Cuban Professionals do Business Under the Table / Ivan Garcia

La-visita-de-Rihanna-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 28 June 2015 — Already by noon, Óscar has downloaded two terabytes of audiovisual material from the Internet. Taking advantage of his lunch hour some place nearby, he hands over the flash drive to the person who is in charge of loading the “weekly packet,” a compendium of documentaries, serials, soap operas and sports, which later will circulate clandestinely throughout the Island at the speed of light.

Óscar has worked for a decade in a State organization where he can capture the television satellite signal. “They don’t only hack private businesses. The State is a big pirate; without paying for authors’ rights, under the pretext of the blockade (the embargo), it transmits U.S. programs on public television. I also take advantage of this and sell audiovisuals under the table, and a guy pays me 40 CUCs for two terabytes.”

Valeria, surreptitiously, also is involved in piracy. “I work in a center where they send the international cable signal to tourist centers. Sometimes they ask me to upload a series or the last part of the NBA play-offs. They pay me well and it’s something I can do without having problems.”

The powerful State control implemented by the olive-green autocracy has for 56 years found multiple fissures with the arrival of new technologies. And like dust, censured news and MLB games with Cuban baseball players spread throughout Cuba.

These information leaks come from anonymous professionals who have set up small businesses that let them get some extra money, five times more than their laughable salaries.

Rogelio works for an Internet distributor in Havana. During the day he uploads Android and Windows applications for mobile telephones, tablets and computers, which he later sells to the owner of a repair workshop for computer equipment.

Taking advantage of the high volume of calls to Florida, some have managed to divert technologies and software from ETECSA, the State telecommunications monopoly, and they have set up telephone booths in their homes for international calls, at 25 cents for one minute, 60% cheaper than what the State offers.

Frequently, forces joined with State Security and the Ministry of Communications and Computer Information unleash operatives in order to dismantle parallel Wi-Fi networks, Internet connections and clandestine international telephone calls.

For every network that is illegal, two new ones show up quickly. “It’s like cutting the head off a snake; several more grow.” As long as the Government controls, prohibits and over-prices the Internet and international calls, clandestine networks will exist,” argues Miguel, who, after several years of designing parallel networks, has become a real expert at camouflaging cables, illegal Wi-Fi connections and satellite television signals.

Orlando, an economist, considers that in addition to the absurd prohibitions typical of closed societies, the Government laws that prevent professionals from doing private work have opened a discrete revolving door that is being used to make money during the work day.

“It happens everywhere. In a hospital, a nurse or a doctor steals medications and sells them on the black market. Or a computer technician uses his work computer to create a web site for the owner of a particular business,” explains the economist.

It’s not news that some doctors consult in their own homes with trusted patients who pay them under the table. “A mutual trust is created. The doctor can take care of you personally. He writes a prescription and gets the medication for you if it’s not in a pharmacy. Or he gives you an exam that you would normally have to wait months for. People give them 20 or 25 CUCs, more if it’s a serious illness. Silently, we have passed from the family doctor created by Fidel Castro, already in low supply, to the private doctor,” says Luís, who goes to a doctor outside the hospital.

For the last six years, Norma takes her son to a dentistry professor. “For each consult, I discreetly give her 20 CUCs. First, it’s the attention. And while they don’t have anaesthetics and equipment in the dental clinics, when you pay a dentist, everything appears as if by magic.”

The low salaries of primary and secondary school teachers are the genesis of the explosion in furtive tutors. Frequently the teachers who give classes during the day, in the afternoon or nights, for 5 CUCs a month, tutor primary or secondary school students in their homes.

“Families that can do it pay for tutoring for their kids. It’s not easy to suspend a kid who is tutored by an active teacher. There are school directors who also are tutors. The lack of money forces them to do it,” says the mother of a child who attends these sessions.”

Cases have been brought to light in Havana of notorious frauds where professors and directors sell exams at prices that fluctuate between 15 and 25 CUCs. Now the fraud is more subtle.

The day before the test, the teacher whispers it into the ears of the students she tutors, so they can pass.

Iván García

Photo: While she rode in a convertible along the Malecón, many Cubans were able to photograph the singer Rihanna (b. Barbados, 1988) with their cell phones. At the beginning of June 2015, Rihanna was in Havana to do a fashion shoot and make a video. Owing to the increase in smartphones, laptops and tablets in Cuba, there is a lot of business under the table for the repair of these devices. Taken from the magazine Trabajadores (Workers).

Translated by Regina Anavy