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72 Hours to Demolition / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar
Posted on August 31, 2014

14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 26 August 2014 — Impotence and
indignation has spread among residents of La Timba, in the Plaza de la
Revolution municipality, one of the Havana neighborhoods affected by the
Government's war on architectural illegalities. For years, thousands of
families with housing needs built additions their homes, took vacant
land to expand them, or improvised makeshift parking spaces. A campaign
by the authorities against this social indiscipline has put the
spotlight on all these irregularities.

The Housing Institute inspectors, in cooperation with the police, travel
the neighborhoods looking for these "illegalities" and, once they detect
a violation, deliver an order to the homeowner to tear down every inch
of the constructions put up without permission. The situation not only
hurts those affected but puts the serious construction problem in the
country at the center of the debate.

It is estimated that there is a deficit of over 700,000 homes in Cuba.
In addition, 8.5 out of 10 existing dwellings need repairs. During the
year 2013 only 25,634 units were built in the entire country, of which
47.7% were erected by the occupants' own efforts.

Havana is one of the most seriously affected areas, and it is estimated
that it would take about 28,000 new homes to ease the situation.

Jazmin, age is 57, is responsible for three teenage granddaughters. She
lives in La Timba, at the bottom of 39th Street with her husband, who is
about to turn 60. A few years ago, they added two square meters to their
home by taking over part of the building's common garden. Aware of the
family problems that had pushed them to do so, none of the neighbors
ever complained.

"We live with my husband's brother and father. Both are alcoholics,"
says Jazmin. "They're good people but when they're drunk they are
completely transformed." The problems of living together got more acute
and, over time, the family felt forced to divide up the house. "We had
to figure out this little piece to put a kitchen and a bathroom," she
explained, pointing toward a construction made from blocks and a light roof.

Jazmin decided to commit the architectural illegality after her husband,
who worked in construction for three decades, asked for a house but they
weren't given it. The family's economic hardship keeps them from buying
a larger house or renting another space for the problematic relatives.
"If they knock this down, we're going to have defecate in a bucket," she
explains. But the time for herself ended with the collapse of the walls
she built. This Monday the police and inspectors put an end to her
"social indiscipline."

"If they knock this done, we're going to have defecate in a bucket." A
neighbor explains.

Her case is repeated all over the area. Maria and Juana are two elderly
ladies, both over 80, who have surrounded their property with a barbed
wire fence to protect themselves against the many robberies in La Timba
neighborhood. They, also, were given only three days to dismantle the
entire fence, but they've resisted doing it and now have legal documents
to validate it. The Housing Institute, however, alleges that it was
authorized by a prior law and by employees who no longer work for the State.

"What's happening is they woke up pressured by someone from above and,
as it's easier to obey than to question, here they are," as they say
here, "following orders," the older of the elderly ladies points out.

In the midst of the conversation Gladys appears, an impulsive neighbor
who was also required to remove her fence and who shouted, at the top of
her lungs, that she "didn't feel like removing anything," because the
law says that every citizen has the right to protect their home.
Furious, she accuses a neighbor of having built a parking space, sure of
having permission because he works in military counter intelligence.
"That didn't go down well with me, I'm not stupid," she says.

Tempers flare and the clock is ticking. In a few hours the inspectors
will arrive.

Source: 72 Hours to Demolition / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 08.31.14

Young Cuban rafter who played Star-Spangled Banner on boat is now a mom
and teacher in Hialeah

Lizbet Martínez, the Cuban rafter girl who warmed the hearts of U.S.
Coast Guard officers and many others across the nation 20 years ago with
her rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, still has the violin that
made her famous.

Martínez, then 12 years old, became the endearing face of a successful
campaign to bring other children out of Guantánamo refugee camps and
into "the land of the brave and home of the free."

She was among more than 30,000 Cubans rescued in the Florida Straits
during a one-month summer exodus from Cuba that became known as the
rafter, or balsero, crisis.

Today, she's a Florida International University graduate with a music
degree, teaches preschool children in Hialeah and is raising two kids of
her own as a working mom.

But it was the events of two decades ago that made her a part of South
Florida history.

Martínez, who traveled on a makeshift raft with her parents and 10
others, became so famous that she was invited to Tallahassee to play
before then-President Bill Clinton, and was honored by Florida lawmakers
who declared March 29, 1995, as "Lizbet Martínez Day."

During her encounter with Clinton, Martínez handed the president a
ceramic angel and a postcard asking him to "open his heart" and help the
Cuban children who were then still in camps in Guantánamo and Panama. In
return, she received Clinton's promise that the children would be
"relocated in the very near future."

Indeed, the last of the Cuban balseros left the refugee camps in May
1995. Most ultimately made it to the United States under a new
immigration accord that put an end to the mass exodus and required that
most of those interdicted at sea be returned to Cuba to apply for a visa
at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Known as the wet-foot, dry-foot
policy, those who set foot on U.S. land were allowed to remain in the

"When I left Guantánamo [five months after being intercepted at sea],
there were still many children there because the first who were able to
leave were those with medical problems," said Martínez, now a teacher at
a preschool in Hialeah. "And that was my plea to Clinton.

"In Guantánamo, we received an identification band that looked like a
watch, and I told him I would not take it off until the last person was
out," Martínez said. "And I kept my promise. When the last lady got off
the plane, she cut it off, a year later."

What she remembers most from her departure by sea was "the uncertainty
of not knowing if we were going to be rescued. We were so eager to leave
Cuba behind, but once you find yourself alone at sea, that's when you
begin to really pray to God. Thank God, we were rescued at 4 in the

Before the family left Cuba, Martínez was studying violin at the
Alejandro García Caturla conservatory in Havana. She learned how to play
The Star-Spangled Banner, thinking it was a religious hymn, until her
uncle, who is Major League Baseball fan, warned her about the song's

"When we were rescued, they wanted to throw all the contents from the
raft and they wanted to throw out my violin," Martínez said. "They did
not know Spanish, and we did not speak English, but I figured they would
know the American national anthem. So that's when I got my violin and
began to play it. They were super-impressed."

"The captain was so moved that he transmitted what she was playing over
the radio to all the other cutters in the area," Martínez's father,
Jorge Martinez, said in 2003, when the violinist graduated with a music
degree from Florida International University.

Upon her arrival to the United States, Martínez recalls the many Cuban
exile activities she took part in and a community that treated her with
"great affection." Among the many people who reached out was
Cuban-American singer Willy Chirino, who gave her a $3,000 scholarship
to help pay for college.

Now settled into her new life in America, Martínez hesitates when asked
whether she would put her two children on a raft to an uncertain future.

"Back then, we were told that the U.S. Coast Guard was 12 miles off the
Cuban coast," Martínez said. "They were well past the 12 miles, but
luckily nothing happened to us. Thank God, I am not in the position of
having to make that decision, because it is a very difficult one. But I
am very grateful to my parents, who left their own parents behind, so
that I could live in freedom."

While the little Cuban violist received much acclaim and made headlines
all over the world, her story is not known in Cuba. The
government-controlled media never published a word.

Over the past two decades, she has returned several times to visit
family members still on the island.

"One yearns to return because it your homeland, because you miss your
family so much," Martínez said. "And then, when you arrive, when the
plane lands and you get off and say to yourself, 'I'm standing in Cuba
again,' that, for me, is a miracle. Even though it has the problems it
has, it is the country where you were born, it's your culture. I know
there are many people who think one should not go, but I still have my
family there."

