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Gabriel García Márquez was a gifted writer but no hero
By Charles Lane, Thursday, April 24, 2:03 AM

Statesmen eulogized Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez,
who died at age 87 on April 17. "The world has lost one of its greatest
visionary writers — and one of my favorites from the time I was young,"
President Obama said; he called the author of "One Hundred Years of
Solitude" "a representative and voice for the people of the Americas."
Juan Manuel Santos, president of García Márquez's native country, hailed
him as "the greatest Colombian of all time."

The obituary of García Márquez that I would most like to read will never
be written. That is because its author would have been the Cuban poet
Heberto Padilla — who passed away 14 years ago. No one was better
qualified to assess the weird blend of literary brilliance and political
rottenness that characterized García Márquez's long career.

In 1968, just as "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was propelling García
Márquez to fame, Padilla published a collection of poems titled "Out of
the Game." Cuba's cultural authorities initially permitted and even
praised Padilla's book, despite its between-the-lines protest against
the official thought control that was already suffocating Cuba less than
a decade after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

Then instructions changed: The Castro regime began a campaign against
Padilla and like-minded intellectuals that culminated in March 1971,
when state security agents arrested Padilla, seized his manuscripts and
subjected him to a month of brutal interrogation.

The poet emerged to denounce himself before fellow writers for having
"been unfair and ungrateful to Fidel, for which I will never tire of
repenting." He implicated colleagues and even his wife as

Intellectuals around the world, led by García Márquez's fellow star of
the Latin American literary "boom," Mario Vargas Llosa, condemned this
Stalinesque spectacle. Many cultural figures who had backed the Cuban
revolution soured on it because of the Padilla affair.

For García Márquez, however, it was a different kind of turning point.
When asked to sign his fellow writers' open letter to Castro expressing
"shame and anger" about the treatment of Padilla, García Márquez refused.

Thereafter, the Colombian gradually rose in Havana's estimation,
ultimately emerging as a de facto member of Castro's inner circle.

Fidel would shower "Gabo" with perks, including a mansion, and
established a film institute in Cuba under García Márquez's personal

The novelist, in turn, lent his celebrity and eloquence to the regime's
propaganda mill, describing the Cuban dictator in 1990 as a "man of
austere habits and insatiable dreams, with an old-fashioned formal
education, careful words and fine manners, and incapable of conceiving
any idea that isn't extraordinary."

To rationalize this cozy relationship, García Márquez offered himself as
an ostensible go-between when Castro occasionally released dissidents to
appease the West.

What Gabo never did was raise his voice, or lift a finger, on behalf of
Cubans' right to express themselves freely in the first place.

Far from being "a representative and voice for the people of the
Americas," he served as a de facto spokesman for one of their oppressors.

García Márquez went so far as to defend death sentences Castro handed
out to politically heterodox Cuban officials — one of whom had been
personally close to the writer — after a 1989 show trial.

One can imagine many motivations for this shabby behavior, some more
comprehensible than others. A youthful dabbler in Communist Party
activity in the 1950s, García Márquez belonged to a generation of Latin
American intellectuals for whom anti-imperialism was an ideological
given, as well as a badge of sophistication; perhaps he never outgrew that.

"Friendship" with men like Fidel Castro is hard to escape — though,
given the benefits he reaped from that relationship, tangible and
otherwise, it's doubtful García Márquez ever contemplated a break with
Fidel, even secretly.

Whatever their causes, García Márquez's Cuba apologetics will forever
mar his legacy. True literary greatness is a function of not only
narrative skill and linguistic creativity, which García Márquez
possessed in abundance, but also moral courage, which he lacked. Against
the multiple evils, social and political, that plagued his native
region, he bore witness too selectively.

Castro finally let Heberto Padilla leave Cuba for the United States in
1980. In his 1989 memoir, "Self-Portrait of the Other," the poet noted
that he sought García Márquez's aid for an exit visa but that the writer
tried to dissuade him from going, saying that Cuba's enemies might use
his departure for propaganda purposes.

Apart from that book, Padilla produced little. He bounced from one
college job to another before dying, a broken man, in Auburn, Ala. He
was 68.

In truth, Heberto Padilla did not have half the talent Gabriel García
Márquez had. Still, some of us admire him more.

Source: Charles Lane: Gabriel García Márquez was a gifted writer but no
hero - The Washington Post - Continue reading
How Do We Make A Good Newspaper? / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on April 23, 2014

In these times, when the great media of the press barely seem to survive
the crisis, many are wondering, how can we make a good newspaper? The
question includes not only choosing content, but also how to make it
profitable and the dilemma between digital or paper formats. There are
no clear formulas. Small websites become–in a short time–information
reference points, while some of the news giants fall into the red and
lose readers. No one knows for sure where the press of the future is headed.

We are used to technological advances and leapfrogging; Cubans will very
like jump from an official press under the monopoly of a single party,
to a multitude of media pushing to gain prominence. The day when
non-government media is legalized, numerous publications–now
underground–will be able to be read openly and even sold at the corner
newsstand. Although that time is still to come, it's worth it to begin

If I could highlight at least one indispensable feature of the press, I
would choose interaction with readers. The close relationship between
the writer of the information and its recipient is vital for a newspaper
to meet the demands of modernity and objectivity. Right now in Havana,
we are putting the final touches on a new digital media that will
greatly help us to listen to your opinions. Without you, it would be
only a medium talking to itself, ephemeral and inconsequential.

So back to the main question: How do we make a good newspaper? What are
the topics that we should address in its pages? What sections are worth
incorporating on the site? How can we involve you in developing the
content? Which are the indispensable bylines we should include? What
model or example should we follow? And the big question: Can we exercise
quality journalism amid the current conditions in Cuba?

You can leave answers in the comments on this blog, on the Dontknow
debate page, or on the CONTACT page. Thanks in advance for helping to
give shape to the baby before its birth.

23 April 2014

Source: How Do We Make A Good Newspaper? / Yoani Sanchez | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
At Repression's Ground Zero / Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on April 23, 2014

The first time I set foot in that scary place called Villa Marista,
similar to Lubyanka Prison in the now fortunately disappeared Soviet
Union, it was by my own will. I accompanied Manuel Cuesta Morúa to see
Investigator Yurisan Almenares, in charge of Case No. 5, 2014, against
Cuesta Morúa, after he was arbitrarily arrested on 26 January of this
year to keep him from participating as an organizer of the 2nd
Alternative Forum to the CELAC (Community of Latin American and
Caribbean States) Forum, held in Havana.

His detention ended 4 days later with the notification of a
precautionary measure that was never delivered, but that obliged him to
go to a Police Station every Tuesday and sign the document, for the
supposed crime of Diffusion of False News Against International Peace.

But the precautionary measure was only shown to the eyes of the person
it concerned once: on 30 January when he was released. In practice,
Cuesta Morua was signing an unofficial paper. Imprecision characterized
the situation from the beginning. The reasons for the arrest and the
case they sought to bring against him had no direct relationship, which
shows that the old school mafia of the Castro regime still rules in
Cuba: studying the penal code in order to destroy their adversaries,
manipulating the law until the punishment proves your guilt.

In Villa Marista I wanted to see the face of someone working there
inflicting pain on other human beings. Punishing them, not for violating
universal law, which could not exceed the measure of punishment, but for
not expressing loyalty to the Castro regime.

For some reason I connected with the mother of Pedro Luis Boitel, who I
saw in a documentary titled "No One Listens." She said that her son,
having been persecuted in the Batista era, always found a door to knock
on, an opportunity to save himself from death. But in the times of Fidel
Castro is wasn't like that, and Boitel died after a hunger strike,
imprisoned in the cruelest and most degrading conditions, in La Cabaña

Those were the times when the International Left granted the Cuban
government impunity so that it could improvise a vast record of human
rights violations. And Cuban society, terrorized, also looked the other
way: escaping to the United States, while "going crazy" to step foot on
the land of liberty. It's not very different today.

Villa Marista is a closed facility. It can't be visited by an inspector
from the Human Rights Council, nor from representatives of civil society
organizations–dissident and persecuted–to ensure that they are not
practicing any kind of torture against the prisoners and are respecting
all their rights. The government has signed some protocols and declares
itself against torture, but we don't believe in the government and those
who have passed through Villa Marista's cells bear witness that they do
torture them there to the point of madness in order to destroy the
internal dissidence.

And if someone accuses me of not having evidence, I tell them that's the
point, that it is precisely for this that the Cuban government opens its
jails to the press, not controlled by them, and to the international
inspectors and Independent Civil Society, because what the Castros
present is fabricated by the regime itself.

Not only the dissidents are tortured. Nor do we know if it's only with
"soft torture" which is still torture. Also there are workers who make a
mistake and are accused of sabotage, without being able to demand their
inalienable rights or defend themselves against such accusations.

It made me want to open doors, to be very strong and kick them all down.
To find a legal resource for the Cuban people to investigate–and the
right to presumption of innocence–all those who work there. Even the
cooks, responsible for having served cabbage with pieces of cockroach to
a friend's relative, a simple worker, who was kept there for long
unforgettable days, who was interrogated like in the inquisition to
extract a false confession from him. They didn't even let him sleep.

But I have gone only into the reception area: polished floors, plastic
flowers, kitsch expression to hide the sordidness of the jailers
instructed by the Interior Ministry; the misery reaching into the bones
of the prisoners down those shiny floors. Villa Marista is one thing
outside and another inside, as the common refrain says.

Investigator Yurisan Almenares didn't show his face. Perhaps he wasn't
ready for the persecuted to find him. He had no answers because those
guys can't improvise. They have to consult their superiors, not the law
or their own conscience.

A smiling captain took us into a little room and explained, almost
embarrassed, that the Investigator wasn't there and she would make a
note of what Manuel was demanding. So I watched as she carefully traced
the words he was pronouncing.

We wanted to get notification of the dismissal of the case. There was no
precautionary measure; ergo there should be no case pending. This not to
say that the presumed case was unsustainable without the precautionary
measure. Living in Cuba it's impossible to escape the reality of power,
however absurd and Kafkaesque it may be, like kicking the locked cell
doors of Villa Marista.

Remember, the crime has a name as bizarre as Diffusion of False News
Against International Peace. And the supposed false news deals with the
issue of racism in Cuba, where the government teaches discrimination for
political reasons in the schools, and talks about the issue of racial
rights, not inborn rights, but as a concession emanating from the State
dictatorship; and administered so that it can later be used for
revolutionary propaganda.

But racism is still here, rooted in society like a database error that
manifests itself in daily phenomena that shock the whole world. Growing,
along with other forms of discrimination and masked under the cynical
grin of power.

Manuel Cuesta Morua knows this because he has dedicated his life to
record this phenomenon in Cuba, historically and in the present. Thus,
he has written about it on countless occasions and takes responsibility
for every one of his words.

We went there without getting answers. My mind filled with the memory of
these people I don't know who are imprisoned there, half forgotten by
the whole world, their own attorneys in a panic.

One thing we can promise Villa Marista's gendarmes and its top leaders,
wherever they hide themselves: some day we will open all those doors,
and after judging, with guarantees of due process, those who oppress us,
the place will become a part of the popular proverbs turning Cuba into a
nation jealous of the freedom of its citizens.

22 April 2014

Source: At Repression's Ground Zero / Lilianne Ruiz | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
APRIL 23, 2014 10:43AM

Liberalizing Investment in Cuba

I'm no Cuba expert, but I have followed the events of recent years with
interest. It seems that there have been tentative steps towards
liberalizing the Cuban economy, as well as slightly better economic
relations between the United States and Cuba. I'm hopeful the long-term
trend is towards Cuba becoming a free market democracy, with normal
relations with the United States.

In the short-term, though, I'm frustrated by how the "liberalization" of
foreign investment is being carried out there. Here's the Economist:

But on March 29th Cuba's parliament approved a new foreign-investment
law that for the first time allows Cubans living abroad to invest in
some enterprises (provided, according to Rodrigo Malmierca, the
foreign-trade minister, they are not part of the "Miami terrorist
mafia"). The aim is to raise foreign investment in Cuba to about $2.5
billion a year; currently Cuban economists say the stock is $5 billion
at most.

The law, which updates a faulty 1995 one, is still patchy, says Pavel
Vidal, a Cuban economist living in Colombia. It offers generous tax
breaks of eight years for new investments. However, it requires
employers to hire workers via state employment agencies that charge (and
keep) hard currency, vastly inflating the cost of labour.
Welcoming new foreign investment is great. Here's the problem, though:
In order to liberalize investment, a government really doesn't need to
do anything fancy. It can just say, "foreign investment is permitted,
and will be treated like domestic investment." Very simple. Furthermore,
lower tax rates and reduced regulatory burdens can help encourage such
investment. Again, very simple.

In practice, though, governments make this process difficult and less
liberalizing. Here, what Cuba seems to have done is offered special tax
breaks for new foreign investments, and then subjected receipt of these
tax advantages to certain hiring conditions. In effect, it introduces
two distortions as part of the liberalization process: favoring new
foreign investors over other investors through the tax code and then
subjecting the favored investors to additional regulation.

To be clear, Cuba is not the only country who does this; this is what
many countries do. But there's just no reason to approach it this way.
The simpler way, with low tax rates for all investors, is the more
economically beneficial way. Unfortunately, it seems as though
"liberalization" is often just a catchword, and governments insist on
using their power to intervene in private economic transactions, even
when ostensibly moving away from interventionist policies.

Source: Liberalizing Investment in Cuba | Cato @ Liberty - Continue reading
Attorney of jailed American in Cuba presses Obama for action
By Justin Sink - 04/23/14 02:59 PM EDT

The attorney for a USAID worker jailed in Cuba plead with President
Obama to "sit down with the Cuban government" and try to strike a deal
for his release in an interview Wednesday with MSNBC.

Scott Glibert, the attorney for jailed American Alan Gross, asked the
White House to dispatch top American officials to conduct negotiations
with the Castro regime in a bid to secure the former government
employee's release.
"Our message, really, is to the president of the United States," Gilbert
said. "And it is President Obama, please engage on this issue. We
understand the world's a complicated place. We understand the world will
not become less complicated, but please engage on this issue. Sit down
with the Cuban government. Try to reach a resolution."

Gross was jailed more than four years ago when it was discovered he
helped to set up Internet access for a small Jewish community on the
communist nation. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Gilbert, who visited Cuba recently to meet with Gross and Cuban
officials, warned the former government employee was "not doing well"
and said he had lost 12 pounds in a hunger strike to protest his

"He told me yesterday emphatically that May 2, which marks his 65th
birthday, will be the last birthday that he marks in Cuba, one way or
the other," Gilbert said.

Last December, the White House said Obama had personally lobbied foreign
leaders and other "international figures" to help convince the Castro
regime to free Gross.

"The State Department has kept Mr. Gross' case at the forefront of
discussions with the Cuban government and made clear the importance the
United States places on his welfare," White House press secretary Jay
Carney said. "They have also engaged a wide range of foreign
counterparts, and urged them to advocate for Mr. Gross' release."

But Gilbert said he had not received "any response" from the Obama

"The Cubans want to sit down with the United States and reach a
negotiated resolution," Gilbert said. "We have asked the president to
engage and to have the administration participate in such a negotiation.
And we believe that the administration should do whatever it takes to
free Alan, who was in Cuba in the first place on U.S. government business."

Source: Attorney of jailed American in Cuba presses Obama for action |
TheHill - Continue reading
Posted on Wednesday, 04.23.14

Lawyer: Alan Gross wants out of Cuba dead or alive

U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. Gross is "not doing well" after 4
1/2 years in a Cuban prison and has vowed that he will "return to the
United States before his 66th birthday, dead or alive," his lawyer said

"He told me yesterday emphatically that May 2, which marks his 65th
birthday, will be the last birthday that he marks in Cuba, one way or
the other," attorney Scott Gilbert said in a telephone interview from
Havana with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

Asked what Gross meant, the Washington attorney said, "Alan means that
he does not intend to endure another year of this solitary confinement
and that he will return to the United States before his 66th birthday,
dead or alive."

Gross's family later issued a statement quoting the prisoner as saying
that his vow that May 2 will be his last in Cuba "means what it means.
It's not a threat, it's a statement of hope, a statement of
determination and a statement of impatience."

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence for violating Cuba's national
security by delivering satellite phones to island Jews so they could
bypass government controls on the Internet. Havana alleges the
equipment, paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is
part of a USAID effort to undermine the communist government.

Gilbert said Gross "is not doing well" because he has lost 110 pounds —
the last 10 in a hunger strike earlier this month — and spends 23 hours
a day in his pajamas in a small room with two other inmates.

He is allowed out for one hour a day to exercise in a courtyard and his
food is "limited, and mediocre," the attorney said. Gross is being held
in a Havana military hospital.

Gilbert said he also met for nearly two hours Wednesday with Cuban
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who repeated that his government "is
interested in meeting with officials from the United States at the
highest levels of both governments to discuss the release of Alan Gross
with no preconditions."

But "we are not aware, and certainly the Cubans are not aware, of any
ongoing discussions with the United States concerning Alan Gross,"
Gilbert said during the interview with Mitchell.

"Our message, really, is to the president of the United States. And it
is President Obama, please engage on this issue," Gilberto said. "Sit
down with the Cuban government. Try to reach a resolution. Do what you
can do to bring Alan Gross back to his country. Make serving your
government in a foreign country mean something."

Gross spent nine days on a hunger strike to protest against both the
Cuban and U.S. governments for his continued imprisonment. His family
said the hunger strike was triggered by an Associated Press report that
USAID financed a Twitter-like platform for Cuba called ZunZuneo shortly
after his arrest, risking complicating his case.

The family statement Wednesday said he has lost partial vision in his
right eye and suffers from pain in both hips and in his back. The lights
on his room are kept on 24 hours a day, it added.

The Cuban government has repeatedly offered to free Gross in exchange
for three Cuban spies serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons since
1998. Two other members of the "Wasp Network" arrested in South Florida
completed their sentences and returned to Havana.

Obama administration officials have repeatedly rejected any such swap.
One of the Cuban spies is serving a life sentence for his role in Cuba's
killing of four South Miami pilots from the Brothers to the Rescue over
the Florida Straits in 1996.

Source: Lawyer: Alan Gross wants out of Cuba dead or alive - Cuba - - Continue reading
New flight service from Miami to Holguin, Cuba announced
Apr 22, 2014

CYPRESS, CA - Cuba Travel Services, the leading authorized carrier
service provider with offices in California and Florida, is now offering
direct flights from Miami to Holguin, Cuba. Cuba Travel Services
arranges flights operated by American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines
to popular destinations including Havana, Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santa
Clara and Santiago de Cuba.

The new flights to Holguin will utilize next generation Boeing 737-800
aircraft, which include both first and coach class configuration.

"Whether our licensed passengers are visiting family or participating in
an authorized group program, we are committed to providing a travel
experience that exceeds our clients' expectations," said Michael
Zuccato, General Manager at Cuba Travel Services. "The new route to
Holguin brings a new level of quality, convenience and value to our

Source: New flight service from Miami to Holguin, Cuba announced - - Continue reading
Cuba: The Clueless Official Press / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 22, 2014

There is an abysmal gap between daily reality and the information
offered by a clueless official press. Never in Granma, Juventud Rebelde
(Rebel Youth) Trabajadores (Workers) or any of the 15 provincial press
organs was there news of the Castro regime's flagrant arms smuggling to
North Korea in violation of the United Nations' embargo of the Pyongyang

The boring and disoriented national press, print, radio or television,
to date, has not reported about the spaces open for dialogue by the
Catholic Church. Or local news that has had resonance, like the protest
by self-employed workers in Holguin or the unlikely walk by a nude woman
in the city of Camaguey.

