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Convertible Peso

14ymedio, Ricardo Fernández, Camagüey, 8 December 2017 — The first online financial transactions have been delayed for two decades in Cuba. The new service, called Kiosco, allows the payment of electricity and telephone bills, in addition to the repayment of bank loans, but is not exempt from technological setbacks and has not yet managed to gain the … Continue reading "Online Payments Come to Cuba Two Decades Late" Continue reading
Iván García, 20 November 2017 — While Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the oldest dictator in the world at age 93, was giving a televised statement from Harare, surrounded by soldiers and elegantly-dressed officials, many miles away from Zimbabwe, Edna, a history professor at a pre-university, was washing clothes in Havana, in an anachronistic Aurika from the … Continue reading "The Crisis in Zimbabwe is Barely Mentioned in the Cuban Media / Iván García" Continue reading
Raúl Castro has not taken advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama and has chosen to opt for caution rather than reform 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 November 2017 — It was too quiet to last. The diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States has failed and both nations are resetting their watches to … Continue reading "In Cuba, the Cold War Returns" Continue reading
Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez El Cerro, Havana, 5 September 2017 — We list here the most pressing problems faced by average Cubans: 1-A greatly reduced ration book of subsidized foods. High prices in the markets. Very little on offer in the stores. Relatively cheap goods of horrendous quality. In an island surrounded by water … Continue reading "Cuba’s Most Pressing Problems / Eduardo Martinez" Continue reading
… to Havana.) Until revised regulations are official, U.S. (including Cuban-born) and … currency in Cuba, the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and the CUP (Cuban Peso … inoculations before visiting Cuba. Cuba requires guests to pay a Cuba Health Insurance … Continue reading
Iván García, 30 August 2017 — Since his wife died two years ago, Manuel hasn’t been eating properly. At night, he sits in front of an obsolete cathode ray tube television, and usually watches the news or the baseball while he drinks some fourth-rate rum bought from a convenience store. His big old house with high … Continue reading "Cuban Universities Need Autonomy / Iván García" Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2017 – Currently, Cubans and foreigners residing in Cuba are permitted to pay customs duty on imported products in Cuban pesos only once per year. Subsequent import duties must be paid in Cuba’s other currency, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which is worth 25 times the Cuban peso (CUP). … Continue reading "Cuban “Collaborators” on Foreign Missions Will Pay Customs Duties in Cuban Pesos" Continue reading
Tourism Boom Chokes Havana's Airport

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 4 July 2017 — The passengers leave the
plane and make their way around the buckets catching the leaks from the
roof. They still have a long wait in at baggage claim and have to suffer
under the air conditioning that hardly alleviates the heat. The José
Martí International Airport in Havana is stumbling through
the tourist boom that has brought a volume of passengers its services
and infrastructure find difficult to serve.

The main air terminal in the country received 3.3 million passengers in
the first half of this year, a figure that increased by 27.4% compared
to the same period of the previous year. However, travelers' experiences
are far from satisfactory.

There are few places to eat and the lack is supplies is a problem. "We
only have these two cafeterias up here," says one of the
employees. "Today we did not get any beer and there is no water, we are
only selling coffee in addition to bread with ham and cheese," she told
several customers on Monday.

There is an unfinished wing on the exterior that will be filled with
places to eat. "The financing of this infrastructure was linked to the
construction company Odebrecht and everything was paralyzed by the
corruption scandal in Brazil," says a source from the Ministry of
Construction who preferred to remain anonymous.

"We hope it will be open before the end of the year as an alternative
for travelers and their friends," the official said. "But the building
is one thing and the supply of food and beverages is another; the latter
is the responsibility Cuban Airports and Aeronautical Services Company
(ECASA)."

We can't do magic. If there is no beer in the country, where are we
going to get it from?" an ECASA employee asks rhetorically, speaking to
this newspaper by phone from the central office. "We have tried to meet
the demand with imported products, but the tourists want to drink a
Cuban beer at the airport," she says.

Hope arrived for the terminal employees when it was announced last
August that French companies Bouygues and Paris Airports had won a
concession to expand and manage the terminal.

"They haven't pounded a single nail here," protests the saleswoman at a
handicrafts stand on the middle floor. Industry sources say that no
feasibility studies have yet been done to start the works. "The French
planners have not even arrived to evaluate the terminal," says a senior
Transport Ministry official adding that the project is waiting for
support from the new French president.

One floor down crowd those waiting for the travelers who arrive in the
country. "This shows a lack of respect," says Manuel Delgado, 58, who
complains that "there is no place to sit, the heat is unbearable and the
cafeteria has no water" while waiting for the Air France flight
returning his daughter, who has been living in Paris.

The bathrooms earn the worst of the opinions of those who wait. "They
smell bad and although the service is free, the employees are asking for
money, in a somewhat disguised way, but they ask for it," says Yesenia,
who came from Matanzas to meet a brother returning from Mexico.

In the women's restroom a female worker holds the roll of paper for
drying hands. "It's not mandatory, but they look askance at you if you
do not give them something," says Yesenia. One of the female employees
asked the customers to exchange for 25 centavo coins in Cuban pesos
(CUP) "for a convertible peso." Finally, a European-looking tourist agrees.

A few meters from the bathroom, located on the third floor, a young man
tries to catch the wifi signal to surf the internet, a service only
offered in the area after immigration and security controls. For every
hour of navigation one must pay 1.50 in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC)
but there is nowhere in the airport "today where they are selling
recharge cards for the Nauta service," he says frustrated.

There are also no hotels nearby for passengers in transit to other
provinces. For two years the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) has planned to
build five-star accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the airport,
but the project has not yet materialized. The private sector, however,
has taken the lead from the state and more and more private houses are
renting to tourists in the vicinity of the area.

The problems of infrastructure and services do not end after approaching
the exit doors from the flights. "I was traveling in first class and
they gave me an invitation for the VIP area," says José Mario, a Cuban
who each month takes the Copa Airlines route to Panama working as a "mule."

Numerous trips allow you to accumulate points that you can take
advantage of, from time to time, to travel in more comfort. But the VIP
area has not met their expectations. "They told me I had to wait for
other customers to finish eating, because there were not enough dishes,"
he remembers with annoyance after his failed attempt serve himself some
nuts and cheese from the available buffet.

Jose Mario admits, at least, that the taxi service has improved. More
than a year ago a fixed rate was established from the airport to
different points of the city. "Before the driver decided the price, but
now I know that I must pay 25 CUC from here to my house, not a peso more."

The experience on arrival, on the other hand, does not get much
praise. It varies according to the schedule, the flight and the amount
of luggage. "Sometimes I have spent less than an hour waiting for my
bags, but other times I have spent up to four in front of the luggage
belt," complains the traveler.

Employees agree that the waiting time after the landing fluctuates. "At
night, when large flights arrive from Europe, such as Iberia, Air France
or Aeroflot everything slows down," says one of the doctors waiting for
the national passengers to fill out an epidemiological form.

The pilots themselves have had to explain to the passengers about
departure delays because of not having "enough vehicles to bring the
luggage to the plane".

Added to this is the strict customs control over luggage, whose
thoroughness is not only designed to prevent crime but to control the
bringing of technological devices into the country (such as DVDs,
NanoSations, hard disks or laptops) or large quantities of commonly used
products. The most "meticulously" checked flights are those from the US,
Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and other regular
routes for the "mules."

In the area before passing through immigration, employees are wandering
around with posters bearing the names of some travelers. Some approach
families with children or newcomers who look like Cubans living
abroad. "For 40 dollars I can pass you without problems from customs,"
whispers a worker to a couple with two children.

For a certain fee employees can avoid passing through the search or
paying for excess imported luggage, a relief for many Cubans living
abroad and arriving loaded with gifts. For each kilo of luggage that
exceeds the limit of 50 kilos, there is a fee that must be paid in CUC,
and the fees also depend on the type of objects transported. For
residents on the island is also very advantageous, since they can only
pay in CUP for their first annual importing of goods.

Jose Mario often resorts to this illegal service. "What I am going to
do?" he justifies himself. "I pay to get myself out of this airport as
soon as possible, because it's unbearable between the heat and the bad
conditions."

Source: Tourism Boom Chokes Havana's Airport – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/tourism-boom-chokes-havanas-airport/ Continue reading
… it sailed American tourists to Havana, Cuba, the first time a ship … . Sign saying “Until forever commander” Cubans who follow Santeria believe their … , the government held its first Cuban Communist Party Congress where leaders … exchanges. Visitors only use the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which has … Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 4 July 2017 – Cuba’s dual currency system has been in existence for such a long time that many young people never lived under a system with a single national peso. The rumors of possible unification of the two currencies are no longer listened to and people appear resigned to continuing … Continue reading "Cuban Convertible Peso Can’t Keep Up With The Dollar" Continue reading
Average Monthly Salary in Cuba is $29.60 US

EFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 30 June 2017 – The average monthly salary in
Cuba in 260 was 740 Cuban pesos (CUP), the equivalent of $29.60 in US
dollars, although the figure is higher in sectors such as the sugar
industry – where the best paid earn 1,246 CUP ($48.80 US), and falls in
public administration, defense and social security, with a figure a 510
(CUP) ($20.40 US).

