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Juanita Castro: Memory is Never Harmless / 14ymedio, Francis Sanchez
Posted on August 20, 2014

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mythical environment of the Castro Ruz brothers acquires historical
content from rumors, with unnamed girlfriends, faceless wives, children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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Starters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe Miami's perception of Cuban capitalism.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Editor

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

Amir Valle

Lilo Vilaplana

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Within the economy, everything.

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

Outside the economy, nothing.

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

Economy or death; we will sell.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iván García

Translated by GH

6 August 2014

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

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

And it wasn't just any lawmaker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others are skeptical it will set a precedent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter:

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

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

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

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

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

It had already been an extraordinary year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've never known if Jorge finally found her.

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

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

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


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

August 31st in Cuba:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to God.

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

Exhibit seeking items related to exodus out of Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you go

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

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

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

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

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

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

A long journey by raft, and a lesson in freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We left on Aug. 30, 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although they have already been divulged I reproduce them here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: So is that what turned you around?

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

Q: So the Civic Center was already in existence?

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

Q: What economic model do you think Cuba needs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: "I am optimistic I will see prosperity in Cuba" / 14ymedio,
Reinaldo Escobar | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Brochure Warns Travelers About New Customs Rules / 14ymedio
Posted on August 17, 2014

14YMedio, Havana, 16 August 2014 – As of this morning a brochure titled
"Customs Regulations Every Traveler Should Know" is on sale at all the
newsstands. This is the fourth edition which, at a price of 2 Cuban
pesos, includes the new customs regulations that will take effect
September first.

The General Customs of the Republic (AGR) issued Resolution 206/2014
which limits the quantities of the same item that can be imported, and
details the cost to bring it into the country. Among the most affected
products are food, jewelry, toiletries, clothing—including
underwear—plus appliances and computers.

In an interview with the official press, the deputy chief of the AGR,
Idalmis Rosales Milanes, justified the move based on "a study that
confirmed the high volumes imported by certain people are destined for
marketing and profit. Computers and communications tools will be
particularly affected.

The brochure available at the newsstands contains some of the
clarifications that Customs has been posting on its website. The text
answers general questions about what will change and what will not
change as of the first of September.

The measure has caused concern among Cubans who consider these imports a
way to alleviate shortages, high prices and the poor quality of the
products offered in the retail trade network. The self-employed are
demanding the implementation of commercial import rules that allow them
to bring into the country the raw materials and products to do their jobs.

Source: Brochure Warns Travelers About New Customs Rules / 14ymedio |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Industry tour of Cuba set for early 2015
Posted on August 15th, 2014
Written by Reagan Haynes

Cuba is gaining attention as a potential trade partner for the marine
industry as some speculate whether the United States will lift its
half-century trade embargo with the country.

Marina consultant Richard Graves and Associates is planning a
U.S.-sanctioned industry tour of the country for Feb. 18-22, directly
after the Miami International Boat Show, to help interested parties save
on airfare.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association also has a small
delegation of select members touring the island now who are interested
in learning more about its industry potential, the NMMA confirmed to
Trade Only Today.

"I firmly believe the embargo will soon be lifted. It doesn't make sense
and solves nothing. In fact, most people don't even know how it started
over 50 years ago," Graves and Associates principal Richard Graves told
Trade Only Today. "In recent surveys the majority of Americans believe
the embargo should be lifted. It is also interesting to note that most
Cubans in the U.S. under 40 also believe the embargo should end."

Graves told Trade Only that he fears the United States will be left out
of potential growth and development if it doesn't lift the embargo
sooner rather than later.

"Spain is building the marinas, France is building the hotels, the
Chinese are investing, and even Putin is offering help in the
construction of their shipping port—and the U.S. is left out," Graves
said. "Raul Castro has even made an overture to the U.S. to renew

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and the 16th-largest island
in the world.

Anticipating the end of the travel ban, Cuban state enterprises
responsible for marine infrastructure have begun an unprecedented push
to prepare the island nation for yacht tourism and U.S. boaters.
Although there are only 15 marinas with 789 slips, there are plans to
add 23 more marinas with more than 5,000 slips, Graves said.

The expansion of Marina Gaviota at Varadero, 90 miles from the Florida
Keys, is intended to help augment facilities for large recreational vessels.

Accompanying the marina will be a five-star villa hotel development.
Plans show a marina complex akin to Atlantis at Nassau in the Bahamas or
St. Tropez in France, only larger.

After extensive renovations and a massive expansion, Marina Gaviota
Varadero will become Cuba's largest and most modern marina. When
complete, it will accommodate about 1,200 boats. An official opening is
planned for 2015, but vessels are using the marina now.

Last year, Cuban President Raul Castro announced the end of travel
restrictions, making it easier for millions of Cubans to leave the
communist country.

Parties interested in participating in the tour with Graves must submit
paperwork and be approved by Oct. 1.

"NMMA facilitated a [U.S.-sanctioned] research trip to Cuba on behalf of
its members with the objective to understand the market and make
meaningful contacts and connections that may benefit recreational
boating," NMMA spokeswoman Ellen Hopkins told Trade Only.

The NMMA does not have an official position on the current or future
status of the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba and continues to abide by the
trade restrictions the United States has imposed, she added.

Source: Industry tour of Cuba set for early 2015 | Trade Only Today - Continue reading
Coming to the aid of Cuba
Melissa Villeneuve

The generosity of a local couple and their doctor was felt halfway
around the world, thanks to their donation of medical equipment and
supplies in Cuba. Now they hope the public will come aboard to assist in
their humanitarian effort.

Most people leave room in their suitcases to bring back souvenirs and
trinkets from the places they've seen, but for Wayne Hawthorne and his
wife Marilyn Cortez, it's the exact opposite. They travel to Cuba for
two to three months each year, and for the last couple trips they've
readily left some luggage contents behind.

"I've been to Cuba five times now, and I've found there are a lot of
things you can't buy in Cuba, or things they cannot afford," says
Hawthorne. "So we would go down with our luggage loaded up and come back
with it empty," he chuckles.

According to WestJet policy, the airline provides transport up to 50
pounds of goods and equipment for humanitarian use, at no extra charge,
beyond the ticket price. Hawthorne says they take 50 pounds each, on top
of their regular luggage allowance, of mostly clothing, colouring books,
pencils and crayons for kids – items that are either really expensive or
unavailable in Cuba. On one of their previous trips, they discovered
there was a need for updated medical equipment in the clinics in Cuba.

Hawthorne told his family doctor, Dr. Riyaz Mohamed, of the ancient
equipment used in Cuba and asked if he had any unused supplies or
equipment he could donate that they would then take over. Dr. Mohamed
discovered he could donate an autoclave, a machine used to sterilize
needles and equipment through high steam pressure.

"At one time, Dr. Mohamed required an autoclave but later, he found that
a surgical supply company could deliver sterile instruments right to his
office," said Hawthorne. "That service saved his staff the time that was
required to operate the autoclave, so he was happy to donate it." >

The couple delivered the autoclave to the polyclinic "Mario Munoz
Monroy," which is a health-care centre and teaching hospital in Guanabo,
Habana Este. Hawthorne says they were able to get it through customs
with a letter from the receiving doctor, Dr. Francisco Felipe Hern‡ndez
G‡rciga, a.k.a. Dr. Pancho.

Although Dr. Mohamed doesn't consider the autoclave a "major" donation,
those on the receiving end of this gift were overjoyed, as it will speed
up their sterilization times threefold. And, Hawthorne says, the old
machine that was replaced will in turn be passed down to another Cuban
health centre that doesn't have a very good one.

"Nothing ever goes to waste," he says.

While the health-care system is free in Cuba for everyone, including
tourists, doctors don't make much money and they're not well equipped in
terms of our standards.

"Our Dr. Poncho gets about $32 per month pay and in addition about $12
worth of food stamps, which every Cuban gets," said Hawthorne. Despite
low wages, Hawthorne says medical treatment is excellent in Cuba and
that they train doctors for all the Carribbean countries as a way of
having something to trade.

"Venezuela gives them a lot of petrol products, so they train doctors
for them," he says. "Some Cuban doctors actually go to those countries
to work and the deal is Venezuela pays them $13,000 per year for a
doctor but the doctor only gets to keep $4,000. The rest goes back to
Cuba to pay for his education."

Hawthorne hopes to encourage other Alberta travellers and physicians to
contribute to the cause, as in Canada, we are discarding medical
equipment that is easily used in Cuban medical clinics and hospitals. He
says patients can ask their physicians if they have any unused equipment.

"It's just a case of finding people who go down to Cuba," says
Hawthorne. "We've got a whole bunch of stuff ready to go this year as
well. Dr. Mohamed says he's going to give us one of those things that
tells you how much oxygen is in your blood, so we'll take that down."

For anyone interested in contributing, Hawthorne says Dr. Riyaz Mohamed
can be a point of contact at 403-732-5515.

Source: Coming to the aid of Cuba › The Lethbridge Herald – - Continue reading
Private Cafes Near the Airport Closed / 14ymedio
Posted on August 16, 2014

14YMedio – Half a dozen privately-owned snack cars and restaurants
across from Jose Marti International Airport Terminal 2 were ordered to
cease operations despite meeting all the tax, commercial and health
requirements imposed by law.

The measure affects the large number of people who come to this terminal
to drop off or pick up their family members who travel between the
United States and Cuba. In the airport there are two state-run snack
bars which, in the opinion of the visitors, lack the variety and quality
offered by private facilities.

According to statements to 14ymedio from several of the owners of the
closed premises, officials showed up three months ago who imposed the
closure measure without giving any explanation Some of the snack bars
and restaurants had been open for more than three years and the owners
had invested heavily, especially in furniture and kitchen facilities.
José G., one of the self-employed, said that after much paperwork and
appeals it appears they will allows them to reopen, but in another place
at the back of an alley with very little commercial visibility and
difficult access, since the street is not paved.

"They say right here, between our doors and they street, they will erect
a separating wall," says José, who has also complained for years, that
"they haven't even wanted to build a sidewalk for pedestrians. I don't
know if it's hatred or envy, but the truth is that they're trying to
strangle us."

At the end of 2013, Cuba 444,109 people were registered as self-employed
in Cuba, mostly in food services, passenger transport, renting rooms,
and in the production and sale of household items.

The self-employed complain about high taxes, lack of a wholesale market,
the inability to independently import and export, and the excessive
controls and restrictions placed on them by the inspectors.

Source: Private Cafes Near the Airport Closed / 14ymedio | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Temperamental Old Coots / Anddy Sierra Alvarez
Posted on August 16, 2014

The issue is not just about winning the argument with the United States.
It's also about a legacy created 55 years ago. Of what use to us are
their perspectives, when ambitions fade with the passage of time"

The leaders of Cuba are well past working age. Small changes occur at
the hands of his brother, Raúl Castro, another long-lived individual who
has lived his life and realized the goals he set for himself. What are
his ambitions today?

The Cuban desires progress and is at the mercy of old men. Are they
perhaps different from others of their age group? As far as I know, an
old man does not have the same drive as a young person who is just
beginning to face the challenges of the future.

We are held captive by the arbitrariness of a bunch of
geezers…grandfathers once restless in their youth, who now penalize
behavior such as they once exhibited…backed up by a poorly-told history
that makes heroes out of many, mercenaries out of others, and of those
who were not part of their elite group, not even in the shadows are they
mentioned. These were members of their beloved and novel revolution.

Their rhetoric is one of equality, yet those who surround them enjoy a
level of prestige difficult to achieve. They play at showing solidarity
with other peoples, while they trample on their own
citizens…self-elected, with no regard for the wishes of their
constituents…identified with power, owners of the Island, governing with
an ideology that only they believe in…but supported by
fellow-travellers, else they would not still be there.

Obsessed with the actions of successive presidents of the United States,
to discredit them – and monitor their popularity – is part of their
sense of aliveness.

Ready to cease existing when Nature decides, so go the whims of one-time
youths who today are in their terminal phase. In the meantime, their
legacy has elapsed – in caprice, and much political pride.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 August 2014

Source: Temperamental Old Coots / Anddy Sierra Alvarez | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Soy Yogurt Meant for Children Ends Up Feeding Pigs / Moises Leonardo
Posted on August 15, 2014

ARTEMIS, Cuba, Moises Leonardo Rodriguez — Soy yogurt, the sale of which
is regulated and intended for children, was received in a spoiled state
over the last two weeks in the outlets in the town of Cabañas. In the
city of Mariel in the Artemisa province, in contrast, the opening of a
new production plant for yogurt destined for Havana and Mayabeque
provinces was just announced.

The regulated amount is three one-liter bags a week for every child
between 7 and 12 years, replacing cow's milk, the sale of which is
restricted to children under age 7.

Many believe that the priority should be to ensure the technical means
so that the product arrives in good condition, before producing more.

