August 2014
« Jul    

We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support in paying for servers. Thank you.

Cubaverdad on Twitter

  • An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.
  • An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.

Cuba Verdad

In the End, How Much is My Money Worth? / Anddy Sierra Alvarez
Posted on August 27, 2014

The Cuban population has no idea of the real worth of a Cuban peso. So
many private taxi drivers, like the pioneers of money devaluation–the
state snack bars–never stop annoying people with measures outside any
legal range.

If the government pays you 24 Cuban pesos (CUPs) for one Cuban
convertible peso (CUC), and sells you each CUC for 25 CUPs, why do the
State centers devalue the CUC to 23 Cuban pesos.

They do everything for their own benefit or to play along with the
government. Every time you exchange one currency for another, they make

Monetary union will come at the time when the Cuban pesos has no value
relative to the artificial CUC. For those who travel it seems to be a
game of "Monopoly of Capital." Will there be a Cuban currency exchange?
Where a Cuban would have to worry about making arrangements for several
currencies before leaving the country.

Buying CUCs to then look for someone to exchange the CUCs for dollars
for the least loss possible. For many it's a headache.

Modern slaves before the eyes of the world

The government looks for ways to avoid so many loses from the taxes and
penalties on Cuba for dealing in dollars, along with strategies to
recover them at the mercy of its citizens.

Limitations internationally exploit Cubans, a modern slavery, invisibly
but tangible for those who suffer it.

Since the State knew what it can do with its pawns, it allowed the
limited circulation of the dollar among its population. Only at that
time, only a small group of people were authorized to handle foreign
exchange: merchant seamen and embassy workers.

With the passage of time the Cuban pesos came to be even with the
dollar. Then it came to be 120 Cuban pesos for one American dollar,
always internally. And later it was maintained in a range of 20 to 30
pesos for one American dollar, until now.

Now, private drivers, administrators and State workers exchange
convertible pesos for Cuban pesos, at rates that favor themselves, not
as set by the government.

The issue is visible and many year for the monetary unification to avoid
inconveniences and the loss of money to opportunists. Still, most
question what value the Cuban pesos will have in the near future.

22 August 2014

Source: In the End, How Much is My Money Worth? / Anddy Sierra Alvarez |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
A Shortage of Teachers Will Mark the Upcoming School Year / 14ymedio
Posted on August 26, 2014

14ymedio, Havana, 25 August 2014 – This Monday enrollment began for the
various levels of education across the country. The 2014-2015 school
year presents a challenge to the Ministry of Education authorities,
given the alarming shortage of teachers in the provinces of Havana and
Matanzas. On September 1st more than 1.8 million students will enter the
classrooms, a figure that declines every year because of the low
birthrate affecting the Cuban population. The coming school year will
put to the test an educational system caught between an educational
system, the unattractive salaries for professionals, and the verticality
of decision making.

So far, the presence of 172,000 teachers in the schools has been
confirmed, which meets only 93.1% of the needs. However, at least 10,897
positions have been difficult to fill and the educational authorities
have tried to fill them by hiring retired teachers, using school staff
members from management and administration, and increasing the workload
of the teachers already confirmed. Officials and education experts will
also help in the schools, although without the ability to cover all the
educational needs.

Still, there is a shortage of at least 660 teachers in the capital and
Matanzas province, which so far have no replacements. The Education
Minister, Ena Elsa Velazquez, remarked that regardless of the shortage,
already confirmed educators have to be protected and "not given extra
tasks." An intention difficult to achieve given the current circumstances.

In recent decades Cuban education has suffered a process of material and
professional deterioration. During the previous year there was an
increase in people complaining about the loss of spaces in classes and
assignments in numerous schools around the country. The exodus of
teachers to other types of work has forced the training of "emergent
teachers" and the introduction of classes taught by television and
videos. These measures demonstrate that education is broken and generate
deep concern among the students' parents, particularly those with
children in elementary and junior high school.

Source: A Shortage of Teachers Will Mark the Upcoming School Year /
14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba: One Ration Booklet, Different Bread Rolls
August 26, 2014
Jimmy Roque Martinez

HAVANA TIMES – Luckily, we still have a ration booklet in Cuba. In
addition to a monthly quota of rice, sugar, grains and a tiny allotment
of meat products, every person gets one bread roll a day.

Until some time ago, I thought everyone got the same bread. Then I
discovered that I was wrong: the quality of the bread one gets depends
on where one lives. This is not officially established, of course, but
it happens this way in practice.

It is established that every bun weigh a minimum of 80 grams, but the
ones my family get in Marianao, at the Las Americas bakery, are
excessively small units whose weight oscillates between 45 and 60 grams.
What's more, the bread is often sour (tasting awful the next day), not
soft and not quite white.

By contrast, the bread given people as part of food quotas in Vedado is
large, white, soft and tasty. It weighs 80 grams and preserves these
characteristics the day after.

It is clear to me that the traditionally underpriviliged areas in Havana
(including Marianao) are also the most neglected today.

How is it possible that the neighborhood representative does nothing
about this, that the State inspectors responsible for verifying the
quality of the bread do not see the problem? What bread is the chair of
the municipal government eating? What are citizens doing to demand the
little they are entitled to?

Many active or former government officials (and military officers) live
in Vedado. They make up the "middle class" that is slowly emerging in
Cuba. And it is becoming increasingly clear that this sector has "more
rights" than those who live in underprivileged neighborhoods.

Could this be what the authorities mean when they speak of putting an
end to egalitarian policies? One ration booklet but different kinds of

Making quality bread rolls shouldn't be hard, particularly when we
recall that bread is one of the basic food products that make up the
diet of Cubans, especially that of children.

It is the responsibility of consumers to demand that the products and
services they receive have the required quality. After all, they aren't
gifts, they are rights.

Source: Cuba: One Ration Booklet, Different Bread Rolls - Havana - Continue reading
In Cuba, entrepreneurial spirits sparkle
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY 2:28 p.m. EDT August 26, 2014

MIAMI – Cuba is a land that remains a mystery to most Americans.

Are the economic changes instituted in recent years by President Raul
Castro working? Can the dissident movement ever gain enough traction to
overthrow the Communist government? Just how good is its acclaimed but
flawed health care system?

How many superstar baseball players are left down there?

But when looking to the future of the island – a post-Castro period that
is often contemplated by American government officials, business owners
eager to explore that market and Cuban-Americans curious about their
role in the island's future – one question intrigues me most: What kind
of human capital is left in Cuba?

Much of the country's educated class left in the years immediately after
Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista dictatorship in 1959. In the five
decades plus since, millions more have departed, and those who stayed
behind have been raised in a twisted environment where access to the
Internet is severely restricted, underpaid doctors choose to become taxi
divers, and people are forced to survive via the black market.

In the minds of some of my Cuban-American friends, that has left Cuba's
population of 11 million people far behind those of other Latin American
countries. As Cubans spend their lives figuring out how to secretly
install an illegal Internet connection in their ramshackle homes, people
in other Latin American countries have become more tech savvy,
understand international markets better and have a firmer grasp on best
business practices.

But there's something missing in that cold analysis. It's the same,
hard-to-describe quality that helped my parents, and thousands of
others, immigrate to the U.S. from Cuba with nothing and quickly rise to
the middle class and beyond. I got a great reminder of that recently
after meeting with five Cuban entrepreneurs.

I met the five women while they were visiting Miami on a trip planned by
the Cuba Study Group, which advocates for closer relations between
Washington and Havana. They were here to learn some of the basic
business tools that are largely missing in Cuba, and each one of them
showed me how resilient Cubans can be when given just the slightest

There was Sandra Aldama Suarez, a 38-year-old former teacher who wanted
to start a company selling artisanal soaps. With little access to the
Internet, she learned the process by reading a book from the 1920s that
her grandmother had given her. She had a friend from Spain ship her
another book. She started making the scented bars in her kitchen and now
has three employees, selling the soaps out of a storefront.

There was Decire Verdacia Barbat, a 26-year-old civil engineering
student who was making money on the side by painting nails for neighbors
in her dining room. Little by little, she's expanded her operation and
now has four employees. When she wanted to start offering massages, her
father built a massage table out of metal pipes, plywood, foam and vinyl.

And there was Yamina Vicente Prado, 31, an economics professor at the
University of Havana who quit her teaching job to start a party-planning
business with her sister. Vicente faces the same limitations that other
would-be entrepreneurs encounter in Cuba – she can't find basic things
like tablecloths, fake flowers, ornate serving platters. "Balloons don't
exist in Cuba," she said with a laugh.

None of the women are planning the kinds of businesses that my friends
would describe as cutting edge. But that's because the closely
monitored, state-run economy of Cuba makes that impossible, dictating
what kinds of businesses Cubans can run on their own.

But what people like those five women are showing is that the will and
the capacity exist in Cuba. They just need a chance.

Gomez is a Miami-based reporter for USA TODAY.

Source: Voices: In Cuba, entrepreneurial spirits sparkle - Continue reading
Students get rare opportunity to visit Cuba
By William SchmidtOn August 26, 2014

With the control of Cuba falling into the hands of Fidel Castro in 1959,
Americans no longer had easy accessibility to visit the island. But in
May, a group of students were able to visit Cuba to see what a Latin
American socialist country looks like as well as learn about
environmental sociology.
"It's not something many Americans can experience. I really wanted the
opportunity to say, 'I studied abroad in Cuba,'" said sociology graduate
student and Student Government Association President Stephanie Travis.
As the borders of Cuba weaken allowing more Americans in, the economy is
also changing which gave participants in the program a chance to see
firsthand how Cuba currently exists.
"There are tremendous changes occurring in Cuba right now because of the
opening up of the economy," said David Burley, professor of sociology.
"Ten years from now, Cuba is likely to be much different, and for better
or worse, may look much more like the U.S. or other Latin American
Due to trade and commerce regulations for cargo being imported into
Cuba, many Cubans have had to learn to utilize ingenuity with limited
resources and creative ways to recycle used products.
"I really like green-initiative and things that try to promote an
environment that doesn't waste resources but instead utilizes resources
in every way possible by recycling," said Travis. "You will see them
washing a zip lock bag and reusing that zip lock bag. Their ingenuity
and innovation to use their thought process and critical thinking to
create things out of nothing were amazing."
Through the hardships endured, Cubans have created ways to enrich their
daily lives in the aftermath of problems created from generations before
them. Rivers that had been polluted for decades as well as having the
government grant land to people in need and grow food which allowed
places such as Havana to produce organic gardens. This provides food for
those who live on the outskirts of Cuba.
"Sustainable agriculture became very important during the Soviet Union
and relied upon them for the purchasing of chemical fertilized,
herbicides and pesticides," said Burley. "With the fall of the Soviet
Union, Cuba now has to figure out how to feed itself without a huge
supply of these chemicals. Thus, sustainable, cooperatively owned and
run urban and rural farms popped up all over the country."
As students ended their time in Cuba, their former preconceptions were
changed by the experience.
"One thing is certain: all the students said that all of their
preconceived notions of Cuba were erased," said Burley. "They thought it
would be an extremely poor country, and it would be unsafe. They found
the population to be very friendly; [Cubans] like Americans, and [the
students] felt very safe. While they saw a fair amount of poverty, they
did not find much difference from the U.S."
The opportunity to visit Cuba will be offered again next May.
"Our trip next May will be just as educational and fun," said Burley.
"We will add a service day where we spend the day working on a
sustainable farm and art collective that educates youth in the arts and
supports itself through its sustainable agriculture. This kind of trip
is what university education is all about. You get enlightening
knowledge about another people, culture and the unequivocal skills that
this brings."

Source: Students get rare opportunity to visit Cuba | lionsroarnews - Continue reading
Official Press: Triumphalism, Blacklisting and Censorship / 14ymedio,
Yoani Sanchez
Posted on August 25, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, Yoani Sanchez, 22 August 2014 – The phone rings and
it's a friend who works for a government publication. She's content
because she's published an article that attacks bureaucracy and
corruption. The young woman finished college two years ago and has been
working in a digital medium that deals with cultural and social issues.
She has the illusions of a recent graduate, and she believes she can do
objective journalism, close to reality, and help to improve her country.

My friend has had some luck, because she exercises this profession at a
time when the national media is trying to more closely reflect the
problems of our society. The official journalist exists in a timid
Glasnost, 25 years after a similar process in the Soviet Union. If that
attempt at "information transparency" was promoted through Perestroika,
on the Island it's been pushed by the Sixth Communist Party Congress
Guidelines. In this way, a more objective and less triumphalist press is
pushed—from above. The same power that helped create laudatory
newspapers, now urges a shift from applause to criticism. But it's not easy.

The original sin of the official press is not the press, but propaganda.
It emerged to sustain the ideological political-economic model and it
can't shed that genesis. The first steps in the creation of the current
national media always includes an act of faith in the Revolution, It is
also funded entirely by the Government, which further affects its
editorial line. It's worth noting that the official media is not
profitable, that is, it doesn't generate income or even support its
print runs or transmissions. Hence, it operates with subsidies taken
from the national coffers. All Cubans sustain the newspapers Granma and
Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the Cubavision channel or Radio Reloj
(Clock Radio)… whether we like it or not.

Moreover, the official press is structured so that nothing can escape to
the front page of the newspapers or to the TV and radio microphones that
hasn't been previously inspected. They are characterized by their strict
elements of supervision.

Architecture of Control

My friend is facing at least four strong mechanisms of censorship she
must deal with every day and which she rarely manages to successfully
evade. Cuba has come to have one of the most sophisticated methods of
monitoring information anywhere in the world. At the highest point of
this architecture of control is the Department of Revolutionary
Orientation (DOR), an entity belonging to the Central Committee of the
Cuban Communist Party. A group of people—designated for their
ideological loyalty—analyze all the journalistic content published in
the country, and, from these observations, follows certain topics and

The DOR is also responsible for drawing up the so-called "thematic plan"
in which it programs the issues the Cuban press will address in a
specified time period, and with what intensity it will do so. Right now,
for example, just looking at national television we can see that there
is a marked intention to speak optimistically about the Port of Mariel,
foreign tourism and agricultural production.

Not only political issues or international relations pass through that
filter. Control is also exerted over the music broadcast on radio
stations and the music videos, soap operas, and science programs aired
on television. The so-called black lists of singers or banned authors in
the national media come entirely from the DOR. This so painful and
prolonged phenomenon has been losing ground in recent years, more from
social pressures than because of a sincere process of self-criticism
among the censors.

The heads of the press organs must meet regularly with "the comrades
from the DOR" to ensure that the plan of topics decided from above is
carried out. But the influence of this entity does not end there. The
directors of the newspapers and the heads of specific pages or
specialized pages will only be appointed with the consent of this
department, which in many cases is the person who placed them in their
positions. This extends to the national and provincial organs, the
municipal radio stations and the specialized magazines. The Journalism
School at the University of Havana also receives direct attention from
the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which controls its
curriculum and involves itself in the process of choosing new students.
Nothing moves in the Cuban press without this watchtower of censorship
knowing about it.

Promote the positive results

Another control mechanism that grips the official press is that imposed
by the institutions and ministries. From the departments overseeing
these entities, journalists are encouraged to promote the sectors they
cover. Only with the authorization of these State organs, can the
reporters access offices, files, review meetings, press conferences, the
interior of a factory, or a cultural center or school.

This second control filter placed on institutions gives birth to a kind
of journalism that has done a great deal of harm to Cuban society. One
full of triumphalism, inflated figures, and "everything is perfect."
This pseudo-information has been so abused that popular humor is full of
jokes about it. Like the one about when the news comes on and people put
a bag under the TV to collect the food that appears in the reports, but
that never show up in reality. This practice fosters opportunism, as
well as making reporters think, "I'd better not get in trouble, if it's
good for me here." There are sectors that are very attractive to cover,
like tourism, because they include gifts, invitations, eating in hotel
restaurants, and even all-expense-paid weekends at resorts.

Surveillance in the hallways

The third control mechanism makes people afraid to even say its name.
The role of the Ministry of the Interior in every press organ. Every
newspaper, radio station, TV channel or provincial newspaper has one or
several people who are responsible for "seeing to" the security of the
center. This department is responsible for investigating the
extra-professional activities of every reporter, photographer or graphic
designer. To spy on what they say in the hallways, supervise the
questions they ask in interviews—particularly if it involves a
foreigner—and whether they have contacts in the opposition or among
independent journalists.

The more sophisticated control mechanism

If my friend makes it past those three control mechanism without
deleting a line or one of her works being prohibited, she will still
face the most efficient and sophisticated of all. It's euphemistically
called self-censorship and is nothing more than the result of pressure
exercised over the communicator by the instruments of control and

Self-censorship acts as a psychological barrier and is expressed in the
omissions that each journalist makes to stay on safe ground and not get
too close to the allowed limit. However, the victim of self-censorship
doesn't always see it like this, rather she justifies her attitude. For
a communicator from the official press who believes in the system, it's
an act of political militancy, a question of faith. So she remains
silent about certain topics, to "not give arms to the enemy," or because
they've made her believe that "only they can offer constructive
criticism." Journalists come to think that if they question the
immigration policy, the single-party system, and the political
intolerance in the country, they will be doing more harm than good.

The professional who accepts and successfully passes through these four
censorship and control filters and can call themselves an editor, a
composer of sentences, a typist, a propagandist… but never a journalist.

Maybe one day my young friend will call me, not to tell me that she has
managed to sneak a text into an official media, but to tell me that
she's decided to become an independent journalist. She will take on new
challenges and problems, but be much freer.

Source: Official Press: Triumphalism, Blacklisting and Censorship /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on August 25, 2014

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — "Beds, furniture,
mattresses, heaters", is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around
the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer
advertises his wares: "airs,'microgüeys', washing machines, rice
cookers, 'Reina' brand pots and pans…" The cries are not too loud, but
measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the
nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.

Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows
well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as
he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an "inspector",
the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more
adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of
one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless
August air. They know they don't fool anyone, but neither can they be
charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.

For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops
operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different
products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or
toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the
product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is
many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by
hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an
official media campaign being developed against the first two links
(hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who
traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic
that has turned endemic–affect the country's commercial trading networks.

This crusade against corruption and illegal activities, however, does
not stand out for "uncorking" before public opinion the obvious problem
of speculation, a concomitant evil to the system, and fitting to a
society scored by material shortages of all kinds. In fact, this type of
crime is nothing new, but just the opposite: we could almost state that
there isn't a "pure" Cuban who is able to survive outside of illicit
trading in any of its many forms.

Thus in Cuba there is currently an unwritten law: those who do not steal
at least receive stolen products. A situation that is based on the
failure of the social project built on an economy that is fictitious and
eternally dependent on external subsidies.

However, the official media not only points an accusing finger at the
usual dealers, among which are common criminals, lazy opportunists,
thugs of all kinds, thieves by vocation, and other specimens classified
as social stigmas anywhere in the world but that proliferate with
impunity and force in economically and morally deformed societies.

The immaculate criers of the regime also accuse of being "hoarders and
resellers" those traders in the abused sector of "the self-employed" who
take advantage of the shortage to profit from the sale of items
previously purchased from retail networks, often by agreement with
corrupt managers or employees. The self-employed are now the blackbirds
[the weather] that everything gets blamed on, as were the "Free Market"
farmers of the distant 80's, and later, in the bloody Special Period of
the 90's, artisans and Cathedral Square vendors, the first outposts of

Official reporters, in their poignant candor, attribute store shortages
to speculators and not to the State Government, owner of all commercial
chains and responsible for keeping them supplied. In their way of
thinking it doesn't appear that the old and effective correlation
between supply and demand exists, in virtue of which speculation would
not be possible, as long as the commercial network supply is maintained.
That is why certain products, such as rum and cigars produced
domestically are not part of the black market: all the shops are
overflowing with them.