The figures come from the publication "Figures for Average Salaries in
2016," released on Thursday by Cuba's National Office of Statistics and
Information, which includes average monthly salaries by province since
2007, and average monthly salary by economic activity type since 2014.

According to the report, the average salary in Cuban increased from 408
CUP ($16.30 US) in 2007 to 740 CUP in 2016.

By province, the highest salaries are earned in Ciego de Ávila (816 CUP
/ $32.60 US), Villa Clara (808 CUP / $32.30 US) and Matanzas (806 CUP /
$32.20 US), while the lowest wages are paid in Guantánamo (633 CUP /
$25.30 US), Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP / $26.20 US) and Santiago de
Cuba (657 CUP / $26.20 US).

The highest paid sectors on the island are the sugar industry (1,246 CUP
/ $49.80 US), mining and quarrying (1,218 CUP / $48.70 US), financial
services (1,032 CUP / $41.20 US), and agriculture, livestock, forestry
and fisheries (991 CUP / $39.60 US).

On the other hand, economic activities with lower wages are: "Other
communal services, associations and personal activities," (503 CUP /
$20.10 US); public administration, defense and social security (510 CUP
/ $20.40 US); Culture and sport (511 CUP / $20.40 US); and education
(533 CUP / $21.32 US).

The low wages paid to state employees in Cuba, compared to the high cost
of basic products—Cuba imports 80% of its food—are constantly subject to
criticism by international organizations and also by opposition movements.

Health and education are universal and free in Cuba, and citizens
receive some basic food from the state through the "ration book."

But the rationing system, which decades ago covered much of the
population's needs—including underwear, shoes and children's toys—has
been reducing the quantities and types of subsidized products.

The rationing system, which decades ago covered much of the population's
needs, has been reducing the quantities and type of subsidized products

Currently, an adult Cuban receives monthly from the ration stores about
7 pounds of rice, 4 pounds of sugar, one pint of soybean oil, one packet
of mixed coffee (that is coffee mixed with fillers such as dried peas),
one packet of pasta, five eggs and small quantities of chicken. Children
also get one quart of milk a day until they turn seven.

In 2011, Cuban President Raul Castro approved the authorization of new
categories of self-employment (the term used in Cuba means "own
account-ism") as one of the key measures to compensate for the
progressive reduction of 500,000 jobs in the state sector.

Another of the main distortions in the Cuban economy is the simultaneous
circulation of two currencies—the Cuban pesos or "national money" and
the Cuban convertible peso, or "hard currency"—that the Government
recognizes needs to be changed, but for the system remains in force and
there is no firm date to merge the currencies.

Source: Average Monthly Salary in Cuba is $29.60 US – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/average-monthly-salary-in-cuba-is-29-60-us/ Continue reading
EFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 30 June 2017 – The average monthly salary in Cuba in 260 was 740 Cuban pesos (CUP), the equivalent of $29.60 in US dollars, although the figure is higher in sectors such as the sugar industry – where the best paid earn 1,246 CUP ($48.80 US), and falls in public administration, … Continue reading "Average Monthly Salary in Cuba is $29.60 US" Continue reading
… home to Cuba’s oldest church, a food market with Cuban staples … sunbathed to the strains of Cuban music with a rum punch … Legendarios del Guajirito show by Havana’s Buena Vista Social Club … : Cuba has two currencies – the convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso … Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 17 May 2017 — In the midst of the morning hustle and bustle, residents of Havana are trying to reach their destinations on time, a challenge because of the inefficient public transport and the sky high prices charged by the private operators of fixed-route shared-ride taxi services. On Monday a new service, “Rutero taxis,” … Continue reading "A Taxi Cooperative Proposes To Lower Private Transport Prices" Continue reading
Why Cuba's Brain Drain Looks Different
MAY 15, 2017 BY MONIKA DONIMIRSKA

COLLEGE PARK, Md., May 15, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Cuba is
experiencing a brain drain, though it's not the kind that forecasters
were predicting when the long-closed country began opening its borders.
It's internal brain drain, says Rebecca Bellinger, managing director of
the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business Office of
Global Initiatives and Center for International Business Education and
Research.

The small island nation's doctors and other highly skilled workers
aren't emigrating for more lucrative jobs in Miami and elsewhere. In
fact, they aren't emigrating at all. They're staying in Cuba, but moving
toward the burgeoning hospitality sector.

And it's posing a major new threat to Cuba, Bellinger says. „Cubans are
deciding that they'll have a higher quality of life if they enter the
travel and service industry."

To be sure, some highly skilled Cubans – doctors, lawyers, professors
and others – are leaving the country in search of opportunity. But many
more who are staying in Cuba are opting to leave their jobs because of
low state salaries or are taking on second jobs, becoming taxi drivers,
waiters and bellhops – jobs involving regular interaction with foreign
visitors and their hard currency. The government is experiencing a sort
of „drain" as well, as state workers flee their jobs for the more
lucrative private sector.

„These are people who are leaving the jobs for which they have been
trained," Bellinger says. „Last year, we met an English teacher who left
his rural school position to become a tour guide, both to use the
language he had learned and to gain access to hard currency."

Cuba's universities have long been regarded as the best in Latin
America, but in recent years, gross enrollment has been plummeting,
sparking additional worries.

The country maintains two forms of legal tender: the Cuban peso (CUP)
and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The CUC is pegged to the U.S.
dollar, and is many times more valuable than the CUP. Neither trades on
the global forex market. Most Cubans are paid in the weaker peso (CUP),
limiting their buying power. Visitors to the country use the CUC and
leave tips, and that's helping to fuel Cuba's internal brain drain.

Bellinger has been traveling to Cuba since 2010, studying what's
happening there as she forges experiential learning opportunities for
students and collaborative partnerships with the University of Havana
and its associated research centers. As part of her work with NAFSA, the
Association of International Educators, she has worked with the Office
of Foreign Assets Control, a Treasury Department unit that manages
sanctions, to educate the higher education community in the U.S. on
regulations that govern legal travel to Cuba. She also leads the CIBER
Faculty Development in International Business (FDIB) Program to Cuba for
faculty from across the U.S.

She has seen an uneven upturn in travel, steep in Havana, but shallow
everywhere else.

„Last year, we were told by a hotel manager that Havana has 100 percent
capacity in hotels all year long," she says. The capital city is so full
of foreign travelers today that it's scarcely recognizable from even a
year ago.

Travel to Cuba's secondary cities, meanwhile, has been generally missing
the boom. That's in large part because U.S. travelers have faced highly
restrictive travel conditions in the past and may not be aware of what
the island has to offer outside of Havana.

To be approved for travel to Cuba, Americans must have an itinerary that
aligns with one of 12 approved purposes, which include religious
activities, journalism, humanitarian projects and people-to-people
outreach. „And tourism is not one of them. This is not a destination
that U.S. citizens can just explore for sun and sand," Bellinger says.
That has kept most U.S. travelers in Havana for now, but gradually that
will change, Bellinger says, as U.S. relations with Cuba continue to evolve.

As Cuba looks to its future, Bellinger says, it must focus on these
eight things.

Support economic reforms: This has already begun, Bellinger notes, but
much work remains. The economic reforms announced in 2010 have
encouraged development and job creation in the non-state sector, which
has eased the financial burden on the state. Over 500,000 Cubans are now
self-employed in their own microenterprises and private cooperatives,
but the regulations that govern these businesses are still constraining.
For example, private restaurants are able to have only 50 seats, and
private companies are not permitted to import any goods or foodstuff to
support their business.

Address the dual currency issue: Rebuild the country around a single
currency, to level the playing field for Cubans and increase consumer
confidence.

Address salary issue: Traditionally esteemed, high-skilled work should
be appropriately compensated, to counter brain drain tendencies in the
country.

Invest in innovative capacity: „Because of Cuba's history," Bellinger
says, „it does not lack the ability to innovate. Just think about the
old jalopies." Closed off from much global trade, Cubans have long found
ways to maintain and retrofit 50-year-old automobiles. „That type of
innovation exists," she says, „but so do impressive global innovations
in health, biomedical and pharmaceutical fields.