They also ignore less tense or contentious matters, like the visit to
Cuba by Big League ball players Ken Griffey, Jr., and Barry Larkin or by
famous people like Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay Z.

Neither does it interest them for readers or viewers to find out that
Cuban artists and musicians resident abroad visit the island and give
performances, as in the cases of Isaac Delgado, Descemer Bueno and
Tanya, among others.

They don't even publish an article to analyze the insane prices for car
sales or internet services.

On international topics, the old trick is to show only a part of the
event. For those who only read official media and do not have access to
other sources of information, those who protest in Ukraine, Venezuela or
Turkey are terrorists or fascists.

In Cuba it was never published that the dictator Kim Jong Un summarily
executed his uncle. Likewise, they kept silent about the atrocities that
happen in the concentration camps of North Korea. And about the
degrading treatment of women in Iran.

Newsprint is usually occupied by cultural commentary and sports in an
undertone, the television schedule, optimistic news about agricultural
production or the good progress of economic reforms dictated by
President Raul Castro and his advisors.

Apparently, they considered it inopportune to inform Cubans about the
talks between the Cuban-American sugar millionaire Alfonso Fanjul and
Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez. Nor did they think it convenient for the
common people to know that Antonio Castro, the son of Fidel, plays in
golf tournaments.

Or that recently entrepreneurs with bulging wallets paid 234 thousand
dollars for a handmade Montecristo tobacco humidor at the 16th Havana
Festival where the most well known guest was the British singer Tom Jones.

Local reporting is directed by inflexible ideologies that presume that
behind the vaunted freedom of the press is hidden a "military operation
by the United States' secret services."

And they take it seriously. As if dealing with a matter of national
security. That's why the newspapers are soldiers of reporting.
Disciplined copyists.

For the Taliban of the Communist Party, the internet and social networks
are a modern way of selling capitalism from a distance. The new times
have caught them without many arguments. They assert they have the
truth, but the fear the citizens testing it for themselves.

Reading of certain reports should be suggested by the magnanimous State.
They think, and they believe, that naive countrymen are not prepared or
sufficiently inoculated for the propagandic venom of the world's media.

Not even Raul Castro has managed to break the stubborn censorship and
habitual torpor of the official press. For years, Castro has spoken of
turning the press into something believable, entertaining and
attractive. But nothing has changed.

Destined for foreign consumption, official web pages and blogs have been
opened. With their own voice they try to promote the illusion of an
opening. The warriors of the word are for domestic consumption.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Taken from the Cuadernos de Cuba blog.

Translated by mlk.

26 March 2014

Source: Cuba: The Clueless Official Press / Ivan Garcia | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Miami Youth Group Helped 'Cuban Twitter'
MIAMI April 22, 2014 (AP)

Leaders with the largest nonprofit organization for young
Cuban-Americans quietly provided strategic support for the federal
government's secret "Cuban Twitter" program, connecting contractors with
potential investors and serving as paid consultants, The Associated
Press has learned.

Interviews and documents obtained by the AP show leaders of Roots of
Hope were approached by the "Cuban Twitter" program's organizers in
early 2011 about taking over the text-messaging service, known as
ZunZuneo, and discussed shifting it into private hands. Few investors
were willing to privately finance ZunZuneo, and Roots of Hope members
dropped the idea. But at least two people on its board of directors went
on to work as consultants, even as they served in an organization that
explicitly refused to accept any U.S. government funds and distanced
itself from groups that did.

The disclosure could have wide repercussions for what has become one of
the most visible and influential Cuban-American organizations.

Chris Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas Society and
Council of the Americas, said he wasn't surprised that Roots of Hope's
leaders had been approached by federal contractors about the project,
given the large sums of money available and the limited number of
creative, tech-savvy groups that work on Cuba issues.

"I think it does risk tainting the group, a group that I think has done
amazing work and changed the discussion and mobilized a new generation
toward a much more pragmatic agenda," Sabatini said.

Roots of Hope has been a key player in events like Latin pop star
Juanes' 2009 peace concert that drew more than a million people in
Havana, and in the promotion of technology on the island. Its leaders
recently accompanied Cuban blogger and Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to
Washington to help her develop a new independent media project in Cuba.
Links to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which funded
ZunZuneo, could make that prospect more difficult. Sanchez herself has
been adamant in not accepting any government funding.

USAID spokesman Matt Herrick declined to provide the names of any
individuals employed by its contractor but said Roots of Hope did not
enter into any grants or contracts related to ZunZuneo, which ended in
September 2012. However, documents obtained by the AP show extensive
involvement at times by the organization's board members.

An AP investigation published April 3 revealed the U.S. government went
to great lengths to hide its role in ZunZuneo. The program, operated by
contractor Creative Associates International, used foreign bank
transactions and computer networks. Documents show ZunZuneo organizers
aimed to effect democratic change in Cuba and drafted overtly political
messages critical of the Castro government. The Obama administration has
maintained the service had a more neutral purpose.

Roots of Hope was launched at a conference at Harvard University in 2003
by college students seeking to connect with youth on the island. The
organization quickly established a network of more than 4,000 students
and young professionals. In 2009, it began focusing on technology access
in Cuba with an initiative to collect and send cellphones and later USB
flash drives to the island.

Source: Miami Youth Group Helped 'Cuban Twitter' - ABC News - Continue reading
Studying Medicine and Desecrating Tombs in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on April 22, 2014

Since 1948, when the UN decided to adopt the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, many organizations and activists of the world have hoisted
that dignified flag confronting the daily violations of liberty, justice
and peace that many people suffer for the simple fact of their human

Unfortunately, in several corners of this jungle that we call Earth,
human rights entered a dark period due to the infinite apathy of many of
its residents. Barbarity is like our daily bread, and that makes it more
or less normal.

In my country, for example, the topic is always a subject of controversy
and debate; but today, I will not make reference to the rights of the
living; I will speak of those who no longer exist, of our forebears, who
are not the monkey, the Ardipithecus or the Australopithcus; but my
mother and your grandfather.

Skulls, teeth, tibias, ribs, femurs, mandibles, vertebrae, pelvises; it
is all found at the cemetery gate. The desecration of graves has gone
from being a horrible act of vandalism to an almost daily event.

But, "why is the toti always saddled with the blame for everything*";
uninformed metaphorics and made up know-it-alls, instead of finding out
at the time of judging, they launch the accusing roar towards the many
practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions who make up our folklore and form
part of our cultural heritage.

In Santeria and witchcraft there are very but very isolated rites that
require a human skeleton; there also exist artisans who buy bones in
order to construct objects with them that they sell for the price of
gold; but the absolutely responsible party for this atrocity against our
dear ones is, as always, the State.

Ad nauseum the thought is drilled into us that since 1959, the
development of medicine has been the principal priority of the
revolutionary government, and in fact, Cuba boasts the highest
physician-inhabitant ratio in the world. Thousands of doctors are
graduated each year on the island, and I tell you, each of these
students, without regard to race, color, sex, language or religion (come
on, like human rights), receives a bag with a skull and parts of human
skeletal remains that if insufficient to study anatomy, then they get a
card that they present at Cuban cemeteries in order to exhume from among
the graves without owners the remains of those who in life were
relatives of the unnamed, emigrated and exiled dead.

In order to have a slight idea of the desecrated graves, we would have
to compare the number of bags delivered with the gross rate of Cuban
mortality which, according to the reference published by the UN and sent
by Havana, was 7.6 in 2012. The same year in which — according to the
extensive editorial by the website Cubadebate — the largest of the
Antilles Islands trained more than 11,000 new doctors, 5,315 Cubans and
5,694 from 59 countries. Scary. I do not favor statistics when I write,
nevertheless the exception deserves it.

Just a day like today, April 7, but in 1985, one of the most renowned
Cuban visual artists, Rene Portocarrero, died. His remains . . . I do
not want to even think where they might be.

*Translator's note: In "good Cuban" the expression is: "porqué la culpa
de todo, siempre la carga el totí." It means several things: that
someone small always ends up being accused of what others did, or that
the blame always falls on the same notorious people regardless or
whether or not they were actually involved, and also, that black people
always get blamed for things. The totí (a.k.a. Cuban Blackbird) is a
small black bird from the Cuban countryside that is notorious for eating
crops and other human foods.

Translated by mlk.

10 April 2014

Source: Studying Medicine and Desecrating Tombs in Cuba / Juan Juan
Almeida | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
It Costs / Regina Coyula
Posted on April 22, 2014

All the hospitals I've visited lately have put up some eye-catching
posters: "Your health service is free, but it costs." I've seen these
relating to ophthalmology, surgery, orthopedics, dentistry, and I
recently saw a generic one for the Institutes. Then they enumerated a
list of services, from the simplest and least inexpensive to complex
procedures costing thousands of pesos.

For the citizen who made several unsuccessful visits before finally
receiving a medical consultation after a long wait; for the person whose
hospital admission is like moving day, having to take a tub and heater
for bathing, a fan, a lamp, insecticide, and the major part of the food
in the house; for the man resigned to the unwritten law that in order to
receive appropriate health care he has to provide something extra,
snacks for each shift, cigarettes for the nurse, a little "gratuity" to
facilitate the ultrasound or the analysis—this colorful wall poster is
nothing but propaganda. Propaganda and a neutralizer. It doesn't cost
you, so don't complain.

(And I'm not saying whether it costs, with the pseudo-salaries and
inflated prices.)

I admire the skill and dedication of the doctors, but the excellent
service that we were promised as "medical power"—not because of the
number of physicians per capita (although you can find that in the
Amazon or in northeastern Brazil), but because of the quality of health
service as a whole—was lost along the way. And no one can convince any
Cuban that the fault is due to the blockade and the imperialist threat.

During a wait of over an hour for a scheduled appointment (visible
through a window in public view) with of an employee whose function is
to deliver laboratory results, a young man who decided to lie down on a
bench and sleep through the wait—with that grace Cubans have for taking
the edge off any situation—in front of one of the afore-mentioned signs,
caused all of us who were waiting to laugh: The public health costs us,
but because it's free …

21 April 2014

Source: It Costs / Regina Coyula | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's growing private sector is hungry for flora and fauna
TUESDAY, 22 APRIL 2014 20:01

CUBA--The lack of markets to supply raw materials for Cuba's new private
sector, along with the poverty in isolated rural communities, is
fuelling the poaching of endangered species of flora and fauna. The
socialist government of Raúl Castro gave the green light in 2010 to
private enterprise in a limited number of activities, mainly in the
services sector.
However, without wholesale markets to supply the 455,000
"cuentapropistas" – officially registered self-employed people –
unforeseen phenomena soon appeared, like the rise in poaching and
illegal logging.
Forests, which cover just under 29 percent of the territory of this
Caribbean island nation, are suffering the consequences.
"You can get a permit to work as a carpenter, but it's hard to get the
raw materials," Antonio Gutiérrez, a carpenter who works at a saw mill
in the Ciénaga de Zapata, the largest Caribbean island wetland, told
Tierramérica. "You can also build more homes or upgrade homes. People
need boards, windows, everything...and to solve the problem, they go
into the bush and cut."
The forest ranger corps levied 19,993 fines last year for a total of US
$125,000, and seized 2,274 metres of wood. Although there are no
statistics on wood confiscated in previous years, the authorities say
illegal logging is on the rise. "That's confiscated mahogany and oak,"
said Gutiérrez, pointing to a pile of thin tree trunks on the ground.
"Those trees had a lot of growing to do to become real logs." He
maintained that more wood should be sold to people in order to safeguard
forests from illegal logging.
Agriculture Ministry Forestry Director Isabel Rusó told the press in
March that the law in effect since 1998 provides for fines that are not
effective in dissuading illegal logging. She also said private
businesses either have to face a sea of red tape to purchase wood from
state-owned companies or buy wood on the black market. A new forestry
bill is to be introduced in Parliament in 2015.

Source: The Daily Herald -Cuba's growing private sector is hungry for
flora and fauna - Continue reading
Exclusive: Cuba may revive Paris Club debt negotiations
HAVANA Tue Apr 22, 2014 8:20am EDT

(Reuters) - Cuba and the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations are
working to resume talks over billions of dollars of official debt in a
new sign the communist government is interested in rejoining the global

A Paris Club delegation quietly traveled to Havana late last year to
meet with Cuban bank officials, who were prepared with various proposals
and appeared eager to strike a deal, according to Western diplomats.

Previous negotiations broke off in 2000 and obstacles remain to reviving
serious talks, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

They said Cuba must first show creditors its books, which so far it has
refused to do. Cuba considers its level of foreign reserves a state
secret and publishes scant data on its current account and foreign debt,
which it last revealed for 2010.

Still, the diplomats have taken Cuba's readiness to talk as an
indication it may be willing to play by the rules of international finance.

Although it is still a long way off, any deal with the Paris Club would
significantly reduce Cuba's debt, improve its reputation in financial
markets and allow it to issue new debt.

In the latest of President Raul Castro's market-oriented reforms, Cuba
recently approved a foreign investment law that it hopes will bring in
billions of dollars.

It has also embarked on a monetary reform that would eliminate its
two-currency system, another hindrance to foreign investment, and it is
about to begin talks with the European Union on forming a new bilateral

"The positive is that Cuba has more or less been restructuring and
meeting its debt obligations for the last three years. The negative is
that they think that is enough and do not understand that we must know
their financial capacity to live up to whatever agreement we might come
to," one diplomat said.

In the past three years, Cuba has restructured its debt with China,
Japanese commercial creditors, Mexico and Russia, each time obtaining
substantial reductions in what it owed in exchange for payment plans it
can meet.

The Paris Club is an informal group of 19 creditor nations: Australia,
Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,
Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland and the United States.

The club has a special working group on Cuba that excludes the United
States and it may be willing to waive the usual prerequisite of an
International Monetary Fund agreement and be creative in looking for
solutions, the diplomats said.


During last year's meeting in Havana, Cuba expressed an interest in
having a percentage of the debt forgiven, paying another percentage over
10 years, and swapping the remainder for an equity stake in Cuban state
enterprises, the diplomats said.

"If you look at new foreign investment incentives put into place this
year, some sort of debt swap appears more possible," one said.

The Cuban government last reported its "active" foreign debt,
accumulated after it declared a default in the late 1980s, as $13.6
billion in 2010. The government no longer reports its "passive" debt
from before the default, which economists estimate at $8 billion.

By the Paris Club's accounting, Cuba owed its members $35.5 billion at
the close of 2012, but more than $20 billion of the debt was in old
transferable Soviet rubles, 90 percent of which Russia forgave in 2013.

Cuba considers the Paris Club figures inflated, meaning one point of the
talks would be to settle on how much is owed.

The Paris Club figure excludes late interest and service charges, nor
does it consider debt to private creditors and countries such as China,
Brazil and Venezuela.

For Cuba to agree to any deal it would need a significant percentage of
its debt forgiven, said Richard Feinberg, a non-resident senior fellow
of the Washington-based Brookings Institution and the author of several
studies on Cuba's need to join the international financial community.

"In addition, there's the tough issue of non-transparency. For the Paris
Club creditors to have some confidence in repayment capacity, they would
need to know more about Cuba's present and projected balance of
payments, including current reserves," Feinberg said.

"Normally, all of these issues are sorted out by the IMF, which
facilitates the whole deal with a package of liquidity. Of course Cuba
is not a member and I don't see any other candidate willing or able to
act as an IMF proxy," Feinberg said.

Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, has drastically
reined in imports and cut state payrolls and subsidies while insisting
the government improve its finances.

In 2011, the Communist Party approved a five-year economic plan to
enhance Cuba's international credibility by strictly observing its
commitments, expediting the rescheduling of Cuba's foreign debts and
implementing "flexible restructuring strategies" for debt repayment.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray)

Source: Exclusive: Cuba may revive Paris Club debt negotiations |
Reuters - Continue reading
Dialog, Why? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Posted on April 21, 2014

In my country, for more than half a century, the government hasn't
dialogued with anyone. The Cuban Revolution doesn't recognize any other
interlocutor than itself, incarnated in the figure of the Maximum
Leader, the now decrepit Fidel.

Executions, thirty-year sentences, perpetual exile. Whoever wanted to
dialogue in Cuba ended up in one of these three categories of tropical

Even today, in the 21st century, with a dissidence that has occupied
certain alternative spaces of expression at the cost of much sacrifice,
the Cuban gerontocracy has to die in power without having crossed words
with anyone, except its own clan, the so-called "historic" generation.

Dialogue with the Communists, thus validating elections and other
hypocrisies, is always a deception or a trick. The Communist have
nothing to say, its not their international mission. They only follow
the orders of a political party that incarnates their own dogma. They
are soldiers dressed as civilians.

The idea is to take power at any cost and to never let it go in any
peaceful way. There is a stage in which the Communists simply annihilate
their adversaries. And there is another in which it is pertinent to
sweet-talk the opponent with masquerade of a dialogue.

That is why Communist parties were illegal in so many countries for so
long, a reasonable law by simple instinct of self-preservation. But
today the democracies feel ashamed for being democracies–they carry a
complex about being better in the face of the worst–such that no one is
willing to defend the democratic establishment, either in the first
world and in the developing nations.

So the Communists in Latin America, for example, although they are not
all called that, now mine our social systems in blessed peace, and the
entire continent tends as a bloc to violate citizens' basic rights.
Every caudillo legitimately holds his presidential seat for life, always
with a red star in the logo of their respective parties.

Personally, I don't believe that a party of violent inspiration and
intolerant rhetoric should participate in the democratic game in any
era. In Cuba, after fifty years of the Communist Party hijacking
political life, it's clear that there will be no democratic transition
without the disintegration of the Party. And without making it illegal
for a time perhaps similar to the despotic half-century of the Cuban
Communists, whose contempt for dialogue soon became a contempt for decency.

In Cuba, a few days ago, TeleSur broadcast live and direct the dialogue
between the opposition and Venezuela's dictators. An opposition which
unfortunately now has no other option than to sit at the dictatorial
roundtable, provided it is authorized, and at the moment in which it
best serves the powers-that-be to buy time to cauterize the popular
protests, criminalize their leaders, and at the end of the day
perpetuate themselves.

Venezuela's rulers know well what they are doing. They are "dialoguing"
for perhaps the last time. Soon they will not have to bother with these
desperate deployments, where the entire planet is disturbed, but lazily
so, by their hegemonic manias.

Soon the H in Havana will prove to be much more than a silent deadly
letter. If there is no awakening among the international community, if
the Venezuelan democrats who have given the best of themselves (their
lives) are abandoned to their fate, as in their moment the world
dismissed several generations of Cuban democrats, the made-in-Castro
Communism will feel the impunity of falling, like a silent wasteland
upon our future, always so futile in so many nations.

19 April 2014

Source: Dialog, Why? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Poor Results / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 21, 2014

The Eighth Congress of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC)
recently ended, yielding very poor results, which was not unexpected to
those of us who have been following it before the run-up and during the

It began with a doctrinaire address by its president, who stated that
"UNEAC is the Moncada Barracks of culture" and "from its beginnings
UNEAC has done nothing but serve the Revolution." This came as a
surprise to no one, especially given the presence at the event of
important figures from the Communist party and the government, which
guaranteed there would be no deviations.