In fairness, we must recognize that rampant speculation exists in Cuba,
and that this phenomenon greatly affects everyone's pockets, but to
harshly focus blame onto its effects without aiming at its source is
redundant and a discredit to the accuser. It turns out that the biggest
culprit is absent from the bench of such severe judgment.

Because, if there is a hoarder in whose hands the whole market, trade,
prices and distribution of each product is concentrated, it's the state
monopoly, controlled by the ruling elite and its closest acolytes. If
there is a reseller with a capital "R" it's the very elite in power that
buys at bargain prices all kinds of cheap merchandise that it later
resells "legally" at astronomical prices.

We should not ignore in this story memories of other hoarding on the
part of the government, the adjudication of approximately 70% of all of
the country's arable land, of the National Bank; of all industries;
hotels and housing infrastructures; of the best mansions and spaces for
their benefit and for the benefit of their caste and followers, among
others which we will omit so we won't impose on the readers' patience.

The philosophy of poverty as "virtue"

While the black market has expanded and specialized in the last 25
years, the truth is that it has coexisted with this system almost from
the start, turning each Cuban into a true or potential violator of the law.

The poverty that the triumph of the revolution would supposedly end, in
practice not only became widespread, but also systematized and
institutionalized to the point that today Cuba holds the sad record of
being the only country in the world that has maintained a ration card–a
mechanism of war economy–for over 50 years, which has planted in the
consciousness of several generations an effect of disability and
dependence culminating in a detachment from the law which establishes
permanent hardship as morality.

This phenomenon has penetrated into the national psyche so deeply that
we don't even perceive the harm in all its magnitude, so the solution
for necessities becomes legitimate regardless of the method used for
this. For example, for an average Cuban, the purchase of one kilogram of
powdered milk on the black market at 80 pesos seems legitimate, since it
ensures her 7 year-old kid's breakfast–who is thus stripped of her right
to acquire the same product on the ration card–since the cost on the
legal market for the same amount is 160 pesos, twice the amount as in
the black market.

Thus, a new "Robin Hood syndrome" has been established in Cuban society,
such that the reseller or trafficking dealer, instead of being perceived
as a criminal, is transmuted into a benefactor, since he is stealing
from the rich (the government-state) in order to benefit, in some
measure, the poor (the common Cuban), given that his prices, though high
and out of the reach of the poorest, are less onerous than those of the
state monopoly. At any rate, as the old saying goes, "a thief who steals
from a thief gets a hundred years' pardon".

An unbreakable chain?

However, the chain of hoarding-speculation-receiving, as well as its
effects on the economy, and even on social morality, is not unbreakable.
Freeing the market and allowing normal operation of its laws would be
sufficient, or releasing a portion of that market, so that traders would
no longer be the evil that the government hypocritically seeks to
protect us from, to have it become an important sector for healing the
domestic economy. In short, the story of the last few decades offers an
unquestionable lesson: there has never, ever been a central economy that
has survived this logic.

Another useful measure would be to maintain a permanent and satisfactory
level of supply and prices commensurate with incomes, but the
impossibility of this option has already been demonstrated. Meanwhile,
the same government that decries illicit small merchants legitimizes its
own speculation at the expense of a country that belongs to all. At the
end of the day, the root of the evil resides in the perverse nature of
the politics of a group that has accumulated too much power for too much
time. In Cuba, the truth is redundant.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba cracks down on Christians
Posted Aug. 25, 2014, 11:30 a.m.

Cuba's communist government has increased its oppression of religious
institutions, according to a Christian watchdog group, with reports of
religious liberty violations almost doubling in the last six months.

According to a new report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW),
there were 170 religious freedom violations from the start of 2014
through mid-July. In 2013, there were only 180 incidents documented.
This year's violations included government authorities beating pastors
and lay workers, dragging politically dissident women away from Sunday
services, and enforcing arbitrary detentions, church closures, and
demolitions, CSW said.

Todd Nettleton, with Voice of the Martyrs, agreed that government
persecution is on the rise in Cuba.

"It does seem like the government is paying more attention to the
churches and making much of a concerted effort to control religious
expression in Cuba," Nettleton said. Although the government has not
given a reason for the crackdown, Nettleton suggested President Raul
Castro could be more hostile to Christianity than his brother, or more
aware of it. The government might also be looking at the church and
sensing a need to assert control.

While the government of the once-atheist country is communist, Cuba's
constitution claims to allow religious freedom: "The State recognizes,
respects, and guarantees religious liberty." But that right, as well as
others, are ignored if the government claims they conflict with
communism, CSW said.

Article 62 of the Cuban constitution declares: "No recognized liberty
may be exercised against the existence and aims of the socialist State
and the nation's determination to build socialism and communism."

The Cuban Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) has authority over all
religious groups in Cuba and it has a "consistently antagonistic
relationship" with many of those groups, CSW notes in its report.
Roughly 56 percent of Cubans identify as Christian, according to
Operation World.

CSW said most of the cases of women being detained and forced to miss
church were Roman Catholics and Ladies in White, a political dissident
group made up of women related to political prisoners.

Churches also are often pressured and threatened by the government to
expel congregants the government considers political dissidents.
Churches that resist "are under constant and intrusive government
surveillance," CSW said. Roman Catholic priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez
Alegre's refusal to shun individuals the government wants to keep
socially isolated led to the state installing video cameras to watch his
home and church. His email accounts have also been blocked.

CSW said protestant leaders are often threatened with having their
churches closed if they refuse to expel and shun certain people.
Government reprisals also have included frozen bank accounts, harassment
and violence.

Cuban Christians live with the daily threat that everything, including
their educational opportunities and employment, could be taken away,
Nettleton said. Students could be kicked out of school without cause,
flunked even if they have straight A's, or be refused the diploma they
earned. They are constantly pressured to leave the church and follow the
government, Nettleton said.

Since 1959, the Cuban government has planted informants within churches
and religious groups to report anything critical of the state or deemed

Source: WORLD | Cuba cracks down on Christians | Julia A. Seymour | Aug.
25, 2014 - Continue reading
Four bodies found floating in debris off Florida coast
Sun Aug 24, 2014 7:04pm EDT

(Reuters) - Four bodies were found floating in debris off the Atlantic
coast of Florida on Sunday but no boat wreckage has been discovered, the
U.S. Coast Guard said.

Two people boating in the Atlantic Ocean near Hollywood, Florida,
between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, spotted two male bodies early Sunday
and alerted the U.S. Coast Guard, a spokesman said.

A search ensued, and the body of a woman was recovered a short distance
away. Later, a fourth male victim was also recovered, the Coast Guard said.

There was no boat or boat wreckage in the vicinity, about 20 nautical
miles (37 km) off the Florida coast, and it was unclear whether the
victims were from the United States, Cuba or another Caribbean country.

"We won't even have an inkling on identity until the medical examiner
completes an investigation," Coast Guard spokesman Mark Barney said.

The bodies were found in what is known as a trashline, or a layer of
debris, floating on the top of the ocean.

Aerial teams have spotted what appears to be three other bodies, but the
report was unconfirmed until they could be recovered, Barney said.

Crews were working through the night to look for a boat, bodies or
people in distress, he said.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Source: Four bodies found floating in debris off Florida coast | Reuters
- Continue reading
Cuba, all over again
Staff Columnist

In 1978/79 when I was a grad student at the Kennedy School of Government
(now the Harvard Kennedy School) we were treated to the seminal work of
the then dean of that institution, Graham Allison's "Essence of
Decision." In it Allison used his discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis
to explain, as a case study, models of government decision making. I
remember it well as I had served in that area and in that time of crisis.
As a lad (Ensign, Civil Engineer Corps) I served in the late '50s on the
West Indies islands of Grand Turk and South Caicos. We built there, and
elsewhere, Naval Facilities whose functions were mostly to listen –
listen for submarines of course. There is in that area of the Atlantic
deep water known as the Caicos Trench – through which submarines might
have entered the Gulf of Mexico. With the range of those years' missiles
it would have been possible to fire on the American heartland from the
Gulf, if not from the Atlantic itself. So the Navy listened. The Seabees
built the facilities on British Islands under terms of agreements left
over from WWII's Lend-Lease.
So I had become familiar with the islands, and their proximity to Cuba.
Now these were the days of Fidel Castro, a maybe visionary Cuban
revolutionary who was coming 'down from the mountains', the Sierra
Maestra. He was, I recall, the darling of many in the United States. He
came almost in triumph to the U.N. staying in the Hotel Theresa in NYC's
Harlem. Earlier we on those salt islands witnessed the rather primitive
'gun running' of weapons to the revolutionaries in Cuba using aircraft
from the U.S. to the islands for transfer to fishing boat to Cuba. Our
British hosts (Jamaican Constabulary) were unable to stop these efforts.
We were ordered not to interfere. I was fascinated with Allison's
descriptions of Russian involvement in Cuba which threatened our Nation
with ballistic missiles from Cuba.
"The Kremlin and the Castros are chummy again, and Moscow is offering
military aid." This reminder was published in "Putin Restores a Cuban
Beachhead" by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, The Wall Street Journal, Monday,
July 28, 2014.
Vladimir Putin visited Havana in July.
Ms. O'Grady writes, The Castros remain as paranoid, power-hungry and
pathological as ever. They may be economic fools, but they run a good
business making the island available to criminal governments, like Iran
and North Korea. Mr. Putin's Cuba trip reinforces the point. The old
Cold War villains are up to no good one more time."
"Russia's president is trying to rebuild the Soviet empire. Eastern
Europe won't cooperate and in Asia the best he will ever be is China's
junior partner. But in Latin America Mr. Putin's KGB resume and
willingness to stick his thumb in the eye of the U.S. gives him
traction. Colonizing Cuba again is an obvious move."
Russian support for Cuba was cut off after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Fidel was furious with the Kremlin. It seems, the Journal reports, that
the Island's rulers are willing to forgive – for the right price.
O'Grady continues, "With sugar-daddy Venezuela running into economic
problems in recent years and Mr. Putin itching for a place in the
Caribbean sun, Cuba has decided to deal."
Interestingly, in June of this year Russia signed a space cooperation
agreement with Cuba to allow it to use the island to base its Glonass
(Russia's alternative to GPS) navigation stations.
"When he called in Havana this month Mr. Putin flaunted his intentions
to restore a Russian beachhead in Cuba. The shoot-down of the Malaysian
Airlines flight on the same day that he ended his Latin American tour
raised the visibility of a trip that was made for both psychological and
strategic reasons. Mr. Putin wants to assure the Free World that he can
be a menace in the U.S. backyard - and he wants a local foothold to make
the threat real."
"Mr. Putin officially wrote off $32billion of bad Cuban debt on his
trip, leaving just $3.2billion due over the next 10 years. Russia is
looking for oil in Cuban waters, and Mr. Putin signed new agreements in
energy, industry and trade with Castro."
More from Mary O'Grady, "Far more troubling is the emergence of Mr.
Putin as a Latin American presence. Tyrants all over the region,
starting with the Castros, admire his ruthlessness and skill in
consolidating economic and political power. They want to emulate him.
It's a role model the region could do without."
I've written about our neighbor to the south on these pages several
times. I even quoted the Cuban revolutionary poet, Jose' Marti, twice.
Florida is as close as we'll get to Cuba. What happens there is
important to us. The Seabees and sailors of by-gone years protected us
once. We must pay attention again. "Can Do."

Source: Cuba, all over again | Longboat Key News - Continue reading
Redditch holiday maker receives £17k payout after dream Cuba trip left
him sick and scared to eat out
Aug 24, 2014 15:55 By Anuji Varma

Paul Hughes is still suffering from stomach problems – three years after
the nightmare break

A holiday maker has received £17,000 compensation after a dream trip to
Cuba left him sick, in severe pain and too frightened to eat out.

And Paul Hughes is still suffering from stomach problems – three years
after the nightmare break.

During his stay at four star Iberostar Daiquiri Hotel, the 52-year-old
says he witnessed under-cooked food being served and a chef leave the
toilet without washing his hands.

Mr Hughes, from Redditch, booked the January, 2011, two-week vacation
through Thomas Cook.

He said: "I suffered severe sickness and diarrhoea and extremely painful
stomach cramps. It was horrendous.

"Three months after my wife and I came home, my symptoms still hadn't
gone away. I saw my GP who provided me with advice on how to deal with
my symptoms. My bowel habits still haven't returned to normal and it
feels like I've been left with a permanent reminder of the awful trip.
It has been very hard to get used to this.

"I used to eat out a lot with my family, but now tend not to. I'm too
worried about suffering something similar to what I had in Cuba.

A trial took place at Birmingham County Court after the tour operator
refused to agree a settlement despite admitting liability for Mr Hughes'

Solicitor Clare Comiskey, of Irwin Mitchell, which represented Mr
Hughes, said: "Paul went through a horrific experience with severe
illness on what was meant to be a relaxing holiday.

"Gastric illness can be very debilitating and as Paul's case shows, can
result in serious, long-term consequences."

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: "We feel it is important to note that our
own findings with regards to the exact nature of the illness differed
greatly from those of Mr Hughes' representatives. However, while we are
disappointed by the outcome of this court ruling, we accept the judge's
verdict and are satisfied that this matter has now been resolved.

"Thomas Cook closely audits all the properties to which it operates to
ensure that the very highest health, safety and hygiene standards are

"The Iberostar Daiquiri Hotel is a popular hotel with our customers,
scoring highly in our customer satisfaction surveys. Our records show
that sickness levels among customers staying at the resort since 2011
have been minimal."

Source: Redditch holiday maker gets £17k payout after dream Cuba trip
left him sick and scared to eat out - Birmingham Mail - Continue reading
Angel Santiesteban Transferred to La Lima Prison / 14ymedio
Posted on August 24, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 – The writer Angel Santiesteban might
have been transferred to La Lima prison, located in the Havana
municipality of Guanabacoa. The information was provided to 14ymedio by
Lilianne Ruíz, a freelance journalist who visited the police station at
Acosta and Diez de October streets where the narrator and blogger was

For several weeks, Santiesteban's family and friends have been demanding
an explanation for the aggravation of the charges against him. The
police informed the family that the writer was being prosecuted for an
escape attempt. However, his family believes that this "new imputation
is groundless and is being lodged only to increase his time in captivity."

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the Cuban
authorities to "clearly explain" Santiesteban's situation.

Prior to his transfer to the Acosta Station, Santiesteban was held in a
construction unit where he could receive visitors and make telephone
calls. The blogger was sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison for an
alleged "violation of domicile and aggression." Independent lawyers have
repeatedly denounced the irregularities committed in his case and have
raised the complaint with national and international entities.

Source: Angel Santiesteban Transferred to La Lima Prison / 14ymedio |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Pedestrians Are the Most Frequent Victims of Traffic Accidents / 14ymedio
Posted on August 24, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 — In recent weeks, the official media
have reported numerous traffic accidents in several provinces. In
addition to drivers and passengers, pedestrians represent a significant
proportion of victims: 34.6% of deaths in the country and, in the case
of Havana, the percentage skyrockets to 70.9%, according data reported
on the television evening news by the National Directorate of Traffic.

The official report hid some of the factors contributing to this
situation, especially the poor condition of the sidewalks, the lack of
pedestrian crossings on busy streets and avenues, and the deterioration
of the traffic lights or the power outages affecting their operation.

As for the responsibility of drivers, several factors explain the high
incidence of accidents: disrespect for the right of way, speeding or
drunk driving.

According to recently published official data, in the first half of this
year Cuba reported more than 5,600 traffic accidents, with a balance of
347 dead and over 4,300 injured.

Source: Pedestrians Are the Most Frequent Victims of Traffic Accidents /
14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Why NPR's David Greene Thinks All Americans Should Visit Cuba Now
Written by: Paul Brady
August 21, 2014

NPR Morning Edition host David Greene spent a week in June reporting
from Cuba, the country that few Americans have had the chance to
visit—even though new "people-to-people" trips make it legal to tour on
certain itineraries. Greene shared his memories of the trip—and his tips
for those visiting for the first time—with Condé Nast Traveler in an
interview shortly after he returned to the U.S.

How did you spend your week in Cuba?

We'd been trying to go for almost a year—the visa process is quite an
adventure—but we finally got to go for a week. We spent the first couple
days in Havana and interviewed a morning radio news host who works on a
kind of government-owned Morning Edition of Havana.

Some stuff was set up by the government, which was a narrative for the
trip, but we also got out on our own and explored on our own. We spent a
day in Mariel, about an hour west of Havana, where the Mariel boatlift
was in 1980. The numbers are stunning: more than 100,000 Cubans leaving
on boats from there. Today, they're expanding a deep-water port that the
government is hoping will be helpful to the economy. There are a lot of
questions about whether they are really committed or not to foreign
investment, how many restrictions there might be.

We took a mini road trip to the island of Varadero, which is one of the
tourist beaches in Cuba that brings in Europeans and visitors from Latin
and South America. We tried to follow how tourism money comes into the
country and what it means to people. From there, we went down to the
town of Cárdenas, which is visually one of the most awesome places I've
been to, with horse carts clomping through these old colonial streets.
We kept driving into sugar country—real, classic, old Cuba—where the
sugar industry thrived until the '90s when a lot of people thought Fidel
Castro made some bad decisions. We spent a very memorable hour with a
family there. The father worked three decades in the sugar industry and
showed us his ration booklet, which is still something that exists in Cuba.

When we got back to Havana, we did a couple interviews with dissidents,
which we purposefully saved for the end of the trip. The last interview
we did was with a journalist who was beaten up on the street about 10
days prior, and he talked about the challenge of trying to test the
limits of free expression in a country that doesn't allow much of it. It
was really interesting when he mentioned that he gets trained at the
U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is another sign that the U.S.
government is still trying to do the best it can to break through and do
democracy promotion in Cuba, as we saw with the "Cuban Twitter" story
earlier this year.

Were there difficulties in reporting from the country?

I wanted to be really humble and realistic about it and say that none of
us were Cuba experts. We were going to take in a place and bring it home
as best we could. It's an incredibly murky and complicated place—and
we're very new to it, so we had open minds and tried to be listeners.

What surprised you about being a journalist in Cuba?

I thought we'd be followed more and tracked more. Our first stop was the
International Press Center, and I expected a five-hour lecture about how
great Cuba is. It was literally 20 minutes: We filled out a form, they
handed us press credentials, and off we go. We were much more free to
wander than I expected to be. There was a surprising moment in the other
direction, though, in Varadero, when we wanted to talk to people about
their jobs in tourism. We got to the hotel where we arranged interviews
with a band and a server, and all of a sudden it got really tense and
people got nervous and scared when the security people at the hotel
found out. And that was a window into how the fear is still there. There
were these little reminders of, "Okay, we're Cuba."

Why go to Cuba now?

Any time you can go is worthwhile because it's such a difficult place to
get a look at. We have a colleague in journalism, Nick Miroff at the
Washington Post, who did great work telling one story after another
there. But to be able to go for a week and get a deep dive—to get the
government to allow a team as big as ours was to go in!—is pretty rare.
To me, whenever you can get there, you just go.

I do think this is a really interesting time, though. If you look at
public opinion in the Cuban American community in Miami, it is changing.
There are questions about whether the softening of the position of some
younger Cuban Americans means that there will be less pressure over time
on this president and future presidents to keep the embargo in place.
That's a question worth asking. Now, older Cuban Americans vote much
more loyally and much more often and are a very powerful force, so it's
not like we're on the cusp of political change. But we're beginning to
reach a point where there could be a different policy.

There's a poll out that shows that, for the first time, the majority of
Cuban Americans is in favor of ending the embargo. That can be a little
misleading because older Cuban Americans vote in much larger numbers but
that is a huge development. I think the question that you'll see both
parties asking is "Is the old political narrative true?" Do we have to
pay this much attention to the Cuban American vote in Florida and is
Florida that important in a presidential election. Maybe the answer is
yes! But those are the questions sitting there for 2016.