Ease access to information: Access to the internet has increased in
Cuba, with about 2,000 homes in Havana authorized to receive the
internet directly and with the number of Wi-Fi hotspots growing
virtually every day. „It is fantastic," Bellinger says, „that the
government is no longer afraid of giving people access to information."
The country should encourage the democratization of the internet,
allowing greater accessibility at a fair and level price, she adds. In
most countries, internet prices are determined based on the amount of
data used. In Cuba, users are charged based on the types of websites
visited, with domestic websites costing less than foreign ones. Some
foreign websites are still blocked in Cuba.

Educate a generation of business leaders: For a half-century beginning
around 1960, the economy was generally controlled by the Cuban
government. Now, the country faces a crisis in business education: Who
will educate the next generation of business leaders, job creators and
entrepreneurs? The reforms that have allowed for the creation of private
business have not been supported with education, meaning that the
individuals starting and running small businesses do not have access to
the formal training they need to be successful. The Catholic Church has
begun a program that's similar to a masters of business program, and a
Miami-based nonprofit is doing some startup business training on what
Bellinger describes as „a very small scale." But education remains an
area where Cuba prohibits joint ventures with foreign entities, so
prospects for business education remain murky.

Improve transportation and infrastructure: Cuba has infrastructure
problems, „first and foremost," Bellinger says, making travel cumbersome
between Havana and the country's secondary cities. Addressing those
problem would spread economic development across the island.

Choose democracy: Elections are planned for 2018, when Cuban President
Raul Castro plans to step down. „But if there's going to be an election,
is it going to be fair? Who will be the key players? We don't know,"
Bellinger says. „It's as important as ever that Cuba listen to its
citizens."

Central to her suggestions is the notion of investing in human capital.
„At the end of the day," Bellinger says, „if you don't invest in human
capital – if you don't invest in your workforce – nothing is going to
change in Cuba."

Visit Smith Brain Trust for related content
at http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/faculty-research/smithbraintrust and
follow on Twitter @SmithBrainTrust.

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized
leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and
schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School
offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online
MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as
outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its
degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North
America and Asia.

Contact: Greg Muraski at 301-892-0973 or gmuraski@rhsmith.umd.edu

Source: Why Cuba's Brain Drain Looks Different | satPRnews -
http://www.satprnews.com/2017/05/15/why-cubas-brain-drain-looks-different/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana’s pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the municipality where they can operate. The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors … Continue reading "Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live" Continue reading
What the tourist industry reveals about Cuba
The revolutionary economy is neither efficient nor fun
Apr 1st 2017 | HAVANA

TOURISTS whizz along the Malecón, Havana's grand seaside boulevard, in
bright-red open-topped 1950s cars. Their selfie sticks wobble as they
try to film themselves. They move fast, for there are no traffic jams.
Cars are costly in Cuba ($50,000 for a low-range Chinese import) and
most people are poor (a typical state employee makes $25 a month). So
hardly anyone can afford wheels, except the tourists who hire them. And
there are far fewer tourists than there ought to be.

Few places are as naturally alluring as Cuba. The island is bathed in
sunlight and lapped by warm blue waters. The people are friendly; the
rum is light and crisp; the music is a delicious blend of African and
Latin rhythms. And the biggest pool of free-spending holidaymakers in
the western hemisphere is just a hop away. As Lucky Luciano, an American
gangster, observed in 1946, "The water was just as pretty as the Bay of
Naples, but it was only 90 miles from the United States."

There is just one problem today: Cuba is a communist dictatorship in a
time warp. For some, that lends it a rebellious allure. They talk of
seeing old Havana before its charm is "spoiled" by visible signs of
prosperity, such as Nike and Starbucks. But for other tourists, Cuba's
revolutionary economy is a drag. The big hotels, majority-owned by the
state and often managed by companies controlled by the army, charge
five-star prices for mediocre service. Showers are unreliable. Wi-Fi is
atrocious. Lifts and rooms are ill-maintained.

Despite this, the number of visitors from the United States has jumped
since Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties in 2015. So many airlines
started flying to Havana that supply outstripped demand; this year some
have cut back. Overall, arrivals have soared since the 1990s, when Fidel
Castro, faced with the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union, decided
to spruce up some beach resorts for foreigners (see chart). But Cuba
still earns less than half as many tourist dollars as the Dominican
Republic, a similar-sized but less famous tropical neighbour.


With better policies, Cuba could attract three times as many tourists by
2030, estimates the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. That would
generate $10bn a year in foreign exchange, twice as much as the island
earns now from merchandise exports. Given its colossal budget deficit,
expected to hit 12% of GDP this year, that would come in handy. Whether
it will happen depends on two embargoes: the one the United States
imposes on Cuba and the one the Castro regime (now under Fidel's
brother, Raúl) imposes on its own people.

The United States embargo is a nuisance. American credit cards don't
work in Cuba, and Americans are not technically allowed to visit the
island as tourists. (They have to pretend they are going for a family
visit or a "people-to-people exchange".) Mr Obama allowed American hotel
chains to dip a toe into Cuba; one, Starwood, has signed an agreement to
manage three state-owned properties.

Pearl of the Antilles, meet swine

But investment in new rooms has been slow. Cuba is cash-strapped, and
foreign hotel bosses are reluctant to risk big bucks because they have
no idea whether Donald Trump will try to tighten the embargo, lift it or
do nothing. On the one hand, he is a protectionist, so few Cubans are
optimistic about his intentions. On the other, pre-revolutionary Havana
was a playground where American casino moguls hobnobbed with celebrities
in raunchy nightclubs. Making Cuba glitzy again might appeal to the
former casino mogul in the White House.

The other embargo is the many ways in which the Cuban state shackles
entrepreneurs. The owner of a small private hotel complains of an
inspector who told him to cut his sign in half because it was too big.
He can't get good furniture and fixtures in Cuba, and is not allowed to
import them because imports are a state monopoly. So he makes creative
use of rules that allow families who say they are returning from abroad
to repatriate their personal effects (he has a lot of expat friends).
"We try to fly low under the radar, and make money without making
noise," he sighs.

Cubans with spare cash (typically those who have relatives in Miami or
do business with tourists) are rushing to revamp rooms and rent them
out. But no one is allowed to own more than two properties, so ambitious
hoteliers register extra ones in the names of relatives. This works only
if there is trust. "One of my places is in my sister-in-law's name,"
says a speculator. "I'm worried about that one."

Taxes are confiscatory. Turnover above $2,000 a year is taxed at 50%,
with only some expenses deductible. A beer sold at a 100% markup
therefore yields no profit. Almost no one can afford to follow the
letter of the law. For many entrepreneurs, "the effective tax burden is
very much a function of the veracity of their reporting of revenues,"
observes Brookings, tactfully.

The currency system is, to use a technical term, bonkers. One American
dollar is worth one convertible peso (CUC), which is worth 24 ordinary
pesos (CUP). But in transactions involving the government, the two kinds
of peso are often valued equally. Government accounts are therefore
nonsensical. A few officials with access to ultra-cheap hard currency
make a killing. Inefficient state firms appear to be profitable when
they are not. Local workers are stiffed. Foreign firms pay an employment
agency, in CUC, for the services of Cuban staff. Those workers are then
paid in CUP at one to one. That is, the agency and the government take
95% of their wages. Fortunately, tourists tip in cash.

The government says it wants to promote small private businesses. The
number of Cubans registered as self-employed has jumped from 144,000 in
2009 to 535,000 in 2016. Legally, all must fit into one of 201 official
categories. Doctors and lawyers who offer private services do so
illegally, just like hustlers selling black-market lobsters or potatoes.
The largest private venture is also illicit (but tolerated): an
estimated 40,000 people copy and distribute flash drives containing El
Paquete, a weekly collection of films, television shows, software
updates and video games pirated from the outside world. Others operate
in a grey zone. One entrepreneur says she has a licence as a messenger
but wants to deliver vegetables ordered online. "Is that legal?" she
asks. "I don't know."
Cubans doubt that there will be any big reforms before February 2018,
when Raúl Castro, who is 86, is expected to hand over power to Miguel
Díaz-Canel, his much younger vice-president. Mr Díaz-Canel is said to
favour better internet access and a bit more openness. But the kind of
economic reform that Cuba needs would hurt a lot of people, both the
powerful and ordinary folk. Suddenly scrapping the artificial exchange
rate, for example, would make 60-70% of state-owned firms go bust,
destroying 2m jobs, estimates Juan Triana, an economist. Politically,
that is almost impossible. Yet without accurate price signals, Cuba
cannot allocate resources efficiently. And unless the country reduces
the obstacles to private investment in hotels, services and supply
chains, it will struggle to provide tourists with the value for money
that will keep them coming back. Unlike Cubans, they have a lot of choices.