Discussions among the more than three hundred delegates from all over
the country were led by various commissions—culture and media, art, the
market and cultural industries, urban affairs and architecture, national
patrimony and sculpture, regulation and litigation—were restricted to
rehashing proposals presented at previous congresses, most of which have
never been put into practice.

We are inundated with rhetoric about issues related to creativity, the
analysis of contemporary aesthetic trends, the need to rethink radio,
television and film while taking into account the emerging needs and
expectations of the population, to confront all forms of corruption,
indiscipline, waste, disorder and vulgarity, the need for more effective
mechanisms for commercializing art, the need to define and implement
policies for the built environment, the need to chart a policy for the
city and for architecture through national development programs and the
proposed changes in the legal statutes. It's really hard to separate the
wheat from all the chaff.

Once again there were the "genetic censors," seeking to solve problems
by creating committees to review and approve, a ludicrous approach in
the current context. It is evidence of generational stagnation and the
influence of the exalted sayings of the National Orator—ever-present if
not physically present—who is remembered as our "greatest intellectual."

It was pure theater in which every one of the participants knew by heart
the lines he or she was supposed to say.

14 April 2014

Source: Poor Results / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Easter No. 3 for a Prisoner of Castro
Bearing witness to Cuba's political persecution costs Sonia Garro her
April 20, 2014 5:34 p.m. ET

Christians the world over celebrated the resurrection of their savior on
Sunday with worship services and family gatherings.
Thirty-eight-year-old Sonia Garro shares the faith too, but she spent
the holiday in a Cuban dungeon as a prisoner of conscience, just as she
has for the past two years.

Ms. Garro is a member of the Christian dissident group Ladies in White,
started in Havana in 2003 by sisters, wives and mothers of political
prisoners to peacefully protest the unjust incarceration of their loved
ones. It has since expanded to other parts of the country and added many
recruits. The group's growing popularity has worried the Castros, and
they have responded with increasing brutality.

Cuba's military government wants us to believe that the Brothers Fidel
and Raul Castro are "reforming." To buy that line you have to pretend
that Ms. Garro and her sisters in Christ don't exist. Of course that's
often the impression one gets from Havana-based reporters working for
foreign media outlets.

They've been invited into the country not to serve the truth but to
serve the dictatorship. Fortunately, there are brave and independent
Cuban journalists who continue to tell the Ladies' story, despite scant

In the late winter of 2012, Cubans were looking forward to a visit from
Pope Benedict XVI and the Ladies were lobbying the Vatican for an
audience. Their relentless pleading was embarrassing the dictatorship,
which had been beating them in the streets on their way to Sunday Mass
for almost a decade. It was also making the Church, which had already
cut its own deal with the regime on the terms of the visit, look bad. On
the weekend of March 17 Castro sent the Ladies a warning by locking up
some 70 of their members.

Most of those detained, including leader Berta Soler, had been freed by
the time the pontiff touched down in Cuba nine days later, but Ms. Garro
was not. Benedict celebrated some Masses, did photo ops with the despots
and left.

It was a clever strategy: The world saw the release of the many Ladies,
which obscured the continued detention of the one. That one—poor, black
and not well known internationally—serves, to this day, as a constant
reminder of the wrath Castro will bring down on anyone in the barrios
who gets out of line.

By 2012 Ms. Garro already had experience with state violence. Her record
of counterrevolutionary activities included running a recreation center
in her home for troubled youths. For that she was twice beaten by
government-sanctioned mobs. She suffered a broken nose in police
detention in 2010.

When security agents took her home to put her under house arrest ahead
of the pope's visit, she was met by a mob sent to harass her. Her
husband, Ramon Alejandro Muñoz, had climbed to the roof and was chanting
anti-dictatorship slogans. Two neighbors took the couple's side.
Special-forces police were called in. They raided the home, shot Ms.
Garro in the leg with rubber bullets and hauled the couple and two
neighbors to jail.

Related Video
Sonia Garro, a 38-year-old mother and a member of the dissident group
Ladies in White, just spent her third Easter as a prisoner of conscience
in one of Castro's dungeons. Mary Anastasia O'Grady discusses. Photo: Getty.

Eighteen months later prosecutors charged Ms. Garro with assault,
attempted murder and public disorder. Her husband and one neighbor,
Eugenio Hernández, are accused of attempted murder and public disorder.
The prosecution is seeking a 10-year prison sentence for Ms. Garro, 14
years for Mr. Muñoz, and 11 years for Mr. Hernández.

Anyone who has ever read about Soviet show trials will recognize the
state's case. The prosecutors claim that Messrs. Muñoz and Hernández
were both on the roof and knew a police officer could have been killed
when they threw things to try to stop him from climbing a ladder to
reach them.

The regime alleges that the couple had been planning street
disturbances. The "evidence" confiscated from their home included
bottles, machetes, rebar and cardboard protest signs. The state claims
that containers with fuel found in the home were Molotov cocktails.

Every household item or piece of scrap found in a poor Cuban household
is considered a weapon when the state wants to convict a prisoner. By
its logic the frying pan and the iron should have been cited too. With
good aim, they can be deadly. As to the combustibles inside the home,
Ms. Garro's sister Yamilet Garro told independent journalist Augusto
Cesar San Martín Albistur, "the items were for lighting during the
blackouts that are quite common in the area." For Castro, the most
dangerous items were the antigovernment signs.

Ms. Garro's real crime is her refusal to surrender her soul to the
state. That makes her an exemplary Christian but a lousy revolutionary.
The peril she presents is showing Cubans how to be both.

Write to O'

Source: Mary Anastasia O'Grady: Easter No. 3 for a Prisoner of Castro - - Continue reading
Yoani Sanchez - Award-winning Cuban blogger

Alamar and Hip-Hop: The Soundtrack of Cuba's Reality (VIDEO)
Posted: 04/21/2014 10:41 am EDT Updated: 04/21/2014 12:59 pm EDT

Let's go to Alamar! My mother would say and we would head out to visit
some relatives who lived in that so-called "Siberia." We arrived in an
area of ugly, coarse buildings haphazardly tossed on the grass. We would
play with other kids among these concrete boxes in the high grass that
grew all around. It smelled of the sea, and also of boredom. It should
have been the city of the New Man, but it was just a failed
architectural experiment.

Alamar, despite its urbanist failings, has been the hotbed of a vibrant
and rebellious musical genre: hip-hop. Its amphitheater has hosted some
of the most memorable alternative concerts in Island memory. Hard songs,
composed with the words of daily life and the poetry of the street.
Duels between opponents who, instead of throwing weapons or blows,
launch words and rhymes. How did the stage for this "citizen laboratory"
end up sheltering these lyrics of the rebellion? What happened with the
victorious anthems that led to such corrosive verses of survival?

What happened was that reality set in. Alamar was one of the areas of
Havana hardest hit by the economic hardships of the Special Period. It
saw thousands of its inhabitants leave during the 1994 Rafter Crisis,
and suffered extremely long power cuts accompanied by robberies and
other acts of violence. The Russian technicians left, the squatters made
the empty homes they left their own, and the Chilean exiles who lived
there, for the most part, returned to their own country.

Then the immigrants from the eastern provinces arrived, illegal
constructions extended on all sides, and the police declared that
bedroom city a "danger zone." A "people warehouse," conceived for
disciplined and mediocre people, demonstrated that when you play with
the social or constructive alchemy, you rarely achieve the desired results.

Amid the gray cement, the tiny rooms and the boredom, hip-hop has become
the daily soundtrack. Alamar has its own rhythm. A cadence that hits the
head like the waves that crash against its dogtooth coastline. Like the
picks hitting the ground to lay the foundation of a quadrilateral and
submissive future that never came.

Follow Yoani Sanchez on Twitter:

Source: Alamar and Hip-Hop: The Soundtrack of Cuba's Reality
(VIDEO) | Yoani Sanchez - Continue reading
The Daily Life of the Elderly in Cuba (Part II)
April 21, 2014
Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES — "High prices. Shortages. We have to adapt to the times,
"I'm alive only because God wants me to be," "The problem is loneliness,
the problem is food. One has to shoulder a whole lot of problems," "A
242-peso pension isn't enough to live on" – such are the comments the
first interviewees make in Didier Santos' and Yaima Pardo's documentary
Al Final del Camino ("At the End of the Road").

The film gathers the testimonies and thoughts of Cuban pensioners who
look back on their last decades of life on the island.

"I've given more to the State than the State is giving me at the moment.
I've worked all of my life. I'm now 83," another interviewee says. The
documentary draws our attention to a social reality we co-exist with but
do not know in depth.

Al final del camino also gathers opinions and concerns on the subject
from representatives of the institutions who offer services and work
with the elderly in Cuba. These officials call for long-term and
permanent care for those who require it, "a quality of life as similar
to the one [the elderly] once had." "The elderly are an increasingly
broad sector of Cuba's total population," we are told.


Before, retiring was synonymous with spending time with one's
grandchildren (while they were still children), enjoying a good baseball
game on TV, playing domino with friends at a street corner (an ongoing
tradition), going out for a stroll along Havana's ocean drive, visiting
old friends or relatives one didn't have time to see while working,
going to premieres at movie theaters, going camping with the family, and
throwing parties (something everyone enjoys).

Many elderly people in Cuba still refuse to join old people circles that
exercise outdoors or practice Thai Chi (which is very much in vogue in
Cuba today). Some time ago, the elderly themselves baptized such
programs as "The Junker Plan."

Some remain active in their neighborhoods, but others suffer lonely
existences, depression and anemia.

Those who live with them are sometimes unable to care for them
adequately or even show them a bit of affection.

Many who lost their loved ones – people they lived with or were very
close to – now live with their children and grandchildren, people who
are immersed in their own daily problems and do not pay attention to
them, do not understand them or are disrespectful towards them. Some
have children who live very far away or who have left the country.

Others aren't ill but feel abandoned. They are visited by relatives or
acquaintances who treat them in abusive ways or simply do not look after
them (and, in many cases, only wish to inherit the house or apartment
the elderly person lives in).

Those who live alone have no means or the physical capacity to maintain
or repair their homes or to keep their surroundings clean.

In Old Havana, there are subsidized homes for elderly people who have no
means to live on their own, but…what of the rest?

The elderly have a tough time preparing food for themselves, let alone
maintaining a healthy diet rich in vegetables. "It's too expensive!" one
of them says. The government's welfare program offers a series of
cafeterias that serve lunch and supper at very low prices, but there are
those who regard these places as unhygienic.

A great many elderly people in Cuba spend more money on medication than
on food, for afflictions typical of their age: high blood pressure,
arthritis, diabetes (the top three on the list). One hears old people
say "getting old is the worst thing out there," referring to all of the
conditions that begin to afflict you.


The majority of elderly people have no other option other than getting
by on a pension which is well beneath the minimum needed to make ends meet.

There are those who don't even have enough to pay off the debts they
accrued when the "Energy Revolution" campaign was implemented and
electrical appliances were sold on credit to the population. Others
retired on a 70-peso pension and currently receive 200 pesos thanks to
the revision of Cuba's Social Security Law – but even the new pension
isn't enough.

The government argues that it pushed back the country's official
retirement age to reduce the financial impact that paying pensions for
long periods of time has on the State. Though it appears the life
expectancy is increasing on the island because better healthcare
services are being offered the elderly, their vulnerable and unstable
social situation is actually making their lives worse at present.

Al final del camino warns us that Cuba may become one of the most aged
countries on the planet if this matter isn't addressed in a timely fashion.


One of the interviewees suggests that society must look on the medical
care, proper nutrition, housing, privacy and transportation of the
elderly as a first-order priority, and that old people must be given
opportunities to interact with other generations.

"We must take on the social commitment of creating a new society with
new social relations."

"The population must be more proactive, it must create, not merely
comply with instructions received from above. We must participate more
actively in the creation of the policies that affect them. They cannot
be the objects of these policies, they must be their agents."

It is very refreshing to see a film that gathers undreamed-of images of
dilapidated, dirty and neglected spaces where old people live, a film
that reminds us the elderly "are an important part of society and must
be treated with dignity. (…) They do not deserve to be left to their own
resources. They deserve a decorous life."

Source: The Daily Life of the Elderly in Cuba (Part II) - Havana - Continue reading
A Train Trip in Cuba from Santiago to Havana
April 21, 2014
By Michael N. Landis

HAVANA TIMES — There once was a time—a time long since passed—when it
was possible to step aboard a Pullman car at New York City's Penn
Station at 4:00 p.m. and, thanks to Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast
Railway, not to disembark until arriving in Habana at 6:30 p.m., two
days later!

If you were wealthy enough to afford that journey, however, you would
likely have broken your trip by overnighting at one of Flagler's
flagship Florida hotels, such as the Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, The
Breakers in West Palm Beach, or still, if you were in a hurry to get
down to Havana and chose to travel straight through, your train would
have gone to Key West, where your Pullman car would have been loaded
onto a ferry for crossing the Straits of Florida; six hours later, you
would arrive in Habana.

Florida East Coast's Havana Special ran from 1912 'til 1935, when the
powerful Labor Day Hurricane demolished much of the roadbed between Key
Largo and Key West, in the process sweeping away more than 400 W.P.A.
workers, when their evacuation train was swept off the tracks in Upper
Matacumbie Key. After that catastrophic hurricane, the railroad was
never rebuilt beyond the mainland; instead, the old F.E.C. road bed
became the foundation for the new U.S. Highway #1 from Homestead to Key

As a child, I loved travelling by train, whether the three-hour milk-run
from Bridgeville, Delaware, near my grandparents' farm on the Eastern
Shore of Maryland, to my home in Philadelphia, or a major journey, such
as that taken when I was 11, in 1954, from Denver, Colorado, after
visiting my aunt and uncle for the summer, back to Philadelphia on the
Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy's California Zepher to Chicago, and
onward, via the Pennsylvania Railroad, to Philadelphia. Since then, I've
crossed and re-crossed our great land on almost every one of Amtrak's
long-distance routes.

It was only natural then that I'd want to ride the Ferrocarilles de
Cuba's Tren Frances, from Habana to Santiago de Cuba. My first try was
in 2004, when I attempted to obtain round-trip tickets for myself, my
wife and two daughters. We couldn't quite work out the schedule, so
wound up taking the ViaAzul bus, instead. My next try was in 2006, from
Santiago to Habana; again there were problems with scheduling. Ditto in
2010, when I tried to obtain round-trip tickets from Habana to Bayamo.
On my fourth attempt, in October of 2012, I succeeded in booking a seat
on the Tren Frances (so called because the cars used on this run are old
carriages purchased by Cuba from the French National Railway) from
Santiago to Habana. (Fortunately, I was able to enjoy Santiago; several
weeks later Hurricane–"Super Storm"– Sandy swept through, causing major
damage to Santiago and surrounding areas, before heading north, where it
caused additional destruction to coastal New Jersey, New York and

I was told to report to the station by 6:00 p.m. for an expected
departure at 7:30 p.m. Arriving at the station, I was informed that the
departure had been pushed back to 9:00 p.m. Even at dusk, the interior
of the large, high-ceilinged, station, a curve-roofed gare of French
design, was like an oven; hence, I retreated to a bench in the
surrounding park. After reading for only a few minutes, however, I began
feeling sharp pricks on my ankles and legs; Cuban biting ants had
decided to torment me.

Abandoning my infested park bench, I ambled over to a nearby food stall
and ordered a croquette. It was inedible, so I gave it to a street dog.
Then, I remembered the special waiting room, in a diminutive white
building hard by the train station, where I had purchased my ticket in
divisa (hard currency) the day before. Retreating to this small waiting
room, I sat down on one of the hard plastic seats. Unfortunately, the
air conditioning was set at 62 deg. F. and after an hour I was
shivering. Next, I retreated back to the main station. Even though the
sun had set, the interior was still like an oven.

After "cooking" for an hour, I retreated again to one of the park
benches outside. This time I was not molested by the biting ants. After
another hour I heard muffled statements emanating from the station's
loudspeakers, so I re-entered the station. Asking another passenger
about that announcement, I discovered that the departure had been pushed
back once again, this time 'til 11:00 p.m. By now, the interior of the
gare had cooled down enough to be endurable. For the next couple of
hours I chatted with a Cuban family (also heading for Habana).

As 11:00 p.m. approached, however, yet another announcement informed us
that the train's departure had been moved back, this time to 3:00 a.m.!
By this time I was getting pretty drowsy, and regretted not retaining at
least some of my luggage—a small rolling suitcase, a ruck-sack and a
day-pack—to use as pillows, instead of earlier checking them all into
the station's baggage room. Exhausted, I lowered myself to the floor and
curled up on the station's hard, unforgiving, terrazzo floor for some
fitful snatches of sleep over the next few hours.

Sensing activity around 2:15 a.m., laboriously I hoisted myself up from
the terrazzo floor and reported to the baggage room, where, handing in
the claim forms, I retrieve my luggage, and headed out to the platform
to be near the head of the lines already forming. For the next hour we
observed the crew loading supplies and freight. So numerous did the crew
seem that I estimated there must be a conductor, and several stewards or
stewardesses, for each coach (an estimation which proved woefully off
the mark).

Finally, the signal was given and everyone surged forward, onto the
platform. Do you recall that memorable scene from the film Dr. Zhivago,
where Yuri Zhivago, his wife and father-in-law board that train in
Moscow during that terrible winter of 1918-19 to travel to Yuriatin, in
the Urals, to find refuge at Borikino, the father-in-law's estate? Now
picture a tropical version of that scene. (I hyperbolize, of course, but
not by much!)

Once I reached my assigned carriage, the two GIANT steps up to the
carriage, especially with all my luggage, proved insurmountable. Where
now were the scores of train crew I had seen boarding previously?
Nowhere to be found! After a valiant attempt to climb up to the
carriage, fellow passengers already aboard took pity and lifted up my
rolling suitcase, while other sympathetic passengers, still beside me on
the platform, gave me a boost up.

Once aboard, the Lord of Chaos reigned supreme. Again, no crew in sight,
and the seat numbering system was ambiguous, resulting in a game of
"musical chairs" for the next quarter hour. In the absence of any crew,
we finally figured out the numbering system and settled in the correct

Brazenly violating the rule on not smoking, one passenger lit up.
Several other passengers informed him that this was forbidden, but he
ignored their remonstrations. A woman pleaded with him to extinguish his
butt, stating that she had asthma, and that his smoke would aggravate
her condition. Her appeal fell on deaf ears. Again, no evidence of the
crew. Finally, many of us in surrounding seats began cough, cough,
coughing, and as our chorus of coughs became ever louder and more
incessant the thoughtless offender relented, and stubbed out his cigarette.

Around 3:15 a.m., the train glided out of the station. Somewhere between
Santiago and Bayamo the conductress took my ticket, and then she spent
much of the next hour berating a family who had gotten on the wrong
train. Their tickets were for a local "milk-run," not the express Tren
Frances. Later, they were put off in Camaguey.

By the time the train pulled out of Santiago, I was drenched in sweat
from the struggle to board the train, put my luggage in the overhead
rack, find, and then switch x 2, my seat. Rather than a seat in one of
the air conditioned, first class, carriages, I had chosen to purchase a
cheaper, second-class, ticket. The breezes from my open window began
cooling me off. Within 15 minutes, however, I was shivering as the
chilly pre-dawn air rushed in. From the overhead, I pulled down my
rucksack and, rummaging through it, found my jacket at the very bottom,
since I had not intended to wear it again until returning North!