At FIU, Martínez earned a degree as a violin soloist, but no longer
performs for large audiences. She also has stopped teaching music due to
cuts in school programs. But she continues to play at her church and at
small events such as weddings, adding that in today's economic climate
there is more demand for DJs than for a string quartet.

"I can play in front of thousands of people, but during auditions in
front of a panel of judges, my nerves betray me," Martínez said with a
chuckle, adding that beyond nerves the opportunities for those who play
classical music are limited.

Among her favorites is the music of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, and
although she rarely plays such complex pieces she enjoys the music in
her preschool classes. "I like the reaction people have to the music,"
she said.

Martínez keeps the violin she brought from Cuba preserved at home as
part of her history.

"In fact, it started to come apart because of the salt during the trip
on the raft. But a priest in Guantánamo gave us glue and we were able to
fix it," she said as she picked up another violin. "I have never been
ashamed to say that I came on a raft and I am proud to be a balsera, truly."

With that, she began to play a popular Cuban melody: the danzonete.

Source: Young Cuban rafter who played Star-Spangled Banner on boat is
now a mom and teacher in Hialeah - Miami-Dade - - Continue reading
The First Cuban Forklifts / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on August 31, 2014

Nelson Espinosa, director general of MONCAR, a business located in the
Havana municipality of Marianao, told the newspaper Granma that the
production of the first 15 Cuban forklifts, a result of collaboration
with the Chinese entity Auto Caiec LTD, distinguished his business's
performance during 2013.

With 40% national integration in terms of physical components, the
equipment is in a testing phase and capable of supporting up to 2.5
tons. We are now in 2014 and they have not manufactured one more. I
suspect that the future of MONCAR is related to the manufacture of the
T-34M war tanks that Raul Castro inaugurated in 1960 and these are the
holy hours when he did not build even one tractor.

Translated by mlk.

18 August 2014

Source: The First Cuban Forklifts / Juan Juan Almeida | Translating Cuba
- Continue reading
To Rigola I Shall Not Return / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on August 31, 2014

Two years ago, after a lot of red tape, long lines and pointless waits
at Immigration, the Spanish embassy and the Plaza Military Committee, I
finally managed to get the son of a friend — a woman who lives overseas
and who had granted me power-of-attorney — exempted from military
service so that the family could be briefly reunited.

Then, a few days ago, she, her husband and her son decided to come here
on vacation to visit family. Everything seemed to be going very well.
The joy of being reunited with family and friends helped mitigate the
enduring economic hardship and deterioration of the country, which are
very noticeable to anyone who comes back after spending time abroad.

The night that marked the return to the "mother country" finally arrived
but a new odyssey had just begun.

After checking their luggage and paying the 25 CUC per person airport
exit tax, an immigration official informed the couple that they could
leave but that their son would have to stay behind because he had not
yet completed his military service. Of course, the parents decided to
stay with their son, but this meant losing their airline tickets, the
exit tax they had already paid and the time spent waiting for their bags
to be returned. There was also the anxiety and aggravation caused by the
incompetence of the system.

Very early the next morning the three of them headed to the Military
Committee to clear up what was clearly a big mistake. The excuse they
were given was that the error had been committed by a "neo-fascist" who,
fortunately, no longer worked there. From there they went to Immigration
to resolve their son's status.

Finally, after waiting for four hours due to a system-wide computer
failure, they left with their problem resolved. The officials offered
their apologies but did not offer the couple any sort of reimbursement.

As a result of all this they have had to forfeit their tickets. The
earliest date the boy and his mother could get a return flight was
October 8, which meant the mother would not be able to get back to work
on time and the boy would not be able to take his upcoming exams
scheduled for September 1. Given this new predicament, the parents went
back to the Military Committee to request a document explaining the
situation which they could give to their son's school in Spain. Their
request was denied, the excuse being that officials there were not
authorized to issue such a document.

My friend's husband, who did finally manage to get a ticket, will have
to leave tomorrow to get back to work. He will try to explain the
situation to the administrators at his son's school in the hope that
they will allow the boy to take the exams upon his return.

When they came over for a visit today, they told us that, unfortunately,
due to this recent experience they had no intention of returning to Cuba
anytime soon, at least not until they could forget everything that had
happened to them.

All told, this may appear to be no big deal. But, to appreciate it, you
had to have to experienced it. This is why, when they finally overcome
all the obstacles and absurdities and manage to finally leave the
country, many Cubans swear to themselves they will never return for fear
of having to relive their bad experiences.

When she told us goodbye today, my friend recalled a line from an old
song: "To Rigola I shall not return."

14 August 2014

Source: To Rigola I Shall Not Return / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
No, No and No Raul Castro / Jose Luis Garcia Antunez
Posted on August 31, 2014

This I believe is the second or third occasion that I write to you, and
as always without the least mood or desire that you answer me, because
given the absolute contempt and disgust that emanates from your person I
can't feel otherwise.

Señor Dictator and Genocide, 24 years and five months ago at barely 25
years, five months and 15 days of age I dared to defy you. Surely your
lackeys and sycophants in the high command of the political police and
the party mentioned it to you.

I remind the dictator, that night you pronounced in the city of Santiago
de Cuba that call to the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba,
and as always with a discourse like so many and like so many of your
brother's, barely a few paid you any attention.

I recall that I was in the plaza that you all call Revolution, where big
loudspeakers transmitted to mute, hungry and above all deaf people your
verbal diarrhea. That was Thursday March 15, 1990, Stalinist Europe was
falling, the old Soviet empire was at the point of disintegrating and
here in the Caribbean a senile caste was clinging to power and refusing
to implement reforms.

For demanding them, that evening, your bullying forces savagely beat me,
their educational bodies tortured me and instructed me so that months
later your lackey judiciary would sentence me to deprivation of liberty
for the famous crime of "oral enemy propaganda."

Señor Dictator, I believe it feasible to confess to you that at the
moment of my detention I was still unaware of the long and proven
history of crime and terror instituted by your brother and you.

From the forced labor, the concentration camps of the UMAP, the sad
history of those captive peoples and not to mention the Castro meddling
in the internal affairs of other countries and in international
conflicts. Maybe because of that lack of knowledge, I only asked for
reforms and screamed that communism was a mistake and a utopia. Today,
after knowing your system better, I ask for its overthrow and I catalog
communism as an aberration and a crime: the social plague of the 20th

It was only enough for me that day to feel that as a young man and a
Cuban, I was not free; that as a social being I lacked something in
order to be able to breathe and walk. I felt that I was prohibited from
speaking and that I must either continue using the mask in order to
avoid problems, or remove it and act and live in accord with myself
although that would mean suffering the most horrible repression.

I did that, I defied you, General without battles. I did it in spite of
your known fame as a cruel and bloodthirsty man. I did it, General and
the only thing that I regret is not having had the valor, the
opportunity or perhaps the possibility of doing it much sooner.

On the other hand, I also have to confess to you that the idea never
entered my mind that such a sickening fury of hatred and harassment was
going to be applied to me.

That in 1993, three years after the arrest and completing my unjust
imprisonment in Cause # 4 of 1990, your famous division for crimes
against State Security in the gloomy Popular Provincial Tribunal of
Santa Clara condemned me again, now in Cause #5 of that year for
supposed acts against your socialist Revolution for which I had to spend
17 years and 38 days of uninterrupted political imprisonment which
offered me the possibility of learning firsthand about torture and
vexation as a weapon of political repression.