With Mariel Port and Castro pushing tourism development, it really seems
that a lot of what he's doing in terms of the economy is pointing to the
day when the embargo might be gone. For Varadero and the expansion of
that beach resort to succeed, they're going to need a few million
American tourists to come every year and that's not going to happen
until the embargo is gone. And at Mariel too, that port might see some
success in the short term, but it could really be important—especially
with the Panama Canal expansion—if that American market opens up.

What was it like to stay at the Hotel Nacional, one of the city's most
famous hotels?

It was beautiful. Stunning. It's right on the Malecón which is the long
four-mile promenade they call the world's longest bar—especially when
the sun goes down—where you'll see massive crowds of Cubans sitting
along the water, smoking, drinking, kissing, chatting. It's a great
place to meet people!

What should first-time visitors make sure they do while visiting?

It is worth getting out of Havana and Varadero. Being in an old sugar
town called Madruga, I felt like I was seeing a different side of
Cuba—and one that you can't really miss if you want to understand the
place. And I would say don't be nervous and don't be afraid of the
place. Have a cultural awareness about the desperation that's there but
be open to conversation with these wonderful people who have really
interesting stories to tell.

You also got some shots of vintage automobiles—what was that like?

Our photographer and I were told to ignore the 1950s cars because
they're such a cliche in Havana, but neither of us could ignore them.
You just couldn't turn away. He said it was like trying to walk by Jack
Nicholson. You have to point your camera in that direction!

Source: Why NPR's David Greene Thinks All Americans Should Visit Cuba
Now - Continue reading
Another "Broom" Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez
Posted on August 23, 2014

The National Assembly or Cuban parliament easily approved (nothing odd
for that body when the issue is something that, although not divinely
ordained, "comes from above") the new foreign investment law. One does
not need a crystal ball to know that the new legislation — like the
proverbial broom* — will sweep efficiently, basically for those in power
and the barriers they have created.

The breathless financiers of the antiquated Cuban political model
demonstrate that for la nomenklatura, the need of their wallets — or the
need to upgrade,or air out, their state capitalism — is more important
than to truly revive the the battered "socialist economy".

As with all laws that "are to be (dis)respected" in post-1959 Cuba, it
passed unanimously, i.e., everyone was in agreement — or at least, they
all raised their hands — in that caricature of a senate composed almost
entirely of members of the sole legal party in Cuba, which has been in
power for 55 years and which, despite calling itself Communist, really

It follows, therefore, to suggest to the Cuban authorities that to be
consistent with their own laws, they should conduct an aggiornamento
(update) of the philosophical foundations of their ideology, and of the
historic government party.

The Cuban state has long had its eyes on foreign investors. Rodrigo
Malmierca, minister of exterior commerce and foreign investment, stated
several months ago in Brazil that Cuba will continue to have just one
political party. He was, of course, speaking to the interests of
Brazilian entrepreneurs, and emphasizing the message of confidence and
stability that Cuba's governing class wants to convey so as to encourage
them to do business on the island.

This standard produces another discriminatory law that baits foreigners
with financial benefits and tax breaks, in contrast to the prohibitive
taxes imposed on Cuban nationals who launch themselves into the private
sector. They took everything away from Cuban and foreign entrepreneurs
when this model was imposed, and now they stimulate and favor only
foreign capitalists to invest in our country. They say it's not a
giveaway, but any citizen of other provenance is placed above our own
nationals, who once again are excluded from investing in the medium and
large companies on their home soil.

Just as our Spanish forebears did, they engage in shameless and abusive
marginalization of Cubans on their own turf, and restrict Cubans'
economic role in their own national home. The state continues holding
"the master key" of the hiring process. It serves as the employment
agency to calm the fears of its followers and urge them to continue
their unconditional support, with the established and visible promise of
compensation and privilege — albeit with a diminutive, revolutionary,
symbolic and coveted "little slice" of the national pie.

On the other hand, the impunity that inheres to bureaucrats in
management, along with the lack of respect toward Cuban society implied
in their excessive secrecy, unbuttons the shirt of corruption.

Some of the many examples that strike a nerve among Cubans of diverse
geographic areas are: What is the state of affairs of the country? What
are the revenue and expenditures of different phases of the economy? Why
do they not inform the public of the annual income generated from
remittances by Cuban émigrés, and how these resources are used?

I could say and write much about the new law and the same old
discrimination and practices contained in the same old legislation. As
far as I am concerned, despite everything, the result is just another
flea-bitten dog with a reversible — but no different — collar.

But that would be giving too much relevance to the segregationist,
shoddy and desperate hunt for money by the elite in power, which needs
ever more colossal sums of evil capital to "sustain" its unsustainable
bureaucracy and inefficient model.

Anyway, this new law – like the proverbial broom – will always sweep
clean for them. Considering their dynastic, highborn, 50-plus-year-old
lifestyles, this seems to be all that matters to them.

*Translator's Note: The writer refers to a saying, "Escobita nueva barre
bien" – parallel to the English a new broom sweeps clean.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 April 2014

Source: Another "Broom" Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Authorities Seize a Shipment of Seafood Hidden in an Ambulance / 14ymedio
Posted on August 22, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, 20 August 2014 – Cuban authorities recently seized a
shipment of 270 pounds of shrimp and 110 pounds of lobster being
transported hidden in an ambulance, the official newspaper Granma
reported in its edition of Tuesday 19 August.

The official organ of the Communist Party refers to unlicensed fishermen
as "internal enemies against whom we must intensify the struggle." The
author of the text, Ortelio González Martínez, analyzes the situation of
illegal fishing in the province of Ciego de Avila where, he says, "There
are still black holes into which seafood escapes."

The journalist said that so far 18 contracts have been cancelled "for
repeated breaches of catch plans, boats out of commission for a long
period of time, and sales out of the province," and he emphasizes the
growing danger posed by the illegal seafood sales networks.

Despite being unavailable in the official markets, seafood is widely
available in the informal trade networks on the Island. Harvesting
shellfish is illegal for most fisherman—with or without a license—and is
the exclusive domain of State or private cooperatives. The State has
sole responsibility for managing seafood, which can be destined for
export, or consumed at tourist resorts on the Island.

Source: Authorities Seize a Shipment of Seafood Hidden in an Ambulance /
14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Female Caricature / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on August 23, 2014

14yMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 August 2014 – A woman on national
television said that her husband "helps" her with some household chores.
To many, the phrase may sound like the highest aspiration of every
woman. Another lady asserts that her husband behaves like a "Federated
man," an allusion to the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), which today is
celebrating its 54th anniversary. As for me, on this side of the screen,
I feel sorry for them in the face of such meekness. Instead of the
urgent demands they should mention, all I hear is this appreciation
directed to a power as manly as it is deaf.

It's not about "helping" to wash a plate or watch the kids, nor tiny
illusory gender quotas that hide so much discrimination like a slap. The
problem is that economic and political power remains mainly in masculine
hands. What percentage of car owners are women? How many acres of land
are owned or leased by women. How many Cuban ambassadors on missions
abroad wear skirts? Can anyone recite the number of men who request
paternity leave to take care of their newborns? How many young men are
stopped by the police each day to warn them they can't walk with a
tourist? Who mostly attends the parent meetings at the schools?

Please, don't try to "put us to sleep" with figures in the style of,
"65% of our cadres and 50% of our grassroots leaders are women." The
only thing this statistic means is that more responsibility falls on our
shoulders, which means neither a high decision-making level nor greater
rights. At least such a triumphalist phrase clarifies that there are
"grassroots leaders," because we know that decisions at the highest
level are made by men who grew up under the precepts that we women are
beautiful ornaments to have at hand…always and as long as we keep our
mouths shut.

I feel sorry for the docile and timid feminist movement that exists in
my country. Ashamed for those ladies with their ridiculous necklaces and
abundant makeup who appear in the official media to tell us that "the
Cuban woman has been the greatest ally of the Revolution." Words spoken
at the same moment when a company director is sexually harassing his
secretary, when a beaten woman can't get a restraining order against her
abusive husband, when a policeman tells the victim of a sexual assault,
"Well, with that skirt you're wearing…" and the government recruits
shock troops for an act of repudiation against the Ladies in White.

Women are the sector of the population that has the most reason to shout
their displeasure. Because half a century after the founding of the
caricature of an organization that is the Federation of Cuban Women, we
are neither more free, nor more powerful, nor even more independent.

Source: Female Caricature / Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Nazdarovie: New retro-Soviet restaurant a nod to nostalgia for ties
between Havana and Moscow
Published August 23, 2014 Associated Press

In this Aug 20, 2014, photo, Matryoshka dolls and bottles of vodka sit
on display at the Nazdarovie restaurant during its pre-launch in Havana,
Cuba. Occupying the third story of a historic building on the seafront
Malecon boulevard, Nazdarovie is an homage to the old country. (AP
Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In this Aug 20, 2014, photo, a guest walks past near a reproduction of a
Soviet propaganda poster at the entrance to the Nazdarovie restaurant
during its pre-launch dress rehearsal in Havana, Cuba. Nazdarovie, named
for the popular Russian toast, serves Slavic fare like bowls of
blood-red borscht and stuffed Ukrainian varenyky dumplings, hand-rolled
in the back by "babushkas" who were born in the former Soviet Union but
have long called Cuba home. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Next SlidePrevious Slide
HAVANA – There's no rice, beans or fried plantains at Havana's newest
private restaurant. You can order a minty mojito, but it'll come mixed
with vodka instead of the traditional white rum.

The waiters speak Russian, and patrons are expected to order in that
language if they want to get served. But don't worry, the menus at this
retro-Soviet restaurant come with translations and pronunciation guides
for the non-initiated.

Nazdarovie, which is named for the popular Russian toast and opened
Friday, is all about Slavic fare like bowls of blood-red borscht and
stuffed Ukrainian varenyky dumplings, hand-rolled in the back by
"babushkas" who were born in the former Soviet Union but have long
called Cuba home.

It's a nod to nostalgia for the island's Soviet ties during the Cold
War, a time when Moscow was Havana's main source of trade and aid and
hundreds of thousands of Cubans traveled to the Soviet bloc as
diplomats, artists and students.

"For most of them it was the first time they ever left this island. They
have nostalgia about their time there, about the flavors they
experienced for the first time," said Gregory Biniowsky, a 45-year-old
Canadian of Ukrainian descent who dreamed up Nazdarovie and launched it
with three Cuban partners.

"The idea with Nazdarovie is really to celebrate a unique social and
cultural link that existed and to a certain degree still exists today
between Cuba of 2014 and what was once the Soviet Union," said
Biniowsky, a lawyer and consultant who has lived in Havana for two decades.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc largely ended the Havana-Moscow
connection and sent Cuba into an economic tailspin. However, Russian
President Vladimir Putin has talked recently of renewing the
relationship. He made a state visit last month, Russian navy ships
periodically dock in Havana's harbor and Cuba has backed Russia in its
dispute over Ukraine.

Occupying the third story of a historic building on the seafront Malecon
boulevard, Nazdarovie is an homage to the old country.

Behind the bar, Russian nesting dolls and a bust of Lenin perch next to
bottles of high-end vodka. Reproductions of Soviet propaganda posters
line one wall in an attempt to spark conversation among customers
sitting at a long communal table. About the only sign of the tropics is
the million-dollar terrace view of Havana's skyline and the Straits of

At a pre-launch dress rehearsal this week, smartly dressed young waiters
set steaming bowls of solyanka, a meaty Russian soup, before about 20
invited guests.

The evening's menu also included pelmeni, dumplings filled with meat,
sour cream and dill; golubtsy, stuffed cabbage rolls slow-cooked in a
tomato sauce; pork Stroganoff (beef is often scarce in Cuba); and for
dessert, savory-sweet blintzes, called "blinchiki" in Russian.

Biniowsky said most of the ingredients can be found on the island, with
some exceptions such as flour for black bread, and caviar, for which
they'll rely on tins imported in the personal luggage of friends and
family. It will go for about $15 an ounce, with fancier and pricier
varieties available for special occasions.

In the air-conditioned kitchen, Irina Butorina stirred gobs of
mayonnaise with potatoes, eggs, ham and peas to create an olivier salad,
a popular dish in former Soviet states that, according to legend, was
invented by a Belgian- or French-Russian chef named Lucien Olivier.

Butorina, 56, fell in love with a Cuban student she met at university in
her native Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic, now Kyrgyzstan, and moved
here in 1984. She said the taste of her mother's recipes faded as she
adapted to Cuba.

"At first I used to cook a lot of Russian food here, but then a lot of
things disappeared from the market — cabbage, for example. ... so then I
make Cuban food," she said. "But these people here have started this
restaurant. It was their dream ... and our dream as well."

Experts say Butorina's story is typical of the Soviet diaspora here: Of
the estimated 3,000-4,000 islanders who were born in the Soviet Union or
descended from them, most are cases of Soviet women who married Cuban
university students and moved to the Caribbean nation.

Some were divorced or widowed but remain in Cuba decades later with
little or no tie to their homelands.

"I think for many it was a truly traumatic experience because there are
many of our women who have not traveled, who have not returned to visit
their countries after the Soviet Union disintegrated," said Dmitri
Prieto-Samsonov, an anthropologist who studies the Soviet diaspora in Cuba.

At Nazdarovie, one poster in particular stands out amid the current
crisis between Moscow and Kiev. Created under Nikita Khrushchev to
commemorate the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Russia and
Ukraine, it shows two runners representing the Soviet republics
simultaneously breaking the tape at a finish line. "To the
indestructible friendship and to new successes in sports," the slogan reads.

"That poster could seem like a joke, almost black humor," said
Prieto-Samsonov, who was born to a Russian mother and a Cuban father and
spent his first 13 years in Russia.

"I wish (the conflict) weren't happening between our countries," he
added. "We have great desires for peace."

Biniowsky said Nazdarovie seeks to transcend politics and build
community: People of Russian and Ukrainian descent and others working,
cooking and eating side by side, united by the shared memory of a
vanished nation-state rather than divided by current animosities.

"Not in the kind of naive utopian sense, but sometimes breaking bread
and getting drunk on vodka is key to peace."


Peter Orsi on Twitter:

Source: Nazdarovie: New retro-Soviet restaurant a nod to nostalgia for
ties between Havana and Moscow | Fox Business - Continue reading
Cuban fishermen discover ancient artifacts
By Indo Asian News Service | IANS

Havana, Aug 23 (IANS) Fishermen in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province have
discovered artifacts believed to be from a 17th or 18th century shipwreck.
The "important marine archaeological find" was recently discovered off
the coast of Puerto Esperanza, a town in Pinar del Rio, Xinhua reported.
The find comprises some 60 artifacts, including firearms, cannon balls,
swords and machetes.
"While it's important to point out that this is an interesting
discovery, it's crucial to insist that such finds of historical value
must remain and be preserved in their own setting," a researcher and
member of Cuba's Naval Maritime Historical Group, Enrique Giniebra said.
The coasts around the province are littered with shipwrecks dating from
the age of pirates on the high seas, Giniebra added.
This particular find is considered as the most important till date in
the province.

Source: Cuban fishermen discover ancient artifacts - Yahoo Maktoob News
- Continue reading
Voices: In Cuba, Economic Contradictions Amid Change

MIAMI, FL -- In Havana last week, I thought about how much its economy
had changed since my first visit in college. At that time, Cuba got
Soviet subsidies. After they ended, the island entered its periodo
especial en tiempos de paz - its special period in times of peace - a
campaign of self-imposed austerity, akin to what the International
Monetary Fund imposes on some debtor countries.

An island colleague jokes that Cuba is not a socialist country but a
surrealist one. She's right. It's not just the juxtaposition of a
donkey-driven cart next to the Benetton store in Plaza Vieja. Here
contradiction is the rule of economic life.

Take money and prices. The island has two currencies: the national peso
and the convertible peso ('CUC'), which is a 'hard' currency pegged
roughly to the dollar and worth 24 national pesos. Government wages are
in pesos, but people get CUCs from foreign employers, private
enterprise, and remittances from abroad. This results in two economies -
a peso economy and a CUC one. The state sets some prices for both, while
others float based on market factors.

Some pricing is relational: for the same good or service, nationals pay
in pesos, but foreigners will pay a higher CUC price. It's no permanent
solution to inequality, but I like it because Cuba is in a unique
situation and tourists here are almost always wealthier than nationals.
So even though average monthly wages are estimated at 500 pesos (roughly
$20 U.S.), this figure probably does not reflect the real income of
those who work in the private sector or who get money from abroad.

Cuba has two currencies: the national peso and the convertible peso
('CUC') pegged roughly to the dollar and worth 24 national pesos.
Government wages are in pesos, but people get CUCs from foreign
employers, private enterprise, and remittances from abroad. 1 Euro is
around 26 CUCs or dollars, which equals 620 Cuban pesos.
That said, pent-up demand is a fact of life. A stand-up comedian that I
saw joked, 'If we're an island, surrounded by ocean, where's my fish?'
Until recently, state rations included fish, but now more chicken has
taken its place.

Visiting Cuba can serve as mental floss against hyper-consumerism
because - like the prospect of being hanged - scarcity focuses the mind.
Without a foreign credit card or a trip to the Western Union in
Guantanamo, U.S. citizens and residents can spend only what they bring.
A currency tax makes dollars dear, so I took Euros.

For a tourist, staying within the Treasury's spending guidelines is not
hard. Many good things cost only 10 pesos, or about 50 cents in U.S.
dollars: a hot dog, bizcocho (crispy pound cake), or a ride in a
pre-Revolutionary collective taxis known as almendrones from the Spanish
word for the almonds that they resemble. Going to the movie theatre
costs 2 pesos and the Cuban law books I use in class sell for 15-25 pesos.

What of Raul Castro's reforms? Pay attention because – though
incremental - they matter. Cubans can now apply for a passport, though
for some it's a difficult and uncertain process. They can swap, buy, and
sell real property more easily. A local version of Craig's List charges
1 CUC a day for advertising real estate. Arguably, a real estate bubble
is underway in Havana insofar as property values are out of synch with
what people earn. My landlady had been offered 300,000 CUCs for her 3
bedroom flat near the Hotel Nacional. She's holding out for more.


Layoffs of government workers are routine. Independently, more people
work for themselves. . As I bit into one of those 10 peso hotdogs,
Eduardo – sitting next to me – explained that he nets 600 pesos a day
selling pastries on the street and saves $20 a day, more than many of my
friends in the U.S.

Drivers of the diesel-guzzling collective taxis (30 liters a day) can
take home 500 pesos a day after paying a hefty 800 pesos for their daily
leases. These may not rise to the level of small businesses, but they
are micro-capitalism.

Economics aside, for sexual minorities things are noticeably better.
Last Saturday night I rode in a '55 Buick to a gay disco located –
surrealism again – in the Plaza de la Revolución, site of Fidel Castro's
famous speeches.In a country that sent gay men to work camps for
're-education' as late as 1968 and that later quarantined those with
HIV, this openness is important.

Once seen as a form of 'bourgeois deviation,' sexual diversity is slowly
being mainstreamed, more so in Havana than in rural areas. Much of the
credit for this goes to Mariela Castro – the President's daughter – for
her advocacy on behalf of transsexuals and other sexual minorities.
Cuba's legislative branch has considered legalizing gay marriage, but
that remains a distant victory.

Expect more changes. Almost certainly the government will suppress the
CUC and align the economy behind the peso. There's talk of further cuts
to la libreta, the ration book that provides Cubans with subsidized
access to eggs, rice, sugar, beans, chicken, and other staples.

Raul Castro has announced that he will leave the presidency in 2018. I
say he means it.

A friend once described the tenure track for academics as 'bit by bit,
then all of a sudden,' in that little steps add up - until seemingly all
at once - the big goal materializes. That's how I see these reforms in Cuba.