On the outskirts of either Cacocum or Bayamo we passed a striking scene:
hundreds of men warming themselves around flaming barrels in the
pre-dawn darkness. Whenever I hear the cliché: "They pretend to pay us
and we pretend to work," I remember these hard-working guajiros, in the
chilly pre-dawn darkness, preparing themselves for a day's labor in el

The interior of the carriage was clean, wide, and tall, with comfortable
reclining seats recently reupholstered in a bright, garish, red
leatherette or naugahyde. Bathrooms, however, were not up to even
one-star standards. In fact, they were in star-negative territory!
Fortunately, during the entire journey I only needed to pee; had I
needed to use the "throne," I would have stood over, and above, it. In
the second-class carriages there were no rolls of sanitary tissue, of

In contrast to the stream-lined, yet closed-in, feel of Amtrak coaches
(at least the ones on routes east of Chicago), those of the Tren Frances
were high and wide. There was enough room in the overhead rack for even
a steamer trunk (if one could have been hoisted it up). Unlike overhead
compartments on airliners, the overhead rack of the Tre Frances easily
held my rucksack, daypack and rolling suitcase.

Between Las Tunas and Camaguey appeared rosy-fingered Dawn, revealing a
vast plane of sugar-cane fields, pasturages–and lots of marabou! I love
train travel because I feel like I am passing through the back yards of
a nation. Even though the scenes may be fleeting (not as fleeting,
however, as those on Amtrak, since both track and equipment of
Ferrocarrilles de Cuba are more decrepit), I get to view scenes hidden
from the "windshield tourists" who drive the Interstates or Autopista
Nactional: desolate crossroads where I can imagine a Cuban Robert
Johnson meeting the Devil to exchange his soul for the gift of playing
his guitar with inspiration, or sleepy little bateys where piglets roam
the streets, guajiros trot along on horseback, elementary students, in
their red uniforms, joke with each other on their way to school, and
abuelas gossip over fences of living cacti.

Although there were other extranjeros up in the first-class, lux,
coaches, I was the only foreigner in my second-class carriage. Since I
was exhausted by my semi-sleepless night on park benches, plastic chairs
and terrazzo floors, I drifted in and out of sleep for much of the trip,
taking a less active role engaging fellow passengers in conversation.
Even at this reduced level, it was delightful experiencing the sights,
sounds and smells as we passed along the 900 km. from Santiago to Habana.

Dozens of vendors came aboard in Camaguey, hawking sandwiches,
cafecitos, soft-drinks, crackers, cakes and other sweets. These were far
better alternatives to the dry, Velvita-type cheese-product sandwiches
and orange drinks proffered by the train stewardess shortly after
leaving Santiago. Sanitary standards were somewhat lacking, however,
with the cafecita vendors reusing the same diminutive cups without
rewashing them; then again, my philosophy is: "Whatever doesn't kill me,
makes me stronger!"

I was a bit shocked when some of my fellow passengers, consuming their
snacks and drinks, blithely tossing both wrappers and empty soda bottles
out the windows. During the late morning and early afternoon we
continued travelling across the vast planes of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila
and Sancti Spiritus Provinces, sometimes glimpsing, from afar, the
Sierra de Escambray range on the West Southwest horizon. For the most
part we traversed vast planes, occasionally going around modest hills.
Since the Tren Frances is express, we bypassed many of the provincial
cities, such as Ciego de Avila and Sancti Spiritus, which I had visited
during my eastward journey down the island a month before. As we
progressed westward, cities and towns became more numerous, with folks
detraining and climbing aboard in Santa Clara and Matanzas. About a
half-hour after leaving Matanzas, the train sped by the abandoned and
forlorn station for Aguacate, where I had cut sugar cane for three
months, during the Zafra de Los Diez Millones, in 1969-70.

As we approached Havana, the excitement of my fellow passengers was
palpable: the buzz of conversation grew louder and the hubbub of folks
retrieving their suitcases and parcels from the overhead and making
ready for their departure became more frenetic, especially as the train
slowed to a crawl through the outlying industrial zones. This activity
culminated with our arrival at Havana's Estacion Central.

The train's aisles filled with folk waiting to descend to the platform,
and the platform itself became a scene of chaos: passengers reuniting
with their families and friends, then hurrying off in cars, taxis,
buses, and camiones (passenger trucks) to their final destinations.
Since I was burdened with a rucksack, daypack and small rolling
suitcase, after making my way out to the street I opted for a taxi to my
destination in a far western suburb of Habana, first, of course,
negotiating the price in advance. After checking into the Hotel
Mariposa, in La Lisa, I drew the curtains, flung off my clothes, turned
off the lights, dove into bed, and slept soundly for the next twelve hours!

Would I elect to make such a journey again? Probably. Taking the
Ferrocarrilles de Cuba is not for the faint of heart, nor for those with
low levels of tolerance. Also, I might have second thoughts had I
arrived 27 hours late, as did another extranjero some years back! Still,
if you are a lover of trains, someone who wants to experience Cuba more
authentically (without, of course, taking this authenticity to the
extreme by taking a series of trucks from Santiago to Habana), and
embraces the philosophy that "getting there is half the fun," then
Ferrocarilles de Cuba is your ticket to the stars!

Source: A Train Trip in Cuba from Santiago to Havana - Havana
- Continue reading
Now People Don't Want the "Chavitos" (CUCs) / Alberto Mendez Castello
Posted on April 20, 2014

Currency speculation has the island on the edge of mental collapse.
Monday with which to pay wages is scarce. Peso equivalents to the dollar
aren't sold. Informal money changes want real dollars.

Puerto Padre, Cuba — The State Currency Exchange (CADECA) resumed the
sale of convertible pesos (CUC) today, after some interrupted for lack
of non-convertible, i.e. Cuban pesos (CUP). "We are exchanging any
quantify of convertible pesos for national money (CUP), without any
problem," an employee of CADECA said this morning, when asked by this
correspondent. "For me, they changed 24 CUC at 24-to-one, and you see
the 100 peso notes they gave me in exchange," said a man after leaving

Indeed, the curiosity of the young man was not unfounded: although the
date on the notes was 2008, the paper and ink "smelled" as if it had
just come off the presses. The private exchangers don't accept CUCs now
because, simply, people won't by them."

"I brought seven hundred CUC here and I haven't sold one," said the
exchanger, about noon, regarding the convertible pesos popularly known
as chavitos. "The people who don't receive remittances don't have money,
and those who do receive them don't need chavitos."

In Puerto Padre, CUC used to be common in people's pockets; a large
community of immigrants, primarily based in the U.S., sent dollars
relatives and friends which reached the recipients already changed into
CUCs through Miami agencies engaged in this business.

The same applies to medical personnel or those of other institutions,
who, in filling government posts in Latin America and Africa, are also
holders of convertible pesos. Interestingly, these government
collaborators are frequent customers of private moneychangers who
operate illegally, buying U.S. dollars to carry on their missions abroad
to buy appliances and other goods that it would otherwise be impossible
to bring to Cuba with what are paid for their "internationalist"

"I don't buy chavitos now, only dollars in large bills, all they have,"
whispers an underground exchanger on the corner. For every 100 dollar
bill, today he pays 97 pesos.

Cubanet, 19 March 2014, Alberto Méndez Castelló

Source: Now People Don't Want the "Chavitos" (CUCs) / Alberto Mendez
Castello | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Guille, The Macho Guajiro / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on April 20, 2014

Angel Santiesteban Prats dedicates this article to Guillermo Vidal, to
remember the tenth anniversary of his death. He wrote it from the Lawton
Prison Settlement for the column "Some Write" from the digital magazine
"OtroLunes" ("Another Monday").
By Angel Santiesteban Prats

It's always a pleasure to remember Guillermo Vidal.

Sharing with him the adventure of writing has been one of the great
rewards that life has offered me. His sympathy, modesty and talent
seasoned his conversations. He was a man called to make friends, easy to
like, and always persecuted by injustice, since they never could make
him bow down. He maintained his literature at a high price, because he
didn't yield even one iota of his level of social criticism.

When they expelled him as a professor from the university, they didn't
even ask how he was going to live or maintain his family. Being despised
and marginalized by the government of his territory in Las Tunas, by the
demand of the political police, he became himself.

He was part of an intellectual existence that he accepted with stoicism,
without complaint, which he endured in solitude and repaid with
brilliant writing. That was his revenge.

After treating him like the plague for many years, the government
offered a tribute to an official writer, and we agreed to attend if
Guille would be among those invited. Once there, in the seat of the
Provincial Party, in the same lair as the dictatorship, one of us said
publicly that our presence had no other end but to lionize Guillermo
Vidal, the most important living writer of Las Tunas, and one of the
most important in the country; that it was a way of supporting him and
demonstrating our friendship.

The government functionaries and those in charge of culture opened their
eyes, surprised by the audacity. Those were the times when we still had
not gained some rights that we have now, and where for much less than
what is done today, there were immediate reprisals.

What is certain is that on that night and in the following days, we felt
like better people and better intellectuals for showing our solidarity
with him. Later he let us know that, from that moment, things got better
for him. He stopped being banned and persecuted, because the authorities
feared his contacts in the country, especially in Havana.

Now that we are on the eve of another congress of UNEAC (National Union
of Writers and Artists of Cuba), I remember what happened during the
decade of the '90s. After the vote to name the officers, Professor Ana
Cairo, the officer of the Roger Avila Association of Writers, and I
counted the votes, and there were a surprising number of artists who
voted for Guillermo Vidal.

No one else had as many votes; no one even came close. However, later,
when I saw who they elected, I understood that the votes were only a
game, because Abel Prieto determined the election. They didn't give any
commission to Guillermo Vidal, not even in his own province. He was
cursed, on the list of the marginalized.

When he died, it caused an infinite sadness, impossible to describe. I
called the Institute of the Book (ICL), since I knew that they would
have transport to take writers who wanted to participate in his burial.

The Taliban Iroel Sanchez, at that time the President of this
institution, assured me that the microbus already had seats assigned. Of
course, he was lying to me, and I intuited that in his words. Later,
those who made the trip in that transport told me that not all the seats
were taken.

I regretted very much not being able to say goodbye to him in that last
moment. They feared that the truth would come out: that they had
condemned him in life by closing all the doors to him that he knew his
literature, a stroke of talent, would win. Surely I would have said that.

You can't talk about Cuban literature at the end of the 20th century
without mentioning the genres of the short story and the novel. However,
in spite of the human misery that surrounded him, and the material
poverty they obliged him to suffer, his genius at being a good Cuban
jokester is the first thing that comes to mind when we think about him.
That's how I want to remember him now.

The book fairs in Havana take place in February and almost always
coincide with his birthday, the 10th, that all his friends celebrated in
harmony. We also celebrated February 14. I have one of his books,
presented to me during those days, and I remember the dedication to me
that "in spite of it being the day of love (Valentine's Day), don't get
me wrong, I was a macho, macho guajiro."

He had a spectacular snore. It almost loosened the nails from the beams
and raised the roof. When you approached his room, the first sensation
was that there was a roaring lion inside. The result? No one wanted to
share a room with him.

Once, late in the night in Ciego de Avila, I met another writer from Las
Tunas, Carlos Esquivel, literally crying in the lobby of the hotel
because he couldn't manage to sleep with those snorts.

When I described this scene the next day to Guillermo, he laughed like a
naughty child. He asked me to repeat the story so he could continue to
amuse himself, and he called for the others to listen to what suffering
he was capable of inflicting, unconsciously.

In one of the prizes he won, and there were several, he had the luck to
receive dollars. Then we got a telephone call saying that he was a
relative of Rockefeller, and that he was ready to share his fortune;
thus, he was generous. Certainly, in those few months I didn't have a
cent, and he continued in his material poverty. No one except his
friends and spouse could believe him.

At one book fair in Guadalajara he told me that sometimes he had the
impression that the government permitted him to leave to see if he
stayed and they would get rid of him, and he laughed imagining the faces
of the functionaries when they saw him return.

In one of his visits to Havana, he confessed to me how surprised he was
because another writer told him that he envied him, and he couldn't
conceive of being anyone to envy, and he laughed. "When I go home from
the university, at high noon, the cars pass me and no one gives me a
ride, and they leave me wrapped in dust to the point that I stop
breathing so I don't swallow the dust," he said, and he began to laugh.

Then I told him that I would exchange all that poverty for his books,
that I also envied him, and he got serious, and in a respectful tone
asked me if I was serious.

Thus he always comes into my memory, ironic as the priest's pardon after
confessing sins, and as sweet as the tamarind that they give the leaders
to taste.

This year is the tenth anniversary of his physical disappearance. And
every year, in spite of some mediocre political and cultural figures who
agree to forget him, the imprint of Guillermo Vidal on Cuban culture
overrides frontiers and political regimes. And this is elaborated with
the passage of time, which was the only thing he didn't laugh about. To
struggle against time through writing was an exercise on which he bet
his life.

Published in OtroLunes.

Please follow the link and sign the petition to have Amnesty
International declare the Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner
of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

9 April 2014

Source: Guille, The Macho Guajiro / Angel Santiesteban | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 04.20.14

Cuba moves to end condom shortage by selling stock with 'wrong
expiration dates'

Hoping to resolve a shortage of condoms that has sparked complaints
around Cuba, the island's public health system has approved the sale of
more than one million prophylactics with apparently expired dates.

Pharmacy sales personnel must explain to the buyers that the condoms are
good and simply have the wrong expiration dates, said a report Saturday
in Vanguardia, the newspaper of the Communist Party in the central
province of Villa Clara.

A Vanguardia report April 3 on the shortage said that the government
agency in charge of certifying medical items in 2012 had noticed
erroneous expiration dates on the "Moments" prophylactics imported from

The agency ordered the condoms be repackaged with the correct dates, the
newspaper added. But the state-run enterprise repackaging the more than
one million condoms in stock does not have enough workers to process the
5,000 condoms a day required just in Villa Clara province.

Vanguardia did not publish the "wrong" dates, but its report hinted that
they showed the prophylactics had expired or would soon expire. The
shelf life of condoms is very long, it said.

"Although the lots are in optimal conditions, under the certificate of
the Center for the State Control of Medicines and Medical Equipment the
condoms could not be sold without the new expiration date, December of
2014," Vanguardia reported Saturday.

"Due to the irregularities in the repackaging, which has provoked
prolonged absences of the prophylactics throughout the country, the
Public Health Ministry authorized the sale of the 'Moments' condoms in
their current packages," on April 4, the newspaper said.

Several Cuban bloggers commented acridly on the shortage long after
April 4, with some noting that it could lead to the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The
story was picked up in el Nuevo Herald and The Guardian in London.

The Cuban government, meanwhile, also published a list of companies
around the world that are authorized to ship packages to the island, a
business hit routinely with complaints of lost packages, high prices and
outright fraud.

The list "will allow those who send these types of shipments from abroad
to confirm that the agency they plan to use is among those authorized to
carry out those operations with Cuba," said a report in the
government-controlled Cubadebate website.

The U.S. companies listed: Wilson Intl.; Service Inc.; Machi Community
Services; Va Cuba; Caribe Express; Vía Cuba; Flor Caribe Inc.; Caribbean
Family and Travel Services Inc.; Aztec Worldwide Airlines Inc.;
Procurements Systems Inc.; Crowley Logistics Inc.; Frontline Cargo
Logistic; International Port Corp; Ez Shipping LLC; Centrotrading LLC;

The list, compiled by Cuba's customs agency, also included Cugranca, a
Spanish firm approved to provide delivery and currency exchange services
for people in the United States.

Source: Cuba moves to end condom shortage by selling stock with 'wrong
expiration dates' - Cuba - - Continue reading
Why Doesn't the Cuban Regime Dialogue With the Dissidence? / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 19, 2014

Luis, retired military and supporter of the regime, has a few arguments
to debate with several neighbors playing dominoes in the doorway of a
bodega in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton.

The theme of the day is the dialog between the opposition and Nicolas
Maduro's government, broadcast on Thursday night on TeleSur. Among the
players were professionals, unemployed, ex prisoners and retirees.

"When we see this type of face-to-face debate, one realizes we are
living in total feudalism. Cuba hurts. Here we have a ton of problems
that have accumulated over these 55 years. The government has no
respect. The solution is to carry on: more taxes, prohibitions on
private work, and raising the price of powdered milk. Why don't they
follow the example of Venezuela and sit down to talk with the
dissidence," asks Joel, a former teacher who now survives selling
fritters on Calzada 10 de Octubre.

The ex-soldier Luis feels dislocated by the several ideological
pirouettes of the Castros. Unrelentingly sexist and homophobic, these
new times are an undecipherable code.

"Even I have my doubts. I fought in Angola. We were trained in Che's
theories not to cede an inch to the enemy (and he signs with his
fingers). But now everything is a mess. The old faggots, that we used to
censure, walk around kissing on every corner. The self-employed earn
five times more than a state worker. And the worms are called señor. If
the government is on the wrong path, say so loud and clear. We
supporters have a few reasonable arguments to fire back," says Luis,

The dialogue table between the opposition and the government in
Venezuela was a success for many in Cuba. Arnaldo, manager of a hard
currency store, continued the debate until around two in the morning.

"I was amazed. I don't not know if it was a blunder of the official
censorship. But the next day on the street, people wondered why dissent
in Cuba remains a stigma. As for me, the discourse of the Venezuelan
opposition was striking. They spoke without shouting, with statistics
showing that the failure of the economic model and highly critical of
Cuban interference in Venezuela," said the manager.

Noel, a private taxi driver, believes that "if the pretension was to
ridicule the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) with the discourse of the
Chavistas. it backfired. Capriles and company had a deeper analysis and
objectives than the government. Like in Cuba, the PSUV (United Socialist
Party of Venezuela) defended themselves by attacking and speaking ill of
the capitalist past. They do not realize that what it's about is the
chaos of the present and how to try to solve it in the future."

In a quick survey of the 11 people watching who watched the debate, 10
thought the opposition was superior. The best comments were for
Guillermo Aveledo and Henrique Capriles.

"Those on the other side seemed like fascists. Frayed, with a mechanical
discourse filled with dogmas like those of the Cuban Communist Party
Talibans. The worst among the Chavista was the deputy Blanca Eekhout.
She's more fanatical and incoherent than Esteban Lazo, and that's saying
a lot," commented a university student.

Although institutions and democracy in Venezuela have been taken by
assault, with under-the-table privileges, populism and political
cronyism among the PSUV comrades, in full retreat, the fact is that
there is a legal opposition allowed to do battle in the political field.

Cuba is something else. Despite the efforts of CELAC (Central and Latin
American Community) and the European Union patting the old leader on the
back and seducing him with the red carpet treatment, it continues as the
only country in the western hemisphere where dissidence is a state crime.

The opposition on the island is repressed with beatings and verbal
lynchings. A law currently in effect, Law 88, allows the regime to
imprison a dissident or free journalist for 20 years or more for writing
a note the authorities deem harmful to their interests.

For Ana Maria, a professional who applauded Fidel Castro's speeches for
year, seeing a political dialogue like that in Venezuela on Telesur,
allowed her to analyze things from a different perspective.

"It's a dictatorship. No better or worse. It's hard to accept that many
of us Cubans have been wrong for too long. I lost my youth deluded,
repeating slogans and accepting that others, without asking me my
opinion, manipulated us at their will," she confessed.