Raul Castro, my case is known to you, because it was you and no one else
who ordered the multiple searches and lootings by those who have
victimized me in my home during the last weeks where in the grossest
flaunting of force and impunity you commanded that your cowards and
opportunist assault troops partially destroy my house and steal items
left and right on more than one occasion, goods, office materials,
medications, food during these acts known in the Cuban jargon as acts of
thievery, well, in the end, each does what he is taught.

Señor General, and now that you also title yourself president of the
Councils of State and of Ministers, I know well how many letters
opponents have sent you from within and without asking you to carry out
reforms and political opening as well as to hold elections. They ask it
of you as if you really were a president and as if in Cuba a true
government were in power and not a tyranny.

We know that at any moment, you, a Machiavellian and opportunistic
tyrant, are going to accept what they ask and carry out a referendum,
that is to say, an electoral farce under your control, where like in
Venezuela the totalitarian officialism will continue in power.

And it is no longer a secret for anyone, the desperate and astute
maneuvers that you and your acolytes carry out in order to manufacture
supposed opponents and assure with them the dynastic and ideological

But we warn you, General, which is one of the reasons for this missive,
that we, the decent Cubans committed to the future of our country, we
are not going to accept that fraudulent and cosmetic change that you all
forge. Know also that the Cuban Resistance does not expect or want
reforms implemented by the criminal tyranny over which you preside. The
only reforms to be accepted by us would be after your overthrow or
withdrawal from power, which the people will carry out from their base.

Señor Dictator, enough tricks, because you will not get another new
mandate, that does not even matter to us. That you carry out reforms in
the arena of economics and migration, that is a bunch of lies, and that
does not matter to us, either. That your regime carries out an update of
its model is another fallacy and another lie. That is more of the same.
That you will sell a monetary reform, tremendous trick and lie, General.

We, the people of Cuba, need a democratic system where a market economy
prevails. One, two, three or ten thousand currencies, it does not
matter, as long as there exists a centralized and asphyxiating economy
like your totalitarian system. We, Señor dictator, we do not want you,
nor reforms nor openings, you people are not our owners, nor do you need
to dictate our guidelines.

We know that your time on the earth is running out, and that powerful
interests have shown the intention of playing the game or dividing juicy
profits at the cost of the pain and sacrifice of the Cuban people.

General Raul Catro, warning about the danger of the fraudulent change,
you ordered killed Oswaldo Paya and young Harold Cepero. I doubt that
you now have enough goons to keep killing the thousands and thousands
that like Paya and Harold will keep denouncing your tricks and constant

For Laura Pollan, a defenseless woman, you sent your paid assassins to
get you out of it, because you could not defeat her in her marches every
Sunday on Avenue Quinta. It did not matter to you her condition as a
woman and the justice of her cry. But also Laura defeated you, coward
General, because her valiant troops of the Ladies in White survived the
cruel execution of their leader and now spread like patriotic wildfire
across the whole Island.

And they have also defeated you: Pedro Luis Boitel, Olegario Charlotte
Pileta, Orlando Zpata, Wilman Villar and many others who had the courage
to sacrifice themselves in the name of liberty and in respect for their
dignity, this honor that you lack as well as your goons who threatened
me with death in reprisal for my slogan that "I won't shut up and I
won't leave Cuba."

They themselves, also, barely some days ago, during one of the many
arrests of which I have been victim, tortured and beat me, now that
according to them and you, I sabotage the efforts of your tyranny to
normalize relations with the United States.

Know General Raul Castro that neither the absurd precaution of house
arrest that weighs against me and the evident threat of being
assassinated, will be able to make me change my purpose which is shared
by thousands and thousands of Cubans.

You all will not be able, Raul Castro, to crush a people who have grown
tired of living without freedom, just as you will not be able to
materialize the international conspiracy that is conceived against the
cause of freedom for Cuba. That conspiracy, Raul Castro, will not have
success, whether it comes from Havana, Washington, Brussels or Vatican
City itself. You people will not be able, General, because as much as
you, your family or that cruel and bloodthirsty party may know, you will
be excluded from all process of democratic change because you all mean
the negation of democracy itself.

And tell your subordinates, General, that I am here and will be, in my
beloved homeland of Placetas from which neither you nor your repressive
forces nor anyone will remove me, and that my humble home, although
profaned, vandalized and sacked by your faction, will continue being a
bastion of Resistance, fight, refuge and sanctuary for my compatriots
who fight against you and in favor of liberty and justice.

And tell them also, General, your promoters and accomplices, whether
your spokesmen are in Miami, Washington, Brussels, Havana or the Vatican
itself to stop rubbing their hands, we say no to your preservation of
the status quo because here in Cuba there will be no reconciliation
without there first being justice, liberty and democracy.

And, as we foresee, also tell some governments that call themselves
democratic and are in on the conspiracy, that they are wasting time,
General, that the event that we Cubans need and hope for international
solidarity, does not mean that some country or foreign power, as very
powerful or influential as it may be, is going to form part of our
process of change, because Cubans, those who are within and those who
are without, we are convinced that the solution for Cuba has to be and
must be resolved among Cubans, excluding of course you people, General,
who because of the damage that you have done to our nation, do not even
deserve to call yourselves Cubans.

Raul Castro Ruz, in the name of the people of Cuba, my fellow prisoners
and the victims of your dictatorship, I tell you no, no and no.

From Placetas, in the heart of Cuba, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez,"
who will not shut up or leave Cuba.

Translated by mlk.

21 August 2014

Source: No, No and No Raul Castro / Jose Luis Garcia Antunez |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Suchel, a State Monopoly With Feet of Talcum Powder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez
Posted on August 30, 2014

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 29 August 2014 — Just outside the Tienda
Ultra (Ultra Store), an illegal seller advertises deodorants and
colognes. It is precisely in August, this terribly hot month, when the
shortage of hygiene products aggravates the bad odors and other
annoyances. The problem has made the pages of the official newspaper
Granma, which this Thursday published a story looking for answers to the
lack of soap, cologne, toilet paper and deodorant. The text reveals the
tortuous and inefficient ways of Cuban centralization.

The director general of the Cuban company Union Suchel said that
"funding cuts" have limited purchases of raw materials. The statement of
this official contrasts with the monopoly status of this well-known
industry. Suchel has reigned for decades in the domestic market, given
the absence of competitors to push down prices, diversify the product
line and improve the quality of the offerings. Instead, the perfume,
talcum powder and detergent giant has taken advantage of the privilege
of being a State-majority consortium with zigzagging foreign capital.

For 2104, Suchel developed a "reduced production plan" due to the
financial problems facing the entity. Even so, the volumes coming out of
its factories point to mammoth nature of the company still so
influential in its decline. Deliveries for this year in the unrationed
market should reach 17 thousand tons of laundry soap, 17.9 thousand tons
of hand soap, and 9.6 thousand tons of liquid detergent. Packing,
transporting and distributing such quantities has become a real
headache, especially in a country where corruption and the diversion of
resources act as leaks, sucking dry the sources of products and services.

The position of guard in one of the many company plants trades on the
black market for more than 5,000 Cuban convertible pesos

Suchel is undermined by the theft and embezzlement, an issue not
addressed by the article published in Granma. The position of guard in
one of the many company plants trades on the black market for five
thousand Cuban convertible pesos. Working in one of those jobs
guarantees the fortunate employee "under the table" earnings that exceed
in three days what a doctor earns in a month.

The work of the guard consists of simply looking away, to allow the
majority of the merchandise slip away, unregistered in the accounts.
These undeclared goods are sold in the State's own "hard currency
collection stores" (as they're called). The profit is distributed among
the managers, drivers and the industry's own security guards.