Ileana de los Ángeles Iglesias, speaking from Central Havana in the
capital, said that the bags bought off the ration book in recent weeks
were also spoiled.

A nutritionist, speaking on a recent National Television News broadcast,
said that the product should be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, which
appears to explain the deterioration of the yogurt during its delivery
in unrefrigerated vehicles in hot weather months, as well as in the
warehouses and places of sale.

On 11 August, the yogurt was sold outside the rationing system and a
group bought dozens of bags to be fed to pigs, while the children are
left waiting for a solution.

Cubanet, August 15, 2014 |

Source: Soy Yogurt Meant for Children Ends Up Feeding Pigs / Moises
Leonardo Rodriguez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cholera Situation Worsens in Ciego de Avila / 14ymedio
Posted on August 15, 2014

14YMEDIO – An increase in the number of patients hospitalized for
cholera indicates that the unfortunate epidemiological situation in the
province of Ciego de Avila is worsening, causing alarm among the population.

After several months of experiencing the illness in this territory, "the
last two weeks have seen a growing number of people infected," according
to a small article appearing on the last page of the provincial weekly
Invador, under the title "Increase in Cases of Cholera," written by
Moisés González Yero.

Fernando Bravo Fleites, director of the Provincial Center of Hygiene,
Epidemiology and Microbiology, states that currently contagion is found
in at least 19 places in the province and says that the most critical
municipalities are Primero de Enero, Majague, Florencia, Venezuela and

One of the latest steps has been the temporary closure of the The
Charcazo campground in the Primero de Enero municipality.

In an unusual request that is evidence of the decline in the quality of
life, the director of the Provincial Center of Hygiene advises
Avilanians to redouble "the attention to drinking water that is
adequately clean."

Health authorities also "call on people not to defecate in the open, an
act that represents a great danger of disease transmission and, in cases
like the present, is a violation severely punished by law."

Source: Cholera Situation Worsens in Ciego de Avila / 14ymedio |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 15, 2014

In the Zamora neighbourhood, next to the Carlos J. Finlay military
hospital, in the Marianao Council area, in Eastern Havana, many of the
neighbours don't know anything about the background of Allan Gross, the
US contractor, who is stuck there.

It's a poor district, with little houses, dusty streets and broken
pavements. The midday heat finds it deserted. Not even the street dogs
can bring themselves to walk over the hot asphalt.

People there take shelter from the mid-day sun inside their houses, or,
inside a bare private cafe, put together in a house entrance hall, they
talk about the latest TV serial, José Dariel Abreuthe's 31st home run
with the Chicago White Sox, or Barcelona's next sign-ups.

Around here is where you find out about the latest violent crime which
happened the previous night and, if the person you are talking to trusts
you, he'll take you round to the house where one of the neighbours will
discreetly sell you some trashy industrial bits and pieces and Chinese
cell phones.

People don't know Alan Gross, who is kept in a cell in the hospital,
just a stone's throw from the neighbourhood. As far as Ernesto, one of
the neighbourhood kids, is concerned, he has heard the name somewhere.
"He's the gringo who they locked up for spying in Cuba", he says, but he
doesn't know any details of the case. Another kid, who shows off about
being well-informed, tells some of the details:

"I found out on the antenna that the American has staged a hunger strike
and he says that, dead or alive, he's going to leave this year (the
antenna is an illegal construction — usually made of a metal tray and
some Coke cans — and is used as a communication medium in many poor
Cuban poor neighbourhoods). I don't know why Obama doesn't exchange him
for the "three heroes" (Castro spies in jail in the States).

That is what the Cuban man-in-the-street — many of them — know about
Gross, the contractor. A spy who came from the north to subvert things
on the island.

Not many of them know what it was that he tried to bring into the
country. And, when they know that Alan Gross had with him in his
briefcases and backpacks two iPods, eleven Blackberrys, three MacBooks,
six 500GB discs, three BGAN satellite phones, among other things that
Castro's government considers "illegal," they look a bit stupid.

"But they sell all this stuff on Revolico (an on-line site condemned by
the government). What was the Yank up to, setting up a spy ring with
commercial toys," is what Arnold says, smiling (he is the owner of a
little workshop that fixes punctures on your bike or car).

The crime that the olive green State accused him of: "assembling
parallel networks to gain illegal access to the internet," is only an
offence in countries with eccentric laws like Cuba or North Korea.

The official media, sporadically offer brief comments, edited in a
cleaned-up kind of style, by the hacks at the Foreign Relations
Department, who disinform, rather than inform.

People hear about it in the news on the radio and television and it is
the main news item in the newspaper Granma. And it all backs up the
Cubans' opinion that Alan Gross was caught carrying out espionage.

Cuba is a nation that scatterbrained foreigners do not know. There are
two currencies and the one which is worth more is not the one they pay
to workers.

The press assures us that five decades ago they "got rid of prostitution
and other capitalist scourges", but an elderly foreigner on a beach
receives more sexual proposals than Brad Pitt.

In order to understand the story put together by the Havana government's
communication experts, we need to have in mind one of its key features:
from 1959, the United States is the public enemy number one.

Everything bad stems from that. Six hundred supposed attempts on Fidel
Castro's life: from planning to assassinate him by a bullet through the
temple, to injecting him with a strong poison which would make his beard
fall off.

The eleven Presidents who have occupied the White House during Castro's
55 years are far from being angels. They have hatched attacks,
subversions, and assaults on the first Castro. But the regime
exaggerates them.

In that context, Alan Gross was a useful pawn for the island's special
services. Gross visited Cuba four times with the idea of giving
unrestricted internet access to the small local Jewish community.

On December 3, 2009 the US contractor was sentenced to 15 years in jail
by a Cuban tribunal. Gross was not the "stupid innocent taken in by
USAID," as they said at his trial.

He was aware of the risk he was running bringing in information
equipment into a totalitarian nation, where parallel communication is a
crime against the state.

According to a 2012 article from the AP agency, the reports about his
trip indicate that Gross knew his activities were illegal, and he was
afraid of the consequences, including possibly being expelled from the
country. One of the documents confirms that one of the community's
leaders "made it absolutely clear that we are playing with fire."

On another occasion, Gross commented "There is no doubt that this is a
very dangerous business. It would be catastrophic if they detected the
satellite signals."

It would be possible to appeal to Raúl Castro's government's better
nature, asking that they set free an unwell 65-year-old man, who is
mentally "out of it," following the death of his mother the previous
18th of June in Texas.

But the criollo (Cuban) autocracy in playing its own game with the USAID
contractor. There are still three spies from the Wasp network locked up
in US jails, two of them on life sentences.

Alan Gross was the perfect pretext for a negotiation which the Obama
administration finds morally unacceptable, as it would place the elderly
Jew on the same level as the Cuban spies.

Gross is an authentic laboratory guinea pig, stuck between the United
States' ambiguous politics and Castro's attempts to get his agents back
home. An exchange which the White House is unwilling to accept.

Iván García

Photo: Alan Gross (b. New York, 1949), before his detention, and now,
although he is probably thinner and weaker after his last hunger strike
and his depression over his mother's death last June 18th. Taken from
The Cuban History.

Translated by GH

10 August 2014

Source: Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
16 August 2014 Last updated at 23:03 GMT

Cuba: A country where toilet paper is rarer than partridge
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Havana

Years after the collapse of the USSR, Cuba remains a bastion of
communism, central planning... and shortages of basic goods. Anyone
returning from a trip abroad therefore takes as many of these as they
can carry - even if they are flying from Moscow.

The bright orange bottle of cleaning fluid was probably the oddest item
stuffed into my suitcase this time, wedged in beside the tennis shoes
for one friend and pile of baby clothes for another. It's a ritual I've
grown used to: every time you leave communist-run Cuba with its
centrally-planned economy and sparsely-stocked stores, you go shopping.

But as I packed my bags last week to head back to Havana, I did a
double-take. I was in Moscow, heading home from a work trip, and as
usual carrying as many presents and supplies as I could. And yet it
wasn't so long ago that I'd stock up in the same way for trips to Russia.

I was a student there in the early 1990s as the country emerged - very
painfully - from seven decades of communism. The shops then were
stomach-achingly bare.

My friends and I would head out each day with empty bags to scour the
shelves of gloomy, musty stores. We got used to buying whatever there
was, not what we wanted - pickled tomatoes, perhaps, or canned fish on a
good day.

But the new Moscow I visited last week is chock-full of shopping malls,
its streets lined with global brands and coffee chains. My closest
friend there, Natasha, now makes most of her purchases with a few taps
on her iPad.

When I told Natasha about my mad shopping dash for Cuba, we remembered
her own first trip abroad, to Britain, a year before the Soviet Union

My mother had taken her out one day for the weekly food shop. "I
remember there were all these different cheeses and 10 types of
everything." Natasha laughed, recalling her first encounter with a
Western supermarket. At first I was excited - then I started crying my
eyes out.

"We've forgotten what things used to be like here," she admitted, as we
stood chatting close to a branch of McDonald's and a mobile phone shop.
"We definitely take all this for granted."

In Natasha's childhood, it was Soviet subsidies that kept Cuba's economy
afloat: this tropical island was Moscow's ideological ally, right on
America's doorstep. But in the post-Soviet 1990s, after that subsidy
lifeline was severed, Cubans suffered badly.

A friend in Havana told me she wound up in hospital once. There was no
fuel for public transport and she was eating so little she collapsed
trying to pedal her bicycle to work.

In today's Cuba - if you have money - you won't go hungry. A series of
economic reforms that began as a post-Soviet survival mechanism have
slowly expanded. People are now free to run small businesses - creating
a growing number of private cafes and restaurants.

And as farmers no longer have to sell everything they produce to the
state, those restaurant owners can now get supplies straight from the
source - bypassing a state distribution network that's notorious for its

Yet, despite Cuba's proximity to the US, Washington's 50-year-old trade
embargo - which was designed to squeeze this island's communist
government from power - means there's no American investment here.
There's no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola plant.

Some might see that as a good thing. But they might not find shopping
for essentials quite so quaint. I once approached my big local
supermarket full of optimism. I now know I'm likely to find a mixture of
half-bare shelves and ones stacked with a single product: cheap ketchup,
say, or adult incontinence pads.

Basic items disappear whenever Cuba struggles to meet its import bills.
For weeks there was no toilet paper or cartons of milk. Now even the
delicious local coffee is "lost," as Cubans say - "esta perdido".

Mind you there's plenty of "partridge in brine," should anyone fancy
that. I've seen the same pile of cans on display for more than two years
at $25 apiece. Perhaps a central planner ticked the wrong order box.

But partridge aside, overseas travel can become one frantic
shopping-run. There's so much demand for everything here, that
travellers known as "mules" will carry all sorts of goods into Cuba for
sale - though the government has begun cracking-down on this illicit
shuttle trade.

On a smaller scale, having family and friends who can shop abroad has
become a vital resource for many.

When I told our cameraman I was off to Russia he laughingly suggested I
bring him back some spare parts for his ancient car, a Lada. Apart from
the battered, beautiful American classics of 1950s, the boxy Soviet-made
Lada is still the most common sight on Cuba's rutted roads.


Source: BBC News - Cuba: A country where toilet paper is rarer than
partridge - Continue reading
Posted on Saturday, 08.16.14

Exhibit to feature Cuban 'balseros' experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you go

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Exhibit to feature Cuban 'balseros' experience - Miami-Dade - - Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 08.15.14

Cuban defector says he has information about Payá's death

An officer in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior who claims to be related
to former MININT chief Jose Abrantes and to have valuable information
has defected and is being held in a migrant detention center in the Bahamas.

Ortelio Abrahantes Bacallao, 42, claims that fellow counterintelligence
agents told him that dissident Osvaldo Payá was killed when intelligence
agents rammed his car in an attempt to stop and search it, and not in a
one-car accident as the Cuban government claims.

None of the claims could be independently confirmed. But he has
documents identifying him as a member of MININT's Technical
Investigations Directorate, a police-like unit that investigates common
crimes, and a graduate of MININT's law school.

Abrahantes Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald he held the rank of major in
MININT's Directorate of Counterintelligence (DCI) and was last in charge
of all the ministry's land and sea transportation operations in the
province of Ciego de Avila, in central Cuba. The powerful ministry is in
overall charge of the island nation's domestic security.

The defector said he launched his escape March 24 from a key off the
northern coast of the province aboard a MININT-owned sailboat, but was
picked up three days later by the U.S. Coast Guard and was taken to the
Bahamas. He is being held at the Carmichael Road migrant detention
center in Nassau.

Bahamian police and United Nations officials have interviewed him for
his application for political asylum, Abrahantes Bacallao said. But he
fears he will be murdered if the Nassau government repatriates him to
Cuba before the application is processed.

"I know too much. They would love to have me in their hands," Abrahantes
Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald. His Miami lawyer, David Alvarez, said he
"faces being executed if he returns to Cuba because he was involved in
the military."