Source: Sun, sand and socialism: What the tourist industry reveals about
Cuba | The Economist -
http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21719812-revolutionary-economy-neither-efficient-nor-fun-what-tourist-industry-reveals-about Continue reading
The First Tangible Labor Strike / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 21 February 2017 — New bureaucratic regulations governing
the routes of shared fixed-route taxis have led to the first tangible
labor strike by drivers. Of course, strikes have gone on for many years
in our country due to the poverty-level wages paid to workers in the
bureaucratic and service sectors. As the old saying goes, "the
government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work."

The best known example of the current strike involves boteros
(literally "boatmen" — the taxi drivers of cars from the 1940s and
1950s). After bureaucrats set the prices for certain short trips at 5.00
Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, drivers refused to pick up
short-haul passengers.

After paying a high fee to the government for a license to operate, it
is not profitable for a driver to charge 5.00 Cuban pesos when 0.25 CUC*
(roughly the same in the other currency) does not even cover the high
cost of fuel. Furthermore, anytime a car brakes, there is wear and tear
on the tires and battery. And whenever a car door opens to let a
customer get in or out, more fuel is consumed. Consider that a tire in
this country costs approximately 160.00 CUC, about the same the price as
a battery, not to mention that spark plugs go for almost 3.00 CUC apiece.

Boteros are helping to solve the serious problem of urban transport in
this country. These new regulations have led to an increase in the
number of bus riders, which has in turn led to a deterioration in public
transportation.

Why do these same bureaucrats, who say they have adopted these
regulations to protect the pocketbooks of average citizens, not work to
reduce to extremely high cost of food priced in the national currency
and especially in the convertible currency? Obviously, the state
guarantees them an auto, gasoline and spare parts, so they are not
directly and personally affected by the needs and problems that the
Cuban population faces.

In short, the botero is not forcing you to be his customer. It is the
state which is forcing you by not attending to or solving, after so many
years, the big transportation problems in our country.

Translator's note: Cuban convertible peso, equivalent to about 6.63
Cuban pesos.

Source: The First Tangible Labor Strike / Rebeca Monzo – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-first-tangible-labor-strike-rebeca-monzo/ Continue reading
Rebeca Monzo, 21 February 2017 — New bureaucratic regulations governing the routes of shared fixed-route taxis have led to the first tangible labor strike by drivers. Of course, strikes have gone on for many years in our country due to the poverty-level wages paid to workers in the bureaucratic and service sectors. As the old saying … Continue reading "The First Tangible Labor Strike / Rebeca Monzo" Continue reading
Local Producers Missing From Pinar Del Rio Wine Shop / 14ymedio, Ricardo
Fernandez

14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 17 February 2017 – The Pinar
del Rio Casa de los Vinos (House of Wines) got off on a bad foot the day
of its inauguration. The opening ceremony, held on Tuesday, had to be
delayed for several hours as the construction work had not been
completed and customers were scarce.

Those most missed were the local producers, who were the initial
promoters of this initiative – along with the urban agriculture workers
– and who planned a place where customers could taste and buy artisanal
wines. The idea, which failed for lack of state support, was taken over
by the state-owned Internal Trade Company, but without the presence of
the private winemakers.

On the island, despite the climate and the limited access to raw
materials, an increasing number of producers are making artisanal wines,
from the fermentation of fruits such as guava, orange, papaya,
pineapple, soursop and mango.

The new place in Pinar del Rio, situated at No. 8 Gerardo Medina Street,
seeks to enhance the inventiveness of winemaking and has capacity for 26
customers. "We prioritize the local production of artisan wines," the
manager, Julio Corrales Banos, told the official press.

On the opening day, however, only the industrial wines made in the
province were on offer because of the lack of an agreement with the
area's producers. The absence of a legal framework that allows the state
to contract directly for the products of these entrepreneurs is limiting
local activity.

Artemisa and Mayabeque are currently the only provinces that have
greater flexibility in contracts with the private sector. Raúl Castro's
government has given autonomy to the Administration Councils of the
provincial Assemblies of People's Power to experiment with another type
of management.

For winemakers from Pinar del Rio, being able to count on something like
this would mean a considerable jump in profits due to the increase in
demand that has been noticed in the region in recent years.

For the moment, the sale of privately managed wines is carried out from
doorways and informal stands on the busiest streets of the city. Some
thirty producers sell wine, the majority of which are of excellent
quality, despite not meeting the international standards for the
inclusion of sugar in the fruit fermentation process.

The wines that are produced in the Island have high degrees of Brix, a
unit of measurement of the sugars present in a drink, and are usually
sweet or semi-sweet, with a low volume of alcohol.

Ernesto Reinoso, 81 years old, produces 26 Vinos de Rey in a traditional
way. "If the objective was to create a space where the people of Pinar
del Rio can consume wines, they would have to look at the prices,
because the wines we sell are very cheap, 1 Cuban convertible peso
(roughly $1 US) a bottle," he says about the new place.

At the head of the first stage of the Casa de los Vinos was Julio del
Llano, a retired winemaker regrets that no private producer was invited
to the opening. Del Llano, the third generation of winemakers in his
family, is a promoter of quality among producers and was the first in
the territory to register his brand.

"We winemakers will have to continue marketing through self-employed
workers, as we have done until today," concludes Del Llano, who has won
multiple awards in national quality contests.

In February of last year, in the 25th Artisan Wine Festival, celebrated
at the Agricultural Fair of Rancho Boyeros (Havana), a contest was held
in eight categories: white, rosé, red, sparkling, dry, semi-dry, sweet
and semi-sweet. Luis Bermúdez Rodríguez won the grand prize with a
sample of semi-sweet wine made from pineapple and banana, 2013, with
12.8 degrees of Brix.

Source: Local Producers Missing From Pinar Del Rio Wine Shop / 14ymedio,
Ricardo Fernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/local-producers-missing-from-pinar-del-rio-wine-shop-14ymedio-ricardo-fernandez/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 17 February 2017 – The Pinar del Rio Casa de los Vinos (House of Wines) got off on a bad foot the day of its inauguration. The opening ceremony, held on Tuesday, had to be delayed for several hours as the construction work had not been completed and customers were … Continue reading "Local Producers Missing From Pinar Del Rio Wine Shop / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez" Continue reading
Black Gold / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 6 February 2017 — In a dark corner
along the national highway, with no lights to identify it, the
connoisseurs of the secret enter an unpaved road. A few minutes earlier
they had called from their cell phone asking if there were any ripe
papayas. They park in the middle of a banana grove and open the fuel cap.

In the middle of nowhere, a barefoot, shirtless man carries a plastic
jerrycan and with the help of a funnel fills the gas tank of an
unlicensed taxi, that runs between Cienfuegos and Havana. It all happens
in silence, barely uttering a word.

The scene repeats at different points along Cuba's roads. These "gas
stations" are not announced in the yellow pages of the phone book, nor
do they appear on the on-line ad site, Revolico. They are the
clandestine suppliers of fuel that comes from the state warehouses,
especially those dedicated to agricultural uses.

A liter of gas, which in an official establishment costs 1 Cuban
convertible peso (roughly $1 US), here has a price of 15 Cuban pesos
(CUP), some 40% less. The cheapest that can be found is 12 CUP, and,
very exceptionally and only between friends, 10 CUP. Gone are the times
when a liter could be had for 8. The rise in prices was due to a drastic
reduction in the quotas the state delivers to farms and cooperatives
after Venezuela reduced the supply of hydrocarbons it sends to the island.

The rise in prices was due to a drastic reduction in the quotas the
state delivers to farms and cooperatives after Venezuela reduced the
supply of hydrocarbons it sends to the island.

The so-called black gold has the power in this country to become even
darker in the "irregular" market. In official events they have declared
that there are municipalities where, for months, the state gas stations
have not sold a single liter of fuel, even though private vehicles
continue to circulate without serious problems.

In the middle of last year, the authorities imposed price caps for
private transport in the capital and other areas of the city, but the
drivers have found several tricks to evade the restrictions. A good part
of them circulate with fuel bought in the informal market. If they had
to buy their fuel at the state gas stations their fares would go through
the room and be unaffordable to the passengers, but an invisible hand is
in charge of getting around the government's measures.

Source: Black Gold / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/52068-2/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 6 February 2017 — In a dark corner along the national highway, with no lights to identify it, the connoisseurs of the secret enter an unpaved road. A few minutes earlier they had called from their cell phone asking if there were any ripe papayas. They park in the middle of a banana grove … Continue reading "" Continue reading
Cordoba Park: Internet, History and Business / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 27 January 2017 — As soon as the sun warms this frigid
tropical autumn, Cordoba Park, located at San Miguel, Revolucion,
Lagueruela and Gelanert, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora,
resembles a picnic and leisure area.

Young people sit on the lawn and some families spread large towels as if
they were at a pool or on the shore. Others bring folding chairs or
armchairs so that the elderly, through the IMO application, can converse
comfortably with their relatives across the Straits of Florida.