In the absence of a free market to test the efficiency of Suchel in
competitive circumstances, the monopoly will continue to impose prices,
quality standards and high costs, as well as to cause chronic supply

Source: Suchel, a State Monopoly With Feet of Talcum Powder / 14ymedio,
Rosa Lopez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Angel Santiesteban, Being Held in Military Unit to the West of Havana /
Posted on August 30, 2014

14ymedio, Havana, 2 August 2014 — Writer Ángel Santiesteban has been
relocated to a prison under the control of Border Guard Troops in the
Flores neighborhood near the town of Jaimanita, west of Havana. After
weeks of uncertainty and conflicting information, a reporter for
14ymedio was able to locate and see this military unit.

For three weeks Santiesteban's situation has become even more confusing
after the authorities in charge of keeping him under custody in the
prison center in the Lawton neighborhood declared that he has "escaped."
He was immediately taken to the police station at Acosta and Diez de
Octubre Streets, where he could only receive visits from his closest

Freelance journalist Lilianne Ruiz, after touring the different places
where it was stated that the writer being held, was able to see him and
talk to him through the blinds. The guards of the Border Guard Troops
confirmed to the journalist that Santiesteban is considered a "special

Santiesteban himself assured Ruiz that he is not being prosecuted for a
new offense, and that a brief letter will appear in his blog, The
Children Nobody Wanted, explaining everything that happened during the
last days.

Ángel Santiesteban serving a five-year sentence for the alleged crime of
violation of domicile. Multiple irregularities during his trial have
been denounced by activists and independent lawyers. A couple of weeks
ago Reporters Without Borders released a statement calling on the Cuban
government to clearly state the fate of the narrator and journalist.

Source: Angel Santiesteban, Being Held in Military Unit to the West of
Havana / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo
Posted on August 30, 2014

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 – Henry Constantin is
a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine's Day, 30
years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his
ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent
publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For
years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia
(Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the
challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from
university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban
nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither
did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá.

Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance
enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed,
and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion.
Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being
that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That
was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, "take
care of that and don't worry about absences."

My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.

Q: Even so, you tried again…..

A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara
journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the
FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university's Internet
lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there
that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named
La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but
still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba
(Cuba's Hour) replaced it.

When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio
script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast
media in Camagüey.

Q: Were you allowed to present it?

A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of
that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for
resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism
of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at
the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper,
La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to

So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the
Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.

I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the
university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They
informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue
of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!

Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep
me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper
Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my
journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.

Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?

A: I don't surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude
tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of
audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While
at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto
Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting
Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones
Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).

Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero
(Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were
served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the
institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited
Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.

In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me
they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school.
At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I
resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once
again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at
the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university
student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.

Q: And after the third expulsion?

A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour)
project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of
the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and
music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance
by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo
Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his
audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also

To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors,
courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been
instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and
others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation
from me to participate.

The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that
time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told
her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account
where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is
funded by the CIA.

Q: Have you gone back to your studies?

A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One
People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies
here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United
States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of
business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience
for me and I learned a lot.

Q: And now?

A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60
years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left
over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have
to wait.

Translator's notes:
* Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot
José Martí.
**Martí is referred to as the "Apostle of Cuban Independence".

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin,
Reinaldo Escobar | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Touring Cuba by bicycle: Take the challenge
Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2014 12:15 am
Ken Youngblood

So you've flirted with the dream of touring Cuba by bicycle. Go for it.
But not because the media tell you it's a "cyclist's paradise." Go
because there are no real legal obstacles you can't overcome and you are
sure to leave the island wiser, both in terms of the body politic and,
more importantly, an emotional wisdom sharpened by a wondrous people.
Cuba's road system is a bicycler's nightmare. No wonder horses and
bicycles vastly outnumber cars and trucks. Most likely a vintage guzzler
— you can breathe in the half century of plying these roads in their
billowing black belch.
Because of the U.S. embargo and Cuba's failed experiment with Socialism,
road surfaces are neglected beyond belief. Equip your bike with strong
rims and wide tires to cushion the constant jarring and minimize flats.
Then, too, you'll have to endure long, flat stretches of monolithic
agriculture with little in the way of food and lodging. So concentrate
your time on the best areas for bicycling and take advantage of the
nationwide bus system to skip the dull terrain. For an extra $5 Víazul
will carry your bicycle.
Whatever you do, spend time in Valle de Viñales, Bahia de Cochinos, and
the highway slithering the southeastern coast in the shadow of the
Sierra Maestra, mountains so remote Batista's military never found
Fidel's revolutionaries.
Because Viñales is popular with tourists, the roads there are about the
best you'll experience. You'll ride lush green valleys where oxen and
horses graze against the backdrop of towering mogotes whose limestone
made Viñales the heart of tobacco country. We spent nearly a week there,
hiking, bicycling and on horse exploring the communal paths meandering
from one little cluster of houses to another. Wherever we went oxen
worked the fields to commands issued by the man behind the plow, his
soft voice a constant lulling. A bicycler can thank his gods: tractors
compact the earth too much for tobacco's taste.
Yes, Bahia de Cochinos or as history knows it, the Bay of Pigs, is one
of those must-see destinations. And not just because of the roadside
signs and memorials that boast being the only nation to have defeated
American imperialism.
Today it's tourists who invade the Bay of Pigs. The best offshore
snorkeling and diving in this hemisphere draws tourists to the 70
kilometers of coastal highway from Playa Larga at the head of the bay to
Playa Girón at its mouth. Wherever we stepped offshore, we experienced a
startling variety of corals and colorful fish. So strap your snorkeling
gear on the back rack.
Try to avoid Bahia de Cochinos in late March or early April or you will
be caught up in the slaughter that occurs during the Migración Anual de
los Cangrejos. Crabs by countless millions migrate to the sea to lay
their eggs. Every day, thousands per highway kilometer are crushed and
smeared under the wheels of buses, the sound of shells popping audible
to the tourists holding handkerchiefs up to their noses to shield them
from the stench.
And once the Discovery Channel videoed the carnage, the government's
Transfur buses for tourists were so packed they had to add more runs.
Bahia de Cochinos had become a tourist destination. Making the slaughter
even greater.
Bicyclers can thank bumbling Socialism and Sandy's fury for what
bicyclers see as their mecca in Cuba. The road that hugs the coast from
Manzanillo to Guantánamo. This stretch of Cuba's southeast coast once
was busy with tourists. Every turn exposes yet another vista of mountain
and sea in collision. But here is where Sandy made landfall, mangling
bridges and eating up kilometer after kilometer of pavement where ocean
and mountain afforded narrow passage. Now long sections of this route
are passable only by horse, four-wheel drive … and bicycle.
Broken asphalt or washed out road bed, the going is tough on a bicycle,
but the seclusion is worth the price.
One final word to the wise:
Stay in the many casa particulares that dot towns from one end of the
island to the other. In a concession to free enterprise, the government
grants licenses to families to rent out rooms. The government collects
over half the rent, but there is no way of tracking how many meals a day
tourists eat in a casa. You will sit down to more than a few lobster
dinners prepared by professional chefs who have learned taking care of
one couple for one night can pay more than a month at a restaurant. You
will be casting one more vote for free enterprise each time you sit down
to a delicious meal invariably priced $4, $6, $8 or $10.
By no means is touring Cuba easy, but as is so often true with a
bicycle, the more challenging the ride, the more wonderful memories mark
the route.
Ken Youngblood, who made a career writing and teaching writing, is the
first place winner of seven Distinguished Writing Awards in the New York
News Publishers Association Award for Excellence competitions. In 1992
he was honored with the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching
from then Chancellor Johnstone of the State University of New York.