The defector said his father was a cousin of Interior Minister Gen. José
Abrantes, who was arrested in 1989 and charged with failing to stop the
drug trafficking and corruption that led to the execution of Gen.
Arnaldo Ochoa and three others that same year. He was serving a 20-year
prison term when he died in 1991 in what friends described as mysterious

Although Abrahantes Bacallao spells his surname differently from Jose
Abrantes, he has claimed that his birth certificate spells it the same
way and that the "h" was added when he joined the MININT. Official Cuban
records often contain misspellings.

The defector said he heard details about the Payá case during a party
with other DCI officers about one month after his death on July 22,
2012, in what Cuban officials portrayed as a one-car accident caused by
his driver, Spanish politician Angel Carromero. The Spaniard has
insistently alleged that he was rammed from behind by another vehicle.

One senior officer at the party told him that counterintelligence agents
from the province of Holguin, east of Ciego de Avila, who were driving a
red Lada vehicle model 2107 had tried to stop Carromero's vehicle to
search it an instead caused it to crash, Abrahantes Bacallao told El
Nuevo Herald. The crash occurred south of Holguin and near the city of

Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero died at a hospital in Bayamo,
according to the defector's version. Cuban officials have said Payá died
at the crash from massive head trauma and Cepero at a Bayamo hospital.

Abrahantes Bacallao said he was told the agents in the crash were from
the KJ department, which specializes in surveillance, of DCI's Section
XXI, in charge of monitoring and repressing dissidents.

Friends at the party also told him that MININT rewarded the agents with
medals and ordered the Lada chopped down to erase all evidence of a
two-car crash, according to the defector. They knew about the accident
in part because Cepero was a native of Ciego de Avila.

Abrahantes Bacallao added he was also told the Cuban government had
claimed that Payá — 2003 winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov
Prize and founder of the Christian Liberation Movement — died at the
site of the crash in order to cover up its responsibility.

Carromero and another passenger, Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig,
survived the crash. Modig has claimed he was asleep when they crashed.
Carromero was convicted in Cuba of vehicular homicide for losing control
of his vehicle and slamming into a tree. He was sentenced to four years,
but is serving the sentence in Spain.

Payá's daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, said the family has spoken with the
attorney for Abrahantes Bacallao but will not comment on the defector's
version of the deaths of her father and Cepero.

Family members have repeatedly alleged that Payá was tailed by
government agents virtually everywhere he went, and that they have
information showing Carromero was rammed from behind by another vehicle.
They have urged several international bodies and Spanish courts for an
independent investigation of the case.

Abrahantes Bacallao said he joined the MININT in 1998, earned a law
degree in 2010 from a MININT college in Havana and a master's degree in
2011 in business administration from the university in Ciego de Avila.

Another document shows he studied "DTI operative investigations" for
five years at a MININT institution in Ciego de Avila, where he said he
was recruited by counterintelligence. Such recruitments are not unusual
in Cuba, where people in sensitive positions have dual responsibilities
to their regular supervisors and their DCI chain of command.

Source: Cuban defector says he has information about Payá's death - Cuba
- - Continue reading
A Troubling Harbinger of Cuba's Future / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on August 14, 2014

It was all much easier when we did not have names for things and you
simply had to point with your finger. Back then, the difference between
"this" and "that" was merely a gesture. But with the advent of letters,
words, paragraphs and know-it-alls it is now more difficult to describe
with any precision what the future Cuban landscape will look like.

Throughout our history we have all wanted the same thing: a lasting
change that will bring about what is best for Cuba; a pluralistic,
diverse, democratic country brimming with happiness. It is worth
remembering that it was for this that young men fought one August 4 — on
a day like today but in 1955 — in a failed assault on the Presidential
Palace. But back to the topic at hand, if things continue as they are
now, this "yes but no" and "more of the same" will remain constant
features of national life. It is not simply a matter of trying to
express what we want but of achieving a better understanding of the way
to go about it.

When I set aside emotion and rely on reason, I am saddened to see that
the Cuban opposition — and I say this with all due respect — is inclined
to reject social reality in favor of literary fiction. Yes, they are
courageous people who risk their lives in the streets, but by pursuing
parallel agendas and defending personal initiatives, they make it hard
to believe they can coalesce into an alternative political force or
become a significant or successful social movement which, at this point
in time, could encourage unanimity.

This is not impossible but first they must acknowledge the overwhelming
need to come together and organize themselves. More than a union, they
must form a pact. Competing to demonstrate acquired leadership skills,
as they now do, is like swimming in a make-believe desert to feed one's
ego. While this may be laudable, it does nothing to help one's country.

Meanwhile, as time marches on, those on the island and those in exile
express conflicting opinions. The kings of prevarication who currently
make up Cuba's governing clique are looking like heirs-in-waiting.

All indications are that — barring a miracle or a cataclysm, which are
unlikely — Cubans will be presented with a souvenir: the imposition of a
governmental succession that transfers power from the current office
holders to their children, friends, in-laws, cousins and/or close

But it is not I who is saying this. Sir Isaac Newton himself expressed
it in his laws of motion and universal gravitation: "The apple does not
fall far from the tree." There are those who do not want to acknowledge
this because they are too invested in a funerary transition, or because
they spend their time being fascinated with themselves.

The heirs to power, the leading players, will almost certainly be family
members of current leaders who already hold strategic positions, party
officials who have amply demonstrated their loyalty, and military men
such as Raúl Rodríguez Lobaina, Lucio Juan Morales Abad and Onelio
Aguilera Bermúdez whose devotion was formed in the heat of battle in
places such as Angola, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.

They are the new Caesars, people who, like water, have the ability to go
around any obstacle and adapt to any circumstance. Their task will be to
restructure the country, guiding it towards "who knows what." They are
certainly willing to fight to stay in power and one day Cubans — worn
down by time and memory — will give in and agree to live in oblivion,
allowing victims and victimizers to coexist. One fortunate aspect of a
laboratory run by pirates is that, instead of eye patches and gold
chains, they sport embroidered guayaberas and treat "the Fatherland" as
their personal inheritance.

4 August 2014

Source: A Troubling Harbinger of Cuba's Future / Juan Juan Almeida |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Stubborn Like an Islander / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on August 14, 2014

14YMEDIO, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 August 2014 – In the land of San
Juan y Martinez, Bernabé Pérez Gutiérrez planted his first crops and
fathered fourteen children. It was during the last years of the 19th
century, and the immigrant baptized his farm The Islander, in memory of
the Canary Islands where he'd come from. Today, his great-grandchildren
are trying to keep one of the most important tobacco plantations in
Pinar del Rio running, with the their great grandfather's same
stubbornness and his love for the furrow.

The Islander is a family cooperative inserted into a larger entity
called "Rafael Morales Credit and Strengthened Services Cooperative
(CCS-F)," consisting of 64 tobacco producers, occupying over 250 acres.
It also includes dairy and pig farmers. Only ten of these farmers lease
their land (under usufruct), while others jealously hoard their property

What distinguishes The Islander is not only the quality of their
tobacco, their fruit or their flowers, nor even the hard work of the
members of the Pérez González family. Its hallmark is that this site has
been, since the time of Barnabas an example of a sustained endeavor that
refuses to be subjugated, neither by the misfortunes of nature nor the
whims of the bureaucracy.

During the time of the Canary Islander grandfather, the Islander
operated as a consultancy where the farmers came for advice. His son
Pragmacio, who became the head of the farm with the death of its
founder, converted a part of the house into an area for discussion
groups where they analyzed newspaper articles with news of the Second
World War and the evolution of the communist regime in Russia.

The layout of the estate is also unique in the area. In 1955, Bernabé's
children built a shrine to their father, who was devoted to the Virgin
of Charity. Their religious fervor reached the point where during a
drought they organized a procession with the image of the Patroness of
Cuba in order to summon the rains. Under the small belltower, the
priests of the area have baptized and married many members of the family
and their neighbors.

However, the greatest peculiarity of The Islander lies not in its
enormous ceiba tree, nor in the small chapel, but in its people. In the
current times, where being an entrepreneur and defending the autonomy of
the farmers generates suspicion and incomprehension, the Perez
Gonzalezes are known in the area for being "grumpy."

In a country where the established leadership obeys and doesn't question
the powers-that-be, the progeny of that immigrant have had to overcome
many obstacles. The family obstinately denounced the unjust
relationships between the tobacco producers and the State monopoly that
trades in it. Often it's not about demanding new prerogatives, but
demanding that the directors and agricultural officials meet the
standards they themselves have set.

Sitting in the doorway, where a sweet breeze blows, some descendants of
the obstinate Canary Islander started listing their demands. Bushy
eyebrows one and all, they bear the unmistakable family stamp that marks
them as stubborn. They relate that among the most insistent of their
demands is questioning the calculations of the Tabacuba Company in
determining the tobacco growers' costs for each bushel of leaves.
Included in the formula are inputs such as fuel, fertilizer and
herbicides, plus adding the wages paid to the workers engaged in
planting, cultivating and harvesting and selection of tobacco.

"Every year it's more expensive, particularly the wages, because nobody
wants to work for four pesos," commented Alfredo Perez, the current head
of the family. "However, the company seems to live in another dimension
far from reality, and the data they use for what they call the cost
sheet." Times have changed and the costs of living have skyrocketed, but
the agricultural bureaucracy continues without updating their old numbers.

With his hat in his hand, Juan Pablo, with a degree in agricultural
engineering, complains, "As if it were great news that they now tell us
they will pay a little better for every bushel of tobacco, but for every
percentage point they raise the schedule, the costs go up six or even
ten percent."

The floor passes from person to person, until it is Nestor Perez's turn;
Nestor dreamed of being a lawyer but they expelled him from the
"university for Revolutionaries" for being too confrontational. With
regards to the problems of the company, the young man has realized that
"when the specialist comes to determine the quality of our offerings,
they find a lot of irregularities, and categorize as 'affected' a
tobacco the produces ample dividends for the company. That's where the
farmer has to stand firm and not accept the impositions. Ultimately we
are the ones producing the leaves and we have to learn to set conditions."

In the middle of the conversation, with the coffee cups now empty,
another battle these farmers have waged comes up: the demand for proper
electrification of the cooperative. In the late sixties they had
provisional access to an alternative electrical line, installed
illegally. This is what is commonly called a "clothesline" because it
lacks adequate poles and transformers. Since then, and due to the
increase in consumer appliances during the last 45 years, the low
voltage affects not only domestic energy use, but also production. The
Perez Gonzalezes have written letters to all the institutions involved
and never stop raising the issue in public assemblies.

Technical problems directly affect performance. "There is a group of
producers in the area who average over 15 tons of tobacco every year,"
argues Nestor, while putting fruit in a basket. "With stable electricity
we could reach 25 tons. We've proposed to the State that they open a
line of credit for doing this work and we pay for it, but they haven't
accepted this proposal, which makes us think they they are intentionally
trying to marginalize us for our way of thinking."

Alfredo, the youngest of the family—but by no means the least
tenacious—says that "although the cooperative is supposedly autonomous,
in real life it is subordinate to the Tabacuba Company. For example,
we've asked for disks for plowing, but when these items arrive, it's the
company that decides how to distribute them according to their own
criteria. We can't buy those any other way because there is no free
market offering them."

The oldest of the all the Canary immigrant great-grandchildren is named
Ariel and speaks in direct sentences. While he's talking, a lean dog
with a sharp look sits under the chair where he is sitting. "The
cooperatives were left without any batteries for their tractors," says
Ariel. "They have to sell them to us because we order them properly, but
these are the things they do to isolate us from the rest of the
cooperative. They say we're a bad example."

The afternoon advances, but the heat doesn't let up. A part of the
shadow of the great ceiba reaches the doorway. Juan Pablo summarizes the
conversation with perfect clarity, "We know that in meetings where we
haven't been invited they warn the cooperative members that they should
stay away from us because we are counterrevolutionaries. Someone always
comes to tell us about it, because everyone knows that the only thing we
want is to work."

It's time to go back to the fields, so the five men take up their tools
and return to the furrows. Before saying goodbye, they raise one of the
biggest pieces of nonsense they have to deal with. "For a farmer to
receive a document of ownership for their home, they first have to
donate to the State what they built with their own efforts and
resources. And so then the State charges you for what you gave it. If
you don't give them the land, you can't build your house legally."

Source: Stubborn Like an Islander / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading

In Cuba, a country where criticism of the government is whispered and no
citizen is allowed in any boat for fear they'll flee to Florida only 90
miles away, it is somewhat surprising to come across a wild warehouse
party in the beachside suburb of Vedado on Friday night, featuring rock
bands, electrified flamenco, edgy music video, film screenings and an
exhibition of compelling political art.