Eleven U.S. administrations, with controversial programs or others of
dubious effectiveness such as Zunzuneo, have been unable to spread an
original message and change the opinions of ordinary citizens, like the
enduring repression, economic nonsense, rampant corruption, prohibitions
of 3D movie rooms and the sale of cars at Ferrari prices, among others.

In these autocratic societies, you never know if an apparent reform will
produce benefits or it will begin digging its own grave. It's like
walking on a minefield.

Iván García

Photo: Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, shaking hands with
Henrique Capriles, secretary-general of the Democratic Unity Roundtable
(MUD). Madura greeted him without looking at his face, though Capriles
looked at his, demonstrating and more correct and better behavior than
the successor to Chavez. Taken from Noticias de Montreal.

15 April 2014

Source: Why Doesn't the Cuban Regime Dialogue With the Dissidence? /
Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
A Law with Dark Corners / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 19, 2014

The Foreign Investment Law, debated and approved by the National
Assembly in extraordinary session, has some worrisome aspects, both for
foreign investors as well as for Cuban citizens.

It seems that Cubans living in other countries are not covered under the
law since the definition of a domestic investor applies only to current
legal residents of Cuba and to cooperatives. The latter are legally
recognized non-state administrative entities which may participate as
domestic investors in projects financed with foreign capital but which
remain completely under state control to prevent the accumulation of
excess wealth.

Elsewhere, investment priority is usually given to a country's own
residents, then to its overseas residents and lastly to foreigners. In
Cuba it is the opposite: foreigners get top priority. Afterwards, we
have to listen to authorities tirelessly proclaiming themselves to be
the defenders of national dignity, independence and sovereignty.

The claim that investments "may not be expropriated except for reasons
of public utility or social interest, as previously defined by the
Council of Ministers" should give one pause. This is a well-established
procedure in most countries. Before such actions can be taken, they must
be discussed and approved by legislative bodies (a house of
representatives, senate, parliament or national assembly).

It is a process in which those concerned — governmental authorities as
well as those in the opposition who may hold with differing views —
participate fully. Final implementation is subject to review by the
judicial branch, which makes sure any such actions do not violate the

This is not the case in Cuba where the National Assembly is made up
exclusively of deputies from one party. It is a legislative body without
an opposition in which anything the government proposes is approved
unanimously. The Cuban judiciary, which is nothing more than an appendix
of the government, also has no independence.

In spite of anything that has been stipulated in writing, investors lack
any real protection or legal recourse. They remain subject to decisions
by a centralized authority in the person of the president, who for
political, ideological or circumstantial reasons can act as he pleases
without having to consult anyone, as has happened repeatedly over the
last fifty-six years.

Regarding employment of Cuban citizens, the law stipulates that an
investor must hire workers through an employment agency selected by the
Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and authorized by the
Ministry of Labor and Social Security. Payment to workers would be by
mutual agreement between the investor and the employer. Neither exchange
occurs between the investor and the worker directly but through a state

Though the purported purpose is not to generate revenue, it stipulates
that a portion of the wages paid by the investor will be retained to
cover costs and expenses for services provided.

As one might expect, there is a big difference between what the investor
pays and what the employee receives. The salary paid to the employee
will correspond to a minimum wage set by the employment agency, which it
claims will be higher than that for the country's other workers. Also
factored in will be a coefficient which will allow the agency to adjust
salaries based on a worker's performance.

The unfortunate history of low pay for doctors, teachers, athletes and
other professionals working overseas to fulfill the Cuban government's
contracts with other countries speaks volumes.

It would perhaps have been advantageous to draft an investment law that
also regulated state investments (considering the many examples of bad
investments made over the years). It might also have covered private
investment, differentiating between foreign and domestic investment.

In regards to domestic investment, it might have included both
investment by Cubans living on the island as well as those living
overseas, especially since the latter currently must also possess a
Cuban passport to enter and exit the country, thus confirming their
legal status as Cuban citizens.

This law is not free from the burden of obsolete concepts of failed
socialism, with the objective in ensuring a leading role for the state.
It lacks sufficient transparency to really stimulate foreign investment
and includes some traps into which those who bet on it, without giving
it enough thought, might fall.

7 April 2014

Source: A Law with Dark Corners / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Yoani Sanchez - Award-winning Cuban blogger

Cuba's Culture of Violence: A Dangerous Spiral
Posted: 04/20/2014 12:44 am EDT Updated: 04/20/2014 12:59 am EDT

A woman hits a child, who appears to be her son, on one corner. The
passersby who see it don't get involved. A hundred yards further on, two
men get in a fight because one stepped on the other's shoe. I arrive
home thinking about this aggressiveness, just under the skin, that I
feel in the street. To relax my tension I read the latest issue of the
magazine Coexistence, which just celebrated six years since its
founding. I find in its pages an article by Miriam Celaya, who
coincidentally addresses this "dangerous spiral" of blows, screams and
irritation that surrounds us.

Under the title "Notes on the anthropological origins of violence in
Cuba," the scathing analyst delves into the historical and cultural
antecedents of the phenomenon. Our own national trajectory, steeped in
"blood and fire," does not help much when it comes time to promote
attitudes like pacifism, harmony and reconciliation. From the horrors of
slavery during the colonial period, through the wars of independence
with their machete charges and their high-handed caudillos, up to the
violent events that also characterized the republic. A long list of
fury, blows, weapons and insults shaped our character and are
masterfully enumerated by the journalist in her text.

The process that started in 1959 deserves special mention, as it made
class hatred and the elimination of those who are different fundamental
pillars of the political discourse. Thus, even today, the greater part
of the anniversaries commemorated by the government refer to battles,
wars, deaths or "flagrant defeats inflicted" on the opponent. The cult
of anger is such that the official language itself no longer realizes
the rage it promotes and transmits.

But take care! Hatred cannot be "remotely controlled" once fomented.
When rancor is kindled against another country, it ends up also
validating the grudge against the neighbor whose wall adjoins ours.
Those of us who grew up in a society where the act of repudiation has
been justified as the "legitimate defense of a revolutionary people,"
may think that blows and screams are the way to relate to what we don't
understand. In this environment of violence, for us harmony becomes
synonymous with capitulation and peaceful coexistence is a trap that we
want to make "the enemy" to fall into.

19 April 2014

Follow Yoani Sanchez on Twitter:

Source: Cuba's Culture of Violence: A Dangerous Spiral | Yoani Sanchez - Continue reading
Cuba Faces Condom Shortage
April 19, 2014
By José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES — The iffy supply of condoms in Cuban pharmacies and
markets in recent months has meant greater risk for some and an
impediment to others who prefer to restrain their libidos rather than
fall sick or become pregnant.

The situation seems to have worsened since early April but has been
intermittent for more than a year, in another recurring episode of
bureaucratic mismanagement and shortages.

"I don't know what's happening, but I know that they're not available,"
says a young student of medicine, who adds a warning about the danger
posed by the lack of condoms. "The indices of pregnancies and abortions
are up, and so are the sexually transmitted diseases," (STD) he says.

The condom conundrum

According to the Public Health Ministry, the interruption in the
distribution of "preservativos" occurred because of the need to
repackage millions of units of the "Momentos" brand, which arrived from
China showing an expiration date of 2012 although they're good until
late 2014.

The process meant recalling the product throughout the island and
relabeling it, in the absence of new supplies of other brands or even
the same brand.

Evidently, it has been impossible to solve the problem quickly, because
the health authorities on April 7 authorized the sale of condoms without
correcting the "printing error," according to an announcement by the
Medical Supplies Enterprise and the Center for the State Control of
Medications, Medical Equipment and Devices (CECMED).

As articles for medical use, condoms are heavily subsidized, because the
price of a strip of three units is barely 1 peso — less than five cents
of a dollar. But the fact that they are a product managed only by the
health authorities means that the market leaves little room to choose.

"Although the Momentos condoms have never been among the better
accepted, they're the ones that the government bought and they're the
only ones that are available until year's end," admits one of the
specialists in the STD/HIV/AIDS-prevention program.

He sides with those who say that Cuba does not import products from
wherever it wants but from wherever it can, due to the lack of money and
the U.S. embargo.

Until recently, Cubans could buy other condoms sold under the brand
names "Love" and "Vigor" (the latter a product financed by the United
Nations World Fund) but the contract with the makers of the former was
not renewed and the latter used up the five years of international
financing it had for its production.

Not just quantity; quality, too

"The Momentos are supposed to be tested electronically, but I don't
believe that because, when you open them, it is obvious that they have
very little lubricant," says Claudia Martínez, a young radio reporter in
south-central Cuba.

"I've found that the condoms sometimes break," says a 19-year-old girl.
Her opinion on the quality of the available condoms coincides with those
of many others.

"The number of condoms that break matches the proportion established by
the international parameters," says Ramiro Espinosa González, chief of
the anti-AIDS program in Cienfuegos province.

"There are condoms with better quality and others with standard quality,
but all meet the international requirements for safety," Espinosa says.
"When they break, it's almost always because of the improper technique
used to slip them on."

According to medical indicators, for a population to consider itself
"sexually protected," it must use condoms in at least 73 percent of all
the acts of copulation.

The reality in Cuba is far from that objective. In a small province like
Cienfuegos (pop. 400,000) only 28 percent of the sexually active
population uses prophylactics, yet it's one of the provinces with the
highest condom usage.

Colors and types of every variety

Some users are advocating an increase in the supplies but without state
subsidy, so as not to depend on just one option.

In some stores, condoms are sold in convertible pesos, or CUC, a unit of
currency equivalent to one dollar or 24 "national" pesos, or CUP, but
the prices are a strain on a Cuban's average income. A box can cost as
much as 1.80 CUC (almost 50 CUP), one-eighth of the average monthly wage
in Cuba.

In the face of a fluctuating supply, a momentary solution is solidarity.

"Friends tell each other who has [condoms] and where. They share a few
of them, because the only option is abstinence, if we don't want to
contract a disease or become pregnant," says blogger Alejando Ulloa, one
of the many young men who have to walk up and down the streets of the
capital to find a condom or the answer to why they disappeared.

Source: Cuba Faces Condom Shortage - Havana - Continue reading
Cuba, US are warily, slowly improving relations
By Bryan Bender | GLOBE STAFF APRIL 20, 2014

HAVANA — The imposing, seven-story structure with darkened windows sits
just across from the Malecon, or sea wall, central Havana's communal
hangout. It is unadorned, flying no flags, offering few signs that
germinating inside are seeds of a better relationship between official

The United States cut off relations and imposed a trade embargo with
communist Cuba more than half a century ago. But at the so-called US
Interests Section in Havana, 50 US diplomats and 300 locally hired
Cubans are quietly working on a range of common challenges.

The two governments are cooperating to combat human trafficking, improve
airline security, and conduct search and rescue operations. They are
working on joint efforts to improve public health and guard against
environmental degradation. And "working-level" discussions are under way
to do more, officials say.

Ideas: Cuba, you owe us $7 billion
The Drug Enforcement Agency could soon be sending agents to work with
Cuban counterparts to track South American cartels, and the United
States has proposed reestablishing direct mail delivery between the

The behind-the-scenes work continues despite the recent controversy over
a covert US effort to provide Cubans access to a Twitter-like social

Another thorny disagreement is over the fate of Alan Gross, a US State
Department contractor who has been jailed in Cuba for four years,
accused of being a spy. Cuban officials insist they want something in
return; namely, three Cubans convicted in the United States on charges
that they were intelligence agents.

"There is a big over-arching political cleft. But we are doing a number
of things that have been politically blessed by both sides," said a
senior US diplomat who works at the diplomatic post.

The diplomat — who requested anonymity to speak, in compliance with
State Department rules — expressed frustration that interaction between
the two governments at higher levels is still officially prohibited.

The Obama administration, under pressure from politically powerful
Cuban-Americans in South Florida and their supporters in Congress,
insists that relations can be restored only when Cubans win "fundamental
human rights and the ability to freely determine their own political

Cuba's leaders, meanwhile, decry continuing US efforts to destabilize
their one-party system.

But a recent visit to this island just 90 miles from Florida, and
interviews with Cuban and American officials, revealed a slow but
unmistakable thaw on both sides of the Florida Straits. They are
realistic about the snail's pace of change, while describing pent-up
demand for better economic opportunities.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the US Interests Section, housed in
the former US Embassy that was completed just before the Cuban
Revolution in 1959, when Fidel Castro, along with his brother Raul, took

Each day, up to 800 Cubans line up seeking various services such as
licenses for cultural exchanges, passport services, and other travel
documents. That compares with about 100 per day last year, according to
US diplomats.

US residents are now the second largest group of foreign travelers to
Cuba each year, behind Canada, including at least half a million
Cuban-Americans last year, who are now allowed to freely travel here
under relaxed rules instituted in 2009. Another 100,000 Americans
visited as part of educational and cultural exchanges approved by the US
State Department.

According to a new report by the Havana Consulting Group, more than
173,000 US residents visited the island just between January and March
of this year.

Meanwhile, studies find that money and goods pumped directly into the
Cuban economy by Cuban-Americans — as much as $5 billion in 2012 — now
outstrip the country's four major sectors, including tourism as well as
nickel, pharmaceutical, and sugar exports. That is having a major impact
on a population of just 11 million people, most of whom barely eke out
an existence in the island's centrally controlled economy.

Cuban officials, who agreed to speak to a reporter only if they were not
named, denied the common view among Cubans that the government is
fearful of renewed ties with its neighbor to the north.

"We can defend what we have. We are not afraid," said a senior official
at Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "We have spent 50 years preparing
the people for anything."

The gradual thaw in relations provides some hope for many average
Cubans. The country's economic anemia — the average Cuban earns roughly
$17 a month — is evident in daily life, from a crumbling infrastructure
that has seen little investment since the 1950s, to shortages of staples
such as eggs and meat, which for many Cubans are still rationed.

Darien Garcia Arco, 26, an electrical engineer who works for the
government, earns the equivalent of about $70 a month. That is more than
most Cubans, he points out, allowing him to have his own apartment, a
rarity for someone his age.

"There have been changes. Now you can buy and sell in a way that you
couldn't before," Arco said at a small social gathering in a dilapidated
high-rise (which, like most buildings, still has a Committee for the
Defense of the Revolution post on its ground floor, a mainstay of Cuba's
surviving police state apparatus).

"Things are changing but they should have changed years ago,'' Arco
said. "They are still not being felt widely."

The older generation, which appears most committed to the socialist
model spearheaded by the Castro brothers, also openly expresses a desire
for greater opportunity. Maria Cirules, who fought with some of the
leading Marxists who took power in 1959 and is now in her 70s, recounted
some of the hard-won achievements of Cuba's socialist political system:
Health care for all. Near-total literacy. No starvation.

"That is a conquest for us," she proudly declared.

Yet when asked what her late comrade, socialist visionary Ernesto Che
Guevara, might think of modern Cuba's economic situation, she was just
as adamant.

"He wouldn't like it," she said. "He was very exacting."

There have been a series of reforms instituted since Raul Castro took
over as president in 2009 from his ailing brother, who ruled for nearly
50 years.

Dozens of private restaurants, known as casa particulares, have appeared
in the past few years, usually located in private homes or apartments,
an easily visible sign that the government is allowing more of a
free-market economy to emerge. A few state enterprises have also been
turned into cooperatives.

The Cuban government has recently welcomed some foreign investment,
including a port project and industrial zone underway on the western
part of the island that is financed by Brazilian investors. Also, the
parliament is considering a broader foreign investment law.

Most striking to longtime observers was the announcement last year that
Cubans, who have largely been prisoners in their own country, can apply
to travel out of the country. There is also a small but vibrant
blogosphere emerging on the government-controlled Internet, including
some commentators who are openly critical of the government.

One US official who has had a unique viewpoint into the changes is
Representative James P. McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who has long
advocated for normalizing relations.

"It is difficult but it is not oppressive," McGovern, visiting Cuba at
the same time as a Globe reporter, said of the political atmosphere
here. "It is not to minimize the human rights challenges, but there have
been changes here that have resulted in more political space."

McGovern, who has traveled here more than a dozen times since his first
trip in 1979, nevertheless believes the Obama administration, acting
independently, can do far more to encourage change here, and he has
taken his case directly to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, his former
Bay State congressional colleague.

"I firmly believe that now is the time to take more significant steps
that address our relationship with Cuba," he said.

Among the steps McGovern and his allies in Congress are advocating is
permitting US firms to offer goods and services to the privately run
businesses and cooperatives and increasing the number of Americans who
can apply for a license to travel to Cuba for educational and cultural

Another plea falls directly under Kerry's purview: removing Cuba from
the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would
clear some of the legal impediments to greater diplomatic engagement.
("Nobody can explain to me why they are on the terrorist list," McGovern

The State Department says it has no plans to remove Cuba from the list.
But a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said that
such sanctions against Cuba are "only one aspect of US policy."

"The administration has taken steps to improve conditions for Cuban
citizens through initiatives aimed at increasing the flow of
information, resources, and humanitarian relief," said Angela M.
Cervetti. "We will continue to think creatively about appropriate policy
changes that will enhance the Cuban people's access to human rights and
fundamental freedoms, and their ability to freely determine their own

She also said that Gross's continued detention "impedes our ability to
establish a more constructive relationship with Cuba on matters
affecting both countries."

For longtime Cuban officials like Gladys Rodriquez, there remains a deep
sense that the road to normalization will require more struggle.

"I will admit that I still believe the day the United States will lift
the blockade or embargo is far away," said Rodriquez, an official at
Cuba's National Council of Heritage.

She has worked for more than a decade with Boston-based Finca Vagia
Foundation to restore the Cuban legacy of American novelist Ernest
Hemingway, a project McGovern helped launch and that, like the broader
relationship, has suffered from some fits and start.

"But I do have the conviction that sooner or later, the process we are
all waiting for shall take place and our two countries will have normal
relations," she said.

Bryan Bender can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

Source: Cuba and United States are warily, slowly thawing relations -
Nation - The Boston Globe - Continue reading
Cuba: Changes Come, Although the General May Not Want Them To / Juan
Juan Almeida
Posted on April 19, 2014

For more than half a century, the Cuban Revolution developed exclusively
inspired by the powerful and omnipresent archetype Fidel Castro. An
image that no longer exists or is hidden is the dressing rooms of the
current political-economic-social theater. That is why when someone asks
me if there exist in Cuba objective and subjective conditions for
forging change, I always begin by saying: It depends on what we
understand and want to assume by "Change."

It is clear that the so extended process called the Cuban Revolution did
not lead to a more just or prosperous or inclusive society, but to a
strange and irrational collapse that still endures. The seizure of all
powers, judicial and executive, did away with the legal protection of
the citizen, and imposed apathy and fear; like that singular combination
that exists between a cup of coffee with milk and a piece of bread with

The old Asian theory that speaks of two elements is the basis of the
idea that all phenomena of the universe are the result of the movement
and mutation of various categories. The good and the bad, the beautiful
and the ugly, the yin and the yang.