Source: Touring Cuba by bicycle: Take the challenge - The Taos News:
Lifestyle - Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 08.31.14 Coast Guard repatriates Cuban, Haitian migrants THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MIAMI -- The U.S. Coast Guard has repatriated 86 migrants it says were illegally migrating from Cuba and Haiti. The Coast Guard said in a statement Satu... Continue reading
Another Member of the Magazine 'Coexistence' is Cited by Police / 14ymedio
Posted on August 29, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 August 2014 – In an escalation that started weeks
ago, another member of the editorial board of Convivencia (Coexistence)
magazine has been summoned by the police. This Wednesday Javier Valdes
received a citation for the following day at 5:00 PM, at the National
Revolutionary Police (PNR) station in Pinar del Rio. Other notifications
were sent a couple of weeks ago to Karina Galvez, Juan Carlos Fernandez
and William Rodriguez, members of the editorial team and collaborators
on the independent publication.

Convivencia is a magazine created in the westernmost Cuban province,
that recently celebrated its sixth anniversary and 40 issues. Its topics
include culture, civil society, debates about the economy and politics,
but also cover pastoral and ethical issues. Since its inception, the
publication has been the object of police pressure and its director,
Dagoberto Valdes, has been treated especially aggressively in the
official media.

Pressures have also come from the General Customs of the Republic, who
confiscated cameras and laptops from Karina Galvez and Juan Carlos
Fernández after a recent trip abroad.

Source: Another Member of the Magazine 'Coexistence' is Cited by Police
/ 14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
What Does a Cuban Bring Home in Her Suitcase? / 14ymedio
Posted on August 29, 2014

Nuria retired last year and this month she traveled to Miami, where her
sisters live. On returning to the Island she showed 14ymedio what she
brought home in her suitcase.

Let's take a look at what she threw in her bags with brief comments from
her about why she chose each product.

Two bottle of dishwashing soap. "There isn't any in the spiritual
centers and what they do sell here destroys my hands."
Two packages of napkins: "In the snack bars they cut them in two and
even in four, making them real onion skins."
A stove lighter: "There aren't any matches in the stores, and when you
find them the heads fall off and burn my clothes."
Two packages of bath soap: "I've spent years without washing myself with
something soft and creamy, so I just couldn't resist."
Four pairs of jeans: "They last and I'm not going to pay the price the
State charges for them in its boutiques."
A package of coffee: "I know it seems like a crime, but I'm going to mix
it with what I get from the ration book and it'll last me longer."
Two bottles of cologne: "Since Suchel reduced production, it's something
refreshing and fragrant for after the bath which has become a luxury."
A packet of washing detergent: "I have clothes that are a little grimy
and I'm going to see if this can restore the colors."
A paper datebook: "The doctor who operated on my cataracts asked me for
something to write down her appointments and I can't go wrong with her."
Four scouring pads: "With the ban on traders [importing such things for
resale], mops and sponges have disappeared."
A package of instant glue: "I need it to glue together things that have
broken around the house."
A package of candles: "I'm preparing for the blackouts, because every
now and then the lights go out."
Ten condoms: "At my age I don't think you need them, but I brought them
for my daughters because they say the ones at the pharmacy are past
their expiration date."
A jar of CoffeeMate: "I'm going to invite my friends to have a little
coffee with this, to remind us of the old times."
Two towels: "The only one I have I bought a decade ago and there's so
little left of it it doesn't even dry you."
20 bouillon cubes: "This fixes a meal, if I don't have anything to go
with the rice I throw in a cube and at least it tastes of something."
Two tubes of tomato concentrate: "I have so many cravings to eat some
good spaghetti with real tomatoes, I couldn't resist."
Five school notebooks: "My granddaughter is starting elementary school
in September and the study materials they give them there are poor quality."
A tube of toothpaste: "My prosthesis will be gleaming with this."
Two boxes of Tampax: "My daughters are dying for this, because the
sanitary napkins on the ration book are annoying and not very absorbent.
A package of disposable plates: "I want for at least one day to have the
pleasure to invite someone to eat and not have to scrub the dishes."
Two rolls of toilet paper: "There is none in the stores and the
newspaper Granma is printed on rougher and rougher paper, so I wanted to
treat myself to something soft but sturdy."
A swimsuit: "You'd think we didn't live on a tropical island considering
the high price of suits in the stores."
A bottle of aspirins: "When I have a headache I prefer some real
aspirins, not the kind that when you take them they stick in your
throat… like the ones they make in Cuba."
A jar of ointment: "I'm old, I have to have something on hand for sore
A roll of plastic bags: "My sisters laughed because I brought these, but
they don't know how many stores and markets there are that after you buy
the merchandise they tell you they don't have any bags to carry the
A blood pressure monitor: "I'm tired of going to the family doctor and
finding there's no one there, because the doctor is on a foreign mission
or because the water is off."
Four razors: "So I don't have to go out looking like a pirate with hair
A bottle of salt: "This isn't easy to find here and when you can buy it
it's so damo and heavy it will barely pour."
Four incandescent bulbs: "I can't remember when I had light on the
terrace and in the hallway because the energy-saving bulbs aren't
available and when you can find them they cost an arm and a leg."
Some reading glasses: "I bought them in a wholesale market but at least
I solved the problem, because in the Miramar opticians they wanted to
charge me ten times more for some similar ones."
Powdered onion and garlic: "Onions and garlic are so expensive in the
agricultural markets that I can't buy them."
A small tin of olive oil: "I don't want to die without experiencing that
taste again."
A universal remote control: "The one for my Panda television that they
gave me during the energy revolution broke years ago."
A DVD player: "My trip was especially to bring back this, because the
truth is that I can't stand the official programming."
Nuria has also traveled with a handbag in which she brought personal
belongings and some underwear. She's happy about her "treasures," so she
shuts the suitcase, smiles and goes home to distribute the gifts and
enjoy what she brought.

Source: What Does a Cuban Bring Home in Her Suitcase? / 14ymedio |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
You Can't Come In / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez
Posted on August 28, 2014

14ymedio, Havana, Rosa Lopez, 27 August 2014 – "You can't come in," a
young doorkeeper emphatically tells a young man, while gesturing for him
to move away from the door. When the target protests, he receives the
explanation that in this crowded Havana club, "you can't enter wearing
shorts." A sign posted at the entrance warns that the place, "reserves
the right of admission."

The story is repeated in many other places in Havana. The Charles
Chaplin Cinema downtown posts a sign with entry restrictions. When you
ask an employee if the rules are dictated by higher body, she says, "No,
no. Management is in charge, there's no law. We are the ones who
decide." And she adds, "We don't allow people without shirts, or wearing
flipflops, or behaving inappropriately." It's not unusual to see,
however, flexible rules for foreigners. An Italian in short shorts—which
could be confused with a bathing suit—passed through the lobby without
being ejected.

In 2010, the Chaplin Cinema refused entry to a group of people trying to
attend the premier of the documentary Revolution about the hip-hop group
Los Aldeanos. Some of these citizens drafted a legal demand against the
entity, charging that the segregation was based on ideological reasons,
because they were activists, bloggers and musicians from the dissident
scene, but it was unsuccessful in court. Years later, the downtown movie
theater still sports a sign with restrictions on entry.