Also the hustlers arrive, the ones that survive from what falls off the
back of the trucks, with a special nose to detect when, in certain
environments, theycan make money. This is the case of Ricardo, who on
the side of the park's main gazebo, blows up a red and blue inflatable
and charges five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents US) per child.

"It's only for children under ten or whose weight is less than sixty
pounds," he tells a heavy girl who wants to jump on the inflatable with
two friends. But they insist and Ricardo tells them that the inflatable
"is not made for young people or adults. And I have to take care of it,
because it supports me, it's how I feed my children. You will have to
entertain yourselves with something else."

In Córdoba Park, more than 1,300 feet across, there is one of the two
Wi-Fi zones in the municipality of 10 de Octubre, which are a part of
the 34 open zones in Havana and the 200 operating throughout the Island.
Since the Wi-Fi zone opened, on March 30, 2016, the place has become an
open air locutorium, where we learn about the lives and miracles of people.

But those who come daily, to connect to the Internet, do not know that
the park was located in front of the house of Emilia de Cordoba y Rubio,
born on 28 November 1853 in San Nicolás de Bari, the first woman
mambisa (independence fighter), who had an extraordinary desire to serve
Cuba.

When Emilia de Cordoba died, on 20 January 1920, neighbors and friends,
including journalist and the patriot Juan Gualberto Gómez (1854-1933),
asked that her memory be perpetuated. In addition to putting her surname
to the park, on 20 May 1928, a marble statue by the Italian sculptor
Ettore Salvatori was unveiled, considered the first monument in the
capital of the Republic dedicated to a Cuban woman.

A young woman talking in Portuguese with a Brazilian friend knows
nothing of this history as she shamelessly asks for "a hundred or two
hundred dollars, or whatever you can, because we are at the gates of the
end of the year and I'm broke, without a single cent."

Nor does the family that is trying to crowd around the screen of a
Smartphone, to see their relatives in Hialeah and ask them about hourly
wages or rents in Miami, know who Emilia de Cordoba was, though they
know what kind of car their family bought and whether or not they
already bought the iPhone 7 they asked them for.

"Mi'jo, this place is a mess. After the death of you-know-who things
look ugly. Look, see if when you get yourself settled you can send us
more money and start working on getting us out of this shit," asks the
older woman.

It is common to see women and men kissing their lovers or wives by
sticking their mouths on the screen of the tablet or cell phone. A
slender mixed-race woman, who wears shorts that show more than they
hide, runs the phone up and down her body with no timidity and, smiling,
tells her presumed partner, "So you can see a sample."

In a corner of the park, the one that borders Gelabert Street, a group
of boys, at full volume, have mounted their particular recital of
reggaeton, with two portable speakers that work through the Bluetooth of
their phones.

Music is a good pretext for attracting customers. "Hey old man,
Connectify a caña (one convertible peso or twenty five Cuban
pesos)". They promote the application that makes the internet connection
cheap, but slows the speed in an unbearable way.

Others lurk around the park, and in a low voice they proclaim, "Wow,
your card, three bars." It is one of the most common businesses in
public places with wifi. "The business is simple. You buy the internet
cards in an ETECSA center at two chavitos (CUC) and then resell them for
three. For each card I sell I earn 1 CUC. In one day I can earn 20 or 30
fulas (another slang term for CUCs)," confesses a kinky-haired white guy
wearing a shirt with Luis Suarez, a forward for Barcelona.

On Monday, December 12, the good news was the announcement of an
agreement between the multinational Google and ETECSA, the inefficient
state telecommunications company, to improve the Internet connectivity
of Cubans. According to Deborah, the company's engineer, "this does not
mean that the transmission speed will improve dramatically, but those
using Google will have a noticeable improvement, like from the sky to
the moon."

Since 4 June 2013, when ETECSA opened the first 118 internet rooms
throughout the country, and despite the high cost (one hour costs the
equivalent of two days of salary of a professional), today about 250,000
people access the information highway in different provinces, either
from an internet room or a Wi-Fi zone, every day.

Although most are not exactly searching for information. "Some 80
percent of those who connect use the Internet as a communications tool
or to access social networks," says an ETECSA engineer who works in a
network traffic office.

For three and a half years now, the Internet has been an event in
Cuba. You can use it to ask for money, find lovers or make friends. And
those who want to inform themselves can do so on uncensored national or
international sites. But as for websites considered
"counterrevolutionary" by the regime, they cannot be accessed from the
Greater Antilles. This is the case with Diario de Cuba, Cubanet,
Cubaencuentro and Martí Noticias, among others.

Connecting to the internet on the Island has become all the rage. It is
synonymous with modernity. Or a weekend getaway with the wife and
children to a park with wireless connection, to talk with family and
friends in Miami or Madrid.

It is the closest thing to what happened three decades ago, when people
in their free time stood in long lines at Coppelia to have an ice cream,
or walked along La Rampa or sat down to converse or to take in the fresh
air along the wall of the Malecon.

Source: Cordoba Park: Internet, History and Business / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
https://translatingcuba.com/cordoba-park-internet-history-and-business-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 27 January 2017 — As soon as the sun warms this frigid tropical autumn, Cordoba Park, located at San Miguel, Revolucion, Lagueruela and Gelanert, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora, resembles a picnic and leisure area. Young people sit on the lawn and some families spread large towels as if they were at … Continue reading "Cordoba Park: Internet, History and Business / Iván García" Continue reading
Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya 14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 January 2017 — It is not common, in the middle of all the gloom and the torrents of noteworthy dates that constitute the bulk of the official press, to find a journalistic work that brings to light — even partially […] Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 January 2017 — It is not common, in the middle of all the gloom and the torrents of noteworthy dates that constitute the bulk of the official press, to find a journalistic work that brings to light — even partially — the obstacles that derive from one of the most … Continue reading "Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya" Continue reading
Cuba's Phone Company, The Monopoly of Inefficiency / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 December 2016 – The Nauta network has
failed again. This time users have been unable, for several days, to
recharge their accounts on the internet, or to check or make balance
transfers. The Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) suffers
constant interruptions, a situation that highlights the deficiencies in
its infrastructure, despite the substantial profits it earns as a monopoly.

Since its creation in 1994, ETECSA has been gobbling up all the sectors
of the telecommunications market that were once managed by other
companies, such as C-COM or Cubacel. Five years ago, Cuban authorities
acquired all elements of that company and put an end to any foreign
investment in the sector.

The closing of that stage, which was characterized by foreign investment
from countries such as Mexico and Italy, was a symbolic slamming of the
door in the same year that the Italian company Telecom sold its shares –
27% of the company – for 207 million dollars. With complete control of
the country's phone service, ETECSA began to dictate its operations.

Currrently, the monopoly manages all fixed and cellular phone service on
the island, email communications and internet, and the distribution of
recharge cards, the latter of which has improved in recent years with
the licensing of private individuals to work as telecommunications agents.

Although in the last five years ETECSA has expanded from 350 to a little
more that 600 base stations in the country and brought its signal to all
the municipalities in the country, in web services and email ongoing
problems generate constant complaints among users.

"I can only send or receive messages late at night, when there's no one
on-line," protests Yohandri Rojas who lives in Santa Clara. The
29-year-old complains about the poor quality of the Nauta email service,
which is managed from mobile phones. "It's a disaster," he says.

Rojas works with a friend in a small place that repairs mobile phones,
and has extensive knowledge of computing and communications that he
taught himself. "This is because of problems with the bandwidth on the
data network," he explained to 14ymedio. "What has happened is that
ETECSA has not expanded its servers consistent with the growth in the
number of users," he emphasizes.

ETECSA refused to answer questions from this newspaper to explain the
causes of the frequent crashes in service and the poor quality of its
operation. "We are working on solving the problem," an employee at the
number to report problems curtly told this newspaper.

Services from email to cellphones have worsened in the past year. "They
have sold more accounts than they can effectively manage," says a
telecommunications agent in the Regla district of Havana, who preferred
to remain anonymous. "The service is disappointing and if another
company emerges offering a different service, ETECSA is going to lose a
lot of customers."

In the middle of this year, Ministry of Communications authorities let
it be known that there are 11.2 million temporary or permanent email
accounts on mobile phones. Many of them are opened by tourists passing
through the country, but at least half are regularly used by domestic
customers.

Each megabyte downloaded or uploaded via email on Nauta mobile phone
services costs one Cuban convertible peso, the daily wage of a
professional. But because of the instability in connections, the same
amount can cost three times as much, because interruptions cancel
message transmissions over and over again.

The problems are worse during weeks when "bonus recharges" are offered,
allowing the user to purchase a recharge amount on the internet with a
bonus as a "gift" from the company. "During those days there is no way I
can get into my Nauta email inbox," explains Deyanira, a nurse who lives
in Havana's Cerro neighborhood.