I wish I could say the same about U.S. policy towards Cuba. Sadly, I
think that the current U.S. embargo and its policies are as outdated as
that '55 Buick.

Of course, I have a dog in this race. Visiting this surreal country – my
country too - helps me to appreciate what Cuba meant to my family (we
left in '67) and to understand my own complex feelings about negotiating
between the two worlds of Cuba and the U.S. Small wonder that each time
I leave José Martí International Airport for Miami, a part of me stays
behind, waiting till I return.

First published August 21st 2014, 1:31 pm

Source: Voices: In Cuba, Economic Contradictions Amid Change - NBC - Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 08.22.14

Guilty plea entered in Cuban ballplayer smuggling

MIAMI -- A man accused of masterminding a human trafficking ring pleaded
guilty Friday to U.S. extortion charges involving the smuggling of more
than 1,000 Cubans, including baseball players such as Texas Rangers
outfielder Leonys Martin.

Eliezer Lazo, 41, entered the plea Friday in Miami federal court. Lazo
is already serving a five-year prison sentence for money laundering in a
Medicare fraud case and now faces up to 20 additional years behind bars.
Lazo agreed to cooperate with investigators, which could reduce his
prison time when he is sentenced later this year.

Prosecutors say Lazo led an organization that smuggled Cubans by boat
into Mexico, where they were held until ransom payments were made. The
cost was typically about $10,000 for each person, although it could be
much higher in the case of Cuban baseball stars such as Martin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson said the migrants who were not
sports stars were often crowded together in rooms of 20 or more under
armed guard, in prison-like conditions. If the smugglers weren't
immediately paid, Davidson said, "the Cuban migrants in Mexico were
restrained and beaten while relatives could hear the screams on the phone."

Court documents show that the valuable Cuban baseball stars were treated
far better than others involved with the smuggling ring, even though
they were watched over by armed guards.

If the money was paid up front, prosecutors say the Cubans were brought
directly to the U.S. without incident. Under the U.S. "wet foot, dry
foot" policy, Cubans who reach shore generally are allowed to stay in
the U.S. while those intercepted at sea are returned to the communist

All told, Davison said Lazo's smuggling venture netted up to $1.5
million for the group.

Authorities are seeking forfeiture of properties, cars and bank accounts
controlled by Lazo, including one traced to a purported Mexican baseball
academy used to showcase players for Major League Baseball scouts. The
documents in the Lazo case require forfeiture of the smuggling group's
interests of a number of other contracts involving Cuban baseball
players, but they are identified only by their initials.

Martin signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract with the Rangers in 2011.

Details of Martin's journey through Mexico to the big leagues came to
light in a lawsuit filed against him by the Estrellas baseball academy,
which claimed that he had agreed to pay up to 35 percent of his MLB
contract to it operators, including Lazo. Martin paid about $1.2 million
to the group but refused to fork over any more.

Martin's civil attorney, Paul Minoff, said the speedy outfielder is
happy the criminal case is nearing a conclusion and that the lawsuit
against him will likely disappear. The U.S. attorney's office is seeking
forfeiture of any money Lazo obtained through Martin's big-league
contract, but it's unclear if funds are available for seizure.

"We've asked for a return for the money paid. In reality, the chance of
that is fairly slim," Minoff said. "It's still better than paying out an
additional $4 or $5 million."

Other Cuban baseball players, notably Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel
Puig, have been smuggled out of Cuba to Mexico, where they are free to
negotiate with any U.S. big-league team rather than be subjected to the
MLB draft if they came directly to the U.S. In practice, that means a
much bigger contract for the best players. Puig was not involved with
Lazo's smuggling operation.

Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter:

Source: MIAMI: Guilty plea entered in Cuban ballplayer smuggling -
People Wires - - Continue reading
Reseller, That Dirty Word / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
Posted on August 22, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 August 2014 – "I have
mattresses, games room, air conditioning …" an individual stationed at
the entrance to a popular store says softly. A few yards further on,
another vendor has filters for drinking water, and so it continues, on
both sides of the commercial center, an illicit network that caters to
more than a few dissatisfied customers with poor State offerings.

If you look in the stores without success, you shouldn't worry, because
outside it's possible to find everything you need from the "resellers"
for a few pesos more. Those traders who swarm streets like Carlos III,
Monte, or 10 de octubre, operating with nothing more than the law of
supply and demand. The solution that occurs to the government, far from
focusing on filling up the half-empty shelves, has been to eradicate
what they describe as "social indiscipline."

What they haven't considered, however, is granting licenses to the
traders. In fact, the word "trader" is banished from the official
jargon. Those who exercise one of the oldest crafts known to humanity
are called "resellers" and that, in the eyes of the authorities, is not
a good thing. The government accuses them of hoarding and speculation.

So far this year there have been almost 17,000 fines and hundreds of
seizures. However, the punitive measures taken so far are not enough.
"We don't have an inspector on every corner. We need help from the
public," declare some State inspectors on the TV news. The phenomenon
has gotten out of control. This not only contributes to the lack of
productivity and bad distribution on the part of the State monopoly, but
the problem also includes more than a few corrupt officials.

Source: Reseller, That Dirty Word / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Chimeras and Frustrations / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar
Posted on August 22, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 21 August 2014 – It is a little more
than a week before the start of school and the youngest at home are
already taking stock of what they've done on their vacation. They go to
sleep thinking about what they'll tell their friends in September and in
their little heads they remember each outing with their families.
Although parents have few options to entertain their children in the
summer, they always make an effort.

The options range from five pesos to buy an ice cream cone at the corner
snack bar, to the complicated and greatly desired trip to the beach.
I've made many promises to my little ones to take them for a dip, but I
still haven't been able to keep my promise. A trip to Santa Maria or
Guanabo is like the children's Road to El Dorado during the summer season.

A trip to the beach is a chimera. The main difficultly rests in the long
lines for the bus, with its riots of boys who push in front of everyone
because they don't like to wait that long. Coming home, as if it weren't
hard enough to catch the route 400, we add the drunkenness and fights
that break out in front of the innocent eyes of the children. Not to
mention the abundant stream of bad words and atrocities shouted with a
natural mastery from one end of the bus to the other.

As an alternative to the beach, the other day we inflated a plastic pool
in the basement and poured in a few buckets of water. They had a good
time, after the frustration of the breakdown of the transport that would
take us to Marazul—coming and going guaranteed—but in the end it left us
with swimsuits packed and snacks prepared.

To go to the beach there are other variants such as the
almendrones—classic American cars—that cost one convertible peso* (CUC)
each but don't guarantee the return. At one time we could take advantage
of the buses that run on the tourist routes, at least for a visit,
because they cost 3 CUC each coming and going and the children didn't
have to pay. However, now they've gone up to 5 CUC, which is too
expensive for ordinary mortals.

Other options, which we have done, are going to the movies, the theater,
the usual family visits and games in the park below. But that quickly
bores them and they want more. They are tireless in their requests for
the Aquarium, the beach, the pool, the zoo, and the Maestranza Fun Park
in Old Havana. We decided we weren't going to the last one any more.
It's too much suffering under the sun and closes at the best time, when
it starts to get dark.

If we went to the Zoo twice it's because it's close, although it already
has a super-well-known terrible reputation. We can go to the Aquarium at
night, but sadly, that's when transport in that area of Havana is more
complicated than in the daytime, and so we haven't had an opportunity to
go. In short, if we add up the possible choices, there are few real
possibilities of entertaining children.

There are still about ten days of vacation but I don't think we'll do
much more. Now we're focused on uniforms, backpacks, shoes, snacks,
notebooks, pencils and everything that makes up the school package.
Luckily they've already forgotten the chimerical holiday and have
replaced it with school. We still have the task of making sure there's
no lack of teacher for the classroom, as happened in the last semester
of the previous school year. That would be too much frustration.

*Translator's note: The average monthly wage in Cuba is around 20 CUC.
One CUC is about 24 Cuban pesos (about one dollar US).

Source: Chimeras and Frustrations / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Chrome Becomes "Legal" in Cuba / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on August 21, 2014

Yesterday, the giant Google authorized the download of their well-known
browser Chrome by Cuban internauts. The announcement came just two
months after several of the American company's executives visited Havana
and saw for themselves the problems we suffer accessing the vast World
Wide Web.

Among the topics of conversation between several members of 14ymedio and
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, were precisely these restrictions. Hence,
our satisfaction on knowing that the opinions of citizens interested in
the free flow of information and technology influenced the elimination
of this prohibition. An obstacle that, while it was in effect, affected
the Cuban population more than a Government that is among the greatest
Internet predators in the world.

During their trip to Cuba the four Google directors not only suffered
the inconvenience of the digital sites censored by the Cuban
authorities, and the high prices to connect from public places, but also
experienced the restrictions imposed by their own company on Cuban
Internet users. If must have been a particularly bitter pill to swallow
to try to download Google Chrome and see the screen appear saying, "This
service is not available in your country."

We Cuban user, fortunately, had not expected the American company to be
allowed to access the program from a national Internet Provider. Google
Chrome, along with Mozilla Firefox and the controversial Internet
Explorer, have been the most used browsers in our country. It simply
required someone to bring an installer, after downloading it for free on
a trip abroad, for it to pass from hand to hand—or flash memory stick to
flash memory stick— and to be installed on hundreds (thousands?) of

What has happened now is that we have gone from being illegal users to
joining the brotherhood of more than 750 million people around the world
using this program in an authorized manner. Services such as Google
Analytics, Google Earth and the Android App Store are now awaiting a
similar thaw. Hopefully we will not have to wait from another visit to
Cuba by directors of Google for these limitations to be eliminated!

21 August 2014

Source: Chrome Becomes "Legal" in Cuba / Yoani Sanchez | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Team notes changes in Cuba in six years of mission trips
Friday, August 22, 2014
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Villa Heights Baptist Church has sent a mission team to Cuba off and on
for about six years, according to the church's pastor, the Rev. Keith
Spangenberg, who said he has seen some changes there during that time.
Teams went annually from about 2005-07 and 2012-14; the latest trip was
July 14-22.
"Changes that we have noticed in last three years, (they are) trying to
draw a lot more European tourists in, doing a lot of refurbishing of
Havana hotels, restaurants along the beach," Spangenberg said. "...
There also are newer cars. You still see a lot of 1956 and '57 cars they
jerry-rigged to keep going. If you see a newer car likely it's driven by
a government official."
Janet Copenhaver, who works for the Henry County Schools and went on the
trip for a fifth year, agreed: "Most Cubans have a very old car unless
you work for the government. Lots of people walk or take public
transportation instead of owning cars. Buses are very crowded and people
have to get to a bus stop very early to go anywhere. Most of the people
indicated that the bus ride to the church we visited was at least an
hour coming and going back home."
According to "The World Factbook" on the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency website, the Cuban government in 2011 held the first Cuban
Communist Party Congress in almost 13 years. A plan for wide-ranging
economic changes was approved at that session.
"Since then, the Cuban government has slowly and incrementally
implemented limited economic reforms, including allowing Cubans to buy
electronic appliances and cell phones, stay in hotels and buy and sell
used cars," according to the website. "The Cuban government also opened
up some retail services to 'self-employment.' ... Recent moves include
permitting the private ownership and sale of real estate and new
vehicles, allowing private farmers to sell agricultural goods directly
to hotels, and expanding categories of self-employment."
It added that despite these reforms, the average Cuban's standard of
living is worse than before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the
resulting downturn of the 1990s.
"Cubans have very little money to spend," Copenhaver said. "One of the
ladies that worked with us as a translator just retired and her
retirement check from the government is 20 pesos a month (about $20 U.S.
dollars). She also received vouchers of things she could purchase at the
store. Of course stores did not have lots of stock on the shelves so she
may not be able to purchase things during that month even if she had a
"It seems that in some areas, time stood still; when you visit houses,
they are very small, with concrete flooring. If houses have a
refrigerator, it is the rounded one like the '50s and '60s," she added.
Cuba has one of the world's least free economies, according to the 2014
Index of Economic Freedom, a joint publication of The Heritage
Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.
"A one-party Communist state, Cuba depends on external assistance
(chiefly oil provided by Venezuela ... and remittances from Cuban
émigrés) and a captive labor force to survive. Property rights are
severely restricted. Fidel Castro's 81-year-old younger brother Raul
continues to guide both the government and the Cuban Communist Party.
Cuba's socialist command economy is in perennial crisis," the index states.
"The average worker earns less than $25 a month, agriculture is in
shambles, mining is depressed and tourism revenue has proven volatile,"
the index states.
Spangenberg said that from what he saw, homes for most Cubans are
simple. He said the three daughters (ages 8, 12 and 17) of a minister he
worked with in Guanabo shared a bedroom, which was barely large enough
for the girls' three beds.
In Cuba, he also saw laundry hanging on balconies, and cisterns on the
tops of homes to catch rainwater for bathing, he said. Mission team
members drank and brushed their teeth with bottled water. They used
local water only to take showers.
Toilet seats are rare, Spangenberg said. They break easily and are hard
to replace.
"Roads that are heavily traveled by tourists and state roads between
cities get the most attention," he said. In the country he saw dirt
roads, horse-drawn carts, carriages and wagons.
Spangenberg also saw "a prevalence of police out on street corners and
around. We were told at one time groups of more than three are not
allowed. If more, they are asked to disperse. You don't see a lot of
people gathered together, talking on street corners."
According to a U.S. Department of State report, "The security
environment in Cuba is relatively stable and characterized by a strong
military and police presence throughout the country."
Janet Copenhaver is the director of technology and innovation for Henry
County Public Schools. Her husband, James, who also went on the mission
trip, was stationed in Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis in

Source: Team notes changes in Cuba in six years of mission trips -
Martinsville Bulletin - Continue reading
Cuba's "Sandwich Generation": Looking after the Sick and Elderly
August 21, 2014
Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — For six years, I lived with two elderly women (my
grandmother and her sister). It was the saddest time in my life that I
can recall.

The Special Period crisis had hit us hard and we didn't have the
conditions needed to care for them at home. I remembered that time some
days ago when I heard about Elvira, an accountant who quit her job as an
accountant at a State company a year ago. Why did she quit her job? She
lives with her elderly parents and a brother who's ill. Her situation is
all the more complex because Elvira has a teenage son, now in high school.

Elvira's situation is far from unique. It is in fact quite common.
Several months ago, her father fractured his right hip and had a
dangerous accident. To be with him during the surgery and part of the
recovery process, she asked to be given a 3-month, unpaid leave at work.

After that time, she returned to work. Her kid (as tends to happen) has
been ill several times. Such "trivial" things have forced her to stay at
home more than once. Elvira's brother has been battling with lung cancer
for a long time. When he started to experience severe pain, she, already
working miracles to put in her time at work and care for her family, had
no choice but to tender her resignation at work (there was no other
option after having been away for three months).

When she found herself without a job, she thought she'd go mad. Luckily,
she had some training in "roughing it." What was once a way of making a
little extra money every month has now become the family's sole income.
In the little free time she has, she does laundry work and tutors small
kids in the neighborhood.

Elvira is a member of what some call the "sandwich generation": she is
responsible for the physical and emotional care of people of different
ages and supports her family financially.

The phrase was coined in the 1980s. It refers to those caught in the
middle, having to care for small children and elderly or sick relatives.
Its range of meanings has broadened over time and it is now also used to
refer to parents whose children have become adults but not moved away
from home.

The term isn't heard much today in Cuba, perhaps because, in our
country, it is nearly impossible to live any other way, and this because
of the unending housing problem, which forces several generations to
live under the same roof. The country's measly salaries make it next to
impossible for people to rent out a place for themselves or to pay
someone to look after the relatives in need.

Another important factor is the overprotectiveness that characterizes
Cuban mothers. Even though some men are in this situation, the group of
people who care for others is made up chiefly of women.

Who in Cuba does not know someone in Elvira's situation? Most of the
time, the male in these families only concerns himself with the
household finances. Social pressure generally compels women to look
after the ill, children and elderly people on both sides of the family.
This is ingrained in women to such an extent that many have taken on
this role as though it were their natural lot in life. They have been
educated in this fashion and they take on the commitment without anyone
asking them to do so.

Since teenagers don't work, they have to be supported by their parents
while at school – the State stipend some of them receive isn't even
enough for a snack. Things are slightly more flexible now and some can
earn a bit of money helping out a self-employed worker or at
privately-run establishments. If teenagers have kids of their own,
parents also have to look after these new additions to the family.

The age of "sandwiches" oscillates between 30 and 55. They shoulder a
double or triple burden which, consisting of familiar, daily chores, is
ignored by the majority. Given Cuba's characteristics, it matters little
whether someone has to look out for one or more persons – the ups and
downs one faces in any such situation, be it looking after two small
children or an elderly woman, is already a lot to shoulder. In addition
to meeting their responsibilities at work, those who care for others
must work miracles to fulfill their roles as parents, children and
partners. It is an immense daily challenge that causes great emotional
stress and gradually takes its toll on them.

One of the important issues addressed by gender studies is the huge work
load women have, the combination of the work they do in their jobs and
the unpaid work they do around the house. The law guarantees a maternity
leave during pregnancy and for a year after giving birth. Fathers can
also request a paternity leave to look after a newborn, but the number
of men who do this is infinitesimal.

When one's child is ill, one can think only about their recovery.
Mothers know they will not lose their jobs while looking after their
sick child, but they will not be paid the days they are absent from work.

A child's illness, save in special cases, is normally temporary. The
care of elderly people, however, spreads out over much more time.

We have been hearing about population aging and its consequences in Cuba
for decades. Life expectancy is now at 78, and the generation that has
to care for the elderly sees its professional life hanging by a thread.
How can we lighten these people's burden, from the legal, social and
family points of view?

As placing the elderly in homes is foreign to Cuban culture, whenever
someone mentions that a parent is in home, the accusatory comments come
immediately. Things could of course change – it is just a question of
getting used to new things. But, how can we even suggest this, when most
old people's homes in Cuba are in a deplorable state? The food is bad,
the rooms are dirty, the nurses are lousy, not to mention how difficult
it is to actually find one of these places.

Cuba's welfare program helps elderly men and women who live alone. The
State pays someone a monthly salary for feeding, cleaning after and
keeping the elderly company. However, those who live with at least one
relative are not entitled to this.

At this point, when more than 18% of the population is over 60, and we
find no legislation designed specifically to assist the "sandwich
generation" or any caregiver. No one is entitled to request a leave from
work to look after their elderly parents. The option now is a short,
unpaid leave (the new Labor Law that recently came into effect envisages
leaves as long as a year, depending on the employer), and then quitting
one's job.

People's salaries aren't enough to live on and, without enough time to
secure a steady income, it is next to impossible to support a family. Is
this or this not a serious problem? One has to work in order to support
oneself, but one can't turn one's back on the elderly: there are not
enough care centers to look after them, public transportation makes
getting to work and arriving home on time to prepare meals and
administer medications extremely difficult.

To say nothing of the high prices of disposable diapers for adults and
food products in general, or the fact it is impossible to purchase
wheelchairs, Fowler beds, bedpans, anti-bedsore mattresses and other
necessary items, not only because the State does not sell these, but
also because, when someone who's selling these turns up, the prices are
simply harrowing.

In Cuba, caught in a permanent economic crisis, there are more and more
"sandwiches" and caregivers. Faced with this situation, many people ask:
how are we to pay so many people who are unable to hold a job? The
matter must be poured over, acknowledged, and studied from different
perspectives, in order to look for alternatives. To date, however, not a
single Round Table program on Cuban television has devoted any time to it.

Source: Cuba's "Sandwich Generation": Looking after the Sick and Elderly
- Havana - Continue reading
The Causes & Consequences of Cuba's Black Market
August 21, 2014
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban press is out to get re-sellers, as though their
existence were news to anyone, as though they just now realized there is
a black market that's on every street corner in the country, selling
just about everything one can sell.