In a two storey former church, magnificently dilapidated and spot lit, a
few blocks from the famous Malecon (boardwalk), the headquarters of the
art collective F.A.C (Fabrica Arte Cubano) is teeming with Cubans and a
smattering of young hip tourists. Swarms of well-dressed gay men and
beautiful Cuban girls laugh and drink the ubiquitous mojitos as they
saunter around the enormous multi-levelled space, discussing the art,
buying cheap mojitos at the chic bars, watching the huge music videos
and spilling into outdoor terraces, lit by moonlight.

The building has been adapted into a permanent multi-media art-space,
with Moorish peep-holes through which art in all its forms can be
glimpsed within exquisite architectural frames. As you wander through
the space, art works and party-goers appear through these unexpected
internal windows, creating a multi-dimensional experience, which changes
every two months and is funded by the artists themselves.

A crowd of around a hundred sit on wooden crates surrounding one of
several stages to watch a local band and the three mesmerising female
dancers (Compania Flamenca Ecos) who perform a kind of trippy-new
millennium flamenco to thunderous applause, while hundreds of other
hipsters mingle downstairs.

The locals are either inoculated against the rum by virtue of its
low-price and availability or they are high on this pulsating, joyful
atmosphere. Everyone is well dressed but no garment has a brand name.
There is no sign of drugs — no wired eyes or even the whiff of marijuana
— ecstasy is here but it's embedded in the artistic circus that keeps
laying on new acts around every corner.

From the music to the soft-drinks — there is nothing obviously American
on show. This is a tiny glimpse into a world where America has no
cultural muscle and though some of the conceits of the art feel
familiar, there are some striking differences in how it is received.
When a Cuban rock-band takes to one of several stages, the audience is
appreciative but there is no dancing or mosh-pit. They sit
reverentially, then applaud passionately.

It is the visual art on the second floor that is particularly
captivating and fulfills the promise of the exhibition title: "De Lo
Sublime A Lo Ridiculo" (translated as "It's a fine line between the
sublime and the ridiculous"). Video art equal to anything one might see
at the Tate Modern or Serpentine, nestles next to sculptures, oils and
photographs. Curated by Maylin Pérez Parrado, a charming young Cuban
art-history graduate, the exhibition could have easily been stumbled
upon at any up-scale gallery in Melbourne or Sydney or in Berlin or New
York. But here in Havana, the political heart-beat of the work is
unsurprisingly louder and more emotional.

A magnificent world map — distinct and beautiful has subtly textured
brick-work layered over the communist countries. Adonis Flores'
photograph of a Cuban soldier blows a bubble of multi-colored flowers.
Enrique Rottenberg recreates a 19th century colonial salon with himself
in a bunny suit confiding to a Catholic Priest. What appears to be a
rusty old submarine periscope has tiny glass prisms in its sockets,
showing photographs of normal life. The humanity contrasts beautifully
with its inflexible infrastructure.

Everywhere in Havana you feel the layers of time. I think constantly of
all the times I've said to my children: "Wouldn't it be great to be
standing in this place a hundred years ago?". I am standing in that
place and time — only the laptops of tourists in hotel lobbies and the
stalls of canned soft drink (cheaper and more available than water)
disturb the illusion.

Hotels are the only businesses that accept credit-cards – and only
those not affiliated with U.S. banks — so almost every daily interaction
is cash-based. Horses and carts carrying tourists clip-clop around the
plazas. My iPhone doesn't work in Cuba — there is no service provider.
Old men on street corners sell newspapers. There is no intrusive
Coldplay or Beyonce blaring from shops, cafes, poolside or even in hotel
elevators. The music that blasts out of the open bars, like the famous
Bar Monserrate is live, Cuban and invariably great.

The Hotel Nacional, a faded but glorious mash-up of neo-classical,
art-deco, Californian and Moorish design, reputedly built by American
gangsters in 1930, overlooks the Straits of Florida and appears almost
indistinguishable from the photos that line its hallways depicting the
stars of bygone times from Edward VIII to Errol Flynn, as well as when
it was the headquarters of Che and Fidel during the Bay of Pigs crisis.

Uniformed sullen waiters carry trays of daiquiris across the green lawn
under the brutal sun, bell-hops load luggage onto brass trolleys, the
grand dining-room menu offers shrimp cocktail before a cabaret show in
the 'Parisian Room', and downstairs you pass a hairdresser and bank on
the way to the figure-eight shaped swimming pool around which Americans
in swim-suits snack on club-sandwiches.

All the architecture in Old Havana is Spanish colonial: faded muted
colours – yellow, green, pink – and intricate ironwork is set against
the contrasting plazas, opulently green with palm trees. Look up and you
will see rinsed plastic bags drying on washing lines and residents
peering from their dilapidated balconies onto the festive locals who
roam the streets of old Havana until the early hours, talking and laughing.

Every second car is a relic of 1950s America, restored with Toyota parts
and new duco. The significant historic buildings are being renovated,
but mostly the city's historical elegance clarifies the modern poverty.
Beggars sit beside crumbling marble collanades. Mansions with only the
external walls still standing are draped in thick vines. Everywhere the
past and present collide with ad-hoc beauty.

The Museo de la Revolucion, praising the beloved Castro, occupies the
old Presidential Palace from where Bastista once ruled. The marble
staircases and elegant mouldings incongruously host the photographs and
memorabilia of Che and Fidel in all their revolutionary glory.

Outside, the streets are full and the atmosphere is relaxed. Music is
everywhere. In Obispo, the main street of old Havana, the locals queue
for their quota of eggs from the free market while tourists queue
opposite at the only bank where it's possible to make a Mastercard
withdrawals — over the counter from a an actual human who creates
profound suspense as she studies your passport with unhurried concentration.

Taxi driving is a high-status job and many of the drivers are
university-educated – the man who drives me to Hemingway's house was
once in the diplomatic corps and is the only person I meet over five
days who has ever left Cuba. Many of his colleagues are doctors and
engineers who cannot get jobs and in any case, many trained
professionals favour tourist-based occupations where they have the
opportunity to interact with foreigners.

Every person I meet expounds love and loyalty for Fidel, who evokes the
kind of affection appropriate to one's actual father, not only the
father of the revolution. Everyone expounds on free health-care and
education — but lament the economy. "Things have to change". Che is not
held in the same regard as Castro. Despite the stencils that adorn many
buildings and every T-shirt sold in the souvenir shops, his name elicits
shrugs. More than once I am reminded he was Argentinian. His brutality
is not forgotten. "It had to be the Che way, otherwise — ," the driver
draws his finger across his throat.

Yselle, a 29 year old university graduate guide is, like most Cubans
I've met, fiercely patriotic and intellectually curious. But she is
simultaneously despairing of being unable to see the world. The problem,
everyone says, is not the Cuban government but the lack of money and the
impossibility of securing a visa from any country other than Russia and
Equador. She spends all her tips on the beaten up second-hand books
lining the stalls on the Plaza Vieja and asks me to send her the novels
of Paul Coelho.

In the midst of the pumping F.A.C. party, I ask Maylin — whose
curatorial ability would hold its own anywhere in the world ––how she
and her artistic colleagues find out what is going on in the global

"A little bit by the internet but it is very slow… and from foreigners
like you or a few friends who live outside Cuba".

When I show her a photo of Patricia Piccinini's crazy animal hot-air
balloon hovering over Melbourne that I happen to have on my phone, she
is very excited – she has glimpsed it somewhere on the internet and
describes Picicinini's sculptures with detail.

"Will you ever get out of Cuba – even just for a couple of weeks?" I ask

"It's not possible. I am curating a show soon for the Dutch Embassy and
I have a tiny hope to go to the Netherlands next year but it is
completely a dream".

I'm still mystified by how F.A.C. gets away with promoting art that is
so clearly critical of communism, and so representative of the
anti-establishment themes of contemporary political art all over the world.

She shrugs with a wry smile. "Irony allows us to define the work as
essentially "art" rather than political comment. Humour helps us," she says.

There is a beguiling nationalism in Cuba, a recognition of the beauty of
Havana and an articulate cultural pride and affection for the Fidel of
the past. It recognises no inconsistency with the longing for freedom
and anxiety about money and the future. The simultaneous love for Cuba
and criticism of its current state is evident in most of the art
presented by F.A.C, which manages to be exhilarated, indigenous and
savage all at once. For someone thoroughly jaded by sometimes posturing
Western art that wears its polemic on its sleeve, I find myself
incredibly moved.

On the way to the airport, my taxi bursts a tyre. I stand by the side of
the road, while Leonardo, my loquacious driver, hastily fixes it in the
atrocious heat. As we head for the airport, he shows me his laminated
Cuban identity card which he carefully replaces in his pocket.

"This is the most valuable thing in Cuba," he says, "all of Mexico wants
one". If you get to the U.S. coast with one of these in hand, they are
legally obliged to accept you, he says. A final reminder of one of the
many realities Cuban art has the power and passion to tell.

Source: Inside Cuba's exhilarated and savage arts scene | Daily Review:
film, stage and music reviews, interviews and more - Continue reading
The End of the Cuban Rafters
August 14, 2014
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Twenty years ago, a massive exodus of Cuban rafters –
some 35 thousand left the country – marked the beginning of the end for
this type of illegal emigration. Washington and Havana reached an
agreement whereby all Cubans captured at sea would be returned to the

The United States also agreed to issue 20 thousand travel visas every
year and set in motion its "dry foot – wet foot" policy, under which
anyone captured in Strait of Florida waters would be sent back to Cuba.
Cuba decriminalized attempts to leave the country illegally.

The agreement forced Cuban would-be migrants to anchor their rafts. They
then began to pay as much as US $ 10,000 for a spot on speedboats
arriving from Miami or Mexico, with engines and radars capable of
evading Cuba's border patrol and the US Coast Guard.

That, however, is the end of a story that began in 1994, with a rumor:
people then said that ships from Miami would dock in Havana to pick up
anyone who wanted to leave the country, as they did at the port of
Mariel in 1980.

The news came at the worst time for Cuba's economy, when the country had
hit rock bottom and people suffered brutal food shortages, had virtually
no clothing or shoes and endured power cuts that lasted more than 8
hours, as well as the complete collapse of public transportation.

The dramatic collapse of East European socialism removed any hope of
rescue from the horizon. At the time, no one dreamed that, in Latin
America, governments sympathetic to Cuba would come to power or that
Hugo Chavez would become president of Venezuela.


People had been running out to the streets of Old Havana and Centro
Habana since the morning of August 5, spurred by announcements that the
ships had arrived, but they would invariably run into a chain of police
officers that prevented them from reaching the port.

I never saw what spark set off the explosion, but, as I was driving down
San Lazaro, violence suddenly broke out. People lunged towards the
police, throwing stones at them, while the officers fired their guns
into the air, failing to frighten anyone away.

The anti-riot squads of socialism – construction workers armed with
metal rods and sticks – arrived shortly afterwards. It was the most
violent confrontation I have ever seen in Cuba, and it looked as if it
was never going to end, because neither side was willing give ground.

Suddenly, in the midst of all the commotion, Fidel Castro and Felipe
Perez Roque appeared, walking alone. Like a movie that had been put on
pause, everything froze for an instant. After the initial shock wore
off, Fidel's followers began to cheer and his opponents ceased throwing

When he was half a meter away from the journalists, his bodyguards
showed up and, almost by force, lifted him up into a jeep whose top had
been folded down. He rode down Havana's ocean drive this way, telling
the gringos he would stop looking after their border if Miami radio
stations continue to spread such rumors.

Some hours later, the US diplomatic chief in Cuba made the mistake of
threatening Castro. It was more than enough. Castro went on national
television to announce that Cuban borders were now open to anyone who
wanted to leave the country.

Thousands of rafts began to be built at full steam. Some were built on
the coast, others were taken from different neighborhoods to the ocean
drive. The price of inner tubes, large plastic bottles, canvas,
Styrofoam and compasses skyrocketed.

It had been 14 years since the Mariel exodus and Cubans were slightly
better people: no one threw eggs or insulted or attacked anyone. On the
contrary, there was an abundance of hugs, tears and wishes for a safe
journey. There were even farewell parties.

Washington warned the rafters they would be confined in the Guantanamo
Military Base – and kept its promise – but that did not discourage them.
A neighbor of mine, an electrician, was taken to a base in Panama, where
they had a brawl with the marines and ended up in the slammer.

When President Clinton understood none of his threats would put an end
to the flow of Cuban migrants, he sat down to negotiate with Havana and,
months later, signed the migratory accords that continue to be in effect

By then, 35 thousand Cubans, including many who had protested on the
street, thrown stones at hotels and confronted the police, had already
left the country. Washington had rid Fidel Castro of his most violent
opposition, determined and radical at the toughest time faced by the

Source: The End of the Cuban Rafters - Havana - Continue reading
The New Gold Rush / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
Posted on August 14, 2014

14YMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2014 – Evening falls and the
sound of the sieves in the rolling hills trails off. The three men
collect their belongings. They've finished the first day in their
arduous search for gold. Tomorrow they will wake up early and with the
first light of day return to dig, wash, sift and find the little nuggets
among the mud and sandstone. "If I find at least one gram, I'm going to
finish the roof of my house," says the most experienced of the stealth

The Rafael Freyre area in Holguin province attracts hundreds of people
every year who dream that a mine will help them out of their economic
difficulties. Is it need? A hobby? Or a real gold rush? Everyone
experiences it in their own way, but the oldest people in the area say
that when "people have gold in their eyes it's like a demon that will
never leave."