The presence of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the chief of the
political department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party,
and the misguided intervention of the President of the Republic of Cuba
in the closing event of the recently held Eighth Congress of UNEAC was a
terrible implementation of this old theory, and a disastrous strategy
for showing the authority of the Government and the State, and at the
same time it tried to reconquer the intelligentsia that as we all now
know appears because of obstinacy, compromise, inertia or boredom, but
that for some time, due to these same reasons, distanced itself from the

The island's government, upon the prompt and unstoppable disappearance
if its leader-guide-priest and example, manages to entertain by talking
of transformation while it intimidates us, leaving very clear the place
of each in its chain of command.Many times we have seen dissident voices
that issue from within the island repressed using mental patients with
disorders like bi-polar and schizophrenia that without adequate
medication exhibit extremely violent behaviors. Outrageous.

I ask myself what the representatives of international organizations do,
or what those sensitive and passionate people who decided to defend
vehemently and peevishly the Hippocratic oath say, on learning that the
mentally ill are used as deadly weapons.

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic, at that time the safest boat in the
world, crashed into an iceberg, and while it was sinking, the orchestra
played. In all ways, whether the general wants it or not, change is
coming, although I have to admit that since 2008, the man has exerted
himself in confusing us with an imaginary and mythological climate of
national improvements and radical reforms; on one hand he shows several
political prisoners, and on the other he hides political prisoners from
us (here the order of the factors does alter the product).

According to the Marxist bible, the Communist Manifesto, a
transformation of the structure of the classes demands a change in the
social order and a political revolution.

La Habana decided to wind up its old and rusted clock because it had
turned into quite the brake.

Translated by mlk.

14 April 2014

Source: Cuba: Changes Come, Although the General May Not Want Them To /
Juan Juan Almeida | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Overthrowing the Castros with Twitter / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 19, 2014

Barack Obama and the State Department aren't stupid. But on the issue of
Cuba they act as if they were. Their cluelessness is monumental. They
should check their sources of information.

The NSA team in charge of monitoring phone calls to and from Cuba, as
well as emails and the preferences of the still small number of Internet
users on the island seems to be on vacation.

A word to the US think tanks that come up with political strategies for
Cuba: obsession disrupts insight.

Let's analyze the points against having a couple of autocratic dinosaurs
as neighbors. It's true that Fidel Castro expropriated US business
without paying a cent. He also seized the businesses of hundreds of
Cubans who are now citizens of that country.

Castro has all the earmarks of a caudillo. Ninety miles from the United
States, he blatantly allied with the Soviet empire and even placed
nuclear arms in Cuba. He destablized governments in Latin America. He
places himself on the chessboard of the Cold War, participating in
various African wars.

As he was an annoying guy, they tried to kill him with a shot to the
forehead or with a potent poison that was activated by using his pen.
Out of bad luck of the lack of guts of his executioners, the plans failed.

For five decades, the bearded one continued to lash out against US
imperialism. Then Hugo Chavez appeared on the scene along with the
troupe of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. On Central America the
presidential chair was returned to the unpresentable Daniel Ortega.
Kicking the anti-American can.

I can understand what it means to have an annoying neighbor. I live in a
building where a woman starts screaming insults at 8:00 in the morning
and other one usually plays reggaeton at full volume. But common sense
says, move or learn to live with different people.

Cuba and the United States will always be there. Closer than they
wanted. What to do?

An American politician can raise the alarm because there is no
democracy, nor political freedoms, nor freedom of expression on the
island. He knows that Cubans on the other side of the pond have three
state newspapers that say the same thing and that dissidence is
prohibited. They consider it a horror. And he candidly thinks, "Let's
help them. Teach them how to install a democracy."

This is where the gringo philosophy of reversing the status quo comes
into play. They are right in their dissections, but the solution fails them.

Cuba's problems, which range from political exclusion,the absence of an
autonomous civil society, the legal illiteracy of most citizens, lack of
freedom of the press and political parties and the fact that opposition
is illegal, are a matter that concerns only Cubans.

From inability, egos, and ridiculous strategies, the dissidence hasn't
been able to connect with ordinary Cubans. Eight out of every ten Cubans
are against the government and its proven inefficiency. For now, their
decision is to escape.

It's not for lack of information that people aren't taking to the
streets. Cuba is now North Korea. Shortwave radios are sold here and
thousands of people connect illegal cable antennas. It's just they are
more interested in seeing a Miami Heats game or Yaser Puig playing for
the Dodgers than following CNN news in Spanish.

At present, Cuba has two million cellphone users. They can send text
messages. But not to denounce human rights abuses. They used to ask for
money from their families in Miami, the latest iPhone, or that their
relatives expedite immigration procedures so they can permanently leave
the country.

The Internet on the island is the most expensive in the world. One hour
costs 4.50 CUC (5 dollars), the same as two pounds of meat in the black
market. I usually go to internet rooms twice a week and talk with many

The majority don't want to read El País, El Mundo or El Nuevo Herald.
Nor Granma nor Juventud Rebelde. They want to send emails and tweet, to
their wave. Upload photos on Facebook, look for a partner or work abroad.

Are they fed up with politics? I suppose. Are they afraid of going to
jail if they openly confront the regime? Of course. Are they masochists
who do not want to live in a democratic society? Evidently so. But they
have no vocation to be martyrs.

This political apathy among a great segment of the population, weary of
the olive-green loony bin, is fertile ground for the proselytizing
efforts of the opposition, which has not done its job,

People are there in the streets. Only dissidents prefer to gatherings
among themselves, chatting with diplomats and, since 2013, traveling the
world to lecture on the status quo in Cuba and get their photo taken
with heavyweights like Obama, Biden or Pope Francisco.

For the gringos I have good news and bad news. The bad is that it is
great foolishness to expect to topple the Castros with Twitter, call it
Zunzuneo or whatever it's called. The good news is that this type of
totalitarian regimes has not worked anywhere in the world and they
crumble by themselves. You have to have patience.

There is a popular refrain in Cuba that states the obvious: desires
don't make babies.

Iván García

7 April 2014

Source: Overthrowing the Castros with Twitter / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
'TV, film lag behind other Cuba reforms'

Havana (AFP) - Cuban television and cinema are lagging behind other
industries that have seen recent reform on the communist island, a
writers' and artists' group wrote in a report published on Friday.

The study released by Cuba's Commission on Culture and Media urged the
Havana government to create television and film programming not under
government control, among other proposed reforms.

"Cuba's television system is urged to make structural and productive
changes, in keeping with the current reality in the rest of the
country," said the report, published after a recent gathering of the
Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, known by its Spanish acronym UNEAC.

The film and television industries currently are plagued by problems
that have gotten worse over time, including "a shortage of funding, poor
leadership, disorganization and a lack of discipline."

There currently are five national television channels available in Cuba,
many fewer than most other countries.

The paucity of choice is "a far cry from the cultural, information and
entertainment offerings needed for our people," the report said.

Recent Cuban economic reforms have opened up many businesses to private
enterprise on the island, although the Havana government still controls
90 percent of the economy.

Source: 'TV, film lag behind other Cuba reforms' - Yahoo News -;_ylt=AwrBJR.BmVJTOCoA9xXQtDMD Continue reading
Cuba's foreign investment law: 'New' indeed, but barely
By José Manuel Pallí, esq.

Now we can comment on Cuba's new foreign investment law — Ley 118/ 2014
— since its "official version" is now published at the Gaceta Oficial de
Cuba, together with a Reglamento or regulatory law and other companion
governmental resolutions that should further help in interpreting its
significance and clarify its intent.

If you put a copy of Ley 77/95, the old foreign investment law which
this new one supersedes, alongside Law 118/ 2014, you'll probably think
they are twins. The language is almost the same in a huge percentage of
the provisions contained in both laws, which are essentially, well, the
same. And there is a very good reason for these similarities: The 'old'
law was not a bad law at all, in terms of the protection it afforded
(affords, since the new one will not be in force until late June) to
foreign investors.

Of course, that protection can only be effective to the extent the
attitude of those enforcing the law leads them to do so enthusiastically
and fairly, without arbitrariness of any kind. Whether that will be the
case with the implementation of this new foreign investment law in Cuba,
only time will tell. But I do sense that there is a generalized
conviction among decision makers in Cuba that they do need the tool
foreign investment could be, in terms of helping the Cuban economy grow
and develop, and they need it now, and I believe that conviction should
prod their enthusiasm.

There is one area where the new law may well open an entirely new world
of opportunity to foreign investment in Cuba, while at the same time
improving dramatically the quality of life of Cubans in the island (and
Cubans, el cubano de a pie, are the main constituents any Cuban law
should serve and please, even if a foreign investment law should also
please foreign investors): Foreign capital may now be used to build (and
repair) housing units — viviendas — to be used as such by José Q Cuban
citizen, which is to say the majority of natural persons who reside
permanently in Cuba.

Chapter VI in the old law dealt with investments in real property
(Inversiones en bienes inmuebles), and, in article 16, it allowed such
investments, provided the real property in question is used to house
"natural persons who were not permanent residents in Cuba" (Article
16.2(a)), thus keeping the Cuban people right to housing out of reach to
foreign capital, and away from the benefits foreign investment could
bring to the quality of their houses (and safety: no more crumbling

Chapter VI of the new law has one section, Article 17, that reads
exactly the same as article 16 of the old law, but it omits the
provision (restriction) whereby foreign investment was ruled out if the
real property in play was used to house everyday Cubans. Article 17.2(a)
now says foreign investment is possible in housing and buildings
(viviendas y edificaciones) that are private domiciles (dedicadas a
domicilio particular) or for touristic ends, period.

It does not say flatly that someone can, as a builder who wants to be a
foreign investor in Cuba, build (or improve by way of urgent structural
repairs) housing for the consumption of the Cuban people in general. But
I read in the deletion of the condition (only if the real estate is used
to house those who are not permanent residents in Cuba) found in the
equivalent article of the old law as a strong indication that that is
the case, assuming the approval of the governmental entity who will have
to authorize the investment in question is obtained.

In future columns I will go into some murky aspects regarding how that
real estate asset (the land) where the housing is to be emplaced finds
its way into the entity or vehicle of choice of the foreign investor,
the enterprise that actually makes the investment, when that entity is
capitalized. I will also delve into what's new (mostly the changes in
tax treatment and the use of incentives) in this foreign investment law,
and what smacks of "old" (the persistence in controlling Cuban employees
of foreign investors by meddling into their relationship with those who
want to hire them).

José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can
be reached at; you can find his blog at

Source: Analysis: Cuba's foreign investment law: 'New' indeed, but
barely « Cuba Standard, your best source for Cuban business news - Continue reading
Neither Blacks Nor Whites, Just Cubans / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 18, 2014

Neither black nor white, Cuba is mixed, some of the country's
investigators and intellectuals have asserted for some time now. The
declaration seems to respond to an eminently political intention:
incorporation into the current Latin American mixed ethnicity, so
fashionable among our populists.

This tendency, promoted by the authorities and some associated
personalities, instead of looking objectively at the African influence
in the formation of the Cuban nationality and identity, overestimating
it to the detriment of the Spanish, also an original race. To do this,
for many years, they have officially and supported and promoted its
demonstration, both in arts and religion, with the objective of
presenting it as the genuine Cuban.

Bandying about issues of race has many facets and, hence, varied
interpretations. Marti said they didn't exist, and wrote about the
different people who populate the distinct regions of the planer, noting
their unique characteristics, both positive and negative and which, in
practice, differentiate them. His romantic humanism went one way and
reality another. In more recent times, they sent us to Africa to fight
against colonialism, to settle a historical debt with the people of that
continent brought to Cuba as slaves, according to what they tell us.

That is, we accept that they can't free themselves and we, in some way
considering ourselves superior, come to their aid, independent of the
true political hegemonic interests, which were the real reason for our
presence in favor of one side in the conflict, during the so-called Cold

Without falling into the absurd extremes, talking about superior and
inferior races, in reality there are differences of every kind between
the historical inhabitants of different regions. To hide or distort it
doesn't help anyone. Some ethnic groups have developed more than others
and have contributed more to humanity, and still do.

No wonder we speak of a developed North and the underdeveloped South,
and it has not only influenced the exploitation of some by others, as
both the carnivorous and vegetarian Left and their followers like to
argue. There are those who, with their talent and work, are able to
produce wealth, and those who find it more difficult and only create misery.

In Cuba, the original population lived in north of South America and
expanded to the Antilles. Afterwards came the Spanish, and later the
blacks, Chinese, Arabs, French, Japanese and the representatives of
other nations of the world, bringing their customs, characteristics,
traditions, virtues, defects and cultures, which in the great mix (never
in a pot) formed the Cuban nation. For many years whites were the
majority, followed by mixed, blacks and Asians (in 1953, whites were
72.8%, mixed 14.5%, black 12.4% and Asians 0.3% of the population).

From the year 1959, with the mass exodus of whites and Asians, who
settled mainly in the United States, and the increase in births in the
black and mestizo population, plus the various racial mixtures, their
percentages increased within the country, but not among Cubans living
abroad, who are mostly white.

To ignore the statistics constitutes both a demographic and political
mistake, they are as Cuban as those based in the country, often with
more rooted customs, traditions and culture. Cuba is white, mestizo,
black and Asian and much more, but above all, it is Cuba. Who benefits
politically from this extemporaneous definition of a mixed Cuba? What
are they trying to accomplish? to divide Cubans still further?

It is absurd that, after years indoctrinating people about the
non-existence of races (say man and you will have said it all), and not
taken into account published statistics, now appears this strange
assertion,which no one is interested in or cares about, whites, blacks,
mixed, Asians, trying to survive within a system that has been unable,
for over 56 years, of solving its citizens' problems.

It's a secret to no one, that it is precisely and black and mixed
population that is most affected by the economic and social crisis, the
most discriminated against by the authorities, despite their discourse,
propaganda, and the 30% quotas within political and governmental

With the exception athletes and artists, blacks and mixed-race are the
poorest, hold the worst jobs, are least likely to graduate from college,
live int he worst conditions, often bordering on slums, and are the most
likely to be in jail or prison.

I doubt that the conclusions reached by these investigators and
intellectuals have some practical value or help in any way to change
this terrible situation, nor to the authorities of Public Order cease to
besiege them, continually stopping them and demanding their ID cars on
the streets of our towns and cities.

11 April 2014

Source: Neither Blacks Nor Whites, Just Cubans / Fernando Damaso |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
UNEAC Complicit In Its Silence / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on April 18, 2014

Previously I have said that in the circus exercise called court, which I
attended with the sentence already dictated by State Security, as I was
made to know long before by one of their henchmen, a fact that I made
known publicly — and which the judges in the First Chamber of Crimes
Against State Security executed, in their special headquarters for
notorious crimes on Carmen and Juan Delgado, when it was supposed that
my crime was common — officials of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union
(UNEAC) attended, sent by their president Miguel Barnet to watch the
show, like poet Alex Pausides, accompanied by the legal official, who
said that to his understanding what the prosecution could present
against me was smoke, like the report of that handwriting expert who
said that the height and slant of my handwriting made me guilty.

At the exit, the poet and Communist Party member Alex Pausides as well
as the legal official, said that I would be absolved given that what was
presented, and according to what was exposed in the oral ceremony, I
could not be judged, especially when I presented five witnesses who
demolished those accusations.

Dear members of UNEAC (take note). Angel Santiesteban, Revolutionarily, Me

Then, when they found me guilty, my lawyer went to UNEAC and left all
the documents that corroborated my innocence and that they requested for
presentation to Miguel Barnet, but we never received an answer, they
kept silent.

Of course, I am not naive, I never expected a reaction from UNEAC, I
always knew what they would do, but above all, what they would not do,
and they have fulfilled my predictions. I understood that they would
take that posture because I believe in history like a religion, and I
knew that history would yield that despicable stance. Their silence is
their shamelessness. And that shamelessness is now written in our history.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. April 2014.

To sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Cuban
dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience follow the link.

Translated by mlk.

Source: UNEAC Complicit In Its Silence / Angel Santiesteban |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Another Sweeping Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez
Posted on April 18, 2014

The National Assembly or Cuban parliament approved with no problems —
not a rare thing for this organ where although it's not divine it "comes
from above" — the new foreign investment law. You don't need a crystal
ball to know that new legislation, like the new broom of the refrain,
sweeps fundamentally well for them and their orbit.

The suffocating financiers of the nineteenth-century Cuban political
model shows that for the nomenklatura the urgency of their bank balances
or updating — aerating — their state capitalism is more important than
truly reviving the battered "socialist economy."

Like every law "that is disrespected" in Cuba after 1959, it was
approved unanimously, meaning that everyone agreed, or at least raised
their hands, in a caricature of a senate composed almost entirely of
members of the only party legalized in Cuba which has been in government
for 55 years and although it calls itself communist, it is not.

One might then suggest to the Cuban authorities, to be consistent with
their own laws, to carry out an aggiornamento also of the philosophical
basis of their ideology and the name of the historical party of government.

The Cuban state has had its eyes on foreign investment for a long time.
Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, said
earlier this year in Brazil, which in Cuba there would continue to be
only one party. Emphasizing, of course, the interest in Brazilian
entrepreneurs and the message of confidence and stability he wants to
convey to them from the Cuban ruling class, to encourage them to do
business in Cuba.

This norm becomes another discriminatory law "with the bait" of fiscal
and tax benefits for foreigners, in contrast to the thunderous taxes
payable by nationals who venture into the private sector. They did away
with all the Cuban and foreign businesses when this model came to power
and now stimulate and encourage only foreign capitalists to invest in
our country.

They say they aren't giving it away, but any citizen from other climes
is placed above nationals, who once again are excluded from the
opportunity to invest in medium and large companies in their own country.

Just like our Spanish ancestors committed shameless abuses and
marginalized native Cubans and restricted them in their economic role in
their own national home.

The state still owns "the master key" of labor contracting–the employing
company– to calm their followers and to urge them to continue giving
their unconditional support to the established and visible promise that
they will be rewarded and privileged, if only with a tiny,
revolutionary, symbolic and coveted "mini-slice" of the state pie.

On the other hand, the impunity in the management of public officials,
on part with the lack of respect for society implicit in secrecy,
exposes the heart of corruption. One of the many examples that get under
the skin of Cubans of various geographic coordinates is, what is the
state of the country's accounts. What are the periodic incomes and
expenses in different parts of the economy. Why isn't Cuban society
informed about the annual amount of the income from remittances from
Cubans who have emigrated, and how these resources are used?

A lot could be said and written about the new law and the old
discrimination and practices contained in previous legislation, which
for me is a horse of a changeable–not another–color.

But it would give a lot of relevance to the segregationist, sloppy and
desperate search for money by power elite in Cuba, which requires
increasingly huge sums of "evil capital" to sustain its inefficient
bureaucracy and unsustainable model.

In short, the new law, like the proverbial broom, will always sweep well
for them and that seems to be all that, according to their dynastic
mentalities, fiftieth anniversaries and blue-blooded lifestyles, they
care about.

15 April 2014

Source: Another Sweeping Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba, you owe us $7 billion - Top 50 claims The top 50 The largest American property claims against Cuba certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, according to a 2007 report by Creighton University scholars. Rank Name of claimant ... Continue reading
Cuba, you owe us $7 billion
Behind the trade embargo lies a huge and nearly forgotten obstacle: the
still-active property claims by American companies. Inside the effort to
settle a 50-year-old debt
By Leon Neyfakh | GLOBE STAFF APRIL 18, 2014

IF SYMBOLS COULD GATHER RUST, the American trade embargo against Cuba
would be covered with it. Enacted in 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro
came to power, and expanded in 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the
embargo has frozen the United States and its tiny neighbor off the
Florida coast in a standoff that seems as dated as the classic American
cars on Havana streets.