In a news report aired on TV, they went as far as insinuating that some
employees at State stores are accomplices of those who hoard and re-sell
products. They are now "discovering" that the black market stocks up, in
great measure, thanks to the complicity of store clerks.

The reporting remains on the surface, addressing the effects but not
daring to go to the root of a problem that has burdened the country for
decades as a result of the chronic shortage of products – from screws to
floor mops.

During the early years of the revolution, these shortages could be
chalked up to the US embargo. Today, however, Cuba maintains trade
relations with the entire world and can purchase the products people
need in other markets.

It doesn't even seem to be a financial problem, because the products
become available and disappear intermittently. Shaving foam can
disappear for a couple of months and reappear at all stores overnight.

These ups and downs are what allow a group of clever folks to hoard up
on and later re-sell these products at higher prices. A lack of
foresight and planning when importing is what creates these temporary
shortages that make the work of hoarders easier.

There is no doubt Cuba has a planned economy. The question is whether it
is actually well planned. The truth is that, for decades, the country's
domestic trade system has functioned in a chaotic manner and no one has
been able to organize it minimally.

A foreign journalist I know recently noted that, when toilet paper
disappeared from all State shops, a supermarket in Havana had a full
stock of pickled partridge that no one buys.

Who would decide to buy such a luxury canned product at a time when most
store shelves are practically empty? The story brings to mind that
anecdote involving a government official who imported a snow-sweeper to

The Market and Consumption

Cuba's domestic trade system doesn't require "reforms", it demands
radical change, a new model. Such a change should begin with Cuba's
importers, bureaucratic companies that are ignorant of the interests and
needs of consumers and buy products without rhyme or reason.

Many of their employees receive [under the table] commissions from
suppliers and therefore prioritize, not the country's interests, but
their own pockets. They are the same people who received money from the
corrupt foreign businessmen recently tried and convicted in Cuba.

To plan the country's economy, the government should start by conducting
market studies and getting to know the needs of consumers, in order to
decide what to purchase on that basis. It Is a question of buying the
products people need and in quantities proportional to the demand.

Planning means being able to organize import cycles such that there is
regular supply of products, without any dark holes, like the ones that
currently abound in all sectors of Cuba's domestic trade, from dairy
products to wood products.

Sometimes, this chaotic state of affairs has high costs for the
country's economy, such as when buses are put out of circulation because
spare pieces were not bought on time, there isn't enough wood to build
the crates needed to store farm products or a sugar refinery is shut
down because of lack of foresight.

Even the sale of school uniforms at State subsidized prices experiences
these problems owing to a lack of different sizes. This is a problem
seamstresses are always willing to fix, charging the parents a little
extra money.

Cuba's entire distribution system is rotten. Importers are paid
commissions, shopkeepers sell products under the counter, butchers steal
and resell poultry, ration-store keepers mix pebbles in with beans,
agricultural and livestock markets tamper with weighing scales and
bakers take home the flour and oil.

In the midst of this chaos we find the Cuban consumer, who does not even
have an office he or she can turn to and demand their rights (when they
are sold rotten minced meat, and old pair of shoes or a refrigerator
that leaks water, for instance).

Speculation is no doubt a reprehensible activity, but it is not the
cause of the black market. The country may launch a new campaign against
hoarders, but it will be as unsuccessful as all previous one if an
efficient commercial system isn't created.

Source: The Causes & Consequences of Cuba's Black Market - Havana - Continue reading
Dengue Fever and Tall Stories for Children / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on August 20, 2014

Explaining death to a child is always a difficult task. Some parents
reach for a metaphor and others lie. The adults justify someone's death
to children with phrases that range from "he's gone to heave to live on
a cloud," to the tall story that "he's gone on a trip." The worst is
when these inventions transcend the family and become the political
information policy of a State. To falsify to people the actual incidence
of death, is to rob them of their maturity and deny their right to

In 1981 an epidemic of dengue hemorrhagic fever broke out in Cuba. I was
barely six, but that situation left me deeply traumatized. The first
thing they told us in school was that the disease had been introduced by
"Yankee imperialism." The Uncle Sam of my childish nightmares no longer
threatened us with a gun, but rather with a huge Aedes aegypti mosquito,
ready to infect us with bonebreak fever. My family panicked when they
began to learn about the dead children. The emergency room at the
Central Havana Pediatric Hospital was a hive of screaming and crying. My
mother asked me once an hour if anything hurt, her hand on my forehead
checking for fever.

There was no information, only whispers and fear, a lot of fear. By not
speaking publicly about the true source of the evil, the population
could barely protect itself. In my primary school we kept running to the
shelter—underneath the Ministry of Basic Industries—in the face of the
"imminent military attack" that was coming from the North. Meanwhile, a
small stealthy enemy ran rampant among people my age. That lie didn't
take long to become obvious. Decades later dengue fever has returned,
although I dare say it never left, and all these years the health
authorities have tried to hide it.

Now there is no one else to blame, as if hygiene hasn't deteriorated in
our country. It is not the Pentagon, but the thousands of miles of
damaged plumbing leaking all over the Island. It is not the CIA, but the
inefficiency of a system that has not even managed to build new drainage
and sewer networks. The responsibility doesn't point overseas, but
directly at us. No laboratory has created this virus to kill Cubans, it
is our own material and sanitary collapse that keeps us from being able
to control it.

At least that story for children, where the evil always came from
abroad, no longer works. The tall story, which presented us as victims
infected by American perfidy, is accepted only by the most naïve. Like
children grow up, we have found that the Government has lied to us about
dengue fever and that those were not paternalistic falsehoods, but
sophisticated lies of the State.

Source: Dengue Fever and Tall Stories for Children / Yoani Sanchez |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Portugal Has Spent $ 12 Million Euros Since 2009 to Recruit Cuban
Doctors / 14ymedio
Posted on August 20, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, 19 August 2014 – The Portuguese National Health
Service spent about 12 million euros (about $16 million dollars) in the
last six years to recruit Cuban doctors, the local newspaper Jornal I
reported Tuesday.

In June 2009, the Government of the Socialist José Sócrates signed its
first agreement with Cuba to address the shortage of family doctors. The
first protocols provided for payment of a monthly payment of 5,900 euros
for every Cuban professional, a base salary above the pay of the
Portuguese healthcare provides, although the figure was reduced to 4,230
euros at the end of 2011.

Between August 2009 and 2011, Portugal disbursed 259,600 euros a month
for a team of 44 Cuban doctors. Spending in 2012 and 2013 was 164,970
per month for 39 professionals. Following the changes in the latest
revision of the agreement last April, the monthly cost is currently
219,960 euros, according to information published by Jornal I.

Payments are made every three months to the Cuban Medical Services
Company, which is responsible for paying for healthcare workers,
although each of them receives less than a quarter of the total
disbursed by Portugal for their services. Cuban authorities justify
these deductions to finance training and for the National Public Health

In addition, Portugal has assumed the cost of travel between the two
countries, including during the holidays, so that doctors can travel
once a year to their country of origin.

The workers on this mission are subject to Cuba's code of ethics and
disciplinary rules. They cannot participate in political activities or
make statements to the press, and must inform the authorities if they
want to marry. The agreement also provides that in case of abandonment
of the mission or violation of the contract, the doctors cannot return
to Cuba for a period of eight years.

Source: Portugal Has Spent $ 12 Million Euros Since 2009 to Recruit
Cuban Doctors / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Juanita Castro: Memory is Never Harmless / 14ymedio, Francis Sanchez
Posted on August 20, 2014

14YMEDIO, Francis Sanchez, Ciego de Avila, 18 August 2014 – The
anecdotes, the identities and the composition of the family of the Cuban
Revolution's Maximum Leaders, after become a taboo subject due to steps
taken by themselves, has become the subject of public interest and a
source of constant speculation. A delicate area, the private and
mythical environment of the Castro Ruz brothers acquires historical
content from rumors, with unnamed girlfriends, faceless wives, children
and many family members rarely seen together even in photos.

And in this "complete photo of the first family," that was never taken
and probably never will be, is the disturbing "presence" of an odd woman
who carries the same last names with pride, defending the family
lineage, but at the same time rejecting the stamps these names have
placed on Cuban history. A strong, secluded, argumentative woman who
appears, because of this, doubly cursed.

Her request for political asylum in Mexico City on 29 June 1964 was a
bombshell. She started the day with a press conference that had a huge
impact: "The person addressing you is Juanita Castro Ruz, sister of the
Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro."

Nearly half a century later, Juanita again comes to the fore with the
publication of the book "Fidel and Raul, My Brothers" (Aguilar 2009),
with the subtitle "The Secret History, Memoirs of Juanita Castro as told
to Maria Antonieta Collins." The testimony was ready back in 1999, after
months of confidential interviews, but ten years passed before the
protagonist would agree to the printing.

Recalling her departure from Cuba, she casts aside the possible label of
traitor, stating that from the beginning she had felt flagrantly
deceived, because from the days of the Moncada attack and the Sierra
Maestra front, when Cubans died confronting the Batista dictatorship in
order to recover the 1940 Constitution, her brother Fidel always said
that he was not a Communist.

Among the new confessions, this time perhaps the most incredible, is
that she came to belong the CIA—although she clarifies that she never
accepted money—in those difficult days in which, in Havana, she took
advantage of the paralyzing influence of her last names, to come to the
aid of many whom she sometimes didn't even know, saving them from a
summary trial or getting them out of the country. Her house came to be,
according to these memoirs, a refuge and an always full transit center.

Anguish and contradictions abound in a woman who conscientiously
confronted a beloved part of her own biological being

But the basic need that has led her to gather together her memoirs, she
says, it to tell the truth about her family's past, her brothers'
childhood, the history of the grandparents, and especially her mother,
Lina Ruz, and her father, Angel Castro, on seeing how they have been
slandered by historians who in attacking Fidel seek explanations in a
supposed dark and cruel family origin, in Biran, a farm ruled over by a
supposedly unscrupulous father, one who prospered based on criminal acts.

"I'm sorry to disappoint the pocket historians and the instant
psychologists," she says. Of her father, she opines, "Angel Castro Argiz
was a man who cared for others. No one who came to him asking for a
favor, asking for help, was refused." And she is nostalgic for the
atmosphere of the little place in the former Oriente province, now
converted into a museum: "Biran—where we were like a big family because
we all knew each other."

Anguish and contradictions abound in a woman who conscientiously
confronted a beloved part of her own biological being, her family and
her country. Someone who has not lost, for example, her affection for
her youngest brother, Raul. "Musito" to his mother. She favors him, and
presents him to us in very human situations, as at the death of their
mother, Lina Ruz, crying and inconsolably talking to the beloved body.
An image that contrasts with the description of another brother in power.

Her memories leave a sense of transparency. However, this doesn't mean
that the reader should accept everything she describes. Memory is never
inoffensive. Even at times when it is just interpretations. And
Juanita's has been a very particular and unique angle on Cuban history,
with advantages and disadvantages, precisely for being so close. The
most natural—to give one example—is that the memories of the taskmaster
Angel's daughter are more emotional and sweet than a subordinate of his
could have, without lying.

She broke with the CIA when they asked her to give a powerful new
statement to the press

She broke with the CIA—this is another hot testimony—when they asked her
to give a powerful new statement to the press, similar to her request
for asylum, but this time with a very different objective: to dispel the
fears about the advance of communism. The United States, then, to avoid
the danger of a nuclear confrontation, had reached an agreement with the
Soviets which demanded the US end its support for anti-communist groups
in Miami.

Perhaps Juanita appears more like typical Cuban of whatever shore, and
of the island of Cuba itself, when she is shown as vulnerable, unjustly
attacked, manipulated and, ultimately, in the midst of the waves and the
storms, alone: "In this fight we are all pawns in a game of chess," she

She has a very Cuban gesture of feeling herself the most miserable in
the world. And on this point, it is appropriate to concede to her the
sad merit of being a symbol of the pain and intolerance that divides
Cuban families. "No doubt I have suffered more than the rest of the
exile because on no side of the Florida Straits am I offered a truce,
and few understand the paradox of my life."

Expressed by her, it is no less pathetic and we see the opinion that
"hatred has always prevailed over our reason."

Luckily, toward the end of the book she invokes the future, allowing the
opportunity for love, not prophetically, but with an intimate appeal to
the smallest of the seven siblings, her "Musito," once he has replaced
Fidel in power: "Raul, in your hands could be the democratic transition
for Cuba… To evolve with dignity could be your great opportunity in

The book of memoirs is written in a pleasant colloquial style, like a
good novel of 51 chapters, narrated in the first person. We "hear" the
voice of a woman who has lived and stands before everything and everyone
with clear and direct style.

Source: Juanita Castro: Memory is Never Harmless / 14ymedio, Francis
Sanchez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Business of Standing in Line / 14ymedio
Posted on August 19, 2014

14YMEDIO, 18 August 2014 – From Thursday night at 10:00 PM Anabel stood
in the line at International Legal Counsel on 22nd Street in Playa.
She'd already tried at dawn that morning, when she thought if she got
there at 5:00 AM she would have a good chance. But she was wrong, they
only took 40 cases and she was about 80th in line.

Anabel came to get a legal criminal record document because she's trying
to get a visa for Argentina and this is a part of the required paperwork
every Cuban citizen who is not traveling on official business must have.

This time, on arriving at the corner in the dark, she found only
professional line-standers. A group of 4 or 5 individuals who work
selling, for 10 convertible pesos (about two weeks wages in Cuba), the
first 15 places in the line. Each one "stands in" for three people and
has enormous psychological experience in determining to whom to offer
their services.

The normal clients didn't begin arrive until two in the morning. Some,
like Anabel, had been frustrated on previous occasions.

People come to the International Legal Counsel for multiple purposes. To
get legal papers for use abroad, documenting their university degrees or
certifications, their marriages and divorces, and especially, Cubans
living abroad who need to update their passports. Here is where you used
to get permission to leave the country in exchange for a letter of
invitation, but this requirement disappeared with the immigration and
travel reform law enacted in January 2013.

At 7:30 in the morning, about an hour before the offices officially
open, the public starts to swell the line. It's a crucial moment when,
already daylight, people physically place themselves one after another.
Those who arrived at 2:00 AM who thought they would be behind just five
or six people, discover that in reality they are 18th in line. They now
realize, that the gentleman who arrived in a Peugeot at 6:00 am and
never asked "who's last in line?" occupies one of the first spots. The
first protests are heard, but they're weak because they are confronting
a practice accepted for decades.

At 8:30, giving it all the importance she believes it deserves, a clerk
comes out to explain that today there are only two specialists in the
center and they will only be calling 40 people. At that moment the line
seems to have received an electric shock and stiffens like a living

The official, who has entrenched herself firmly in the door to collect
the identity cards of those who manage to pass, stares into Anabel's
eyes before spitting out in an unpleasant tone: "Up to here are the
places for criminal records." And only then does Anabel realize that the
employee has more ID cards in her hands than there are people in the
line. She has the urge to protest, because she's the only one who has
noticed, but chooses to keep quiet because in the end she will be seen.

The group goes to an office on the second floor, in a hot space where
it's not possible to control the passage to the cubicles where the
specialists work. She has 65 convertible pesos in her purse, and stamps
worth 25 Cuban pesos, which is what the paperwork costs.

Those who have come to legalize degrees have to pay 200 convertible
pesos, while certifications cost 250. Other more minor paperwork costs
between 15 and 20 convertible pesos. An entire industry to extract money.

At 3:00 PM they've called only five of those waiting in line, but the
parade to the specialists' cubicles has been continuous. Then there's a
spontaneous demand to see the director, because the excessive delay for
a requirement that is so expensive, and the undeniable influence
peddling by which it works, seems unspeakably disrespectful.

The director arrives, friendly and positive, and pretends to scold the
employee in charge, and promises the clients that everyone will leave
satisfied. Indeed, as if by magic, in the last 45 minutes they resolve
every case. Everyone goes home; tomorrow will be another day.

Source: The Business of Standing in Line / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
On Cuba's Public Bathrooms
August 19, 2014
Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — The waiting room of the emergency ward at Havana's Luis
Dias Soto (or Naval) Hospital has only one bathroom for both genders.
The women's bathroom has been closed up for a while now – since
February, at least – and everyone uses the men's lavatory.

The sink in this bathroom doesn't work. This, however, doesn't stop a
lady – presumably a cleaning woman – from setting up a small table next
to the entrance to charge you a Cuban peso for the service.

To be fair, this woman makes an effort to be kind and keep her workplace
clean. There is something to be said for the fact the bathroom is always
relatively clean.

After one pays to use the bathroom once, one may continue to use it free
of charge the rest of the day. Even though it's a hospital, where
patients often have very difficult situations all around, if the money
goes to keeping the bathroom clean, I can understand the small fee.

But I have my doubts about where the money collected every day ends up.
I would like to think it's used to buy cleaning products. However, I
suspect that money is already included in the budget the hospital
allocates to general janitorial work. I sometimes also think that
someone is collecting money to get the other bathroom working again, or
to install dearly needed running water in the two bathrooms. To date,
nothing of the sort has happened.

It would be unfair to conclude the woman keeps the money, for I have no
proof of this. Something tells me, however, that, if this hypothesis
were true, it would not be the worst case scenario. The money, after
all, could end up in someone else's hands, someone who doesn't even have
to work in the bathroom all day.

I know people's low incomes and needs are used to justify practically
every misdeed in the country, but wrong is wrong and we can't call it
any other way.

According to my calculations, the lady at the bathroom must collect some
50 pesos every day, for a total of 1,500 a month. That should be more
than enough to have a fully functional bathroom.

Charging people to use the bathroom has become common in the country.
It's the way some establishments have of making extra money. The problem
is that the money always ends up in the pockets of someone who doesn't
look after the bathrooms, and these are often disgustingly filthy and
without running water.

Source: On Cuba's Public Bathrooms - Havana - Continue reading
Smoking Still Big in Cuba
August 19, 2014
Daniel Benítez (Cafe Fuerte)

HAVANA TIMES — According to a survey conducted by the Cuban Ministry of
Public Health (MINSAP), more than 50 percent of Cuba's population is
exposed to the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, as one of every four
persons over 15 is an active smoker.

The study revealed that three out of every 10 men are smokers and that
16 percent of all Cuban women are nicotine addicts. Dr. Patricia Varona,
coordinator of MINSAP's Special Lung Cancer Work Group, offered the
Agencia Cubana de Noticias ("Cuban News Agency") this information and
said that nine million people were interviewed as part of the health
department's third survey on risk factors associated to smoking.

Nicotine addiction accounts for more than 80 percent of lung cancer
cases and deaths among the island's population.

Dr. Varona added that the survey also gathered data such as gender, age,
skin color, educational level and profession.

Early Starters

The results of this study revealed to government entities that smoking
habits are least common among university students, while people aged 40
to 50 constitute the country's largest group of smokers.

The survey showed that the average starting age is 17. An expert pointed
out, however, that there has been a 17 percent increase in the number of
people who start smoking between the age of 13 and 15.

Two years ago, the World Smoking Survey, conducted by MINSAP in Cuba,
revealed that young people in Cuba are among the heaviest smokers in all
of Latin America. A total of 3,000 students in 456 different secondary
schools across the country were interviewed as part of the survey.

According to the data provided by Varona, some 1,500 Cubans die every
year of lung cancer and heart disease alone. Both conditions are closely
linked to tobacco consumption. Malign tumors and heart conditions are
the country's two major causes of death. In 2013, they claimed the lives
of 45,519 people.

The dangerous habit can also cause cancer of the pharynges, larynges,
esophagus, bladder, urinary and biliary tracts, pancreas, kidney,
stomach, liver and cervix.

Source: Smoking Still Big in Cuba - Havana - Continue reading
Cuba receives first 2 million foreign visitors in 2014

HAVANA, Aug.19 (Xinhua) -- The number of foreigners visiting Cuba since
the beginning of 2014 reached 2 million on Tuesday, and the island
nation aims to receive 3 million tourists before the end of the year,
said a release from the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).