The stealth miners have created their own working tools from few
resources. Among the most important is the "car," a sieve with a piece
of rubber where the mud is deposited, that then falls through the
screen. It is a team effort, requiring at least three strong men. While
two shake the sieve, the other pours water over the mud collected in the
excavations. "Then the gold dust is left, in particles like a kind of
pea hull, although there can also be nuggets," says Fernando Ramón
Rodríguez Vargas who lives in Levisa, Mayari municipality, and for years
has dedicated himself to the pursuit of the precious metal.

Those who spend a lot of time in these tasks have developed and eye for
finding where the gold is, they don't believe in metal detectors. "They
aren't very effective because they go off everywhere, in this area there
can be a little piece anywhere. The most commonly used method is the
same as it is used by industries. I take a sample of the dirt and I wash
it to check how much gold it contains just so I will know if it's worth
the trouble," Veredia Elcko says, revealing his secrets. He has
participated in numerous fortune hunting expeditions. He claims that the
Cuatro Palmas area in Holguin is the most famous for the size of the
pieces found, and because the gold "is at ground level."

The second day of work is when your bones ache more. So the three men
bathe in a creek early in the day to relieve the little punctures all
over their bodies, and resume their excavations. The main symptom of
"gold fever" is working and working almost to the last light, without
eating. They go along making holes, because they aren't in an area of
surface tailings, the layer is deeper. The gold itself marks the path to
follow, from the amounts they come across.

Everybody wants to take your seam, then they start to dig deeper around
the hole and come in from underneath," says Verdecia Elcko, who has dug
with several friends and neighbors working together. You have to go
faster, the hands sinking full speed into the earth and the sieve never
stopping its "swish swish swish."

The technique for finding a seam is to test and test. Consistency is key
to this work, and perhaps because of this the stealth miners take on an
obsessive look, incapable to letting themselves be deterred by defeat.
Normally they look for the tracks of rivers that no longer exist.
They're like scars in the hills where water would have once swept along
the mineral. There are also muddy areas on the banks of still running
rivers that are good places for findings.

The third working day. The bread they brought is full of mold because of
the humidity. On getting up, the three men have numb hands, and the skin
on their fingers is cracked. Every muscle aches, but they have to keep
going. Perhaps today will be their lucky day. The first hours on the
site they work with more energy, but exhaustion returns and slows the
pace as noon approaches. The whole time their feet are damp with the
water flowing through the "car." One hurt his hand another coughed all
night. Around lunch time a 0.8 gram nugget restores their hope and they
decide to continue.

They're picking up tiny pieces, or "lice" as they call them. They hope
to have a breeze to start the melting. One brings a little mercury. They
put it in a pot and apply heat. It gives off a poisonous gas and the men
stand upwind to avoid breathing the smoke. It's a dangerous process, but
almost magical. In the bottom of the vessel the gold gleams. Every 24
carat gram they sell will bring a price of between 25 and 27 convertible
pesos, a little more than a dollar.

Gold fever can also become gold death. Verdecia Elcko knows this well.
"Over in the La Canela area a lady—they call her Mimi—found the largest
piece of the mineral ever found in that area, four-and-a-half-ounces.
Now the woman has developed cancer from using so much quicksilver." The
mercury is taken from state industries, diverted from laboratories and
chemical plants. It is a product that should be controlled, but it hits
the streets and gets into the hands of miners and jewelers.

If they get lucky, the three "seekers" will have to be cautious. If
they're seen to be spending a lot of money in town, people will start to
investigate where it came from. Someone could follow them to their place
and find the exact site of the mine they've found. Everything has to be
handled with a lot of discretion. There is also the danger of the Forest
Guard, which imposes fines of up to 1,700 pesos. According to the Mining
Act "the subsoil is the property of the State, the only entity
authorized to extract minerals and to exploit it for research purposes."

However, the State isn't interested in many of the small deposits. The
costs of exploitation would be greater than the earnings, so it isn't done.

Sometimes it is not gold that glitters. "I have found old coins and
indigenous remains," says Rodríguez Vargas. The biggest frustration for
those who pick through these hills is having to leave the area with no

Gold fever infects everyone equally, regardless of age, gender or
education. "You can find a doctor who, in his spare time, is on the bank
of the river, a teacher, a young student, a pregnant woman or one with a
kid," says Verdecia Elcko. "Because in the end it's just like the
fisherman, who always has to return to the sea.

The official institutions categorize these miners as a real "invasion of
prospectors." They accuse them of harming the environment, especially
the topsoil because they remove and wash it. The streams and water
reservoirs of the area are also affected by turning over and carrying
the sediments. Verderia Elcko admits that "the waters are polluted and
the farmers' animals have fallen in the holes that are dug. There have
also been accidents in the area, but this is a question of necessity,
not avarice."

A study by researchers at the Institute of Geology and Paleontology
concludes that the "organization of this activity under business
structures including State, cooperative and self-employed," should be
encouraged. The report suggests "local governments should provide the
knowledge and power necessary to enhance the usefulness of the rocks and
minerals present in their regions." However, for now, the decision
whether or not to exploit a site depends exclusively on the highest
levels of government.

The days of searching are over. The stealth miners return home. They
will return to the hills in a couple of weeks. The youngest of them sold
his refrigerator to buy a half liter of mercury. "You'll see, the next
time we'll find more gold and even a pirate's treasure," he says with
the golden glint in his eyes that everyone in the area knows very well.

Source: The New Gold Rush / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
A Repetitive Hack / Fernando Damaso
Posted on August 13, 2014

With regards to the Cuban hack living in Miami, I've decided not to
write any more, but it seems that drinks were passed around (in a letter
he declared his love for them) and in one of his last writings he
dismisses representative democracy.

He complains that in the United States you can't but a business wherever
you want, it has to be in a commercial area. That you are subject to
inspections, forced to follow regulations and ordinances. You have to
pay taxes. You can't paint your house whatever color you want or put up
fences without authorization. You have to have a permit for a rally or
protests, and journalists can only publish what newspaper owners approve.

The hack seems to want to practice anarchism in an organized society.
From his arrogance he asserts: Cubans don't understand anything about
this, they haven't the least idea about the implacable et cetera.

It seems that this gentleman, when he travels to Cuba to deal with his
work and have a little fun, hasn't realized that here, after some time
and overcoming the anarchy stage of years back, there are also all the
regulations he criticizes and much more, and they are enforced through
big fines, demolitions and even seizures without it being a democracy,
much less a representative one.

On the subject of protests and demonstrations it's more radical; they
are forbidden and, if you hold one, you will be severely reprimanded by
the authorities.

In the case of the press it's simple: all the media are state-owned and
the only articles approved by the authorities appear in them.

I think the hack knows this well, since he writes for one.

I don't know how much they pay him for his weekly diatribes on the same
topic: how bad it is living in Miami. Nor do I know if he is paid in
dollars or Cuban Convertible Pesos, but it would be nice if he would be
a little more serious, and stop thinking that we Cubans over here are
stupid enough to believe what he writes.

28 July 2014

Source: A Repetitive Hack / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
New Alliance Between Dissident Groups / 14ymedio
Posted on August 13, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana, 12 August 2014 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)
and the Pinero Autonomous Party (PAP) formalized an alliance Monday in
Santiago de Cuba.

Speaking to 14ymedio, José Daniel Ferrer, executive secretary of UNPACU
said that both organizations share a commitment to strengthening the
activities of the nonviolent struggle and invite smaller groups to join
the alliance.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba is the now largest and most active Cuban
opposition group. Started in 2011, the organization brings together more
than two thousand members in the East, says Ferrer. There would be a
similar number in the central and western areas, according to UNPACU's
own estimates.

The merger with PAP was based on the Declaration of Altamira—a reference
to a region of Santiago de Cuba—whose key points include the autonomy of
those who join UNPACU, collaboration in the training of members, and
dissemination of activities that are undertaken together.

The trend to consolidate alliances and agreements among the Cuban
opposition has accelerated in the past two years under the leadership of
the Patriotic Union. The most important of these confluences happened
last year with the merger of the United Antitotalitarian Front (FANTU),
represented by Sakharov Prize winner Guillermo Fariñas, and UNPACU.

Source: New Alliance Between Dissident Groups / 14ymedio | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba: A Deadly Problem That Won't Go Away
August 13, 2014
Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — "A girl died and 32 others were injured Tuesday when a
truck used to transport passengers overturned in eastern Cuba," reported
the Cuban press as part of a campaign for greater road safety.

However, the truth is that little can be done while the authorities
allow half the cars on the road to circulate without seat belts and
cargo trucks from the 1940s are used to transport passengers.

The little campaigns in the media will have the same effect as an
aspirin in a cancer patient. While accidents multiply in these rolling
coffins, buses the government imported remain idle, deteriorating for
lack of spare parts.

If in 50 years the State has not been able to create a decent transport
system maybe they should let others try. One way would be to authorize
individuals to import buses tariff free and sell them fuel at wholesale

Source: Cuba: A Deadly Problem That Won't Go Away - Havana - Continue reading
Why Russia and Cuba Are Partying Like It's 1962
By Lucy Westcott and Bill Powell / August 12, 2014 5:21 AM EDT

It seemed like old times: In Havana in early July, Castro, the
revolutionary leader of Cuba, embraced the current occupant of the
Kremlin—once upon a time the isolated Communist island's sugar
daddy—together gleefully sticking a finger in the eye of their Cold War
rival in Washington.

In this case, the Castro was Raúl—the younger brother of the ailing (or
still alive?) Fidel—who now runs Cuba, and Vladimir Putin, the Russian
president, who seems driven to not only reconstitute (to the extent he
can) the Soviet Union but also to put the old band of anti-American
developing-world countries back together again. This was the second
visit from Russia's leader since the Soviet Union fell apart and—much to
Havana's fury—Moscow effectively dumped it as an unaffordable client state.

But as Putin, since his annexation of Crimea in March and his backing of
Ukrainian separatists, has become increasingly hostile toward the West,
his Cuba visit raised an important question: In 2014, is a Moscow-Havana
alliance as potentially consequential for the United States and its
allies in the region as it once was? These, after all, were the players
that in 1962 brought the world to as close to nuclear Armageddon as it
has ever been.

Putin's motives for establishing closer ties with not only Havana but
other like-minded countries in Latin America—Venezuela and Nicaragua
specifically—seem straightforward. In the wake of his push into Ukraine,
Russia's relations with the West are deteriorating rapidly. So in the
East he signed a massive gas deal with China (the two powers have long
viewed each other warily at best), then looked south for a
back-to-the-future moment with Cuba.

During the visit, Putin agreed to write off $32 billion in Russian debt
to Cuba, leaving just over $3 billion left to pay over the next 10
years. This was a significant economic weight lifted from Havana, whose
gross domestic product shrank by up to a third with the loss of direct
aid and subsidies from Moscow after the Soviet Union fell. Putin and
Raúl Castro also agreed to new deals in energy, health and disaster
prevention and help with building a vast new seaport. Moscow is also now
exploring for oil and gas in Cuban waters, right in the U.S.'s backyard.

The deals were the most pronounced sign yet that the formerly estranged
couple were reconciling—a process that has been under way for more than
a year. Early in 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited
and agreed to lease eight jets to Cuba. In June, as part of a "space
cooperation" agreement, Cuba said it will allow Moscow to base
navigation stations for its own global positioning system, called
Glonass, on the island.

"What Putin is doing is reestablishing the relationships that, when
Russia was turning west, planning to become part of wider Europe, and
giving up the legacy of the Soviet Union, were actually neglected," says
Nina Khrushcheva, an associate professor of international affairs at the
New School and granddaughter of former Russian premier Nikita
Khrushchev. "I think that stands at the core of his reengagement."

But Putin didn't show up in Havana simply to sign trade deals. The
former KGB man had more on his mind than a photo op before flying back
to Moscow. Important strategic moves were made. In exchange for
canceling the Cuban debt, Russian news outlet Kommersant reported,
Russia plans to reopen the so-called Lourdes spying post. Opened south
of Havana in 1967, Lourdes was the largest and most extensive Soviet
signals intelligence facility outside of the Soviet Union for much of
the Cold War, says Austin Long, an assistant professor of international
and public affairs at Columbia University.