Leaders from around the world have been calling on the United States to
dismantle the embargo for more than 20 years, and recent polls show that
a majority of Americans are in favor of lifting it. With the repressive
Castro regime seemingly nearing its end, a "normalization" of relations
between the countries seems increasingly within reach. That would appear
to spell an end sometime soon for the embargo, which in the popular
imagination stands as a sort of political weapon that was designed to
cripple Castro and stem the tide of communism.

What's often forgotten, though, is that the embargo was actually
triggered by something concrete: an enormous pile of American assets
that Castro seized in the process of nationalizing the Cuban economy.
Some of these assets were the vacation homes and bank accounts of
wealthy individuals. But the lion's share of the confiscated
property—originally valued at $1.8 billion, which at 6 percent simple
interest translates to nearly $7 billion today—was sugar factories,
mines, oil refineries, and other business operations belonging to
American corporations, among them the Coca-Cola Co., Exxon, and the
First National Bank of Boston. A 2009 article in the Inter-American Law
Review described Castro's nationalization of US assets as the "largest
uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in

Today, the nearly 6,000 property claims filed in the wake of the Cuban
revolution almost never come up as a significant sticking point in
discussions of a prospective Cuban-American thaw. But they remain
active—and more to the point, the federal law that lays out the
conditions of a possible reconciliation with Cuba, the 1996 Helms-Burton
Act, says they have to be resolved. According to that statute, said
Michael Kelly, a professor of international law at Creighton University
in Nebraska, settling the certified property claims "is one of the first
dominos that has to fall in a whole series of dominos for the embargo to
be lifted."

While the other dominos are clearly much more daunting—the overall point
of the Helms-Burton Act is that Cuba has to have a democratic,
America-friendly government in place before there can be any talk of
lifting the embargo—experts say the property claims will be an intensely
difficult problem to settle when it comes time to do so. For one thing,
Cuba is unlikely to ever have enough cash on hand to fully compensate
the claimants, especially while the embargo is still in place; to make
matters even more complicated, many of the individual claimants have
died, and some of the companies no longer exist.

With Cuba inching toward reform on a number of fronts over the past
several years, giving hope to those who believe our two countries might
reconcile in the near future, a number of Cuba experts have begun to
study the question of how to resolve the property claims in a way that
is both realistic and fair. The proposals that have come out of their
efforts provide a unique window onto the potential future of the
American relationship with Cuba—and point to the level of imagination
that can be required in the present to turn the page on what happened in
the past.


THE CUBA THAT CASTRO took over in 1959 was a nation overrun with
American business. Tourists could stay in American-owned Hiltons, shop
at Woolworth's, and withdraw money at American-owned banks.
American-owned petroleum refineries sat amid American cattle ranches,
sugar factories, and nickel mines, and an American-owned
telecommunications firm controlled the country's phone lines. According
to a 2008 report from the US Department of Agriculture, Americans
controlled three-quarters of Cuba's arable land.

Cuba's revolutionary leader swiftly signed several laws nationalizing
what was previously private property. Though the laws required the
government to compensate the owners, the payment was to be made in Cuban
bonds—an idea that was not taken seriously by the United States. In
1960, the administration of President Eisenhower punished Castro's
expropriation of American assets by sharply cutting the amount of sugar
the United States was buying from Cuba. "We kind of went ballistic at
the thought that anyone would take our property," said John Hansen, a
faculty associate at Harvard University's Center for Latin American
Studies. Tempers ran hot in both directions: in a speech, Castro vowed
to separate Americans in Cuba from all of their possessions, "down to
the nails in their shoes." The standoff culminated in a near-total
embargo on American exports to Cuba and a reduction of sugar imports to

Other countries that had holdings in Cuba—including Switzerland, Canada,
Spain, and France—were more amenable to Castro's terms, apparently
convinced that there was no chance they'd ever get a better deal. But
the Americans who had lost property wanted cash, and submitted official
descriptions of what had been taken from them to the Foreign Claims
Settlement Commission at the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, US
relations with Cuba deteriorated. Diplomatic ties were cut. An attempt
by President Kennedy to overthrow Castro failed, and a standoff over
Soviet missiles in 1962 brought the world as close to nuclear war as it
has ever come. The invisible economic wall—which by then had been
expanded to ban virtually all imports from Cuba—had become part of
something much larger.

Half a century later, the cash claims that started it all still sit on
the books. And while a full list of claimants is maintained by the US
Department of Justice, they have largely receded from view—in part
because most of the claimants have become quiet about their hopes for
compensation. According to Mauricio Tamargo, a lawyer who served as
chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission for almost a decade
before going into private practice and taking on a number of claimants
as clients, complaining about monetary losses associated with the Cuban
revolution has become increasingly risky from a public relations
standpoint. The embargo has taken on more and more political meaning,
and Cuba has become more destitute. "The corporations that have these
claims are very sensitive to bad press," Tamargo said, "so they decide
to keep a low profile and work quietly behind the scenes where
possible." (Of several corporate claimholders contacted for this story,
the only one that provided a statement by deadline was Chevron Corp.,
which now owns the claims originally filed by Texaco, and considers "the
claim to be valid and enforceable if and when there is a change in the
Cuban government.")

But regardless of how morally or politically sensitive it might be for
America's corporations and the wealthy executives who run them to claim
money from Cuba, their claims will still need to be untangled in order
for the embargo to be lifted, experts say. "The US government is
obligated by law to defend the claims of US citizens and enterprises
whose properties were expropriated by the Cuban government," wrote
Harvard professor Jorge Dominguez, a top Cuba scholar, in an e-mail. As
for how that might be done, he added, "one can imagine a range of

One possibility has been put forth by Tamargo, who advocates for an
approach that would compensate claimants—his clients among them—by
imposing a 10 percent user fee on all remittances sent to Cubans by
their American relatives, as well as all other transactions that are
allowed to take place under the current embargo rules. (While this
proposal can be seen as a tax on US residents, it is designed to come
only out of money that is entering the Cuban economy.) Another proposal
was presented several years ago by Timothy Ashby, a Miami lawyer, who
started a company designed to buy claims at a discount from their
original owners and then use them to broker a private settlement with
the Cuban government. Ashby's plan was thwarted when the Bush
administration declared it illegal, but the prospect of a negotiated
group settlement remains on the table—as long as it's carried out by the
US government, in accordance with existing law.

Perhaps the most ambitious and pragmatic solution that's been laid out
so far appeared in a lengthy report published by scholars at Creighton
University, who were given a grant in 2006 by the US Agency for
International Development to investigate the claims issue. "There was a
hope that, if through God's grace things improved and we were able to
enter into a mutually beneficial relationship with Cuba, we would be
able to pull something off the shelf and say, 'Here's how we're going to
start dealing with it,'" said Patrick Borchers, the law professor who
led the Creighton team.

Borchers and his colleagues found that untangling all the claims would
be extremely complicated: "A lot of the original corporate claimants,
through the process of 50 years worth of mergers and acquisitions, don't
even exist anymore," said Creighton's Michael Kelly, who also worked on
the report. "But the claims don't go away—they go with the mergers." One
of the largest claimants today, for example, is Starwood Resorts, a
company that didn't even exist in 1959, but received a claim on the ITT
Telegraph Tower when it acquired another company. "Starwood Resorts
doesn't want an old radio tower," Kelly said. "What they [might] want is
beachfront property."

This insight led to the proposal that the Creighton team ultimately
submitted to the government. Under the team's plan, some of those who
had lost property during Castro's nationalization campaign could be
compensated in ways that didn't involve the transfer of cash or bonds:
Instead, they could be given tax-free zones, development rights, and
other incentives to invest in the new Cuba. This, according to Borchers,
would be a win for both sides, compensating the claimants while
stimulating the Cuban economy.


NO ONE IS ARGUING that settling the property claims of Americans is
anything like the first or most important step to normalizing the US
relationship with Cuba: There are other, more formidable obstacles in
the way, as well as significant wiggle room for increasing economic
activity between the two countries without formally lifting the embargo.

"There's a scenario that I see, which is bit by bit the fundamentals of
the embargo are chiseled away by executive order, by the economic and
family ties linking Cuba and the United States, and by non-enforcement,"
said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. In
that scenario, the claims might someday be resolved, but wouldn't hold
the process of reintegrating the United States and Cuba hostage.

There's another big complication, too: the thousands of Cuban families
who fled to America after the revolution and had everything they owned
confiscated by the Communist regime. These Cuban exiles and their
descendants form the backbone of the most intransigent anti-Castro lobby
in the United States. If and when Cuba does open up, they're going to
want their property back as well, which will likely result in extensive
litigation in Cuba. (To address their interests, the Creighton report
proposed setting up a special tribunal in Cuba that could try to
compensate Cuban-Americans for their losses once the country had found
its feet economically.)

What will end up happening—both for the American claimants and the
Cubans who moved here after the revolution—will undoubtedly provoke
debate about what is fair when it comes to setting right the wrongs of
the past. How much debt is worth forgiving to help a country back on its
feet? And how much should private citizens expect to give up to help a
diplomatic resolution? But the provisional plans and proposals that have
been made in the meantime—whether preferential development deals or a
tax on cash flow between our two countries—reflect something else:
visions of a new Cuba, in which American economic interests and Cuban
ones are once again closely intertwined.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail

Source: Cuba, you owe us $7 billion - Ideas - The Boston Globe - Continue reading
Cuba's Mariel Development Zone Unmasked
April 18, 2014
Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES — Ana Teresa Igarza, director general of the Mariel Special
Development Zone (ZEDM) Regulations Office, recently announced that a
special hard-currency exchange rate had been established for Zone employees.

Contracted employees will receive 80 percent of the salaries agreed to
by Cuban employment agencies and investors, and payments are to be made
in regular Cuban pesos (CUP), at a "special" exchange rate of 1 Cuban
Convertible Peso (CUC) to 10 CUP. This is as "special" as the Special

That is to say, if the employment agency negotiates a 1,000 CUC salary
(or its equivalent in US dollars) for a Cuban worker, the agency will
pocket the 1,000 CUC (or its equivalent in US dollars) and pay the Cuban
worker (in CUP) 80 percent of the sum agreed to, at the special exchange
rate of 10 CUP to 1 CUC.

If mathematics hasn't also been deformed by "State socialism", this
means the worker will receive 10 Cuban pesos for each CUC, which means
that their salary would be 8,000 CUP (10 x 800).

When that worker comes out of the ZEDM, in order to purchase anything at
the hard-currency stores operated by Cuba's military monopoly, they will
have to resort to government exchange locales (or CADECAS), where they
are required to buy CUC at an exchange rate of 25 to 1. Thus, their
8,000 Cuban pesos become 320 CUC.

This means that, of the 1,000 CUC (or their equivalent in US dollars)
paid by the investor, Cuban workers will only receive 32%. To this, we
must add that the wage worker must pay an additional 5 percent for State
"social security", which means that they are ultimately only receiving
27 percent of the original 1,000 CUC.

A total of 63 percent will go to the State, which will sit back and not
"get its hands dirty" – it will pocket this only for acting as an
"intermediary" between the investor, a euphemism for a foreign
capitalist exploiter, and Cuban salaried workers.

A crafty maneuver, true, but it can't hide the double exploitation they
would submit Cuban workers to, between the foreign capitalists and the
extortionist State which, to add insult to injury, leaves workers
helpless, deprived of laws that could protect them from their employers.

Having accustomed Cuba's working class to hyper-exploitation, the State
of course expects workers to content themselves with 32 % of their
salaries. The other 68 % goes to the "nation."

The benefits that the Mariel port mega-project brings the Cuban working
class are becoming clear.

The much publicized Mariel project thus takes off its "progressive" mask
to show its true face, to reveal itself as the extortionist of Cuban
wage workers.

It is a clear illustration of the sought-after alliance between Cuba's
State monopoly capitalism (which has sought to pass itself off as
"socialism") and international capital, coming together to jointly
exploit Cuba's workforce.

Source: Cuba's Mariel Development Zone Unmasked - Havana - Continue reading
A Cuba Crime Report
April 18, 2014
Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — On the last Saturday of March, an official government
announcement took the habitual listeners of Havana's Radio Reloj radio
program by surprise. It was a petition by authorities asking the public
the help clear up a crime that had taken place in Old Havana two days

The next day, on Sunday, Havana woke up to hear the news that "a
multi-task force of the Ministry of the Interior, working with the
Forensics Institute and thanks to the decisive support of the people,
cleared up the facts and detained the perpetrator in a mere 24 hours."

A 23-year-old man (without a criminal record) had killed three people in
their sleep with a blunt object: a man (43), a woman (64) and a child (10).

It was strange to hear these announcements on Cuban news, as crime
reports disappeared from our newspapers and magazines many years ago. I
don't believe the media should publicize every murder, theft or assault
that happens in the course of a day. Far from giving the media more
transparency, this would give our boring press yet another dose of
monotony. What's more, reporting on such incidents repeatedly would make
them seem less important.

I also do not agree they should be kept from the public. The rising
insecurity of our streets is evident and we have the right to know what
dangers we are exposed to. It should be possible for us to consult
reports published by the National Statistics and Information Bureau
(ONEI) to see what the country's crime indices are (provided the
information is accurate, of course).

Getting past the surprise that the publication of the news caused, I
must say that the note had a completely misguided approach to the
incident. The Ministry of the Interior clarified that the murderer
"maintained close relations" with the victim and went on to stress that
"during interrogations, the perpetrator confessed he was driven by
passion in his actions."

In a male chauvinist and economically stifled society, where honest work
doesn't give people enough to live on, where young people are
increasingly alienated, apathetic and devoid of hope for the future,
such crimes are not uncommon.

In marginal neighborhoods, word-of-mouth news of deaths or serious
injuries resulting from arguments and quarrels are heard every day. I
can't think of a time I've visited Reparto Electrico, a neighborhood on
the outskirts of Havana, without having gotten wind of an assault or
vendetta. One finds the same situation in rough neighborhoods like La
Guinera, Mantilla, Parraga and San Miguel del Padron. Nearly any disco
or place of "entertainment" in Havana can become the site of someone's
violent end.

Not long ago, the images of the corpse of a young woman from Cuba's
province of Artemisa traveled around emails and USB memories. She had
been murdered by her ex-boyfriend – her body hanged from a fence near
the town church. I've known of three such cases in Alamar in less than a
year. One was a teenage girl who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend.
He had hidden the body in a building's water tank. The police made
inquiries around the neighborhood for several days and found the

The last Monday of March, also in Old Havana (at the intersection of
Compostela and Muralla streets, to be more specific), a woman was
murdered by a man. The same Sunday authorities announced the crime of
passion, another man stabbed a woman with a sharp object several times
near a store on Monte street.

The motives are generally always the same: jealousy or spite over being
left, in short, what's referred to as "crimes of passion." However, none
of these tragedies have been reported over the radio or published in
printed or digital newspapers – they're not even officially acknowledged
by the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in their statistics.

Did they really need to mention such details? Bearing in mind we're not
talking about an episode of a soap opera, I don't think the motive was
important. I don't want to think that the fact a man maintains "close
relations" with another man is an aggravating circumstance for the
Ministry of the Interior.

The emphasis the official note placed on that detail and the concluding
phrase, telling us that "crimes like these will never go unpunished and
perpetrators shall be persecuted with the full force of revolutionary
law," have prompted homophobic and discriminatory statements, and, above
all, have made us think that Cuba's Military Units for Aid in Production
(UMAP), labor camps to which homosexuals were once sent, could come back
at any moment.

The Cuban people, whether we like to admit it or not, do not respect
diversity. It doesn't matter what our educational level or our social
milieu are: most people reject homosexuality and homosexuals suffer from
our intentional or unwitting attitude towards them. It is no secret
that, despite the fact the Cuba's LGBTI community has greater social
visibility, homosexuals continue to be the object of police repression,
social humiliation, mockery and rejection within the family.

What good, then, are our official or alternative campaigns against
homophobia, defending the right to have sex-change operations, launching
health campaigns that insist AIDS is not a "gay disease", securing
certain spaces such as the "tolerance zone" (Mi Cayito beach, the
Fraternidad park in Old Havana, the street across Havana's Capitolio,
and others), struggling with family and friends so they will not judge
people on the basis of their sexual orientation and treat them simply as
human beings?

We've worked so hard and then a simple piece of news associates violence
and crimes of passion with homosexuality, such that people begin to
express all manner of discriminatory things. Those few printed lines
took us back a number of years.

I am waiting anxiously for May 17, International Day against Homophobia,
to arrive. Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) will
likely make a statement then. They have said nothing to date.

Source: A Cuba Crime Report - Havana - Continue reading
Class Differences in a Cuban Classroom?
April 18, 2014
Kabir Vega Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — When I look back at how I felt in the classroom when I
first started my English course, the changes I've experienced seem
incredible to me. At the time, I would see so many people with
touchscreen phones that I was embarrassed to pull out my MP3 player, for
even something as insignificant as this is a status symbol.

Sometimes, I would worry about what they might think about me, who often
wore the same clothes – and shoes – to school. I hated it when we were
given exercises in which one had to talk about oneself. I would go crazy
trying to come up with something – it seemed to me that my house, my
situation and my life in general was simply too boring, while the lives
of the other students struck me as very interesting.

When, in these class exercises, we were asked whether we took the bus to
go to work or school, everyone answered: "No, I take a taxi." So, I also
came to think I was the only one who had to endure nearly three hours
inside a crowded bus every day, where there isn't even enough oxygen to
go around from time to time.

At recess, I felt envy of those who ate apples, a hamburger or fruit
juices as expensive as 3.30 CUC, in front of everyone. I was convinced I
was the only one who couldn't afford such things.

I recall that a girl who didn't often show much interest in
participating in class discussions anxiously put up her hand when the
exercise consisted in describing one's home – and it was simply to share
with us that her house had fifteen rooms.

In another exercise designed to learn the past tense, we were asked to
describe what we had done on our last vacation, and everyone answered
they had gone to Varadero. It was so evident many people were lying that
the teacher finally said: "If everyone went to Varadero, how come no one
saw each other?"

One time, I went to Coppelia, Havana's main ice-cream parlor, with two
classmates. At one point, the conversation centered on the country's
problems. Among other things, they said that the country's prices were
conceived for about one percent of the population. This encouraged me,
for I thought we were finally sharing sincere concerns, but the tone of
indifference my classmates spoke with made it clear they belonged to
that one percent.

It is said similar people are drawn to one another. The student who sits
next to me in class began to notice I was different and began to use his
MP3 player in front of me without any hang ups. During recess, when we
went out to the street, he started buying cheap peanuts to assuage his

Little by little, people's fears of revealing who they were disappeared.
One day, a classmate I often talk to opened her coin purse in front of
me without any kind of embarrassment. She only had six Cuban pesos in it.

I gradually realized that all of us started playing a certain character
when the course started, as a defense mechanism. Like all lies, it
couldn't last long and, with time, these characters fell apart.

In the end, it came to light who we truly are, people saddled with all
of the problems the average Cuban faces.

Source: Class Differences in a Cuban Classroom? - Havana - Continue reading
First Trimester of 2014 / Rafael Leon Rodriguez
Posted on April 18, 2014

The first three months of 2014 and part of April have stood out for the
now traditional practice of the government use and abuse of congresses,
symposia, fairs, assemblies, etc, from which emanate, almost always, two
messages: one for abroad and another for the boring local citizens.