Mintur's tally was based on registered arrivals of tourists from Canada,
Germany, France, Italy and Spain and reflects Cuba's strong position in
international tourism, the release said.

Mintur added that Cuba's unique offers, its wide cultural and
patrimonial legacies as well as safe services are some of the main
reasons why tourists choose to visit the Carribean country.

Mintur also said that the country has intensified commercial and
publicity campaigns to attract tourists so as to reach the goal of
receiving 3 million tourists a year.

In 2013, Cuba received 2,852,572 foreign arrivals, up 0.5 percent year
on year, earning over 1.8 billion U.S. dollars.

On Tuesday, Cuba National Bureau of Statistics said the country earned
some 1.77 billion dollars from international tourism in the first half
of 2014, up 4 percent year on year.

Tourism is Cuba's second main source of hard currency, earning the
country over 2.6 billion dollars every year.

Source: Cuba receives first 2 million foreign visitors in 2014 |
GlobalPost - Continue reading
The Cuba Debate: Can Capitalist Rookies Thrive In A Communist Revolution?

When you've spent your entire life on a communist island where staples
like eggs and chicken are rationed, lunch in Miami can be overwhelming.

Ask Sandra Aldama, a Cuban mother and former special education teacher
who made her first visit to the United States this month. Settling into
a downtown Italian restaurant as waiters whizzed by with plates of
fettuccine alfredo and veal parmesan, Aldama was almost certainly
reminded of what the average Cuban can't get at home.

But these days Aldama is bothered by another Cuban shortage: sodium
hydroxide, a basic chemical for making soap.

Last year she started a business in Havana called D'Brujas that produces
scented natural soap. Her hypoallergenic product is a popular novelty
for most Cubans – but in the country's threadbare economy she has scant
access to necessary ingredients.

"It's hard to find the simplest supplies you need to run a business
there," she says. "And even if you do, you can't be sure they'll be
there tomorrow."

So while she was in South Florida, Sandra sought advice from
entrepreneurs like Ricardo Lastre.

Lastre, himself a Cuban-American, has his own Miami Beach soap-making
business called Lastre Botanicals. As he mixed some cocoa butter soap
bars recently, he talked about Aldama's visit and the chance to counsel
a novice Cuban entrepreneur like Aldama.

"She gave me one of her soaps," he said. "It was called café menta,
which is coffee mint. Beautiful, smells great, elegant, simple."

Sandra almost cried when she saw the shelves in Lastre's workshop: Row
after row of oils, herbs and emulsifiers that she can only dream of
using in Cuba. And lots of sodium hydroxide.

Lastre gave her tips on how to do more with what she does have, and how
to market it better.

"That knowledge exchange is invaluable," Aldama said. "Learning business
tools and techniques I didn't know I had."

The Miami-born Lastre, a son of Cuban exiles, condemns Cuba's communist
dictatorship. But Cuban leader Raúl Castro needs to rescue his country's
desperate finances – and he's decreed reforms that, while limited at
best, do allow a broader range of private enterprise. Cuba's Roman
Catholic Church even offers business classes.

So Lastre is considering efforts to get supplies to Aldama in Cuba. And
Cuban-Americans like him think the Obama Administration should relax the
U.S. trade embargo so investors can funnel more help to the island's
fledgling private sector.

"I think that we should be able to help people that are starting from
the beginning," says Lastre. "If people realize in Cuba that they can do
it on their own, I think things would change [there]."


That's a central issue, if not the central issue, in the Cuba policy
debate today.

Sandra and four other Cuban entrepreneurs were invited to Miami by the
Cuba Study Group. The Washington-based think tank, headed by more
moderate Cuban-American businessmen like Miami millionaire Carlos
Saladrigas, supports empowering Cuban capitalists. One aim is to help
them become as important as dissidents when it comes to undermining
communist authority.

"It's important for us to not just read theories and hypotheses [about]
what's happening in Cuba," says executive director Tomas Bilbao, "but to
actually meet the people who are on the ground working independently of
the government, gaining greater control of their lives and employing
other Cubans."

But more hardline Cuban-Americans who want to keep the embargo intact
say any investment sent to Cuba – even to independent entrepreneurs – is
all too likely to aid the Castro regime.

"What's going to end up happening is the regime will have its ability to
decide who gets that money," says Miami attorney Marcell Felipe, a
director of the Cuban Liberty Council.

Felipe insists that capital has to be channeled through bona fide
dissident organizations, because only they can vet which enterprises are
genuinely private and which are state-controlled ventures in disguise or
at to be co-opted by the government.

"If [Cuban entrepreneurs] have no commitment to that…tremendously
difficult fight of defying the government," Felipe argues, "they will
eventually be brought in as servants for the government, willingly or

Even pro-reform Cuban-Americans like Lastre say they're nervous about
how insidiously Castro and company can manipulate the country's new
burst of free enterprise.

Cuban cuentapropistas, or entrepreneurs, are understandably reluctant to
shake their fists at the regime. When I asked Aldama and the other
visiting cuentapropistas about Cuba's notoriously heavy small-business
taxes, they declined – surprisingly – to criticize them.

Still, Cuban-Americans are sending billions of dollars and tons of
capital goods directly to relatives in Cuba – about half a million of
whom are cuentapropistas or their employees.

Says Yasmine Vicente, who owns a Havana event-planning business, "This
has altered the potential of the individual and our perception of work."

And maybe Miami's perception of Cuban capitalism.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor.

Source: The Cuba Debate: Can Capitalist Rookies Thrive In A Communist
Revolution? | WLRN - Continue reading
Amidst Rumors and Disinformation, Angel Santiesteban Continues Missing
Posted on August 18, 2014

{*Translator's Note: Angel disappeared from prison on July 21, 2014. As
of today he has not been heard from for 29 days.}

Five days* have passed now since the disappearance of the writer Angel
Santiesteban in Havana, barely hours after he wrote a post from Lawton
prison, in which he announced to the world that there were strong rumors
that the Regime's prison authorities would transfer him to a higher
security prison.

After his disappearance from said prison last July 21, without the Cuban
authorities informing family members of anything, another rumor started
circulating: supposedly, Angel Santiesteban had escaped. In a telephone
call that the writer's son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban, made to the
prison, worried at not knowing anything about his father, a minor
official confirmed the rumor. "I don't know if they did it to scare me,
to make me more nervous than I am," said the 16-year-old, on the
Columbian television program, Night, Channel NTN24. In conversations
with family and friends he has said that he feels this lie by the
regime's prison officials is a bad sign.

Maria de los Angeles Santiesteban Prats said the same thing, from Miami:
"The telephone harassment I'm suffering since my brother disappeared in
Cuba, and other information we have obtained and that can't now be
revealed in order to protect some people on the island and in exile,
make me think that this is another maneuver of the dictatorship:
Spreading this rumor about my brother's escape serves only to deflect
attention from something big they are doing to him and that they don't
want known." In a conversation with the NeoClub Press agency, she
affirmed that "They are blackmailing me; last night, for example, I
received an anonymous call coming from Japan. They call me and tell me
that it's better that I shut up, that I'm going to end up losing."

A simple analysis of the facts preceding Santiesteban's disappearance is
enough to confirm the family's suspicions.

After many months without responding to the Request for Review of the
judgment against Angel, undertaken by the defense attorney last year,
the Cuban judicial authorities (as they have now demonstrated in this
case, manipulated by the Cuban political police) received a hard blow
which totally undid the judicial farce they prepared to condemn the
lauded Cuban writer to five years for a supposed crime of domestic
violence. One of the principal prosecution witnesses, the writer's own
son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban, granted an interview to Television
Marti, in which he explained that being a minor he was forced and
manipulated by his mother – Kenia Diley Rodriguez – at the urging of
Castro's State Security, forcing him through psychologists and other
specialists, to declare against his father.

In this interview, and in a later one on the television program Colombia
Night, he confessed that he never saw anything like what his mother said
Angel did, and that the political police took advantage of "amorous"
problems between his parents, inciting Kenia Diley Rodriguez to
collaborate in a plot to punish Angel's dissident stance and the
international denunciations that he made in his blog, The Children
Nobody Wanted. This evidence, which exposed the dirty strategy of State
Security, makes it logical to think that the regime would want to punish
the writer and his family with this disappearance. It's not an isolated
fact, since every Cuban dissident who has been incarcerated can tell
similar stories.

Another detail that casts doubt about the rumor of flight is the same
post the writer sent from prison, hours before his disappearance, in
which he made known that one of the possible reasons of his transfer was
the fact that two high government officials, condemned for corruption,
would be sent to Lawton prison, where he was located. Logic imposes
itself: It was necessary to transfer Angel to avoid his making contact
with these officials and thereby getting first-hand information about
the corruption in high spheres of the island's government.

A third event to take into account would be the constant threats that
Angel received in the last months to stop writing denunciations in his
blog. In spite of these threats, in spite of the fact that he had to
hide in order to write and look for different ways of eluding the
vigilance to get his writing out of prison, they didn't manage to shut
him up; so that, in communication with his friends and family, he had
shown his suspicion that they would transfer him to a higher security
prison (thereby violating the established legal procedure for cases with
his sanction), if only to avoid his continued denunciation of the most
sinister face of a dictatorship that pretends to show itself to the
world as a truly human system.

Finally, as Angel Santiesteban's international prestige has grown, the
repressive forces of the regime have become more rabid and impotent. Its
murderous blindness doesn't permit them to digest the fact that
important intellectual and international human rights institutions have
their eyes on the writer, unjustly imprisoned on the island; that this
world recognition has allowed him to receive the Jovenaje 2014 award,
which is granted every year for the work and life of an important Cuban
intellectual, and that Reporters Without Borders has included him on the
list of the world's 100 Information Heroes.

"Something big has happened and they are hiding it," said Maria de los
Angeles, Angel's sister, in several interviews these last days. "I
demand that they show my brother alive and well, because he never has
had the intention of escaping."

We have mentioned it many times but it's good to remember it again: The
little time he has been in prison, Angel was visited by agents of State
Security to offer him his freedom in exchange for abandoning his
antagonistic position and testifying about this compromise in a video.
After roundly refusing, they told him he should look for a friendly
embassy to arrange his deportation, something Angel also roundly
refused. It's also good to remember again how many times they threatened
him with death, in prison or before.

Obviously they don't make such proposals to a simple "home invader"; if
anyone knows something about home invasions it's the regime; it's a
daily practice with which they try to intimidate the valiant and
peaceful opposition. And they know about maltreating women, which we can
add to everything the world knows and consents to with its complicit
silence. The Castro regime takes the prize for its duplicitous
discourse, now charging Mariela Castro to "sell" the image of an open
government that respects gender diversity. It's enough to see the brutal
images of aggression against the Ladies in White, to know their
testimonies, along with that of other dissident women and LGBT activists
who don't conform to the designs of the dictatorship, to know how much
falsity there is in that Castrista discourse.

Angel has spent five days* in an unknown location, and WE DEMAND HIS
justice be done, and that after the Revision of the judgment, with all
its procedural guarantees, he be freed because HE IS INNOCENT.

RAUL CASTRO is absolutely responsible for what can happen to Angel, and
do. The international community is witness to all this horror happening
to Angel, and NOW THERE IS NO PLACE FOR IMPUNITY. The same goes for his

The Editor

Maria de los Angeles Santiesteban, in the name of the whole family

Amir Valle

Lilo Vilaplana

Translated by Regina Anavy, August 18, 2014
26 July 2014

Source: Amidst Rumors and Disinformation, Angel Santiesteban Continues
Missing | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Investment in Cuba? What for? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

ASCE XXIV / 2014 Annual Conference, Miami Hilton Downtown Hotel,
Florida, USA
Panel 12. Concerto Ballrom B – Friday, August 1st, 2:45-4:15pm


In Cuba during the 1970s, historian Manuel Moreno Fraginals challenged
poet Jose Lezama Lima with his trendy scientific notions about the laws
of objectivity and the transition to a colonial/pseudo
republic/revolution from the slave mills to the Slavic sugarcane
cutters; the now forgotten Soviet KTP. Exhaling an asthmatic
counterpoint through his cigar, Lezama Lima responded to Moreno
Fraginals without foregoing the Marxist irony of a convenient Catholic:
"Ah… But when will we have a history that is qualitative?"

Are we Cubans lacking the type of analysis that at the margins of
academic exactitude and author-centered erudition would also require
ethicality? Is a qualitative economy that can escape the comparisons of
percents and profits and the tendency to always side with the expounder
at all conceivable? Is a qualitative political system that rises above
the lowbrow politics practiced in our country unthinkable? How about a
qualitative sociology without ideological determinism and infallible
founders? When all is said and done, is the anthropology of a quality
Cuban one that is multidimensional, subjective, and liberated from the
consensus imposed upon on us with the rhythm of a conga drumbeat?

No wonder the Professor did not answer the Master's question. Today,
when it comes to Raul Castro's reforms that in an ever-changing and
capricious landscape that hides a clan's control while a new image of
legitimacy is created, would Moreno Fraginals rely on the laws of
objectivity in a transition from communism to capitalism? And would
Lezama Lima respond to him with an "Ah… And when we will Cuba have a
history of qualitative capitalism?" Poetry asks impossible questions
that history can answer, though it finds it inconvenient to do so.


Today, by either vocation or duty, Cubanologists discuss their theories
about the island. They have placed their bets for quantitative changes
on the seat of power, avoiding any consultation with the will of the
Cuban people. For many of them the Revolution is a victim, not the
victimizer, and as such is granted the right to not disappear. Because
of this, throughout all of American academia, an anti-Castro stance is
practically considered intellectual harassment.

Therefore, Cubans are supposed to have no other alternative than to
collaborate with the government in the construction of controllable
capitalism that is already irreversible while the country's socialistic
constitution remains "irrevocable." In this scam of a transition, borne
of short memories where horrors become simply errors, liberty becomes an
encumbrance threatening to make everything end in a debacle. And it is
this astute death threat that forces us to be loyal as a post-socialist
substitute for legality.

"A country is not run like a campsite," another poet once told to
another general. But those who once dressed in olive-green uniforms and
now as the new generation wear business suits, have turned the country
into a campsite so as not to fully contradict Jose Marti's words to
Maximo Gomez. Citizens are abundant, but soldiers are saviors: the
disinterest of the former is secondary to the discipline of the latter.
The year 2018 is being called the new 1958. After 60 years of solitary
power, biology finally brings us a calendar without the Castros. But
after waiting for so long, we Cubans can now wait a little more. We have
become accustomed to the family legacy that leaves us the choice between
a parliamentarian sexologist and a colonel –like Putin– from the
Ministry of the Interior. One is in charge of reproduction and the other
of repression; she is in charge of pleasure, he of power; academia and
military; diplomacy and impertinence; masquerade and malice.

The inverted logic behind investing in such a Cuba is that after the
profits, it would precipitate a multi-party political system: vouchers
that will promote voting; underdevelopment erased by cash flowing
through banks; from Che to checks. Like dissidents without God, layman
Lenier Gonzalez might call them "wolves in sheep's clothing," because
the nation teeters on collapse between a war of economic action from the
outside and peaceful resistance from the inside.

Perhaps to sidestep such suspicions, foreign investors avoid showing off
the profit gained from a captive and insular market. They seem to invest
with almost-humanitarian intentions, although their "good deed" will be
repaid by having their property seized and not a few of them will end up
deported, imprisoned, or dead from a heart attack during interrogations
performed by State Security. As for Cuban exiles, they are not even
given the right to live in their own country. And the illusion of
investing in the island — out of nostalgia or some kind of labor therapy
— is justified by the notion that money can make a dictatorship dynamic
much more effectively than dynamite. If we cannot live in a democracy,
at least we will be able to live in a dictocracy. One-party companies
and a tinsel opposition. Like a person who draws a North Korean doodle
and ends up with an exquisite Chinese calligram. Or like in those
childhood cartoons where a tyrant is defeated by a golden antelope that
drowns the villain by throwing gold coins at him and when he can no
longer take the weight screams "enough!"


When I hear the word "economy," I reach for my gun.

First-world paradoxes: The possible Democrat party candidate for the
White House mumbles something to President Obama in the latest of her
hard choices: "Lift the embargo on Cuba because it's holding back our
broader agenda across Latin America". And from the Chamber of Commerce,
its president travels to a country that is presided over by a general
that for decades has denigrated chambers of commerce, and tells him:
Yes, you can.

The economy is too important to be left in the hands of economists.

Executives from the goliath Google land in David's kingdom of ruins and
are received at the University of Computer Sciences, a bunker of digital
censorship, the cradle of Operation Truth, where there is daily smearing
of those Cubans convinced that it is still possible to live a life of
truth. How do you google a government that like the dog in the manger
will not allow us to connect to the internet or allow anyone else to
connect us?

Within the economy, everything.

The president of a hemispheric organization who since 2009 has been
begging Cuba to rejoin the international community goes to Havana and
does not dare to ask the reason behind Cuba's snub of the world. He is
accompanied by a Secretary General who gets a haircut there but does not
question why there were dozens of illegal detentions taking place during
his visit.

Outside the economy, nothing.

Former brigadier generals of the military and intelligence agencies,
ambassadors to NATO, the OAS, and the Interests Section in Havana (in
their heyday categorized by Castro propaganda as torturers, coup
instigators, agents of the anti-Cuban dirty war, and other extremists
etc.). Hawks now clothed in sheep feathers who advocate an ultimatum not
to their archenemy in the continent, but to the President who extended
his open hand and in return received a closed fist, including weapons
smuggling, the kidnapping of an American to trade as a hostage for Cuban
Talibans, agreements with enemies of democracy and the free market, and
the State-run attempts on our Sakharov Prize winners for Freedom of
Thought: Laura Pollan and Oswaldo Paya.

Economy or death; we will sell.

Contrary to the stampede of Cubans mentioned in Wendy Guerra's novel
Everyone Leaves, everyone is going to Cuba, everyone is investing in the
first opportunity that presents itself. No one wants to miss out on
their slice of the despotic pie that is on the brink of transition.


Investment is critical for the material development of the country, but
investment should not come regardless of the political price. It would
be a shame to fall into an economy that would leave us dependent on
foreigners and no less vulnerable to domestic impunity. Under those
conditions, sovereignty is nothing more than a joke.

Foreign capital has not brought democratization to the island, but
neither has denying investment been a fountain of political liberty.
Although they are opposite concepts, investments are just like the
commercial embargo the United States has against Cuba: they have had no
influence on the blockade imposed by the Castro regime on Cuban
citizens. Oswaldo Paya believed in a human personal redemption that
would transcend the State as well as the market. And that simple but
ethical vision proved to be qualitatively impracticable for a perpetual
seat of power that relies on complicity by the majority of the nation.
Because if a people elect a single leader and a single party, that
single leader and single party have a moral obligation to downplay that
quantitative blindness, not enthrone themselves upon it. Along with the
Anglicism of a "loyal opposition," Cubans deserve a government faithful
to the people that will step down according to logical legislation, even
if it goes against the popular will of the people.

For now, the private investment initiative in Cuba does nothing to
obtain or guarantee rights to association, property, participation,
expression, or the means of production. Self-employed Cubans exhibit
their implausibility even in Washington D.C., but in the Plaza of the
Revolution, they can only march en masse with their propaganda banners.
For that very reason they are not invited to invest in Cuba and their
self-employment licenses are nothing more than economic privileges. As
soon as they achieve some type of cash liquidity, they will escape
without much noise or fuss, as our population pyramid tends to do since
that is always preferable in a transient nation: post-totalitarianism is
the same as post-trampolinism. That plebiscite with one's feet is
unstoppable, with investments or sanctions, with lack of solidarity or
interference. After spending so much time exporting guerillas and wars,
we learned to make our living at the expense of someone else, allowing
ourselves to be exploited by taxes rather than enjoying state security
(or suffering it if the words are capitalized).