Moscow closed Lourdes, which operated only 150 miles from the Florida
coast, in 2001. At its operating peak, more than 75 percent of Russia's
strategic intelligence on the U.S. came through Lourdes, including
monitoring NASA's space program at Cape Canaveral.

While there are doubts over just how quickly Russia can reopen the
28-square-mile compound—and, considering Putin has actually denied the
reports, whether it will even open—the news is still significant. "It
indicates a real effort by Putin to revitalize the worldwide rather than
just regional capabilities of Russia for intelligence collection, and
maybe eventually for the protection of military power," says Long.

Deeper than that is Russia's realization that it may be lagging far
behind in the murky realm of cybersecurity, particularly after Edward
Snowden's National Security Agency leaks, Long said. But there is
another way of looking at Russia's spying ambitions in the wake of the
Cold War. If, as has been widely speculated, Snowden, whom Putin has
just awarded a three-year visa to remain in Russia, was a Moscow spy
from the start, far from lagging in the cyber-spying race, Moscow may be
a nose ahead of the U.S.

"I think this is partly an attempt by them to reopen a facility that
gives them some access, at least in theory, into the West," Long said.
"The Russians are okay on low-level cyber stuff, but I don't think
they've kept up overall in terms of signals intelligence, certainly not
over what the U.S. and the U.K. have done over the past decade."

And while information-gathering technology may have changed beyond all
recognition since the late 1960s—with satellite technology rendering
ground-based operations largely useless—if Lourdes does reopen, Russia
can provide information to allies like Venezuela and Bolivia, says
Robert Jervis, a professor of international politics at Columbia University.

"I think there's real benefit [to reopening Lourdes]. After all, the
U.S. tries to vacuum up everything imaginable, so we shouldn't be
surprised that Russia would want to do likewise," he said.

Moscow's moves puts Cuba in play as an asset to annoy the U.S. at a time
when relations are worse with Washington than at any time since the end
of the Cold War. And they come amid evidence that Washington under the
Obama administration hasn't exactly been ignoring Cuba from an
intelligence standpoint either. The Associated Press recently revealed
that in 2009 the U.S. ran an operation, under the guise of the U.S.
Agency for International Development, sending young Latin Americans into
Cuba in "hopes of ginning up rebellion."

The Russian rapprochement goes way beyond the potential reopening of
Lourdes. Last year, Russian Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov
visited key intelligence sites in Cuba. One year after Medvedev's visit
to Cuba in 2008, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that
Russia had engaged in talks to establish military bases in Cuba as well
as Venezuela and Nicaragua.

"Anything that annoys the U.S. probably makes Putin feel better," Jervis
said. "It's symbolic muscle-flexing."

How seriously should Washington take Russia's reengagement with Cuba?
Regional experts both in and out of government say, for the moment
anyway, not very. The reopening of Lourdes isn't going to threaten U.S.
national security when organized crime, drug trafficking and
uncontrolled migration are top priorities for the U.S. in Latin America,
says Joaquín Roy, a professor of European integration at the University
of Miami.

"Russia doesn't have the military or naval capability of converting this
into a beachhead of operations in Latin America," Roy said. "If someone
believes that, this is totally silly."

Still, Putin is a shrewd image-builder and will seek out and exploit
those countries disappointed in the United States, Khrushcheva says.
"It's the image-building for those who have been incredibly disappointed
by 20-plus years of U.S. lone leadership of the world," she said.

And in the spying game—as in real estate—location counts is paramount.
Ultimately, Cuba's proximity to the U.S. gives it value to a Russian
president who has decided he wants to make life as difficult for the
United States as he is able. And Obama's comments in March this year,
after Putin's Crimea invasion, that the U.S. is working to "isolate"
Russia from the international community, only gives Moscow more
incentive to re-engage Havana.

Putin's Cuba trip, says Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian
studies at Princeton University, "was a reply to Obama's notion that
Russia could be isolated, by saying, 'Hey, here we are back 90 miles off
your shore with a big greeting, and we're going back into economic
business here.'"

While the revival of the lapsed Russia-Cuba love affair might be an
irritant to a United States that has long hoped the demise of Fidel
Castro would finally bring an end of Cuba's isolation—and possibly a
reorientation toward Washington— the U.S. has much bigger problems with
Moscow these days. And Russia simply doesn't have the
wherewithal—despite its oil and gas wealth—to refight a cold war in all
the old venues.

"If you compare [the Russian threat today] to the Soviet Union 30 years
ago, that was a large scale, global challenge," says Columbia's Austin
Long. "I think Putin certainly has ambitions to restore global stature
to Russian power, but we're just not there, and I don't see any prospect
that we will be."

Putin may punch above his weight, but at some point, reality sets in.
"The gap in capabilities between the U.S. and Russia now," says Long,
"and the Soviet Union and the United States 30 or 40 years ago is just
much, much greater."

Source: Why Russia and Cuba Are Partying Like It's 1962 - Continue reading
A Badly Garnished Dish / Fernando Damaso
Posted on August 12, 2014

Every now and then the Cuban Authorities mount the spectacle of
'external subversion' against the regime. As if it were a 'blue plate
special' it's seasoned with a press statement from a second or third
rate official, articles on the subject from some government journalists,
a session on the Roundtable TV Show with energetic participants, an
anecdote about an alleged event that took place in a cultural forum, and
statements about some media junkie being a double agent.

It happens that, despite the political events they participate in, a
great part of Cuban youth don't believe in the country's current
political, economic and social project, and try to abandon the country
by any means possible to pursue their lives in other lands.

If the constant defections of athletes, artists and professionals
weren't enough, along with the illegal departures on boats, rafts and
other methods by hundreds of Cubans, you only have to talk honestly with
the young people in any neighborhood in our towns and cities to know
what they really think.

The double standard is well-rooted here, right along with the invasive
marabou weed, and you shouldn't give much credence to what is said in an
assembly or mass event, or in front of a microphone or camera. At those
times, most of the young and not so young say what the authorities want
to hear, so as to avoid trouble.

The solution is not 'blue plate specials' every now and then, but the
adoption of profound measures to resolve the current critical situation
and to offer, rather than a long delayed future, a prosperous and
dignified present.

7 August 2014

Source: A Badly Garnished Dish / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
1, 055 Zambian students currently on govt. scholarships abroad
Time Posted: August 12, 2014 7:58 pm

Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education spokesperson
Hilary Chipango says a total of 1,055 Zambian students are currently
being supported at various universities abroad.

Mr. Chipango said government remains indebted to the generosity and
hopitality of the people and governments of those respective countries.

He said out of the 1,055 students studying abroad, 136 students were
expected to graduate from Algeria, China, Cuba, Russia Federation and
Tunisia by the end of August 2014 and return home.

Mr. Chipango said currently 178 Zambians are pursuing undergraduate and
Post graduate studies in ALGERIA, 140 in China, 38 in Cuba, 12 in
Cyprus, 15 in India, 493 IN Russia and 78 in Turkey among other countries.

The ministry's spokesperson said this in a statement released in Lusaka,

All the scholarships are availed to Zambia are advertised in the daily
papers and the applicants are interviewed and selected by a panel adding
that the procedures are reviewed to make them more transparent and

He said as a ministry they acknowledge the outstanding performance of
the majority of the students abroad as they are competing favorably with
other nationals.

Mr. Chipanga has however warned all students abroad to desist from
irresponsible acts which impact negatively on the image of Zambia.

He said the bursaries Committee has been directed to withdraw
sponsorship at the slightest hint of misbehavior of any Zambian student

Mr. Chipango has also urged the students taking up scholarships this
year to be exemplary in their studies and endeavor at all times and be
ambassadors of Zambia by flying the Zambian flag high.

Source: Zambia : 1, 055 Zambian students currently on govt. scholarships
abroad - Continue reading
Warehouses for Old People / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma
Posted on August 12, 2014

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, August 11, 2014 – "Very soon the best
businesses in Cuba will be trash and old people," blurts out the owner
of an old age home, without blushing. Places like hers aren't recognized
at all by the law, but they have emerged to meet the demand of an
increasingly aging people.

It is estimated that in a decade that more than 26% of the Cuban
population will be over 60. The needs of these millions of seniors will
be felt in Public Health, social security, and the network of old age
homes available in the country. Throughout the Island there are only 126
homes with room for fewer than 10,000 elderly, a ridiculous figure given
that the demands are increasing. With regards to specialized doctors,
the country has fewer than 150 geriatric specialists.

Housing problems are forcing more families to entrust the care of their
grandparents to state or religious institutions. That, coupled with the
economic problems and low pensions, make caring for the elderly ever
more complicated for their relatives.

There is no welcome sign and if someone calls to ask for details she
responds cautiously.

"My father of almost 90 got sick," says Cary, a entrepreneur who offers
services as a caregiver to the elderly. "I didn't want to send him to a
nursing home, so I had to devote myself to taking care of him full time.
Then it occurred to me I could do the same for other old people." The
woman has a thriving business, where she offers clients, "breakfast,
lunch, dinner and even snacks."

Cary's home is advertised online, costs at least 70 CUC a month and, its
owner says, "Here we have a hairdresser, barber, pedicures; they can
even stay from Monday to Friday. We treat our clients with kindness and
like family." There is no welcome sign on the pleasant home, if someone
is interested and calls to ask for details, she responds cautiously.
Potential clients must come recommended or be the friend of a friend.

On the list of self-employment professions permitted, is "caretaker of
the sick, disabled and elderly," but the license only allows attention,
without other benefits. Cary should take out several additional
licenses, as a dispenser of food—because the elderly eat in her
house—and a license to rent rooms, which authorizes overnight guests.
The cost of the three licenses would make her business unprofitable. She
already has problems with the police and now she has to tell the
neighbors that she is taking care of some of her father's "brothers and

Despite the high prices, these initiatives are in great demand, due to
the limited capacity of the state asylums and their deteriorating
installations. Getting into these official places is not easy. You need
to go the family doctor, who will refer the case to a social worker. The
decision may take years, although some accelerate it by paying a
"stimulus" to get the paperwork in record time. Then you have to way for
a space to open in a place in the municipality or the province.

The situation reached a point of deterioration that the State was forced
to delegate the care of the Catholic Church

The old age homes hit bottom during the economic crisis of the 90s. The
situation got to the point where the State was forced to delegate part
of the care and hygiene tasks to the Catholic Church. Many of the old
age homes were almost completely overseen by religious congregations,
such as the Servants of the Abandoned Brothers, the Daughters of
Charity, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Brothers of St. John of God.
Thanks to this collaboration complete collapse was avoided, although
they barely built and readied new sites.

Self-employed people have began to take a position in this sector:
private homes that are rebuilt to fit a hospital bed, the doors widened
for wheelchairs, and accessories are added to bathrooms to support older
people. All this is done with great discretion, without anything
noticeable from the outside of the house that would suggest a conversion
to a private asylum.

"Most of the cases we take care of come from far away," explains
Angelica, a retired nurse who has opened her own old age home. She has
competitive prices, around 60 CUC, and it includes clinical services and
physiotherapy, physical exercises and excursions to Saturday work parties.

The responsibility is great, but the families of the elderly are very
demanding, given the high price they pay. The majority are people with a
child who has emigrated who pays, from afar, for care for the father or
mother. "Sometimes they make first world demands, like an electric bed,
or putting cameras in the rooms to monitor what the old people do all
the time," Angelica complains.

I've had to accompany some of my clients in their last moments," the
lady says, who despite also being elderly herself is strong and agile.
"I can't advertise it, but I also offer the service of being with the
old man in his death throes, holding his hand, reading and talking to
him, so he doesn't feel alone at the moment of death."

"If my children continue with the business, soon I will be a client of
my own old age home," she says with a certain pleasure. A bell rings and
while she goes to feed a ninety-year-old sitting in front of the TV,
Angelica reflects outloud, "Don't let anyone send me to one of the
State's 'old folks warehouses.' I want to stay here."

Source: Warehouses for Old People / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Despicable Manipulation / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on August 12, 2014

Yesterday, July 28, I read in the Trabajadores ["Workers"] newspaper
about the speech given by 6th grade pioneer Wendy Ferrer during the main
event of a celebration in Artemisa marking the 61st anniversary of the
attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks. I could
not help feeling shame and indignation over the vile manipulation that
was so evident in the discourse read by this child.