"When they announce 'double' or 'bonus' recharges, I know I won't be
able to communicate with my family by email that week," she explains.
The young woman's mother lives in Germany with her younger sister, and
email via mobile phones is the quickest way to stay in touch. However,
most of the time, "my messages remain in the outbox for hours or days,
waiting for ETECSA to wake up," she jokes.

Bandwidth problems on the cellular network affect more than just email
services. Ernesto, a Valencian visiting Cuba for two weeks, complains
that "the roaming service is very unstable, and sometimes there's a
signal and sometimes not." At more than 5 euros for every megabyte sent,
the tourist tried to use "Facebook and also Instagram, but with little
success."

In recent months, Cuba has signed agreements for roaming with several
telephone companies in the US, most notably Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

"If they continue to strain the network with users demanding data, but
do not expand or update the infrastructure, it will collapse," predicts
Yohandri Rojas. "ETECSA is going to be like the hard currency stores
that sell beer: high demand and low supply," he scoffs.

Source: Cuba's Phone Company, The Monopoly of Inefficiency / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubas-phone-company-the-monopoly-of-inefficiency-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 December 2016 – The Nauta network has failed again. This time users have been unable, for several days, to recharge their accounts on the internet, or to check or make balance transfers. The Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) suffers constant interruptions, a situation that highlights the deficiencies in its infrastructure, despite … Continue reading "Cuba’s Phone Company, The Monopoly of Inefficiency / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata" Continue reading
Is Cuba's reform going in reverse?
By Bert Hoffmann, German Institute of Global and Area Studies | Nov.
1, 2016 at 2:56 PM

When U.S. President Barack Obama made his historic March 2016 visit to
Havana, Cuban expectations of better times to come were high. As the
United States goes to the polls to select its next president, it's clear
that rapprochement with Cuba will be a key achievement of the Obama
administration.

But the slow pace of reform in Cuba is raising questions about President
Raúl Castro's legacy. Frustration has begun to set in, with energy cuts
paralyzing production, the economy shrinking and the country's economic
"updating process" seemingly going in reverse.

What is derailing Cuba's much anticipated reform course?

More questions than answers

With the economy forecast to decrease by 2.9 percent in 2016, the
country's socialist government is reimposing price controls and putting
brakes on the emerging small-scale private sector.

Is Cuba's backtracking the fallout from Venezuela's drastic reduction in
oil shipments to the country, forcing it to slash imports and adopt
austerity measures? Or does Havana fear losing control as White House
policy turns from strangulation to embrace?

Or perhaps the retrenchment is the result of the Raúl Castro government
gathering strength to finally tackle its most complex economic problem:
overcoming the highly distorting co-existence of two competing
currencies, the dollar-linked Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the
greatly devalued Cuban peso (CUP)?

The answer probably is a combination of all three according to a recent
study assessing the prospects of Cuba's development model, which I
undertook alongside other European and Cuban scholars for the Third
World Quarterly.

The beginning of 'a very long journey'

In Cuba, economic and political considerations go hand in hand. As
Havana-based economist Ricardo Torres has stressed, in the 10 years
since Raúl Castro assumed office, the island's economic structure has
indeed been substantially transformed.

What's more, Raul's reforms over the past eight years have not been ad
hoc changes; they form part of a long-term strategy of gradual reform,
backed by programmatic documents adopted at the Communist Party's
conferences.

But unresolved contradictions in the economy have limited positive
effects on growth and salaries. Torres concludes that it is becoming
increasingly clear that Cuba's reforms over the past eight years are
just at the early stage of a very long journey.

The most dramatic contradiction of the Cuban economy is the
uncomfortable co-existence of two disparate currencies. State salaries
are paid in CUP, averaging 687 pesos per month. At official currency
exchange houses, this is less than 40 CUC, or $40.

Since Cubans need to buy more and more everyday items – from cooking oil
to shampoo – in the convertible currency, the chasm with their peso
salaries widens. This is not only damaging the economy but also tearing
apart the island's social fabric.

Combining these two currencies will be monumentally difficult, with
implications for all sectors of economy and society. And it has long
been on Raul's agenda.

Some reports suggest that the often postponed monetary unification is
set to occur before year's end. That may necessitate slashing imports,
not just to adjust to reduced Venezuelan supplies but, crucially, to
build up reserves that could defend the currency against foreseeable
inflationary pressures.

It's not (just) the economy, stupid

In Cuba, political factors weigh very heavily. Laurence Whitehead from
Oxford University stresses that the puzzle of the exceptional resilience
of the Cuban regime cannot be understood without taking into account its
sources of legitimization and discursive justifications.

For half a century, Havana's uncompromising stance against the United
States played a key role in bolstering support for the socialist
government, even when such political isolation meant hardship for the
Cuban people. The recent rapprochement with Washington is a diplomatic
victory, but normalization – and particularly the decidedly warm welcome
given to Obama – weakens this pillar of legitimization.

Norwegian analyst Vegard Bye argues that Obama's opening to Cuba may
have actually imperiled the reform process. Fears in Havana that
friendly ties with the United States, combined with a strengthened
entrepreneurial sector at home, will eventually undermine the
revolutionary project could lead to retrenchment.

While foreign observers usually see the emergent private sector only in
tourist-targeted restaurants (paladares) and B&Bs (casas particulares),
Yailenis Mulet from the University of Havana shows a much more complex
picture in her analysis of Cuba's shoe-manufacturing sector.

Based on field research, she estimates that the private sector
associated with the shoe production chain employs over 12,000 Cubans,
making it a sizable industry in the shrunken island economy. But
restrictive regulations, the weak legal standing of many producers in
the supply chain and the lack of wholesale markets for production inputs
raise manifold obstacles to the growth of this remarkable domestic sector.

Meanwhile, the country is importing brand-name shoes to sell in the
state-run shops aimed at Cubans with sufficient access to hard currency.

'More participatory' and 'democratic' socialism

When Raúl Castro steps down as head of state in 2018, as he has pledged,
his legacy will depend on both the results of the economic reforms he
initiated and his agenda for political change.

While he has forsworn transition to a multiparty democracy, he did
promise to make Cuban socialism more participatory, the Communist Party
more democratic and the media more critical.

And indeed, since Raúl Castro took over from his brother Fidel 10 years
ago, Cuba has turned from a model of charismatic socialism to one of
bureaucratic socialism. This has meant depersonalizing politics and
strengthening the nation's institutions.

As I argued in my contribution to the Third World Quarterly, Raúl's
"bureaucratic socialism in reform mode" has changed Cuban politics in
two additional ways.

First, the liberalization of travel and migration laws has expanded
citizen rights vis-á-vis the state: Cubans no longer depend on an exit
permit and goodwill from above to go abroad.

Second, the de facto (if unsteady) tolerance of emerging digital media
voices has led to the most diversified Cuban public sphere since before
the 1959 revolution. The state still defends the state media monopoly as
a constitutionally enshrined Communist pillar. But the reach of
government publications like Granma is eroding.

In practice, Cubans – especially the young and urban – can now access
all sorts of information via mobile phones and flash drives.

Meanwhile, as Cuban socialism is digesting the impact of reconciliation
with the United States and the fallout from Venezuela's economic and
political crises, Raúl Castro's broader agenda of political change seems
paralyzed.

Quite a number of the major projects he had announced still await
implementation, including reforming the country's constitution, revising
electoral law, and reducing the number of delegates in the National
Assembly.

As Obama's tenure comes to a close, Raúl Castro has over a year left in
his presidency. But the clock is ticking, and Raúl certainly knows he
shouldn't leave the reforms to his successors in Cuba's soon-to-come
post-Castro era.

Bert Hoffmann is a senior research fellow at the German Institute of
Global and Area Studies.

Source: Is Cuba's reform going in reverse? - UPI.com -
http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Opinion/2016/11/01/Is-Cubas-reform-going-in-reverse/2151478023719/ Continue reading
The Ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba Has Been Arrested / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 October 2016 — Under the alleged charge of
influence peddling, Héctor Rodríguez Llompart, an ex-Cuban diplomat and
the ex-President of the National Bank, was arrested.

"No one knows the motives," said a source close to the Llompart family.
"I think after the Ochoa case, the people running this country lost all
the elements of inhibition in human conduct."

Retired and 82-years-old, on August 8, 2016, there appeared in Granma an
article that was later reproduced for the digital portal, Cudadebate. It
was entitled "Viva Fidel," in allegory to the 90th birthday of the
ex-Cuban leader. However, in spite of his advanced age, his copious
history and the laudatory writing about Fidel, Llompart was arrested at
home, in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood, together with his wife,
Patricia Arango.

Llompart, ex-Vice Chancellor, ex-President of the State Committee for
Economic Collaboration (CECE), ex-Vice President of the National
Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation and
ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba, is known for depenalizing the
dollar in 1993, and for the implementation of the Cuban Convertible Peso
as the second official currency in 1994. Both measures had a significant
impact on the economy and on living conditions for Cubans.