At the start of the Revolution, throughout the paternalistic lying
during the march to power, Fidel Castro strictly applied his repetitive
slogans: "Elections? What for?"; "Guns? What for?"; Amnesty? What for?"
These were among the other "What for?" slogans that emptied out all the
common sense that previously existed in our nationality. The Revolution
not only installed itself by decree as the source of all rights, it also
made itself the arbiter of reason. Everything else became an
afterthought: money, for example. We should then publicly confront that
same philanthropic octogenarian before senility turns him into ashes and
ask him: "Investment? What for?"

And maybe he will respond with that European fascist plagiarism of
himself in 1953: Invest in Cuba, it does not matter, history will
confiscate you.

Translated by Alberto de la Cruz from Babalu blog.
1 August 2014

Source: Investment in Cuba? What for? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Day the People of Havana Protested in the Streets / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 18, 2014

1994 was an amazing year. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the
disappearance of the USSR had been the trigger for the beginning in Cuba
of the "Special Period in Times of Peace," an economic crisis which
lasted for 25 years.

We returned to a subsistence economy. The factories shut down as they
had no fuel or supplies. Tractors were replaced by oxen. And the power
cuts lasted 12 hours a day.

The island entered completely into an era of inflation, shortages and
hunger. To eat twice a day was a luxury. Meat, chicken and fish
disappeared off the menu. People ate little, and poorly. Malnutrition
caused exotic illnesses like beri-beri and optic neuritis.

The olive green government put contingency plans into action. Research
institutes patented garbage food such as meat mass, soya soup, and oca
paste, which were used to fool the stomach.

The government considered an extreme project called "zero option,"
against the time when the people would start to collapse in the street
due to hunger. It was a red alert, when military trucks would hand out
rations neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

"Zero option" did not get implemented. The dollar ended up worth 150
Cuban Pesos, and a pound of rice, if you could get one, cost you 140
pesos, the same as an avocado.

That's how we Cubans lived in 1994. A hot year. Many people launched
themselves into the sea in little rubber boats, driven by desperation
and hardship, trying to get to the United States.

I was 28 and four out of every five of my friends or people I knew were
making plans to build boats good enough to get them to Florida. We
talked of nothing else. Only about getting out.

In the morning of 5th August it was still a crime to be a boat person.
If they caught you, it meant up to 4 years behind bars. In spite of the
informers, the blackouts helped people build boats of all shapes and
sizes. Havana looked like a shipyard.

In my area, an ex-sailer offered his services as a pilot to anyone
setting out on a marine adventure. "It's a difficult crossing. You could
be a shark's dinner if you don't organise your expedition properly," he

At that time there were red beret soldiers carrying AK-47s patrolling
the streets in jeeps. The capital was like a tinderbox.Any friction
could touch off a fire. Hardly a month and a half before, on 13th July,
the fateful sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo had occurred.

In order to teach would-be illegal escapees a lesson, the authorities
deliberately sunk an old tug 7 miles out from the bay of Havana.

72 people were on board. 37 of them died, among them, 10 children.
According to the survivors' testimony, two government tugs refused to
help them. It was a crime.

At eleven in the morning of Friday August 5th, a friend of mine came up
to a group of us kids who were sitting on a corner in the neighbourhood,
and, stumbling over his words, said: "My relatives in Miami have phoned
up. They say four large boats have left for Havana, to pick up anyone
who wants to leave. There are lots of people in the Malecon, waiting for

A route 15 bus driver, who now lives in Spain, invited us to ride in his
bus, to get there faster. He turned off his route. And as he went along,
he he picked up anyone who stuck out his hand.

"I'm going to the Malecon" he told people. Every passenger who got on
had new information about what was happening. "They've broken shop
windows and they're stealing food, toiletries, clothes and shoes.
They've overturned police cars. Looks like the government's fucked."

There was a party atmosphere. The bus was stopped by the combined forces
of the police, soldiers and State security people, near the old
Presidential Palace.

A group of government supporters was trying to control the
antigovernment protesters and the disturbances that were breaking out.
It was bedlam.

We got off the bus and we walked down some side streets going towards
the Avenida del Puerto. There were lots of anxious people in the avenue
with their eyes on the horizon.

There was a police car which had been smashed up by having stones thrown
at it near the Hotel Deauville. Paramilitaries were arriving in trucks,
armed with tubes and iron bars. They were casual construction workers
hired by Fidel Castro who had been rapidly mobilised.

For the first time in my life I heard people shouting Down with Fidel,
and Down with the Dictatorship. What had started off as a lot of people
trying to escape to Florida had turned into a popular uprising.

The epicenter of what came to be called the Maleconazo were the poor
mainly black neighbourhoods of San Leopoldo, Colón and Cayo Hueso.
Places where people live in tumbledown houses and with an uncertain future.

Those areas breed hustlers, illegal gambling and drug trafficking. And
the Castro brothers are not welcome there.

After 6:00 in the evening of 5th August 1994, it seemed that the
government forces had taken control of the extensive area where the
people had filled the streets to protest, rob, or just sit on the
Malecon wall to see what happened.

Anti-riot trucks picked up hundreds of young men, nearly all of them
mixed race or black. A rumour went round that Fidel Castro was having a
look round the area. The soldiers had released the safety catches on
their AK47s, ready to use them.

By the time it began to get dark, the disturbances were already under
control. We walked back, talking about what had happened. That night,
because they were afraid another revolt might break out, there was no
power cut in Havana.

Iván García

Translated by GH

6 August 2014

Source: The Day the People of Havana Protested in the Streets / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
A 'no' vote breaks tradition in usually unanimous Cuban parliament _ and
it's cast by a Castro
Published August 19, 2014 Associated Press

HAVANA – Yet another revolutionary tradition has been broken in Cuba: A
lawmaker voted "no" in parliament.

And it wasn't just any lawmaker.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel
Castro, gave the thumbs-down to a workers' rights bill that she felt
didn't go far enough to prevent discrimination against people with HIV
or with unconventional gender identities.

None of the experts contacted by The Associated Press could recall
another "no" vote in the 612-seat National Assembly, which meets briefly
twice a year and approves laws by unanimous show of hands.

"This is the first time, without a doubt," said Carlos Alzugaray, a
historian and former Cuban diplomat.

He said even measures that were widely criticized in grass-roots public
meetings, such as a law raising the retirement age, had passed
unanimously in the Assembly.

Few in Cuba were even aware of the vote until after the measure was
enacted into law this summer, at which point gay activists publicized
the vote by Castro, who is the island's most prominent advocate for gay

Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban analyst who lectures at the University of
Denver, suggested it might "open doors for other important initiatives."

Mariela Castro herself seemed to hint there could be more debate in the

"There have been advances in the way things are discussed, above all the
way things are discussed at the grass-roots level, in workplaces, unions
and party groupings," she said in an interview posted in late July on
the blog of Francisco Rodriguez, a pro-government gay rights activist.
"I think we still need to perfect the democratic participation of the
representatives within the Assembly."

Others are skeptical it will set a precedent.

"I would say that this is more a sign of what Mariela can get away with
than a sign of what your everyday parliamentarian can get away with,"
said Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at Baruch College
in New York.

In her crusade for gay rights, Castro has often taken stands that
challenge the social status quo, while firmly supporting the Communist

The new labor code bans workplace discrimination based on gender, race
and sexual orientation. But it has no mention of HIV status or gender

"I could not vote in favor without the certainty that the labor rights
of people with different gender identity would be explicitly
recognized," Castro said in the blog interview.

Raul Castro himself has been slowly shaking up Cuba's system by allowing
some limited private-sector activity and scrapping a much-loathed exit
visa requirement. He's made it clear, though, that the Communist Party
will continue to be the only one permitted.

The vast majority of Assembly members keep their regular jobs and are
not professional lawmakers. Laws are generally drafted by a handful of
legislators and discussed with Cubans before being presented to parliament.

There was no response to requests for an interview with Mariela Castro,
who heads Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, an entity under the
umbrella of the Health Ministry.

She has spoken in the past about wanting to legalize same-sex unions,
though concrete legislation to that effect has not materialized.

That LGBT rights is even a matter of debate is a sign that much has
changed since the 1960s and '70s, when gay islanders were routinely
harassed and sent to labor camps along with others considered socially

In recent years, Fidel Castro expressed regret about past treatment of
gays, and today Cuba's free and universal health care system covers
gender reassignment surgery.

But activists say old attitudes and prejudices die hard so the LGBT
community needs more legal protections.

Rodriguez and about 20 others from Project Rainbow, a group that
advocates for sexual diversity, recently sent a public letter urging
Mariela Castro to introduce legislation to amend the labor code.

"These are not minor details," Rodriguez said. "They are social problems
we have in contemporary Cuba."


Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.


Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter:

Source: A 'no' vote breaks tradition in usually unanimous Cuban
parliament _ and it's cast by a Castro | Fox News - Continue reading
20 years ago, 35,000 'balseros' fled Castro's Cuba on anything that
would float
By Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald
Monday, August 18, 2014 2:55pm

When the tiny Guantánamo-bound jet took off from the Fort Lauderdale
airport, the door handle fell into my lap.

The handful of journalists on board laughed nervously, eyeing the ripped
roof cover and beat up seats of the Fandango Airlines commuter under
contract by the federal government to shuttle journalists to the U.S.
Naval base on the eastern end of Cuba.

"I hope this is not an omen," I remember someone saying.

The unsettling start of our trip that crisp day in 1994 was like an
omen, but it was the least of our worries. We were on our way to report
on the lingering limbo of the Cuban balseros without a country and
enduring wholesale detention in a tent-city metropolis set up by the
Clinton administration in a remote no-man's land.

It had already been an extraordinary year.

That summer, furious at unprecedented protests and chants of "Freedom!"
rising from people gathered at the seafront Malecón in Havana, Cuban
leader Fidel Castro threatened to unleash another exodus — and he made
good on it, allowing people to leave the island by whatever means.

In a desperate bid to flee, some 35,000 men, women and children took to
the high seas in flimsy homemade rafts and quickly assembled boats. Some
made it to South Florida. Some died in the attempt. But most were
interdicted at sea in what became the largest and most-expensive
search-and-rescue operation undertaken by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The balseros, as the rafters were nicknamed after their ingeniously
constructed vessels, were ferried en masse to Guantánamo and packed into
dusty tent-city camps with names like Camp Kilo, Camp Oscar and Camp
Mike, which multiplied into Kilo Two, Oscar Three, etc., as the numbers
of people to be housed grew, day by day.

The refugees lived under drab-olive and yellow tents in an unusually
arid landscape under the strictest military rule. When I first visited,
they had not had any communication with family members, who didn't know
whether their loved ones had died at sea or made it to Guantánamo.

The "balsero crisis" would play out here largely in seclusion, except
for infrequent media and political visits, until the last Cuban was
flown to Miami in 1996.

The Cubans would eventually make it to the United States after the
Clinton administration announced on May 2, 1995, that most of the
Guantánamo detainees would be processed and allowed to emigrate. And, as
part of the deal reached with the Cuban government to curtail high-seas
departures, Washington agreed to issue 20,000 visas a year.

The historic exodus also changed U.S. immigration policy for Cubans to
what came to be known as "wet-foot/dry-foot," and it remains in effect
today: Those intercepted at sea must qualify for asylum or are returned
to Cuba; those who make it to U.S. soil generally get to stay.

But policy was the aftermath. For me, what lingers is the human story,
and nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced during two
reporting trips to the Guantánamo camps.

I would unknowingly become lost in a sea of refugees as I listened to
stories and pleas for help, and as a result, I was almost kicked out by
a military commander. He towered over me, screaming that I had ditched
my escort and broken a major rule. Only my trembling chin, teary voice
and a friendly spokesman who, like me, was a University of Florida Gator
would save me from being sent back on that plane and missing one of the
most dramatic stories of my career.

I would hold back tears many times during poignant interviews with
desperate people, and back at my desk in Miami, while writing their stories.

On this 20th anniversary, when celebrations are planned and
proclamations issued, what stands out is the resilience of the balseros
I came to know and whose lives in the United States I've followed for
many years.

There's the spunky Havana beautician, Dunys Torres, whom I found at Camp
Oscar cutting hair with a lot of humor amid a lice epidemic — now the
owner of Dunys Unisex, a lovely, stylish salon in Homestead.

"I still think it (leaving) was the best decision I ever made," she
tells me. "Now more than ever, I'm happy because I'm a citizen of this
great country. I'm 100 percent Cuban, but I adore this country."

There's the engineer, Martin Barquin, who invented a board game to pass
the time, only in his "Balseros '94" game, when you landed on a space, a
shark ate you, or waves overtook your raft on a stormy night — and the
best you could aspire to was to pass "Go" and land in Guantánamo.

"It was a way to make fun of our tragedy at a time when we were
hopeless," he remembers, surrounded by family in his South Dade home. He
has been in a wheelchair since he suffered an accident in 1997, "but I
cannot complain. I am a blessed man. I yearn for my physical freedom,
but my mind and spirit are free."

And there are the grief-stricken survivors of the July 13 sinking of a
tugboat by Cuban patrol boats in which at least 39 people died. One of
the survivors was a 7-year-old boy who lost his mother and brother. I
met him and his father, who had the saddest eyes I've ever seen, at Camp
Mike. It's heartwarming to see on social media that he's becoming an

The weary children of this exodus — the 78 unaccompanied minors I was
briefly allowed to see at a special camp — are unforgettable, the most
famous of all 12-year-old violinist Lizbet Martínez, a Miami-Dade music
teacher now. She became the symbol of the exodus when she propped her
violin on her shoulder and played The Star Spangled Banner after the
Coast Guard rescued her family.

The child who captured my heart was 10-year-old Yudelka César.

She lived at Camp Oscar Three under a huge yellow tent with her family
and the friends from her Havana neighborhood, who had all pitched in to
buy a boat.

Yudelka saw me interviewing people and brought me her diary. She had
written all she had endured from the moment her mother woke her up and
told her they were leaving Cuba on small white cards that came every day
with prepackaged military meals.

She had tied the cards together with two plastic bag clips.

"It's our story," Yudelka told me. "Take it to the United States and
print it."

At every camp I visited, refugees would stuff my pockets with SOS notes
to relatives in Miami. I would spend a weekend calling people to deliver
news that their loved ones were safe, and I would read a love letter to
a woman in Hialeah from her husband, who reassured her he was making
good on his promise that they would be reunited.

I brought back to Miami Yudelka's diary and translated it. The Herald
published it with my photo of her.

I could see myself in Yudelka's eyes, in her story. Like I once did at
her age, Yudelka left behind her beloved grandmother, her dog, her
cousins, her friends.

That she was willing to part with such treasures was remarkable. Many
years later, I tracked her down to the family's home in Arizona, and we
had a heartfelt reunion.

I returned her diary, though it hurt me to part with it. Her diary had
become a talisman, a source of inspiration for so many stories — and the
reason I would again take that scary flight on a dingy plane to
Guantánamo to cover the refugee's first flight to freedom.

I would return to see how the ingenious Cubans had turned their camps
into makeshift cities, their tents filled with handmade cardboard
furniture, complete with drawers and decorative knobs. They still slept
in slim cots but had divided tents into "apartments" with white sheets,
and helped the military shape camps into small towns with schools,
playgrounds, and even elected leaders.

They made art and they made love and babies were born there.

I would stay with the balsero story for two decades, charting fates and
remembering the Guantánamo sun burning my skin and the cooing music of
hummingbirds waking me up at dawn in a military barrack.

Twenty years later, Yudelka is married and the loving mother of a
kindergartener. We still stay in touch.

When I see her dancing a sensuous rhythmic salsa with her father,
celebrating her mother's citizenship with little American flags; when
she sends me a poem she wrote, a nostalgic ode to her feelings for Cuba,
I can see why they feel that the bold risk they took in 1994 was worth it.

But I wonder what happened to a young man, Jorge Santos, who called out
to me as I left the last camp on that first trip.

" Señora," he said, pressed against a fence topped by barbed wire. "If
you see freedom anywhere, please send her here. Tell her I've been
looking for her for a very long time."

I've never known if Jorge finally found her.

But I hope he has made a good life for himself like Dunys, Martin and
Yudelka, the little girl writing on the back of meal cards.

She was once a weary balserita huddled in the darkness of a boat adrift,
her fate in limbo under a dusty yellow tent, and today, she is part of
the mosaic of Cuban-Americans who call the USA home.

"People without a country," a headline in The Herald called the balseros
back then, but that they are no longer.


Here's what then 10-year-old Yudelka César wrote in her diary when she
was in Guantánamo in 1994. It was first published Oct. 2, 1994.

August 31st in Cuba:

It was 3:30 a.m. when my mother woke me and said, "Get up, we're
leaving." I got up. My sister was already awake and dressed. I put on
jean shorts and white T-shirt with six pearls around the neck. I grabbed
a bag full of dresses and things but my mother said, "Leave it." And I
said, "Well, OK."

We said goodbye to Carmen and Dolaydi, to whom I left my best jewel — a
little dog with short hair, all black, with little eyes dark like an
azabache (a Cuban good luck charm), and straight little ears. I love him
very much.

When we are about to leave my aunt and cousin who weren't on speaking
terms with my mother came out of their house. My mother called out to
them, and my cousin couldn't stop crying. When my mother started crying,
too, she said, "Don't you cry. Just take care." She kissed us and left.

Then a blue car came to get us and we could not say goodbye to my
grandfather, nor my other aunt and my uncle and my cousins. Another
thing that hurt me was to leave all my friends — big ones, old ones,
middle ones and the little ones.

When we reached the beach, we were not allowed to leave the car because
the police was not letting children leave. We left from a beach called
Brisa del Mar that my father liked, and it's near a restaurant called El
Ranchon. They unloaded the boat and they tried it out to make sure it
wouldn't take on water. While we swatted away the mosquitoes in the car,
some men from El Ranchon gave the children coffee cake.

When the boat started, there were people I didn't know and I got scared.
We were four children and six women on the boat. In total, 22 on the
motored boat. We left at 8:30 a.m., and at 2:20 p.m. a white and red
vessel picked us up. My father turned off the motor. When we got on, we
almost didn't fit there were so many people. Some Americans pulled us
up, and I supposed they liked me and they gave us water, some salted
crackers for our stomachs, and a soda that tasted like cherry.

About a half-hour later came another vessel, a mother ship called Whibey
Island in which we traveled for three days. It had 2 1/2 floors. It was

At the base, I have been in three camps. In the first came the press and
a ruckus ensued because they would not process us. The camp is called La
Lima, and there we saw people under the sticks of the military police of
the United States. We were at El Kilo two days — very bad days because
there broke my Santa Barbara (a revered saint in Cuba), which was before
we were processed and got a plastic watch, without numbers, that isn't
finished but inside has an identification number.

They snap the watch shut when the grown-ups sign a paper, walk in a
house that looks like a hospital where they explain how they will give
you two vaccines for the children and one to the grown-ups. They give
you a pencil, a piece of paper to put your name and last name (everyone
treats us lovingly). I played baseball with one of the attendants who
spoke Spanish. Then they took us in a school bus to El Kilo.

After two days, they moved us to another camp they call Oscar Three. I
have been here five days, not very well and not very bad. Not very well
because there's a lot of dust and it's hilly and when it rains the water
from other camps comes to ours. And not so bad because here there's more
order to get the food and they are going to put up a tent with toys for
the children. The water spigots are nearer and they are going to build
bathrooms for women and children separate from the men.

Thanks to God.

Source: 20 years ago, 35,000 'balseros' fled Castro's Cuba on anything
that would float | Tampa Bay Times - Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 08.18.14

Exhibit seeking items related to exodus out of Cuba

Driven by desperation, riding in anything they could make seaworthy,
they came to South Florida — many to Miami — to start new lives.

