or have a cellphone line.
If you sit down in a hotel lobby, you become a suspicious person in the eyes of State Security. With Raúl Castro’s coming to power, following his brother Fidel’s executive with its fingers in everything, various discriminatory regulations were repealed.
The Cubans were third class citizens in their own country. Óscar, a barman in a five star hotel in Havana, fought as a private soldier in the civil war in Angola.
“The ones who supported Fidel, who hardly could eat anything in our country because of the scarcity, we were not allowed to go into a foreign friend’s apartment. And the Cubans who went off to Florida, called ’worms’ by the government, had the right to enjoy the tourist centres. It was an Olympic-sized contradiction”, recalls Óscar.
In the winter of 2015 these prohibitions no longer exist. But various regulations which breach the inalienable rights of the island’s citizens remain in force.
They talk a lot about the the US economic and financial embargo on the Raúl Castro regime, with arguments for and against, but not much is said in the international forums about the olive green state’s embargo on its people.
The internal embargo has become more flexible, but we Cubans still don’t have the right to open an internet account at home, travel or fish in a motor boat or access certain health services reserved exclusively for foreigners.
Civil rights hardly exist. They forbid the formation of political parties. Demonstrations in the street. Workers’ strikes. independent trade unions, free popular elections to elect a president. Independent newspapers or arranging to watch cable TV.
It’s an imprisonable crime to personally offend the President. And, since 2002, following a campaign by Fidel Castro, no civil groups may introduce a proposal to change the Constitution.
The system is perpetual. The Cuban leaders are an untouchable caste. The people owe duties to them, not the other way round. Only the state can put out news, books and movies.
Although independent journalists do exist, as well as dissident parties and an emerging civil society, the government maintains legislation which allows the sanctioning of political disagreement with years in jail.
Cuba is the only country in the Western hemisphere where political opposition is illegal. Making fun of or caricaturing executives of the autocracy is not permitted. A magazine like Charlie Hebdo is impossible in the island.
Discriminatory rules which prohibit Cubans going where they want in their own country are still in force. Like decree 217 of 1997. the Ministry of the Interior dismantles small local wifi networks where youngsters play on the internet, send movies, or chat.
And some of these perverse regulations have gained a new lease of life. The customs service has implemented a group of measures to to stop Cuban travellers bringing things in.
These rules affect the quality of life and the pockets of Cuban families. Ask Migdalia, an engineer, about this. In the last two months she has spent 75 CUC to receive parcels exceeding the one and a half kilos authorized by the customs.
There weren’t any “counter-revolutionary” leaflets or luxury items in the suitcases. Just clothes and presents for her daughter’s birthday. It is the Castro government’s embargo that is the more damaging to the Cuban in the street. The other one, the US one, gets the media attention but is less effective.
Photo: Cubans can’t rent or get into yachts or other types of boats in Meliá Marina Varadero, or other hotels or places on the coast. Taken by Cuba Contemporánea.
Translated by GH
6 February 2015