Welcome Cubans, but…

In 2008, one of the first steps taken by Raul Castro on assuming power
was to allow Cubans access to hotels. According to the General
President, that decision was meant to avoid the emergence of "new
inequalities." Nevertheless, native Cubans still can't enjoy all the
recreational areas of the country. The boats that run along the coast,
the marine enclaves along stretches of the coast, and some keys still do
not allow Cubans residing on the Island where they were born.

By the Bay of Cienfuegos a pleasure boat sails which doesn't allow any
Cubans to enjoy the excursion.

By the Bay of Cienfuegos a pleasure boat sails which doesn't allow any
Cubans to enjoy the excursion. The reason, according to several dock
workers, is fear that that the boat could be hijacked in an illegal
attempt to leave the country. The argument reveals the drama of
emigration, but also the continuing existence of an apartheid that makes
those born in this land second-class citizens. The measure also violates
the Cuban Constitution which guarantees, in Article 43, that all Cubans
have the right to use, "without segregation, maritime, rail, air and
road transport."

So far, there are no national guidelines that justify such segregation
procedures, especially in State facilities, where it is established that
they are projected by law. Outside Pepitos Bar, located on 26th Avenue
downtown, there is a sign that shows the use and abuse of the right
admission "They are rules imposed by the administration," says a worker
at the center who didn't want his name revealed.

The existing Penal Code establishes one to three years imprisonment or a
300,000 share* fine for an official who arbitrarily exceeds the legal
limits of his or her competency. However, none of the lawyers consulted
by this newspaper could remember a trial against any administrator or
director of a public facility for irregularities in the "right of

The "house rules" that govern some public sites in Cuba go against even
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to its Article 133,
"Every person as the right to circulate freely," and Article 27 also
adds that every citizen "has the right to freely form a part of the
cultural life of the community."

Several State restaurants on Obispo Street prohibit nationals from
talking with tourists.

Attorney Wilfredo Vallín, director of the Cuban Law Association,
published an article on the site Primavera Digital (Digital Spring), in
which he asserted that "restricting, and at the extreme not permitting,
access to public places to people who behave correctly, don't cause
disturbances, don't bother anyone, is illegal."

Several State restaurants on Obispo Street prohibit nationals from
talking with tourists. Management claims the right to expel people from
the premises under the pretext that they are annoying foreign customers.
However, cases of verbal reprimands or expulsions of tourists for
annoying a Cuban with their insinuations or proposals are unheard of.
Having a passport from another country appears to grant carte blanche in
these situations.

*Translator's note: Under Cuban law fines are set as a number of
"shares"; the value of a single share can then be adjusted, affecting
all the fines, without having to rewrite every law.

Source: You Can't Come In / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Different Times / Fernando Damaso
Posted on August 29, 2014

In my far-off childhood, extracurricular organizations — whether public
or private — were concerned principally with sponsoring weekend trips to
interesting natural locations, cultural institutions or factories.

The goal was to encourage our love of nature, expand our general
knowledge, provide opportunities to attend age-appropriate entertainment
events, enhance participation in sports, arrange excursions to the
beach, and other such activities.

We were also involved in social service activities such as participating
in public health campaigns, collecting donations for the blind, cancer
treatment, park improvements and other causes. We were interested in all
of them. They motivated us and taught us civic and social
responsibility. We were never used as tools for political or ideological

I noticed that the Pioneers of Cuba* have recently announced changes for
the upcoming season of activities. It will be interesting to see if
these changes are intended to depoliticize the organization by
prohibiting children from participating in acts of repudiation to a
reggaeton beat, public protests against the "eternal enemy" with
speeches written by their teachers, gatherings in support of the
"eternal commander," and similar activities which have been routine for
years. I believe these changes are intended "to test the maturity,
initiative and sense of responsibility of the pioneers, and their
ability to discern, decide and act."

The organization's designated president — an official from the Young
Communist Pioneers well past the age of her members — has also decreed
that beginning September 1, the season's start date, children and
adolescents will be required to condemn subversive actions by U.S.
government against Cuba, and participate in actions in solidarity with
the Cuban Five, the children of Palestine and other peoples. Very
appropriate childhood activities, I am sure.
Why not let children be children and allow them to experience their
childhoods without imposing adult hatreds? From the moment you are born,
you are allotted a pioneeer neckerchief in your ration book, even if
neither you nor your parents want it. Most people just go along because,
if they refuse, "the road to hell" awaits them. Ironically, most of
those who have emigrated or are in the process of emigrating were once

In reality there should be other changes, such as dropping the
requirement that children join the Pioneers. As things stand now, the
change that has been announced simply amounts to more of the same.
*Translator's note: A communist youth organization with activities
similar to those of the Boy Scouts but with an additional focus on
communist ideology. Children enter into the organization in elementary
school and continue until adolescence, at which point they often join
the Young Communist League. In Cuba members' uniforms include a
characteristic red or blue neckerchief.

23 August 2014

Source: Different Times / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Dominican, Cuban authorities sign immigration agreement

Santo Domingo.- As a result of the Seventh Round of Cuba-Dominican
Republic Migration Talks, which took place at the Foreign Relations
Ministry, the two countries signed an immigration agreement aimed at
regulating illegal immigration.

The agreement was signed by Immigration Agency director Jose Taveras and
Consular and Immigration Affairs Deputy minister Nelly Perez. The Cuban
delegation was headed by ambassador Rafael Daussa, who was accompanied
by Cuban ambassador in the Dominican Republic Alexis Bandrich Vega.

According to, Taveras said that due to the lack of
opportunitiethe and the existance of inequalities, the migration
phenomenon will continue to be a problem that requires attention by the
states. "That is why cooperation for the order and legality in migration
flows is an imperative in our times."

Smuggling cases involving Cubans, including baseball players, have been
heard lately in Santo Domingo and Santiago courts. Among the Cuban
professionals who have migrated to the Dominican Republic illegally are
journalists, doctors and teachers.

Source: Dominican, Cuban authorities sign immigration agreement - - Continue reading
Cuba in Search of Lost Hopes
August 28, 2014
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — "I don't care how bad things in Spain are. I'm not going
back to Cuba, there's no future for me there," a Cuban woman said to me
in Barcelona, where she has lived for the last 10 years. She has been
working as a house cleaner since arriving in Spain and does not pay
social security taxes (which means she also won't be entitled to a pension).

A friend of mine who has a prosperous business on the island has also
decided to emigrate, "because there's no future for my children in
Cuba." He has two teenage sons whose US college tuitions he will not
likely be able to afford.

Practically everyone who decides to leave the country repeats this
ready-made phrase, even though it is far from accurate, as there's a
future for everyone everywhere. The days ahead of us may be better or
worse, but they still await us, even after death, when we turn to dust.

Politicians promise common folk a better future everywhere in the world.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, for instance, promises she will
continue to reduce poverty and unemployment, broaden medical coverage
and build hundreds of thousands of homes. She offers people hope.

In Cuba, however, the future is uncertain. Nearly no one knows where the
country is heading and many fear a regression to the times of
Soviet-styled socialism. No few of Cuba's self-employed have told me
they have set up their business now to "take advantage of the situation
while it lasts."

Cubans move forward without knowing their final destination,
experiencing agreeable moments in which doors begin to open and absurd
prohibitions are eliminated, and bitter ones, in which restrictions as
irrational as those recently applied to private 3D home theaters are
imposed on them.

As though this toing-and-froing weren't enough, the government makes a
point of repeating, time and time again, that the country isn't
undergoing reforms but a simple "updating" of its economic model.
Ironically, Miami backs this assertion, saying that these are mere
cosmetic changes.