A new initiative by HistoryMiami and the Smithsonian's National Museum
of American History is aiming to capture the experiences of both Cuban
balseros, or rafters, as well as those of Cuban exiles in general: How
they traveled here and what they found upon arrival.

In an event timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 1994
exodus, the two institutions are soliciting contributions to the project
from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at HistoryMiami in the Miami-Dade
Cultural Center.

Part open house, part space for donations, the organizers are
encouraging both physical donations — anything brought on the journey
from Cuba to the United States, along with photographs and documents
from life in America — as well as individual stories, which will be
preserved as oral histories that will be saved at the Smithsonian and
may be used in future exhibitions.

The two institutions' collaboration will produce an exhibit in honor of
the 20th anniversary of the balsero crisis, titled, Exiles in South
Florida: Collecting Cuban Migration History.

"The journeys of many Cubans to Miami are extraordinary migration
stories seldom told within a national context. They provide an avenue to
discuss Hispanic and Cuban culture and the migrant experience in the
United States," Steve Velasquez, associate curator at the Smithsonian
Institution, said in a statement. "This project allows for the museum to
work with Florida partners in documenting how this migration experience
has shaped the individual, the community, and the nation."

HistoryMiami will follow up the exhibit with a 3,000-square-foot
exhibitiion in summer 2015 called Operation Pedro Pan. A collaboration
with Operation Pedro Pan Group Inc., it will focus on the stories of
unaccompanied Cuban minors sent to the United States in the early 1960s.

If you go

Here are several community events tied to the 20th anniversary of the
1994 balsero exodus:

Exiles in South Florida: Collecting Cuban Migration History:
HistoryMiami and the Smithsonian Institution invite anyone who fled Cuba
to share their stories, photographs and other objects from 10 a.m. to 5
p.m. Saturday at HistoryMiami, 101 W. Flagler St.

Revisiting the Balsero Crisis and Its Aftermath, Twenty Years After:
Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute will host a
symposium featuring scholars, artists and others at 2 p.m. Sept. 4 at
FIU's South campus, Graham Center 150, 11200 SW Eighth St.

Guantánamo: Kept At Bay exhibit opening, 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 10, the Frost
Art Museum at Florida International University, 10975 SW 17th St. The
exhibit will be on view through Oct. 19.

Guantánamo Public Memory Project: traveling exhibit opening, Sept. 22 at
the University of Miami's College of Arts and Sciences Gallery, 1210
Stanford Dr., Coral Gables. On view through Oct. 31.

Source: Exhibit seeking items related to exodus out of Cuba - Miami-Dade
- - Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 08.18.14

A long journey by raft, and a lesson in freedom

I was born in Guantánamo in 1956. I moved to Havana as a teenager to
study and ultimately graduated with a math degree. In 1994, I decided
take a raft to the United States.

I had to leave Cuba. I had no future there.

I graduated from the University of Havana believing that if I had a good
education and worked hard, I would succeed in life. But because I wasn't
integrated enough with the government, there weren't opportunities for
me. So I resorted to selling produce on the streets with my university
degree in my pocket. Later, I cleaned floors at the Hotel Inglaterra.

I also wanted to leave because I valued my freedom and found that I
didn't have the freedom to express myself in Cuba.

I started plotting my escape with a plan to try to get through the
border fence at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay. On Aug. 1, 1994 I
went to my 1-year-old niece's birthday party in Guantánamo. That was the
last time I saw many of my family members, including my father. I
couldn't even tell most of them that I had plans to leave. But it proved
too difficult to try to get passed security and onto the base.

On Aug. 5th, I returned to Havana to find the streets filled with
protesters. Several days later, Fidel Castro announced that whoever
wanted to leave, could go. So I got in contact with a cousin who also
wanted to leave and we started working on a raft.

When it was ready, everyone in the neighborhood helped us get the raft
on a truck we had rented. They wished us well, hugged us and gave us
blessings. Many of the old women cried.

We drove the truck to the Brisas del Mar beach east of Havana. Even the
people at the beach helped us get the raft out on the water. A neighbor
of mine, who had planned on going with us, backed out at the last
minute. And my cousin, who was just supposed to help us get out, ended
up coming along.

We left on Aug. 30, 1994.

I was the guide on the raft. I had the compass. Before we knew it, the
coast of Cuba was gone. We left in the late afternoon so we saw nightfall.

The night out on the water was one of the most impressive things I've
ever experienced. The only light you see is the moon. We would see empty
rafts out on the ocean. I later realized that those probably belonged to
people who didn't make it because when the U.S. Coast Guard rescued
rafters, they would usually sink the raft.

We were out on the ocean for the entire night. Our sail didn't work so
our hands were destroyed from rowing all night. Our drinking water had
been contaminated and we were too nervous to eat.

There was a point when everyone saw an image in front of us on the sea.
I'm not a particularly religious man but, to me, it was an apparition of
the Virgin Mary. She stood in the direction that we were supposed to be
heading. She came at a time when things were getting desperate for us.
Next thing we saw were helicopters.

At this point, night was falling on our second day at sea. We had been
out there for a little more than 24 hours.

We were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and they took us to a ship
that was full of people. We were in bad shape. The ship had the biggest
American flag I have ever seen. For me, it was like an angel hugging us
and welcoming us to the United States. It was the first time I felt safe
since I left Havana's shore. Even in Cuba I didn't feel safe. So it was
the first time I felt that way in a long time.

I knew there was a chance that I wouldn't be able to get into the U.S.
Nothing was guaranteed. But I had to try. The freedom to express myself
and have a voice was worth it.

We were on the ship for about a week. We would travel around the Florida
Straits picking up more people on rafts. Then we finally made it to the
base in Guantánamo.

We stayed in tents on the sand in extremely hot weather and with barely
any clean water. I was in Guantánamo for a little more than two months.
With conditions as bad as they were in Guantánamo, they began building
camps in Panama. Some friends and I decided to go there.

When I got to Panama, all I had on was shorts and shoes that I had made
out of cardboard. I was there for almost four months. In Guantánamo,
they were creating better conditions, so that they could send us back.

Finally, I was able to come here to the United States. I arrived on Aug.
31, 1995.

It then became about a new struggle for a new life. I had to adjust to a
new language and a new system of living. In Guantánamo, there was a
program that taught us about these adjustments. I still work with this
program to help other refugees.

My first job here was at a Pollo Tropical; I lasted there two days. Then
I got a job at a pharmacy.

I went from a place where nobody was allowed to aspire and where
everything was decided for you and given to you, to working at a place
with so many products by all of these different companies. I wasn't used
to having so many options.

That was my first dose of the reality of living in the United States.
Here, they don't teach you, they push you to learn. You have to go look
for work instead of waiting to be told what to do.

In Miami, I feel at home. I love the Cuban atmosphere, the people and
the culture.

Twenty years later, I miss my close family and Havana, where I grew up.
But my life here gives me independence. If I had gotten here when I was
younger, I would've probably flourished more. But I can't complain. I
have everything I need for my life here.

What I want to celebrate 20 years after I fled, is not the fact that I
left on a raft but that I now know that every country has the ability to
be free. I hope that, in the future, every person realizes their
potential in whatever country they're in. So that they don't feel the
need to leave their lives and the people they love to find freedom.

I don't want there to ever be a need again for what we did and what we
went through. For me, that has been the biggest lesson from the past 20
years. I'm grateful to this country for giving me that lesson.

Source: A long journey by raft, and a lesson in freedom - Miami Stories
- - Continue reading
The Associated Press Calls Us 'Mercenaries' / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua
Posted on August 17, 2014

14ymedio, Havana, Manuel Cuesta Morua, 14 August 2014 — Two separate
reports from the American Associated Press (AP) agency, published urbi
et orbi, reproduce a syndrome of certain US media in relation to Cuba,
at least in the last 55 years.
The syndrome began in 1958 with the New York Times journalist Herbert
Matthews, and his sympathetic tale of the bearded ones in the Sierra
Maestra; it could be called the Syndrome of the Ultimate Thule, that
mythical and distant place in classic antiquity beyond the borders of
the known world, where the sun never sets, and the reign of the gods is
behind the customary events occurring on the world stage.

In this undisturbed world, inaugurated by the myth, there is no external
influence—and if there is, it's called 'interference'—its inhabitants
can be treated like idiots, that is they don't think about freedom for
themselves, and certain common words acquire another meaning.

Above all, it's about a world that should not be altered, and any
attempt to do so could only be a conspiracy; generated, naturally, by
external forces. The role of the media is exactly this: to transform
facts, to endorse the vocabulary of those who rule in the name of good,
and show evil as banal.

The Associated Press reports on Zunzuneo and the programs developed by
USAID, an agency of the US government to promote a possible version of
development and democracy, are modeled on the template of this syndrome
and follow its procedures.

If we accept what is put forward by the medium, the promotion of social
networks and civic courses in a territory captured by a dictatorship are
demonstrably illegal acts, not according to the ordinary law ruling the
interior of the kingdom, but according to the discourse of the dictators.

Nothing in Cuban legislation punishes the use a citizen makes of a
digital or educational tool provided from the exterior, whether by a
government or another institution, for legitimate purposes. But with the
enmity between the Cuban autocracy and the democratic providers we have
the necessary ingredient for the AP reporters to mount a case for
conspiracy, harassment and overthrowing, where the only thing that
exists is a project to promote democracy. Nothing else. And this toward
a country–I don't know why AP doesn't report on it—where democratic
ideas and freedom have more roots and antecedents than the "protoideas,"
we could argue, of the Castro regime.

The fundamental questions, far beyond the 'expertise' of USAID, are
whether it is legitimate to promote democracy—it turns out it's less
cynical to argue that you can bring in money from the outside, but not
ideas—and if Cuban citizens consider the Internet or a couple of
prohibited books as interference and manipulation of their brains. And
this latter, judging by the constant police raids prohibiting everything
that can be prohibited, doesn't appear to be the case.

Which the Associated Press can't talk about, unless it is willing to
discuss the existence of USAID itself, which it has the right to do but
that would lead it to question the very legitimacy of democratic changes
anywhere in the world, supported in every case from outside, including
by governments, and reported on by AP.

However, the AP doesn't risk criticizing the legitimacy of the social
purpose of USAID, it only suggests that it designs bad secret projects.
And it lies, using the techniques of the complex lie. How? Through a
report classified as secret that doesn't previously appear published by
the AP.

Certain press engage in the vice of recognizing as public only what is
published, a media tautology that circumscribes the real world to the
newsrooms; for the rest, they're either not aware of it, or it only
exists in the hidden labyrinths of the games of power. It so happens,
however, that USAID programs and funding are exposed to view by anyone
who wants to know about them or criticize them. And indeed they are, for
certain sectors, by their very nature public.

When it feeds the conspiracy theory, the AP has no other choice than to
assume the terminology of the Cuban penal code. For a Cuban, the term
'subversion' that the AP so happily uses in its reports, has made a long
journey from violence to public and peaceful demonstrations of popular
discontent with the brutality of an abusive regime. Thus, it tries to
criminalize the extreme right that helps the people to shake off their
oppression; this time solely through tweeting and civic leadership; a
demonstration, by the way, that people can behave themselves in a more
civilized way than those who oppress them.

Here the AP establishes an equivalence between a dictatorship and a
democracy, as if the criminal codes between the two regimes were
interchangeable and the punishments they mete out are within the same
category. From the depravity of pandering to the rhetoric of the
dictatorship, the press in democratic countries wants to appear aseptic
and condemns people like Alan Gross to ostracism by omission and
journalistic trivialities, and this a man whom everyone knows was not in
a condition to subvert any regime.

Hence the banalization of evil the AP always incurs referring to the
pro-democracy activists. It's odd that in all their reports the term
"mercenary" appears, a term the Government assigns to its opponents in
its periodic table. But doesn't the AP know that "a mercenary" is a
figure in the Cuban penal code but that that section of the code
cites are none of the actions for which the Government calls us mercenaries.

Dictatorships are not rigorous with words, an imponderable for its
specious domination over its citizens; but the free press should use the
language of the dictionary and not the neo-language of the autocrats.

We are still waiting for a report from AP that concludes by saying, "The
dissenters consider the Government to be despotic," to achieve that
balance. Something closer to the facts. In any event, I would like to
record that, according to the penal code, we can be where many of us
are: working for democracy in Cuba, although according to the rhetoric
of power we are mercenaries fighting to subvert the regime. Does the AP
have any objective opinion?

And the money? Well there it is. Money from the American people, both
private and public—not from the Government—that public and private
agencies in the United States destined to dissimilar projects all over
the world, for the benefit of the organizers and governments, with few
exceptions, which don't include the Cuban government, much less its
associated institutions.

In this whole issue of AP and Cuba I have a hypothesis: we are facing a
conflict in the centers of power between the media groups, and those of
the establishment. Which is settled from time to time on the periphery.
Once resolved, Cuba will once again be a dictatorship for the AP,
neither of the left nor the right, but infamous. As are all
dictatorships, in the words of a wise politician.

Source: The Associated Press Calls Us 'Mercenaries' / 14ymedio, Manuel
Cuesta Morua | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Four Cardinal Points / Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on August 17, 2014

They are difficult to count, not to mention uncountable, the projects
carried out in order to find alternative solutions to Cuba's problems.
When I say "alternatives" I'm obviously referring to a broad set of
programs, documents, statements not coming from governmental
institutions, but from that disjointed amalgamation of opposition
parties and civil society entities, both within and outside the Island.

Many of these platforms have tried to encourage an essential unity, few
have managed to do so. One of the reasons for the failure of this unity
of purpose is the inclusion of one or another point that has led to
disagreements. Another reason is the effect of what could be called
"strongman rule in reverse," which consists in opposition leaders
refusing to support a specific program because of the presence among its
signatories of others with whom they have differences.

In an effort to find the minimum consensus, without any specific
organization trying to open the umbrella of leadership, four cardinal
points have arisen in which, so far, the majority seem to agree. Best of
all is that they don't aspire to be the four cardinal points, simply
four points, lacking the definite article. Their principal merit is not
that everyone agrees with them, but that no one appears to be against them.

If we made the incalculable error of saying that these were the only
important points and there were no others, we could be sure that there
would be more detractors than defenders, particularly given our infinite
capacity to add new elements to the list of what needs to be done, of
what must be demanded of the government, or of what motivates citizen

This is the reason why other just demands, which enjoy undisputed
sympathy but no broad consensus, do not appear on the list. One could
mention, for example, the prohibition of abortion, the acceptance of
marriage between same-sex couples, the elimination of military service,
the return of confiscated properties, the opening of judicial processes
against violators of human rights and the ensuing investigation of
crimes committed, the immediate celebration of free elections, the
dissolution of Parliament, the annulment of the Communist Party, or the
rebate of taxes.

There are thousands of demands which, like mushrooms after the rain,
will arise at the instant that political dissent in Cuba is
decriminalized and when, happily, Cuba will be a difficult country to govern

The absence of particulars does not take away from the effectiveness of
these four points which, far from attempting a neutrality to facilitate
their assimilation, constitute a clear commitment to democracy and human
rights, the proof of which is in the enthusiasm that has awakened in our
civil society, and the obvious aversion this is caused among those who rule.

Although they have already been divulged I reproduce them here:

The unconditional release of all political prisoners including those on
The end of political repression, often violent, against the peaceful
human rights and pro-democracy movement
Respect for the international commitments already signed by the Cuban
government, and ratification—without reservations—of the International
Covenants on Human Rights and compliance with the covenants of the
International Labor Organization on labor and trade union rights.
Recognition of the legitimacy of independent Cuban civil society.
14 August 2014

Source: Four Cardinal Points / Reinaldo Escobar | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
"I am optimistic I will see prosperity in Cuba" / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on August 16, 2014

14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2014, Reinaldo Escobar – Pinar del Río born
and bread, and a member of the editorial board of the magazine
Convivencia (Coexistence), Karina Gálvez has made some important
decisions in her life. She wants to continue to live in Cuba, to help
change the country from civil society and some to recover the piece of
patio that the authorities confiscated from her parents' house. Today
she talks with the readers of 14ymedio about her personal evolution, the
Cuban economy, and her dreams for the future.

Question: Isn't it a bit contradictory to be an economist in Cuba?

Answer: When I graduated, the final subject of my thesis focused on the
economic effectiveness of the use of bagasse (sugar cane stalk fiber)
for boards. The result of the investigation was negative, because making
boards in those conditions was expensive and the product quality was
very bad. But they ignored us.

Q: Since the conclusion of your studies you have dedicated yourself to
teaching. Did you ever instill in your students that socialism was the
best way to manage an economy?

A: Thank God, I have taught subjects that are technical rather than
economic theory. Still, I've gotten into trouble. In the course on
economic legislation, I did research in the school where I included many
examples of economic crimes. The "problem" was that I wanted to separate
what was criminal according to current laws, from what was immoral. For
example, one could say "that to kill a cow is a crime, but it's not
immoral if the cow belongs to you and wasn't stolen."

Q: What was your personal transformation to get to where you are today?

A: I was a member of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) and in the late
eighties I knew what was happening in Eastern Europe and the former
Soviet Union. That helped me open my eyes a little. Criticizing within
the ranks of the UJC, I had several penalties, arguments and problems.

Along with these disappointments and my departure from the UJC, I met
with a group of people who were in opposition in Pinar del Río. I
started to hear something different from them and it got me excited.
Later, I learned that the main coordinator of that group worked with
State Security. A friend had lent me her typewriter to write some papers
and then the political police called her in to interrogate her. When she
got there, on the other side of the desk—like one more official—was the
man who ran our opposition cell. Imagine the surprise!

Q: So is that what turned you around?

A: Not at all. In the end the balance was positive because in the almost
clandestine meetings of that group I met a college professor. His name
was Luis Enrique Estrella and he had been fired from his job because of
political problems. He was the person who first took me to the Parish of
Charity where I met Dagoberto Valdés. He was already running a Civic
Center group and that night they debated the subject of the Constitution.

Q: So the Civic Center was already in existence?

A: Yes, it had been founded a few months before, at the beginning of
1993. This initiative was just starting out and once I'd been there the
first time I couldn't let it go. One day Dagoberto asked me to go to a
slum in Pinar del Río with him, to offer the simplest course there,
which was "We are people." So I started out as a cheerleader. In the
Center for Civic Development we came to have computer classes, music,
groups of professionals, educators and computer scientists. Later I
joined the editorial board of the magazine Vitral [Stained Glass] until
it was taken over and in June 2008 along with other colleagues we
founded the magazine Convivencia.

Q: What economic model do you think Cuba needs?

A: I wouldn't like to name a model, but there are issues that are
essential to get Cuba out of this situation in which we find ourselves
now. One of these issues is recognition of the right to economic
initiative, and the right to private property. We need a financial
system that circulates money, which is the "blood" of any economy. Today
in Cuba it's not possible to develop this, given that all the banks are
state-owned, the companies are state-owned, and the citizens have no
right to invest.

As a third point, and here I turn more to the social, we need a tax
system that is efficient and fair, or as fair as possible. We know that
in economics, always with fairness, "we have to cut our suit to fit the
cloth," because we still haven't invented the Kingdom of God. So yes, we
must move towards fairness.

Q: That's the economy. What about politics? What are your preferences?

A: I cannot give it a name, but a political model that is inclusive and
admits of dialog. I'm not talking about complacency, but real dialog. In
Cuba, where we have such a history of caudillos, sectarianism and
authoritarianism, those qualities I just listed would be very important.

Q: Are you optimistic? Do you think you will get to see the change?

A: Yes, and also I will see prosperity in Cuba. I think Cubans have the
ability to make this a prosperous nation in a short time.

Source: "I am optimistic I will see prosperity in Cuba" / 14ymedio,
Reinaldo Escobar | Translating Cuba - Continue reading