To my understanding, the words and phrases used were not typical of a
school-age child. If they were so, it would only be an even more
lamentable proof of the terrible distortion fed to our students, a
political manipulation that takes precedence over the true history of
our country, and over true education. This is truly unfortunate. I
believe that it is a civic duty to clarify for this girl, or actually
for her teachers, some of the very sensitive aspects of her speech:

I completed my primary school studies — starting with a marvelous and
unforgettable Kindergarten, as we then called what are today known as
children's camps — up to 6th grade in a public school, No. 31 of the Los
Pinos suburb. Never, in our humble school, did we go without a school
breakfast, as was provided in all public schools of that time. Nor did
we ever lack notebooks — which I can't forget included an imprint on the
back of the tables for multiplication, addition, subtraction and
division — or pencils, which were provided to all students at the start
of — and midway through — each term. At that time, public education
accounted for 22.3% of the national budget. There was also a private
education sector, with wonderful schools founded and directed by great

The Cuban educational system during the 1950s was made up of 20,000
credentialed teachers and 500,000 students. These figures are documented
in the census and statistics of the era and confirmed internationally.
Never in the public education sector was there discrimination against a
student on the basis of race or religion. If a seeming dearth of black
or mixed-race students is evident, this was only due to the fact that in
those years, according to the 1953 census (which would be the last until
almost 30 years later), 72.8% of the Cuban population was white, 12.4
was black, and 14.5 was mixed-race. At that time our population was six
million inhabitants. The private schools were the only ones who had the
prerogative to implement selective admissions.

According to my aunt, a great and respected educator and director of
Public School, the best teachers were to be found in the public schools
because the government paid better salaries than the private schools.
Also, many of these professors, above all those with specialties in
music, art and languages, would also teach classes in private schools.
For my lifelong love of music I credit — in addition to my family —
those marvelous professors who I had in this subject throughout the
course of my primary school studies.

To ignore these facts would be to cast aspersions not only on the Cuban
educational system of that time, which was considered one of the best in
Ibero-America along with those of Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, but
also on all those great Cuban educators who conferred lustre and
prestige on our country. Among them, to mention only a few, for the list
would be interminable, we can name the following:

José de la Luz y Caballero, Rafael María Mendive, Enrique José Varona
(youth educator), Max Figueroa, Camila Enrique Ureña, Mirta Aguirre,
Gaspar Jorge García Galló, Raúl Ferrer, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez,
Vicentina Antuña Tavío, Aurelio Baldor (whose texts are still utilized
in Latin America), Ana María Rodríguez, Añorga, Valmaña, and many more
who were the mentors of our most celebrated professionals.

For all this, I cannot leave unmentioned that, after 1959, government
decrees so pressured the teaching profession that private schools closed
down and a massive exodus of educators ensued, damaging the educational
system to such a degree that new teachers had to be credentialed on the
fly to educate "the new sons and daughters of the homeland". The result
was a deterioration and decline of education in our country, what with
it taking second place to politics. Many of our professionals, in exile
today, cannot forget the discrimination they endured in the
universities, due to their religious beliefs or sexual orientation,
following the triumph of the revolution.

For this and many other reasons, I would suggest to this young pioneer –
and to all the children of our country – to fearlessly seek answers from
capable persons to clarify their doubts, gathering as much information
as they can independently, and taking a bit more responsibility for
their own education. Sadly, in our schools today, politics and
government orders take precedence over knowledge.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

31 July 2014

Source: Despicable Manipulation / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
What it Costs to Eat! / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on August 11, 2014

This week I invited to lunch a couple who are friends of mine. I have
among the more "respectable" pensions in this country: 340 CUP (Cuban
pesos) — the type of currency which is also used to pay salaries.

I set out early in search of the necessary elements and ingredients to
prepare for my friends a "criollo" [traditional Cuban] menu. They live
outside the country, and I wanted to treat them to a home-cooked meal.
Since there would be four of us to feed, I purchased the following:

Four plantains to make tostones, 10 CUP for the four; 1lb onions, 30
pesos; 1lb peppers, 20 pesos; two small garlic heads, 6 pesos; one
avocado, 10 pesos; 2lb rice, 10 pesos; 1lb black beans, 14 pesos; 3lb
pork steak, 120 pesos; one large (3lb) mango, 7.50 pesos. After that, I
stood in line to buy one loaf of Cuban bread for 10 pesos.

As you might have noticed, a simple luncheon for four cost me "only"
257.50 Cuban pesos. My guests brought a bottle of wine.

The meal was a success and we had a great time, but as you can imagine,
my pockets are wobbling until my next pension check. Now you see what a
simple meal costs on my planet!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 August 2014

Source: What it Costs to Eat! / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program
Say sources had political agenda to undermine U.S. policy
BY: Daniel Wiser
August 11, 2014 5:00 am

Critics are raising questions about the Associated Press's recent report
on a U.S. program to foster civil society in Cuba and have accused the
news organization of cooperating with sources who have a political
agenda against U.S. policy toward the island.

The AP recently reported on the program that sent Spanish-speaking youth
to Cuba to help build health and civil society associations, which the
news organization described as a "clandestine operation" with the goal
of "ginning up rebellion." Human rights groups involved in the program
criticized the report and said it mischaracterized the nature of the
civil society projects.

Defenders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
program say the AP has been less than forthright about the sources for
its reporting. They also allege that the AP obtained information and
documents from longstanding critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba's
communist government.

The anti-Castro website Capitol Hill Cubans alleged that the key source
for the AP's reporting on both the civil society program and a separate
project, an attempt to develop a Twitter-like social media service for
Cubans, was Fulton Armstrong. Armstrong is a former Senate Foreign
Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and senior intelligence analyst for
Latin America.

Armstrong told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that although the
AP contacted him, he was not the main source of information and
documents. "The AP's reports are pretty obviously based on documentary
evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change
programs," he said, adding that he was never fully briefed on what he
called USAID's "clandestine, covert operations."

"Because the SFRC had investigated these scandalously run secret
programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss
(Chairman [John] Kerry) was concerned enough to put a hold on the
programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be
called by the AP reporters," he said.

Armstrong has long raised the ire of U.S. officials and activists
advocating a tough line against the Castro regime. Foreign policy
officials in the George W. Bush administration attempted to reassign
Armstrong from Latin American intelligence after arguing that he was
"soft" on threats from Cuba, according to a 2003 report by the New York

He wrote in a 2011 op-ed that "it's time to clean up the regime-change
programs" and focus on securing the release of Alan Gross, a former
USAID subcontractor who has been imprisoned for almost five years in
Cuba. Gross worked to provide Internet access to small Cuban
communities, but authorities arrested him on charges of attempting to
destabilize the government.

Armstrong also served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Latin
America when a widely criticized Pentagon report about Cuba was drafted.
The 1997 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) determined
that Cuba's military "poses a negligible conventional threat to the U.S.
or surrounding countries."

The original drafter of the report was Ana Montes. Montes was later
revealedto be a top Cuban spy in the U.S. government and is currently
serving a 25-year prison sentence.

Armstrong said one of his responsibilities as a senior intelligence
officer at the time was to "shepherd it through interagency coordination."

"The draft was very weak and was heavily rewritten by representatives of
all 15 agencies at the table," he said. "All 15 agencies endorsed the
rewritten paper without reservation."

He added that he was "deeply shocked by her arrest" and that "not one of
the dozens of [intelligence community] professionals with whom Montes
interacted suspected she was a spy."

Critics of Cuba's government note that it continues to be a
U.S.-designatedsponsor of terrorism and authoritarian regimes, and that
it attempted an arms shipment to North Korea last year that violated
U.S. and international sanctions.

An AP spokeswoman declined to comment on what information its reporters
received from Armstrong or other sources. "We don't discuss our
sourcing," said senior media relations manager Erin Madigan White in an

Jose Cardenas, a former senior USAID administrator in the George W. Bush
administration who helped oversee the Cuba program, said in an interview
that the AP "jumped to too many conclusions" and "misinterpreted"
internal documents about the program. Although some security protocols
were necessary to not arouse the suspicion of Cuban authorities, the
projects were more about developing relations between young Cubans
rather than instigating a rebellion, he said.

The AP's source is "acting on a political agenda," Cardenas claimed.

"It raises serious questions about the veracity and integrity of their
whole story," he said.

The AP published a blog post on Thursday that provided some background
on its reporting. It said reporter Desmond Butler's "source gave him a
new batch of documents" for the article, and noted that one of the
investigative reporters used a secure phone and encrypted emails
"because communications in Venezuela, like Cuba, are not considered secure."

The AP also described how one of its reporters repeatedly attempted to
contact the main organizer of a group of Venezuelans who traveled to
Cuba for the program, including filming the woman as she refused to talk
outside her house and slammed her door. A Venezuelan human rights group
involved in the program denounced the AP's reporting on Thursday and
accused it of harassing one of its members.

The reporters who covered the story won a $500 prize for keeping "the AP
out front on American secret activities in Cuba," according to the AP.

Source: Critics question sources for AP report on Cuba Democracy Program
| Washington Free Beacon - Continue reading
Record Number of Cubans Crossing the Mexican Border to USA
August 11, 2014
Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Cafe Fuerte)

HAVANA TIMES — More than 14,000 Cubans crossed the Mexican border into
the United States in the 2014 fiscal year, setting a historical record
for the illegal inflow of Cuban citizens through US immigration control

Statistics made available to CafeFuerte by the Customs and Border
Protection Department indicate that, as of July 21 this year, a total of
20,522 people of Cuban nationality had arrived in the United States
through border points, 13,911 of them through the Mexican border.

The data points to a notable rise in the number of Cuban immigrants,
with figures from the two last months of the current fiscal year (which
ends on September 30) still to come.

Unstoppable Growth

In 2013, the figures rose by 40%, with over 16,000 people invoking the
Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) to request asylum at different border points,
13,664 at the Mexican border.

This has been a particularly tense and busy time for US immigration
dealing with thousands of Central American children without any means of
identification. Meanwhile Cubans continue to request asylum before the
authorities, invoking the special migratory prerogatives that apply to them.

Some 89,000 Cubans have entered the United States through the Mexican
border alone since 2005.

The number of Cubans requesting asylum hasn't only skyrocketed at the
Mexican border. Other border control points in the northern United
States, such as the Buffalo-Niagara Falls crossing and Champlain-Rouses
Point, in New York, are beginning to see greater and greater numbers of
Cubans produce a piece of identification and invoke the Cuban Adjustment

The figures analyzed encompass 121 border control points, immigration
posts and airports, but do not include the 56,410 Cubans whose entry
into the country is registered at the Miami International Airport. These
statistics include all travelers that receive an I-94 form (those who
arrive with an immigration permit and those who enter the country as
visitors for family or work-related reasons, holding a B1 or B2 visas),
but they do not specify the number of Cubans who request asylum after
setting foot on US soil.

The Cuban-Spanish Avalanche

The number of Cubans with Spanish nationality who request asylum under
the Cuban Adjustment Act upon arrival at the Miami airport has increased
considerably over the past three years. Travelers with Spanish passports
or passports from EU countries do not require a visa to enter the United
States, only a document or waiver secured through the Electronic System
for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

More than 180 thousand Cubans have become naturalized Spanish citizens
under the Historical Memory Law, also known as the Grandchildren's Law,
which came into effect in December of 2008. Many of the so-called
cubañoles (Cuban-Spaniards) have used their newly-acquired citizenship
as springboard to travel without visa requirements and settle in the
United States.

Though Cubans holding Spanish passports are being granted entrance as an
asylum seeker at the Miami airport almost automatically, the process
depends on the immigration official.

The porosity of border check points for illegal Cuban immigration
constitutes an incentive for thousands of people who are now able to
travel to third countries, thanks to the migratory reforms that the Raul
Castro government made effective in January of 2013.

Dangerous Journeys

Border crossings and requests for asylum at US airports by Cubans has
been spiraling out of control ever since.

A high number of refugees arriving in the United States are Cubans who
travel through Central American countries. They arrive in these
countries by sea and later cross the Mexican border. The Cayman Islands
have recently become a transit point for vessels carrying Cuban migrants
and the stage of violent incidents, in which those detained in the high
seas refuse to be repatriated. Others undertake dangerous journeys from
South America, chiefly Ecuador.

Cubans have continued to attempt crossing the Strait of Florida on rafts
or speedboats, but more rigorous monitoring by the Coast Guard Service
has reduced the number of people attempting to reach US coasts this way
significantly. So far this year, 1,561 Cubans have been intercepted out
at sea and repatriated – the largest number registered since 2008.

The United States issues some 20 thousand traveler visas to Cubans every
year and the average number of people visiting the country for
family-related, cultural and other matters was over 26 thousand in 2013.
A high number of these visas are valid for a five year period.

No measure, however, appears sufficient to put an end to the Cuban exodus.


2005- 11,524 (7,267 through the Mexican border)
2006- 13,405 (8,639)
2007- 13,840 (9,566)
2008- 11,146 (10,030)
2009- 7,803 (5,893)
2010- 6,286 (5,570)
2011- 7,051 (5,973)
2012- 9,191 (8,273)
2013- 16,184 (13,664)
2014- 20,522 (13,911)*

*As of July 21, 2014.