The 20th Congress of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), in which, as usual,
the secretary general was designated by the authorities and not
election, as would happen under free, plural and democratic elections by
the attending delegates, diminishing the credibility and independence of
the Cuban unions is an example.

On the other hand, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the new
Foreign Investment Law, which establishes, once again, discrimination
against Cuban citizens residing on the island, who can not invest or
participate on their own processes of this nature, nor through free
association or self employment. That is for state officials, state
capitalist, and for foreigners. Again, a state employment office will
fulfill the function of providing the labor force to the foreign
investment companies, as to not leave any loophole to free employment
for Cuban residents.

And it's as if they depreciate and despise we Cubans who live in Cuba.
For a long time we weren't even allowed to stay in hotels. Now, reviving
this examples, Cubans cannot enter the waiting rooms at our own
airports. And doesn't this embarrass the authorities? At the precise
point of access of those who visit us they begin the practice of
discriminating against locals. In the resorts of Varadero or Boyeros
this practice has been institutionalized. It's humiliating to see how
with indifference, without giving it any importance, they humiliate our
fellow citizens.

The most recent event ended last weekend: the VIII Congress of the Cuban
Writers and Artists Union, UNEAC. In his closing speech, Cuban Vice
President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, among others, spoke of the need to
regulate the dissemination of music and audiovisual materials in public
spaces. He also spoke about the battle against pseudo-cultural messages
associated with the exaltation of consumerism, to get ahead
economically, and stressed that the choice is socialism or barbarism.

Surely he must have been referring to a socialism not yet known nor what
will be, the so-called Socialism of the 21st Century, because the other
one, the socialism that wasn't, is already completely known. He said
this was the only alternative to save our culture. So if it's about
saving it, he should start by saving the productive culture of a country
because right now the animals in our fields are practically in danger of

The current sugar harvest is the smaller in the history of Cuba and the
lack of productivity of our land is stupefying. And looking back, at
Marti, we recognize the solution when he said in a speech at Hardman
Hall, NY on 10 October 1890:

"Neither childish boasting, nor empty promises, nor class hatred, nor
pressures from authority, nor blind opinion, nor village politics has
met our expectations, but the politics of foundation and of embrace,
where terrible ignorance gives way to justice and culture, and the proud
worship abides repenting the fraternity of man, from one end of the
island to the other, swords and books together, together those of the
mountains and the villages, hear, above the forever uprooted suspicions,
the creative word, the word: 'Brother!'"

Source: First Trimester of 2014 / Rafael Leon Rodriguez | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Impressions of an Unprecedented Event / Regina Coyula
Posted on April 17, 2014

Those of us in Cuba who sat in front of the television at dawn,
witnessed an unprecedented event: The dialogue between the government
and the opposition in real-time, from Venezuela.(*)

Unprecedented in the sense that the majority of Cubans, born after 1959,
don't know what opposition to the government is. They have heard talk
about mercenaries and traitors and but to see, sitting across from the
Venezuelan government, a group of politicians with other points of view,
provokes different reactions.

I followed the speeches of both sides with equal interest. The
government remained on the defensive against accusations from the
opposition, but within a framework of respect. Only the Vice President
of the National Assembly seemed to confuse the meeting room with a
platform for agitation, and Capriles, from whom I expected much more,
organized his time badly to leave the impression that there was a
catharsis around the presidential election loss.

I found the topics on the table very familiar. The Venezuelan government
went for the Cuban model–I refuse to repeat that this is socialism–and
the achievements in education and healthcare fail to hide the other
realities which they enumerated in facts and figures. President Maduro
too often forgot that he was elected with half the votes, which means
that his support comes from half of Venezuelans. One of the great
responsibilities of Chavism is the social fracture provoked, and as well
stated on both sides of the table, with two opposite halves you can't
make a country. However, they have a Constitution that is not Chavista
but Venezuelan and in which citizens feel they are represented and
protected, at least in theory.

IO don't have a lot of optimism about the future of these encounters.
They are different postures and it was left very clear that those in
power don't intend to cede it. The violence and shortages affect
everyone regardless of ideological tint. But Maduro is that the
opposition will only enter Miraflores as visitors.

(*) From TeleSur, which for Cuba is a major window of information not
offered by national television.

11 April 2014

Source: Impressions of an Unprecedented Event / Regina Coyula |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Converting communists? Cuban capital gets an Istanbul mosque

Turkey's Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has sent a
delegation to Cuba for a project involving the construction of an
Istanbul mosque, adapted for Havana's historic center.

Mustafa Tutkun, who is chairing the Diyanet delegation, said the mosque
in the Cuban capital would resemble the historic Ortaköy Mosque in
Istanbul. The Ortaköy Mosque bears aesthetic features that Tutkun hopes
will suit the local Cuban architectural style.

The Diyanet Foundation is funding the construction of the mosque, which
will serve the 3,500 Muslims who live in Cuba.

The project is part of a wider campaign in the Caribbean, with the
Diyanet also planning to fund the construction of a mosque in Haiti.

Source: Converting communists? Cuban capital gets an Istanbul mosque -
INTERNATIONAL - Continue reading
Cuba and Modern Technologies of Indiscretion
April 17, 2014
Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — We're definitely living in an era in which technology has
become an essential part of people's lives everywhere. The devices,
techniques and processes employed in any field and directed towards
progress and development, such as portable computers, state-of-the-art
cell phones and other, have become something like a fifth appendage for

What use are we giving these technologies, however?

When Alfred Hitchcock released his adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's
story It Had to Be Murder, the suspense film Rear Window, in 1954, he
could not have imagined that, sixty years later, there would be so many
real-life versions of the main character L.B. Jefferies.

In the film, a photographer who has suffered an accident and has a leg
in a cast spends hours sitting in front of a window at home. He notices
that his neighbor (Raymond Burr) is acting suspiciously and begins to
spy on him using a pair of binoculars and a photographic camera. Thus
unfolds the plot of the movie.

I wonder what Mr. Jefferies might have been able to do with cutting-edge
technology and if he had lived in our age, when not a single event in
our life fails to be recorded by a nosy camera somewhere (and ends up in
YouTube or Facebook many a time).

The immense majority of Cubans do not know these social networks because
they have no access to them, and the alternative at hand is to circulate
such materials using USB memories, such that people can watch them in
their computers or DVD players.

Drawing inspiration from such programs as Videos Asombrosos ("Amazing
Videos") or Al rojo vivo ("Red Hot"), which air amateur videos, Cubans
try to keep abreast with the times and have become improvised paparazzis
that record just about everything.

Promiscuity is the word that applies to a situation in which nothing is
private anymore. Lacking scruples and sometimes evincing much morbidity,
people film any situation they come across and make it public.

This is why we are constantly seeing images of regrettable accidents,
police officers beating up a civilian, people with physical deformities
making silly faces in front of the camera, a reprisal against dissidents
and things like the most recent and popular of Cuba's amateur videos,
"The Nude Beauty of Camaguey".

A woman – no one knows for certain why – walks buck naked down a street
in Camaguey. She is followed by a throng of men who film her with their
mobile phones and cameras and say crude things to her. She is finally
intersected by female police officers who attempt to cover her. She
resists and gets a good pummeling.

The crowd of people standing around yells: "Don't hit her, that's
abuse!" The nudist is then taken away by the police officers. There are
several versions of what happened. Some say she is a member of the
opposition staging a protest (I don't buy this), others that she is
mentally ill (I put more stock in this one).

The fact of the matter is that this video has not only been seen by
people in Camaguey, but by everyone in Cuba. It may even have been
uploaded to the Internet, thanks to our indiscrete technologies.

Source: Cuba and Modern Technologies of Indiscretion - Havana
- Continue reading
Salon Tropical 'Paladar' in Santiago de Cuba Is Still Afloat
April 17, 2014
By Norges C. Rodríguez Almiñan (Progreso Weekly)

SANTIAGO DE CUBA — In 1996, the Cuban government decided to allow some
economic activities theretofore exclusively handled by the State to be
developed by private workers or self-employed entrepreneurs.

Among the activities allowed, one of the most popular was the
preparation and commercialization of food. The places where this
activity was carried out became known as "paladares," thanks to a
Brazilian soap opera broadcast on Cuban TV at the time.

During that period, the opening was very timid. The State restricted the
number of customers (only 12 at a time) and the hiring of the labor
force, stating that only relatives living on the premises could work in
the restaurant.

In the early 2000s, the government took several measures that adversely
affected the private workers and many of them gave up their work
licenses. In 2011, the regulations on private workers were relaxed and
self-employed entrepreneurs again became actors of importance in the
country's economy.

One of the private restaurants that survived all these waves, one of the
oldest in Santiago de Cuba, is the Salón Tropical in the November 30
neighborhood, known to everyone as "the paladar in the 30th." Its owner,
Nilda Gil, has managed the place from the start, as best as the rules of
the game allowed her.

Norges Carlos Rodríguez: When did you found the restaurant and why did
you choose that activity and no other, like lodging for instance?

Nilda Gil: In March 1996. I began with this because, although I never
studied food preparation, I always liked it. Lodging did not attract me.
At first, I worked and my sister took care of the kitchen. When I
returned from work, I'd remove my uniform and helped her in the kitchen.
We began with a small seating capacity. I used the first room in the
house and began with four tables and six chairs.

NCR: How did you handle the hiring of workers, the preparation of the
menu, and how did the customers behave?

NG: At that time we couldn't hire workers, only members of the family
who had to live in the same house, and were members of the same CDR
[Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a neighborhood watch
network]. The menu consisted of spaghetti, pork chops, smoked loin, and
lamb, which were the only things we could sell. Seafood could not be
sold; it was banned. I had to reinvent and lay out different menus for
three days with the same ingredients: pork, lamb, rabbit and chicken.
One day we'd make Italian food, the next day Chinese. At the time, many
customers came, both Cuban and foreign. There were a lot more customers
than today.

NCR: The Cuban government has acknowledged that the 1996 opening was
done as a palliative. It assumed that self-employed work was a necessary
evil. This made many people look at self-employed workers with
suspicion, and many prejudices were formed regarding you. What
experiences did you have with this?

NG: All kinds. I was inspected three times over the sale of lobster and
shrimp, which were forbidden. I was detained by the police. If anything
was missing at some state-run place, they'd come here, looking for it.
The inspectors came day in, day out. We could barely work.

NCR: When did the taxes go up and by how much?

NG: That was in 2000. At first, we all paid the same: 500 national pesos
[CUP]. Then someone did a study and said that some paladares should have
their taxes raised because of their location. Those that were in midtown
should pay in CUC [convertible pesos]; those that weren't, would
continue to pay in domestic currency.

I had to pay in domestic currency but that problem was that I was
situated in a neighborhood with many boarding houses. So I asked the
ONAT [internal revenue office] to do a study and give me a license for
hard-currency trade, so I could serve foreign tourists, because I
couldn't do business in hard currency if I didn't pay taxes in hard
currency. At the end, I had to pay 700 CUC [about $700]; restaurants in
midtown had to pay 860 CUC.

When the taxes went up, many paladares in Santiago de Cuba disappeared.
From the existing 120 paladares, only eight remained, then only two,
Las Gallegas and the Salón Tropical. The customers either came here or
went there.

NCR: Why do you think the taxes went up?

NG: Well, remember that this was a necessary evil and people knew that
self-employed workers worked here.

NR: In 2011, new activities were approved. In the case of restaurants,
the state allowed an increase in the number of chairs and allowed you to
hire workers from outside the family. What benefit did those changes bring?

NG: Those measures were very favorable because in the past only the
relatives could work in the business, and that entailed problems with
discipline. Now we have the possibility to hire specialized personnel
who know the trade.

Now we notice a slight change. In the past, we self-employed workers
were almost accused of being counter-revolutionaries; now, we're
described as the rescuers of the nation. I don't know what we'll be
tomorrow, but I do notice a tendency to help us. We'll see.

NR: In comparison with 1996, how's the attendance and the access to
supplies and foodstuff?

NG: The clientele has shrunk a lot. In the past, we started work at noon
and worked till night. Today, we have very few customers at noon, and
only at night can we do something. The subject of supplies and
foodstuffs is tough on us. It was as difficult in '96 as it is today. We
don't have a market that can supply us, so we have to buy the food at
the hard-currency stores — that's expensive.

NR: One of the changes forecast for the country is the opening of
wholesale markets. What do you think?

NG: I won't believe it until I see it. I've been waiting 17 years for that.

NR: One of the options in this new opening is a link between private
businesses and state-run enterprises. What do you think of that?

NG: Well, I've already gone through that and didn't fare well at all. I
had a contract with Oriente University that was not favorable to me. I
always abided by the contract but they didn't, so there were past-due
bills that they never paid.

NR: Many private businesses in Cuba are taking seriously the role of
advertising and marketing, especially on the Internet. What do you think
of this? Is it important to you? Have you delved into it?

NG: That's extremely important and, yes, I have delved into it. I've
appeared in the magazine Excelencias Gourmet, in the issue published for
the Caribbean Festival, and that helped a lot because many tourists and
participants in the festival came to dine here.

The Gourmet television network, which broadcasts to Latin America and
the United States, did a documentary on us, too. They filmed an ordinary
day in the paladar: how we go to the store, how we shop in the market,
our day's work until the closing at night. It was a very pleasant

As a result, I received customers from Uruguay and Argentina. We also
have a presence on the Internet. The restaurant's Web page is updated
regularly. We have a profile in Tripadvisor, a page in Facebook and one
in Twitter.

NR: What personalities have you hosted?

NG: Actor Jim Carrey came here, also many Cuban actors and many
diplomats. We've had SINA officials [U.S. Interests Section], and the
French ambassador. The musicians in the Charanga Habanera came and I had
to roast a ham for them. We also had [Cuban actress] Luisa María Jiménez
and others who I don't remember.

NR: Today, American tourists cannot come to Cuba because of the
restrictions imposed by Washington. What benefits do you expect for your
business if the laws that prohibit the travel of U.S. tourists to Cuba
are lifted?

NG: It would be very beneficial, because I know that many would come.
This city would fill with them, and that's beneficial not only for
self-employed entrepreneurs but also for the country at large.

The author is an engineer living in Santiago de Cuba. He hosts the blog
'Salir a la manigua,' where this interview first appeared. Progreso
Weekly has published an abridged version.

Source: Salon Tropical 'Paladar' in Santiago de Cuba Is Still Afloat -
Havana - Continue reading
Opposing Venezuelans Decry Doctors-For-Oil Deal With Cuba Amid Soaring
Published April 16, 2014Fox News Latino

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) – When Judith Faraiz's son was near death after
a severe motorcycle accident, she put his life in the hands of God and
Cuban doctors.

Like many in Petare, a sprawling hillside slum of crumbling brick
buildings on the eastern outskirts of Caracas, Faraiz has come to rely
on Cuban physicians for free health services in a country where private
care is too expensive for the poor and public hospitals have a dismal

The link is vital for both governments: In exchange for the services of
its doctors and other professionals, Havana gets an estimated $3.2
billion in cut-rate Venezuelan oil that is a lifeline for Cuba's ailing
economy. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, for his part, relies on
social programs such as these to shore up support among his poor power
base even as his approval ratings fall hand-in-hand with a faltering

The Cuban doctors are the most visible symbol of the controversial
collaboration between the two countries during 15 years of socialist
rule in Venezuela, and increasingly they are a flashpoint for the
violent unrest that has rocked the country since February and is blamed
for at more than 40 deaths.

The mostly middle- and upper-class protesters who have taken to the
streets say their country is following the path of Fidel Castro's
one-party Communist system. They see the doctors-for-oil deal as an
intolerable giveaway of Venezuela's vast petroleum wealth, even as the
country suffers from 50 percent inflation and chronic shortages of basic
goods like flour, cooking oil and toilet paper, not to mention a
homicide rate among the world's highest.

Unsubstantiated rumors have circulated that Cuban military advisers are
helping to crush the anti-government demonstrations. Some allege that
Havana is essentially running the Venezuelan military and that the Cuban
doctors lack proper training.

For supporters of Maduro's government, however, the doctors are an
example of concrete improvements in their lives delivered under the late
President Hugo Chavez and now his hand-picked successor.

Faraiz, a 54-year-old former domestic worker, said doctors at a public
hospital wanted to amputate one of her son's legs, which had been
horribly mutilated. He was prescribed a daily dose of antibiotics that
the family couldn't afford and contracted a serious infection.

So she took him to the Cuban doctors, who saved the leg by surgically
implanting eight nails and also healed his fractured cranium. The care,
and some of his medicine, didn't cost a cent.

Faraiz fears that if the opposition ever takes power it would follow
through on a promise to alter terms of the Cuba-Venezuela relationship,
and the doctors would be forced to leave.

"It will ruin the poor," she said, sitting in her low-ceiling living
room in Petare.

While official figures are not public, Cuba is believed to have sent
around 100,000 professionals, mostly health care workers but also
athletes, engineers and even circus artists, to Venezuela since Chavez
came to power in 1999. An estimated 31,000 Cuban health workers, about
11,000 of them doctors, are believed to be working in the country today.

Venezuela pays the Cubans a stipend for living expenses and they sleep
in dormitories at the clinics where they work. Havana also pays them
$425 a month — about 20 times the average government salary back home.

Cuba has similar programs in developing nations around the globe that
help burnish its international image, but none as important as the one
in Venezuela. Chavez was long the Caribbean island's staunchest
political and economic ally, and he spent months in Havana in 2013 for
cancer treatments before he died.

The South American country sends about 100,000 barrels of oil every day
to Cuba that accounts for half the island's domestic energy consumption,
University of Texas energy analyst Jorge Pinon says. Venezuela also
ships oil on preferential terms to other poor nations such as Haiti and
the Dominican Republic.

When the Cuban doctors arrived in Petare five years ago, residents
initially eyed them with suspicion and sometimes slammed the door in
their faces, said Yurisleidy Varela, a 29-year-old Cuban physician who
directs the local clinic that treated Faraiz's son.

Today the Cubans who staff "La Urbina" clinic are welcomed as they walk
the mazelike streets making house calls and vaccinating children. The
clinic offers free emergency, ophthalmology and pediatric care, as well
as minimally invasive surgical procedures. Its several dozen staffers
also minister to gunshot victims and drug and alcohol addicts.

But outside the slums and poor rural communities of Venezuela, the
Cubans have become a focus of anti-government rage.

In February, dozens of people carrying signs saying "Cuba go home"
physically harassed a Cuban baseball team playing in a tournament on
Margarita Island. More recently, assailants burned down a medical clinic
staffed by Cubans in the western city of Barquisimeto.

Some of the Cubans say the violence has them spooked.

"One never knows what can happen," Varela said. "If they're attacking
their own institutions, imagine how it is with us Cubans."

There's no sign that the doctors will decamp anytime soon, and Maduro
has vowed the anti-Cuba sentiment will only "bolster our conviction that
we must strengthen our brotherhood."

Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona
College in California, said that besides domestic political concerns,
continuing the Cuba-Venezuela alliance is a way for Maduro to send a
message to Washington that has been echoed in recent years by
like-minded presidents around the region.

"Cuba was a model for this generation" of leftist leaders, Tinker Salas
said, "and I think it is, in a way, a way to declare one's autonomy and

Source: Opposing Venezuelans Decry Doctors-For-Oil Deal With Cuba Amid
Soaring Inflation | Fox News Latino - Continue reading