However, and no matter how much people on either end try to conceal
this, some root structures have been changed, such as substituting
radical egalitarianism with a formula that consists in giving all
citizens the same opportunities while allowing for different levels of

With the authorization of self-employment, a type of employment which
already accounts for half a million Cubans, Cuba tacitly acknowledged
the legitimacy of private control over the means of production (even
though it continues to be restricted to small-scale properties).

This includes the possibility of hiring personnel, something which
legalizes the operation of small companies in some production and
services sectors. To facilitate the process, new businesses do not pay
any taxes for the first 5 employees they hire.

The concept of "proletarian internationalism", through which Cuba aided
other countries free of charge, has been transformed into "South-South"
cooperation and has become the country's main source of hard currency
revenue, securing incomes above those brought in by remittances, tourism
and nickel exports combined.

The opening of the borders has a conceptual scope that goes beyond the
mere simplification of migratory procedures. It is an acknowledgement of
Cubans' right to travel and emigrate on behalf of the Cuban State.

It isn't hard to see the changes that have taken place and it may be
possible to discern those on the horizon, but the fact is that no one
knows for certain what kind of society the Cuban government seeks to build.

Young people don't know whether they will be permitted to travel more
than their parents were, new businesspeople don't know how much they'll
be permitted to grow and workers are unaware as to how much longer they
will be expected to live on measly salaries and the elderly on their
miniscule pensions.

After a decades-long standstill, the train has suddenly been set in
motion again and is now making slow progress down the rails. The
citizens, sitting inside the wagons, watch the stations go by but very
few know for certain where they are heading.

This uncertainty is what makes many Cubans think that neither they nor
their children will have any future in their country. It is what drives
many to leave the country in search of a train with a clearly-defined
destination, even if that involves cleaning houses for a living.

One cannot appeal only to people's faith: certainties are also needed to
rekindle their hopes.
(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg's blog.

Source: Cuba in Search of Lost Hopes - Havana - Continue reading
Company to tour Cuba via yacht By Gay Nagle Myers Group IST, a new entrant in the people-to-people programs from the U.S. to Cuba, is offering a twist on an eight-day island tour: Travelers, joined by Cuban specialists and an interpreter, explore th... Continue reading
Economic Transformation and Institutional Change in Cuba
By: Antonio F. Romero Gómez

Editor's note: This paper is currently only available in Spanish. The
English translation is forthcoming.

In Economic Transformation and Institutional Change in Cuba, Antonio
Romero, a Cuban academic at the University of Havana who specializes in
international economy, analyzes the economic and institutional changes
that have occurred in Cuba in recent years (2011-2014). He raises some
of the most important institutional challenges facing Cuban society
today and highlights what remains to be done in this respect in the
reform process.

Romero concludes that excessive gradualism in the rate of the reforms
could lead to further complication: it is almost imperative that reforms
be undertaken simultaneously in order to create conditions in which the
new forms of economic organization operate efficiently. Also, advancing
the reform process will necessarily involve an exercise of institutional
innovation. This should utilize the high educational level of the Cuban
population. Furthermore, the reduction of the state apparatus, the clear
delineation of business and government functions and the creation of a
network of heterogeneous firms promote a better institutional
environment that will facilitate economic growth through improved
conditions for microeconomic performance. Meanwhile, the relaunch of the
non-state sector and the consequent changes in the tax system create
prospects for a significant change in the relationship between the state
and citizens, but this will take time and in any case will depend on the
dimensions that actually reach the private and cooperative sectors.
Finally, Romero notes that an important and essential challenge is to
keep in mind the interlinkages between social policy and economic policy
to ensure sustainable growth.

This paper was prepared for a series of expert workshops on Cuban
economic change in comparative perspective organized by the Foreign
Policy Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution and the
University of Havana's Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy and the
Center for the Study of the International Economy. It was presented at
an experts' seminar in Havana, Cuba on September 26, 2013 and was
subsequently revised. The papers being prepared for this series will be
collected in an edited volume and published by Brookings in November 2014.


Source: Economic Transformation and Institutional Change in Cuba |
Brookings Institution - Continue reading
Cuba: Hygiene Product Shortages Continue
August 28, 2014

HAVANA TIMES — Periodic shortages of home and personal hygiene products
marketed in stores selling in both regular pesos and hard currency will
remain for the remainder of 2014, reported the official press on Thursday.

In the early months of this year products such as deodorant and toilet
paper disappeared from the market almost entirely, and others like
colognes, powders, shaving razors and cream, polish remover, degreasing
soaps, hydrochloric acid and chlorine bleaches, are among the products
that have failed to "stabilize".

The Communist Party daily said the phenomenon is due tofinancial
restraints thatlimited thepurchase ofraw materials andthereforeproduction.

This year the island will produce only 16% of the talcum powder produced
in 2013, while production of colognes won't reach 40%. "Given these
numbers, it is difficult to predict a recovery for this semester," says
Granma, although significant increases were announced for 2015.

Many visitors to Cuba bring toiletries and hygene products with them to
give as gifts, well aware of how difficult it can be to obtain what are
very day products in other countries.

Source: Cuba: Hygiene Product Shortages Continue - Havana - Continue reading
Posted on August 27, 2014


The power of Castro's dictatorship couldn't rely only in the
annihilation of all kind of opposition, despite the fact that, since
January 1959, its governability depended on fear (out of pure terror) to
reduce a plural society to military obedience, ideological hatred, and
apartheid, whether geographical (in the case of the exiled for life) or
uncivil (for those resisting as pariah on an Island turned into a labor
camp behind The Iron Curtain). Detaching our homeland from its
hemispheric context put us into orbit as a satellite of the totalitarian
axis of the Cold War: the best alternative for the new class —now a
gerontocracy elite in their eighties— to keep control in perpetuity, or
at least for over a dozen of White House administrations.

The power of Castro's dictatorship necessarily had to rely also on
violence and, for so many —let's say— people of good-will in the world,
the beauty implicit in the narrative of The Revolution, with its ritual
of burying a decadent past in order to resurrect it in a fertile future,
as all revolutionary rhetorics promotes itself. To the image and
likeness of those historical guerrillas, nowadays only octogenarians
inside Cuba remember what presidential elections are all about. Such a
legacy leaves a discouraging anthropological damage if we are ever to
move forward from the Castrozoic Era.

Our citizenship was homogenized as soldiership, under the vertical rule
of a personality cult, as a justification to survive against a foreign
foe meant to last forever: nothing less than the first economy and war
potency of the First World, an anthological archenemy called
Imperialism. But nobody believes in this Fidelity fable anymore. And,
after half a century of officially sequestering the sovereign will of
our nation, it's about time for Cubans to recover their own voice, since
the Castros' long-lasting regime is the one who should retire in silence.

Our historical circumstances are critical today for those determined to
restore democracy in what was once called the Switzerland of The
Americas. The long-sought transition is finally on its way, 25 years too
late after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The demands of a peaceful civil
society are being dealt with by the Cuban government not as inherent to
human dignity, but as privileges and concessions for those who keep
quiet, fostering even more the hypocrisy of our culture of simulation,
without really respecting the fundamental rights of which Cubans
remained deprived, while selectively targeting our truest leaders, those
who wouldn't compromise with the despotism of fraudulent changes,
subjecting them to the abusive force of an intact intelligence apparatus
based on private surveillance and social stigmatization, concealed
coercion and cooption, and ultimately extra-judiciary execution,
disguised as a sudden disease or a car-crash, as it criminally occurred
to the winners of the European Parliament's Andrei Sakharov Award for
Freedom of Thought: Laura Pollán in October 2011 (founder of the Ladies
In White) and to Oswaldo Payá in July 2012 (founder of the Christian
Liberation Movement).