According to sources consulted, Patricia Arango, Rodríguez Llompart's
wife, after being freed and subjected to a search of her home, has been
confined to her house.

Héctor Rodríguez Llopart is a native of Havana and did not join the
Rebel Army during the conflict in the Sierra Maestra. He passed through
the Cuban Chancellery, where he was Vice Minister, Minister-President of
the CECE, and then the President of the National Bank of Cuba for 10 years.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba Has Been Arrested
/ Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
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Juan Juan Almeida, 26 October 2016 — Under the alleged charge of influence peddling, Héctor Rodríguez Llompart, an ex-Cuban diplomat and the ex-President of the National Bank, was arrested. “No one knows the motives,” said a source close to the Llompart family. “I think after the Ochoa case, the people running this country lost all the … Continue reading "The Ex-President of the National Bank of Cuba Has Been Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
… streets of Havana (Manila Bulletin) Striking buildings are some of Cuba… or euros. Cuba uses two currencies: Cuban Peso (CUP) and Cuban Convertible Peso … fun begins.  Old Havana When you think of Cuba, your mind flashes … of Old Havana. You can book a tour with a Cuban guide … Continue reading
Cuba: Tallies and Tales of the Reforms / Vicente Botín

Once upon a time…

A female cat fell in love with a handsome young man and prayed to the
goddess Aphrodite to turn her into a woman. The goddess, pitying the
cat's yearning, transformed her into a beautiful maiden, and the young
man, captivated by her beauty, married her. But, on the wedding night,
Aphrodite wanted to know if the cat, now a woman, had changed inside as
well, and so she let loose a mouse in the bedroom. The cat, forgetting
her status as a woman, rose from the bed and chased the mouse so as to
devour it. At that point, the goddess, grown angry, returned her to her
previous condition, turning the woman back into a cat.

With this fable, the Greek philosopher Aesop means to tell us that, "The
change in status of a person does not cause her to change her
instincts." Which the wise collection of popular sayings might translate
as, "You can dress up a monkey in silk, but she is still a monkey."

"Why this eagerness to dress the monkey in silk?" I asked myself, when I
saw, incredulous, the Chanel parade in Havana. The Adidas tracksuit
which Fidel Castro has been sporting for years was outshone by fashion
czar Karl Lagerfeld's diamond-studded jacket and Brazilian supermodel
Gisele Bündchen's beret (albeit without the star that adorned Che
Guevara's cap in that famous photograph by Alberto Korda).

Could it be that vileness can be disguised by glamour? Is is possible to
wrap in gift paper, as though it were a box of chocolates, the Penal
Code in force in Cuba, which brutally punishes all forms of dissidence?

Can repression and the lack of freedoms be combined with haute couture?
Is the march by the Ladies in White along Fifth Avenue compatible with
the pageant of Chanel models along the Paseo del Prado?

Giusepe Tomassi de Lampedusa puts in the mouth of Tancredi, one of the
characters in his novel, "The Leopard," this utterance directed to his
uncle Fabrizio, Prince Salina: "Everything must change if everything is
to stay as it is."

In political science, "leopard-like" or "Lampedusian" are descriptors
for the politician who initiates a revolutionary transformation but
which, in practice, alters the structures of power only superficially,
intentionally keeping the essential elements of those structures.

Raúl Castro is a lot like the Lampedusian Tancredi, because he seems to
want to change everything, but his intention is for everything to stay
as it is.

When I arrived in Havana in early 2005 as a correspondent for Televisión
Española, everything was much clearer, or, to be more exact, seemed less
confused. There were no fireworks. Any glamour, for want of a better
term, was provided by Fidel Castro, with his eternal olive-green
uniform, and the parades were not directed by Karl Lagerfeld, but rather
by the dictator himself, on the Malecón, in front of the then-US
Interests Section, now the US Embassy.

Of course, then these demonstrations were called "Marches of the
Embattled People." The other marches, those of the Ladies in White, were
repressed without pity, and concerts, such as those by the group "Porno
para Ricardo," were nothing like those by the Rolling Stones: they would
end with their leader, Gorki Águila, in jail. There is where the
dissidents could be found, the ones from the Black Spring of 2003, and
other, newer ones, who were continually being thrown into the prisons.

At that time, Havana was falling to pieces. There were power blackouts,
and the ration book was entirely insufficient to meet the basic needs of
the population. The US was the imperialist ogre, the culprit of all the
evils afflicting the country, and the spies, "The Five," were heroes.
There were no shades. Everything was black or white.

Now I ask myself, "Has all that changed? Is it all part of the past?"

When he was named the successor, and with his brother still physically
present, Raúl Castro started his own trajectory. He proceeded like a
good bureaucrat, without rhetoric, step by step, convinced that, in
order to survive, the Revolution needed a facelift. So he pulled out of
his hat a jar of makeup, a tube of lipstick and a comb, and with an
oriental patience (it is not for nothing that they call him "the
Chinaman"*), he began to embellish the corpse of the Revolution until he
made unrecognizable… unrecognizable for the gullible who let themselves
be fooled by Photoshop.

Cuba is in fashion, and the mirage of the reforms serves as a screen to
cover the reality that Cubans live, or rather, suffer. Could it be that
they are invisible who inhabit the Island? Do they no longer have to
steal or deceive in order to survive? Do they no longer have to
"resolve" their problems?

There has been too much speculation over the nature of and the time it
will take to implement these reforms that have been announced so many
times, like the Byzantines used to speculate, in the 15th Century, about
the sex of angels, while the Ottomans were besieging Constantinople.

Could it be that the Turks are at the gates of Havana?

The Turks, probably not, but the Cubans yes, who for more than half a
century have lived besieged within a fortress, commanded by an
apprentice and witch doctor, who is performing a balancing act to
contain the demands of a people beleaguered by penury and the lack of
freedoms.

The foreign correspondents who work in Cuba confront the dilemma of
rummaging through the trash or going with the flow. During the four
years that I spent on the Island, I suffered all types of pressures to
force me to sweeten my reports. The censors were not concerned with
political criticisms, after all, the Cuban government enjoys no few
sympathies throughout the world. What bothered them was the pure and
simple description of the difficult living conditions of the Cuban
people. The shameful condition of the hospitals, the precariousness of
the housing, the cut-offs of water and power, the scarcity and bad
quality of the food, the lack of transportation, and let us not mention
the prostitution, as a express route to access consumer goods.

All those topics were taboo. They could not be mentioned, under threat
of expulsion. The paradox is that currently, all of those problems
continue, they have not disappeared, but they appear to no longer be a
problem for anybody. Simply put, they are not spoken of. They are swept
under the rug.

The first "reformist" measures announced by Raúl Castro provoked an
effect similar to hypnosis. Like an expert prestidigitator, he exchanged
the bread and circuses of the Romans for self-employment licenses, cell
phones, cars, houses and microwave ovens, despite their high cost
in Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC).

But Cubans, after so many "absurd prohibitions," celebrated them
joyously and, beyond that, the announcement of new promises–among them,
the suppression of the double currency, the revaluation of the Cuban
peso, and the end of the ration book which, in Cuba, ironically enough,
is called the "provision" book.

But it is well known that the road to hell is paved with good
intentions. Eight years later, those good intentions have yet to be
realized, especially the suppression of the double currency, which not
only has not been resolved but has become even more complex, with the
application of different exchange rates.

For Raúl Castro this is the cause of "an important distortion, which
will be resolved as soon as possible." It will not be put off until the
Twelfth of Never, the dictator has said, but at this rate, it will be
resolved when hell freezes over.

The dual monetary system — the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban
Convertible peso (CUC) — is cause for no few arguments among brainy
analysts who do not tire of debating over the consequences of solving
that problem through a type of shock therapy or, conversely, doing it in
phases.

While the dispute rages on over whether they are greyhounds or
wolfhounds, until the Island's government solves the enigma, Cubans will
suffer the consequences of that distortion that suffocates them, because
their salaries are paid in Cuban pesos, but they must use CUC to buy
practically everything they need at a 25% markup.

The minimum salary on the Island is 225 Cuban pesos, and the median
monthly salary is 625, which come out, respectively, to about 9 and 25
CUC or roughly the same in US dollars. What can one do with that amount
of money? What would you be able to do with an income of $25 per month?

The cost of the products in the "basic basket," subsidized by the
government is, approximately, 10 Cuban pesos per month. It it is simply
impossible, however, that one person, especially a retiree, with no
other resources but his pension, can subsist all that time, with just a
few pounds of rice and beans, the basic food of Cubans, to which are
added a few ounces of pasta, coffee and salt.