Source: Record Number of Cubans Crossing the Mexican Border to USA -
Havana - Continue reading
The Cow That Would Change Cuba / 14ymedio, Ignacio Varona
Posted on August 11, 2014

14ymedio, HAVANA, Ignacio Varona, 4 August 2014 – When she died they
erected a life-size marble statue of her, and when they milked her she
liked to listen to music. The entire country lived attentive to the milk
given by Ubre Blanca (White Udder), the most famous cow in Cuba. She was
an animal that not only left her name in the Guinness Book of World
Records, but also left a trail of people who remembered her, either with
affection or with derision. A new documentary by Enrique Colina
recreates the life of this ruminant creature, and the political and
social delirium that was generated by her prodigious milk production.

In the space of less than fifty minutes, his documentary "La Vaca de
Marmol" (The Marble Cow) recounts those moments in which the entire
future of the country depended on the milking of those prodigious
udders. With humor and occasional moments of true drama, the director
and movie critic tackles a story that appears taken more from mythology
than from reality. The story of Ubre Blanca is told by those men who
cared for her, milked her and cured her of her diseases on the Isle of
Pines, but also by the voices of ordinary people who grew up hearing of
a future when milk "would run in the streets" as a result of the
increase in production, for which this cow was supposed to be the vanguard.

Colina is a creative genius who needs no introduction. His program 24 y
segundo for years has produced the most intelligent critical
cinematography and entertainment on Cuban national television. Also, he
has ventured in the direction of documentaries, producing classical
pieces such as Jau, Vecinos (Neighbors), and Chapucerías (Shoddy Work).
In 2003, he made his debut in fictional cinema with the film "Entre
Ciclones" (Between Cyclones). His work has been noted in the Cuban film
panorama for its good humor and its incisive criticism of social problems.

On this occasion Colina has turned his talents towards to reintroducing
us to Ubre Blanca. One of the most amazing testimonies that this
documentary is that of Jorge Hernández, the veterinarian who attended to
the celebrated cow for a good part of her life. Through the statements
of this man we see the atmosphere of pressure and vigilance over those
who attended directly to the world-record milk producer. "You cannot
allow this animal to have even a cold," Fidel Castro had pronounced on
his first visit to the dairy farm. And so it had to be

Linda Arleen, a cow in the United States, had previously inscribed her
name in the Guinness Book of World Records for her milk production.
Exceeding that record became a personal battle for Fidel Castro against
the United States, his archenemy from the north. Ubre Blanca therefore
began to be milked as much as four times a day, surrounded by conditions
unequaled anywhere else in the world, and by an attentive team that
dared never to make a misstep, nor skip a single task.

Care for the cow included having its food tested by being first given to
another animal, so that Ubre Blanca wouldn't be poisoned, as that was an
obsession of El Comandante Castro. The dairy workers lived practically
quartered with the cow so that she would lack nothing. "The milkings
themselves were good, but we ourselves were treated as if we were crap,"
one of the caretakers said decades afterwards. Thus it went day after
day, until finally Ubre Blanca was found to have broken the world record
and was elevated to the title of the new world champion, as a result of
her having produced 110.9 liters of milk in a single day.

Surrounded by photographers and journalists, with three milkings daily
and with the pressure of a high-ranking athlete, Ubre Blanca became
sick, diagnosed with cancer of the skin, and had to be sacrificed. Her
rapid deterioration pointed to an excessive exploitation of the animal,
and to all the stress that she was submitted to in the last years of her
life. Her name would, in the end, serve to thicken the large list of
failed projects that were ascribed to Fidel Castro. There would never be
another Ubre Blanca, and the entire Cuban cattle industry fell off the
precipice of apathy and inefficiency.

With mastery and a certain touch of humor, Enrique Colina also reviews
all the worship of the cow that occurred subsequent to her death. This
worship ranged from the work of the taxidermists to maintain her skin,
to the marble sculpture of Ubre Blanca that even today is located at the
entrance of La Victoria farm, where that production miracle occurred.
The jokes in the street, and the suspicion left by that illusion also
have a place in the documentary.

A certain apprehension can be seen to overcome the caretaker who
believes that the ghost of Ubre Blanca still walks through the beautiful
stable that they created for her. With air conditioning, special
pastures and 24-hour-a-day monitoring, that cow ended up being a
prisoner of her fame, and of an obstinate man who believed that a
country could be governed in the same way he ordered a dairy to be.

Translator's Note: This documentary reportedly was shown in Cuba only
once, when it was entered into a film festival, and has not been shown

Translated by Diego A.

Source: The Cow That Would Change Cuba / 14ymedio, Ignacio Varona |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
'Change is Afoot:' One-on-One With Tom Popper, Insight Cuba

The demand for Cuba is huge and not letting up, in spite of a U.S.
embargo on Cuba since 1963. Insight Cuba, one of the premier Cuba
operators, has been on the front lines of travel to Cuba since 2000.
Travel Pulse spoke with Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, about the
ongoing changes on the island and in the American market for travel to Cuba.
TravelPulse: Last November M&T Bank stopped providing financial services
for the Cuban government, putting the visa process for Americans in
jeopardy. Has Cuba been able to get another American bank yet?
Tom Popper: I don't even know how to explain it. I do know that the bank
problem has not been officially resolved. There is some kind of
work-around that has been created. Nobody's saying what that is. From a
travel standpoint, from a visa standpoint I haven't heard about anyone
having trouble at all. Somehow it's resolved, but I guess the banks are
being the banks. It's one of those situations where I ask the question
and I'm being told, "Don't worry."
TravelPulse: It's the Cuban Interests Section [the Cuban government]
that's telling you it's okay?
Popper: Yeah. I don't think we're the only organization in that mode. I
think it's safe to say that there's been no impact on the issuance of
visas as a result of the banking problem.
TravelPulse: So the banking problem is just up in the air, but it
doesn't seem to affect anything.
Popper: Not yet. This November will be a year since the problem arose.
The banks are saying it's the U.S. government and they don't want to
take the risk. And the U.S. government is saying it's fine. So the banks
say, "Well stop nailing us."
Part of the reason the banks are reluctant, it isn't so much about the
fines, it is that they are required to implement OFAC Compliance
Software. And the cost is prohibitive.
TravelPulse: But you've seen no impact on the issue of visas?
Popper: Everybody's been able to get visas. Will that change one day? I
don't know. But usually when somebody gets into a pinch with anything
they will call around and say, "What are you doing?" Nobody has called
saying, "Do you have extra visas? Can you help us out?" I think
everybody's been managing, somehow. Nobody really knows how.
It's OK. As long as the tourist cards are being issued, that's great. So
as you see we are churning out new tours, new initiatives. Business is
great. We're growing this year.
TravelPulse: The growth is just limited by capacity, right?
Popper: No. Between 2011 and 2013 there were huge growth spurts. There
was an article that just came out from the Cuban Tourism Bureau saying
that they were actually down. Total numbers were down and also U.S.
travelers were down. It's hard to know how much of that is People to
People, they don't offer that. It includes illegal travelers,
people-to-people, religious travel. It's a lot of different things.
The demand heated up really quickly and I thought it would start to
plateau. But we're seeing growth. We'll be entering our fourth year
since the license reissue. We naturally predicted that it would start to
slow down. One, because the newness of it is starting to wear off and
there are many licensees. So we were expecting to have a flat year and
instead we're up about 18 percent.
TravelPulse: Most people would call that a great growth rate.
Popper: Oh yeah, we're happy. You know, in business it's really great
now, but then you start looking at 2015 and — should we start worrying?
You know it turns around in a minute. But bookings for 2015 are also
looking good. We're about even pace with last year, with our 2013
numbers. So our projections indicate we'll have as good a year this year
as we had last year.
TravelPulse: Do you have any problems with capacity? Can you take all
the people who are coming to you?
Popper: Yes. We haven't had any issues with flights or hotels.
TravelPulse: I saw a new land-and-sea program you are offering with
Louis Cruises. That's the first of those I've seen. Is it the first?
Popper: It's not the first one. We found out about the boat in January
of 2013. I literally saw a press release from Cuba Cruises. I called the
president of the company and said, "We want to do this. This is too
cool." The boat starts in Montego Bay and goes around Cuba and goes back
to Montego Bay. I thought, what a great experience! Different hotel
experience, different food experience, different transportation
experience. You don't have to fly into Havana. There are more direct
flights to Montego Bay.
So it created a different access point. So like with everything we do,
we consulted with OFAC [the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the branch
of the U.S. Treasury Department that regulates travel to Cuba under the
U.S. embargo.]
I told them, this is what we know. Here's the ship. We know that OFAC
would have asked, which percentage of the boat has U.S.-manufactured
parts. That's a normal part of their criteria to determine if it's in
violation of the U.S. embargo. So we sent in all that information. It
was basically an application. We just wanted permission.
We talked to the cruise company and it seemed like a workable situation.
But what we learned in talking to OFAC is that they would permit us to
run people to people trips via the boat under the condition that the
passengers had to fly to Havana and disembark in Havana.
They could not go to Montego Bay and get off the boat in Montego Bay.
The reason they stipulated this is that there is no regulation, nothing
that authorizes a sea faring vessel to bring Americans into Cuba.They
authorize direct flights, charters, that's how they do it. They license
airlines to bring passengers direct from the U.S. So they were not in a
position to grant authorization from Montego Bay.
That forced us to be creative and we created a land-and-sea program.
Basically we fly into Havana, spend six days on land. We go to
Cienfuegos and get on the boat and then we go around the west and north
side of the island ending up in Santiago de Cuba.
We make another quick stop in Havana. There are two stops in Havana,
both of which are great because on one we stay at the Melia Cohiba and
then the second time you'll spend one night and day in Havana Harbor,
which is pretty cool in itself. The view from upper deck must be
tremendous. I've never been in Havana Harbor at that elevation. But I
can only imagine you can see all the surrounding area in the harbor and
probably have a really great view of Old Havana from there. That's kind
of special.
TravelPulse: So it was not the first land-sea program?
Popper: No, while we were talking about it with OFAC Road Scholar jumped
in. I said, "Wait a minute, we're just talking to OFAC about it, how
could you have beaten us to the punch?" They launched a land and sea
trip then pulled it back, probably because someone said something about
it. Then they relaunched it. They ran a couple of departures I think
last spring.
TravelPulse: That expands the possibilities quite a lot. How many trips
do you offer now?
Popper: We have 140 departures. We have six signature tours and three
specialty tours. The signature tours operator all year round.
Undiscovered Cuba, Classic Cuba, Scenic Cuba, Vintage Cuba, Jazz in
Havana and Weekend in Havana, those are our signature tours.
We've created a different product line called Specialty Tours, which
includes Havana Marathon, Cuba by Land and Sea and the Havana Art
Biennial. The specialty tours are usually focused around events or
limited offerings. Cuba by Land and Sea is a limited offering.
The Havana Art Biennial tour, which will be in May 2015, that's a huge
deal. It's when the city of Havana turns into a giant art expo and you
can be walking anywhere, down any alley, any street and there can be
art, sculpture displays that are really phenomenal. I've never seen
anything like it in any city.
It's an international festival. "Biennial" means it's held every two
years. But last year was the year it was supposed to happen and it never
happened. So it's been three years, and we get calls from people all the
time about it. We'll post a date and it will sell out immediately. It's
like trying to get Rolling Stones tickets.
It's because there are artists from all over the world. The access to
the artists is there. The artwork is everywhere. It's an amazing
festival, probably the best festival that happens, as far as being well
done. Everywhere you go a smile happens on your face because there is
something really cool just hanging there. They paint the sides of
buildings, they sculpt buildings. It's everywhere.
The marathon's coming up this November. We're sold out but we'll
probably add a departure. Eric Nadel, who's a 35-year broadcaster with
the Rangers, is hosting the baseball trip with us. So anyone into
baseball can hang out and spend a week with a guy like that. It's an
insider track to Cuban baseball.
TravelPulse: So what else can you tell us about Cuba today before we go?
Popper: The Marathon tour is two months old. The Biennial tour just came
out. Land and Sea just came out. Those are three new programs.
We have dates people can book into through next summer. Our license is
good, that's big news. A lot of tour operators are in the process of
renewing theirs and they can't take bookings. So that's pretty exciting.
There's a lot of good stuff going on in the country. Fall is a great
time to go to Cuba. The weather is perfect. Hurricanes are rarely a
problem. I go every fall and I love it. It's great.
New Year's will be a big celebration again. I think most dates are sold
out for New Year's. I think we have a couple of spots left. The food
scene is still growing and improving. There are more paradors than ever
before and they are really coming on, coming into their own, different
types of cuisine, more accessible.
TravelPulse: The paradors are privately owned, right?
Popper: Right. Every one of them. There's just change. I go every couple
of months and every time I go it feels different. You go to the airport
and you see Cubans. The lines are longer at airport. More Cubans are
leaving. They're dressed nicer. Change is afoot, as they say. You see it
every time you go.

Source: 'Change is Afoot:' One-on-One With Tom Popper, Insight Cuba |
TravelPulse - Continue reading