In the twilight of the first-generation Castros, everything is changing
in Cuba so that nothing changes in the end, in a desperately slow
transition from Power to Power, instead of from the Rule of Law to Rule
of Law, as was constitutionally requested by more than 25,000 Cuban
citizens, who publicly subscribed to the Varela Project, and who are
still waiting for the answer due from the National Assembly of People's
Power; although it's sadly known that the authorities' response was
silence in the mass media, a phony plebiscite in 2002, the massive
trials of the Black Spring of 2003 and the deportations of 2010
(involving an insulting Catholic hierarchy), plus the barbaric bonus of
the assassination not only of the reputation but of the precious lives
of those who wouldn't abide by our 21st century absolutism.

On one hand, a biological succession is underway in Cuba to a
neo-Castroism without Castros, or given the case, with second-generation
Castros, which are kindly invited to visit US: LGBT deputy Mariela
Castro and baseball dandy Antonio Castro. Emphasized in their hardliner
discourse of revolutionary intolerance, a State Capitalism is being
implemented in Cuba, one that combines the worse lack of freedom from
Communism with the worse corruption and captive markets of the
underdeveloped democracies.

On the other hand, tired of waiting for an opening in the Island,
complicit in today's crimes with the promise that profits will prevent
tomorrow's crimes, the international community is already turning their
backs on the remains of Cuban civil society, while compassionately
patting them on their shoulders, and sometimes even supporting them with
a petty percent of their investments with the State tycoons of Havana.
The EU is making an approach, so US should hasten and hesitate no more.
If Cuba is already doomed not to become a democracy, at least let it be
a dictocracy, is the ridiculous rationale of such not so "hard choices".

Consequently, the presidents of all chambers of commerce are ready to
act, since their legitimate jobs are to trade no matters what, with no
matters who. Many Cuban exiles are indolently or interestedly
prêt-à-porter too, as conveniently-funded push-polls seem to prove, and
as the age composition of Cuban emigration is radically renovated,
especially after the 2013 migratory reform in the Island, that
constitutes not only an escape valve for inner tensions, but also a coup
de grâce to the once emblematic —now barely residual— Cuban Adjustment Act.

The overall impression is that the further from the Castros, the easier
it is to become and behave pro-Castros, while anti-Castroism abroad is
now practically considered "harassment" by the academics and the NGO's
from that once-despicable capitalism that deserved humiliation first and
then inhumation from the proletarians of all over the world, united!

Many of the said universities and NGO's (some located in the US capital)
travel several times a year to Cuba only to accept blackmail from State
Security agents, behaving according a Castro agenda that they would
denounce as intolerable were it dictated by, for example, their own
State Department or Congress. I have met them in person. In unfortunate
cases, they have again labeled me with that pathetic epithet of
"mercenary" (as if there were good dollars and bad dollars from the
American tax-payer). In other cases, they have just advised me to
repent, since even I can still be a useful variable in this Cuban
equation with zero ethics.

If we are to lose the challenges imposed by global Castroism, or if we
have already lost this struggle for redemption and haven't realized it,
I'm still proud of having had the unique opportunity of being in touch
with so many Cubans of good will —as well as with foreigners'
solidarity— who keep alive the notion of being born with inalienable
rights, and that still believe that only Life in Truth is worthy of
being called human.

As with other biblical peoples, maybe we Cubans have lost Cuba, or are
not going to recognize it any longer when we return there once the last
of the Castros is gone, since Castroites will be waiting for us to make
our lives much more miserable. But this doesn't imply at all that
Freedom was on the wrong side of History. Freedom will always be our
right on the right side of History. Even if it's a faithful failure over
and over.

We Cubans are at risk that Evil might have prevailed too long among us
for our Nation to reconcile with itself. The Government and the People
of the United States of America, as in the 19th and 20th centuries, in
2014 have a debt with Cuban democrats and republicans and liberals and
conservatives and the rest of our non-totalitarian subjects trapped in
such an obsolete model: a debt not economical nor political nor military
but of a moral nature.

It's for the best interests of US not to abandon Cuban citizens in their
Caribbean backyard under a rogue State, since the supposed stability of
our region is only a time compass for the rogues to counterattack
America, where a normalized climate will only allow the abnormality that
Castroism represents to have a free hand to undermine —with felonies—
the foundations of the United States.

Original in English

27 August 2014

Lazo | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
El Zanjon In Baragua Times / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on August 27, 2014

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, El Zanjón, 25 August 2014 – No one remembers
when the old Spanish barracks were demolished and or the decades passed
since the allegorical tally of what happened there. Although the
official history vilifies this place, a sign on the central highway
tells us we are nearing El Zanjón, whose name also appears on the ID
cards of the three hundred people who live in the small village.

On 10 February 1878, the seven agreements of the Pact of Zanjón were
signed there, putting an end of the Ten Years War. Thus, the two
fundamental objectives that had caused the war were frustrated: Cuban
independence and the abolition of slavery. General Arsenio Martinez
Campos would be the big winner in an accord that many Cubans considered
a shameful page in the national history.

The vast majority of the Liberation Army fighters accepted the pact,
with the exception of Antonio Maceo, who a month later starred in the
Baraguá Protest. That attempt to keep the struggle alive only lasted
until mid-May of the same year, and shortly after Maceo, the Bronze
Titan, abandoned the Island for Jamaica.

A century later, Fidel Castro would proclaim that "Cuba will be an
eternal Baraguá." On taking up this historic event, he would define the
intransigence and obstinacy of the political system that has been
installed on the Island for half a century. Any dialog with an
ideological opponent has been perceived, for decades, as an imitation of
the Pact of Zanjón, while intolerance is guided by Maceo's classic
phrase, "We don't understand each other."

Perhaps this is why the small rural school in El Zanjón is now called
Baraguá Protest School, and the history books define the signing of that
Pact as an act of treason. Even the use of the name "Zanjoneros" for
those who, according to official views, tried to capitulate after the
disaster or Real Socialism in Eastern Europe. Thus, in a small town 375
miles from Havana, people no longer have a native identity they can wear
with pride.

But today, the few cows chew their cud and its distaste in the Zanjón
lands is not altered, nor the roar of the trucks on the highway. "Here,
nothing happens," a resident tells me, and adds, "So I'm leaving and
I'll never come back." Leave Zanjón, I ask him. "No, I'm leaving the
country, because no one can resist this."

And there goes another who capitulates, as the official discourse would
say, although others prefer to think that they will go into exile to
return one day… like Maceo.

Source: El Zanjon In Baragua Times / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Don't Talk About Tomorrow Any More, It's Today / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on August 27, 2014

La Demajagua, the official newspaper of provincial committee of
the Cuban Communist Party of the Granma Province, reports as important
news that a junior high school with an initial capacity of 520 students,
is being constructed in Bayamo at a cost of 800,000 pesos. The
execution, those responsible for the work assure us, is under the
control of several companies, led by the Education Construction Agency.
All this without any date, nor any idea when it will be available.

When these people aren't talking about the history of yesterday, they
talk about the plans for tomorrow; but they never say today. There is no
doubt, that time and its ravages are the perfect pretext of the
Revolution. You'll see.

13 August 2014

Source: Don't Talk About Tomorrow Any More, It's Today / Juan Juan
Almeida | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
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