The ration book also provides for five eggs per person per month, and a
few more more for 10 pesos: a bit of oil, another bit of ground soy
meat, a bar of soap… come on, it's as if one had just come out of a war
zone.

Aside from the ration book, one can purchase (also with Cuban pesos)
certain unregulated products, but the true foodstuffs, beef and fish,
primarily, can only be bought with CUCs.

And although the government recently lowered the price of some basic
products, these continue being very high. For example, one kilo of
frozen chicken costs 2.35 CUCs, and a half kilo of powdered milk, 2.65.
Just these two products account for 20 percent of the median monthly salary.

In the world in which we live, it seems absurd to speak in these terms.
Has any one of you ever told a guest that you cannot make her an omelet
because you have already consumed your five monthly eggs?

Cubans do not live in our world. To not understand that is to turn on
its head the myth of Plato's cave and to accept that the people
inhabiting Cuba, chained and in the shadows, live in the real world and
we, on the other hand, in an apparent reality.

Allow me to ask you some questions. Has any one of you recently visited
a house in Centro Habana? A great number of them are propped up to
prevent collapse and, even so, this occurs almost daily, with a high
number of fatalities.

Did you know that in the hospitals, the sick must bring their own
sheets, their food and even a bottle of bleach for sanitation, due to
the abysmal hygienic conditions, and that infections in the operating
rooms result in a high rate of deaths?

I invite you to visit, for example, La Balear hospital in San Miguel del
Padrón. It is not in Haiti, but rather in Havana, the capital of the
country that publicizes its health system as one of its greatest
accomplishments.

Are you aware that diabetes patients only receive, on a monthly basis,
between two and five sterile, single-use syringes of insulin, and that
the rest that they need they must buy them on the black market or, as
recommended, boil the used ones?

Do you know that hopelessness is causing a stampede toward the United
States, and the exodus to that country has quintupled in the last five
years?

Do you know the number of boat people who escape to the United States
for lack of a travel permit, despite the much ballyhooed migratory
reform, and perish in the Florida Straits?

All of this occurs, continues to occur, while the eyes of the world are
turned to the reforms that have been implemented in recent years,
although it remains to be seen to what extent they will be affected by
what Raúl Castro has euphemistically called "tensions" and "adverse
circumstances" provoked by, among other factors, the crisis in
Venezuela, which has substantially reduced the shipments of oil to the
Island.

The reforms yet to come are discussed, exhaustively, in forums such as
this, but there are always more questions than answers because only the
government of the Island holds they key to what it will do and when.

And the Cubans? What role do they play in all this? Are they and their
circumstances also an object of study?

If you allow me I will parody Shakespeare in "The Merchant of Venice" to
say, "Does a Cuban not have eyes? Does a Cuban not have hands, organs,
proportions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us do we not
bleed? If you poison us do we not die?"

Cubans do not have a dog in this fight. They attend, mute, to the
government's hot air and do what they have always done under the
dictatorship: survive.

And surviving in the towns of the interior is much more difficult than
in the capital. The living conditions of millions of Cubans are pitiful.
The metaphor of Italian writer Carlo Levi would have to be employed, and
say that Christ was detained in Havana, because further out from the
capital, Cubans live outside of history, crushed by poverty.

But the government, insensitive to the privations of Cubans, walks and
walks toward the precipice.

Among the litany of lamentations over the failure to fulfill the
economic plans, during the recent sessions of the National Assembly of
People's Power, voices of alarm were heard before the possibility that
the situation will deteriorate even further and produce a social
outburst, with a repeat of street protests such as those of the
Maleconazo of 1994. As a precaution against such incidents, the
government is sharpening its knives.

But the spotlights, at present, are shining on the enormous cinematic
stage which Cuba has become for the world, and especially on the
proposals of the VII Congress of the Communist Party, which took place
this past April.

Essentially, what was discussed there was what the government
understands as the "conceptualization of the socioeconomic model," which
in reality is nothing more than the continuation of the so-called
"Alignments of the Social and Economic Policy of the Party and the
Revolution," presented during the previous Congress and which, like all
good resolutions have been left half-baked.

The conceptualization is now in its eighth version and only 21 percent
of the 313 Guidelines have been implemented; the rest, that is, the 79
percent, is "in-process." At this rate, it will take decades to put the
well-worn guidelines into practice.

Similarly, the Mariel Special Development Zone has dropped anchor: of
the 400 investment projects that were predicted, only 11 have been
accepted; within a century, perhaps the rest will have been approved.

The government continues to beat around the bush and appears not to fear
that it is past its prime. Meanwhile, it maintains control over the
means of production, what it calls the "predominance of the property of
all the people," although in the last five years the state sector
diminished, from 81 to 71 percent, while the private and cooperative
sector expanded.

The government of Raúl Castro is confident in the new Foreign Investment
Law's capacity to attract capital, authorizing outside investment in all
sectors of the economy, except in health, education, armed forces and
communication media.

But there is much mistrust on the part of the investors regarding the
guarantees they will receive on acquired properties and the transfer of
utilities in foreign currency. The law is very ambiguous in this regard,
as it establishes the freedom of investors to repatriate their profits,
so long as doing so does not constitute, and I quote, "a danger to the
sovereignty of Cuba."

Another negative aspect is that joint ventures or enterprises funded by
foreign capital will continue to not have the power to contract their
employees directly; they will have to do it through government entities
charged with negotiating salaries and other working conditions.

This practice was in place under the previous law and implies an
infringement of the rights of workers who are without free unions to
represent them.

More than a few discriminations are suffered by Cubans, without the new
laws, the laws of the much -vaunted changes, protecting them.

The current Foreign Investment Law allows Cubans who reside overseas to
invest in Cuba, but not those who live on the Island. They are
prohibited from investing in their own country.

The executive director of Cuba Archive, María Werlau, recently made a
presentation to the US Congress denouncing the repugnant business of
human trafficking carried out by the Island's government, and which has
become its major source of revenue: something more than $8-billion,
compared to the $3-billion produced by tourism.

According to official data (I quote María Werlau), around 65,000 Cubans
work in 91 countries, with 75 percent (approximately 50,000) in the
health sector. Their services are sold abroad, and the greater part of
their salaries is confiscated by the Cuban government.

The violations of universal labor rights, which such a practice implies,
infringes international accords signed by Cuba and by the majority of
the countries where these exported workers are laboring, including
conventions and protocols against the trafficking in persons, and of the
ILO, the International Labour Organization.

The wage vampirism practiced by the Cuban government attains its most
repulsive aspect in the trafficking of blood. The massive drives to
obtain donations made voluntarily and altruistically, even using
coercive methods, cover up a lucrative business, which some sources
estimate brings in some $30-million per year. The government sells the
blood of Cubans overseas, with no concern for the shortage of reserves
in the Island's hospitals.

The doses of capitalism which Raul Castro is introducing in Cuba ma non
troppo, as the Italians might translate Castro's slogan "without haste
but without pause," do not alter in the least the stone tablets of the
current Constitution that is in force, which establishes an
"irrevocable" one-party regime, of "Marxist-Leninist ideology and based
on the thought of Martí," as an "organized vanguard of the Cuban nation,
primary leading force of society and of the State." And to overlook this
means to not understand what country we are talking about.

In Cuba, there are no political prisoners, according to Raúl Castro. But
in fact, there are, and many. It is enough to consult the statistics put
out monthly by human rights defense organizations.

Are you familiar with the Article 72 of the Penal Code? If you have read
"1984," the shocking book by George Orwell, you will recall that the
"thought police" would go after "thoughtcrime," crimes of the mind.

So, then, Article 72 of Law Number 62/87 of the Cuba of the supposed
changes, is a carbon copy of the Orwellian laws.

That article says the following: "The special proclivity in which a
person is found to commit crimes, demonstrated by the conduct he
observes, in manifest contradiction to the norms of sociality morality,
is considered a state of dangerousness."*

In other words, the police can detain anyone suspected of hiding
subversive ideas in the deepest part of of their consciousness.

The appointment of Miguel Díaz Canel, 56 years old, an "apparatchik" of
the Communist Party, as first vice-president of the Council of State,
and the announcement, made by Raúl Castro himself, that he would cede
power in February 2018, could mean that the regime was heading towards
renewal, at least generationally. But, once again, it was apparent that
all was purely cosmetic.

If, in fact, Raúl Castro reiterated, during the VII Congress of the
Communist Party, his intention to resign from his position as President
of the Councils of State and of Ministries, he was reelected "Bulgarian
style"** with 100 percent of the vote, as First Secretary of the Party
for the next five years, that is through the year 2021, at which time he
will or should reach, if God does not intervene, the age of 90 years.

At that time, Raúl Castro will turn over the secretariat of the Party
and also, in his words, "the flags of the Revolution and of Socialism,
without the least trace of sadness or pessimism, with the pride of duty
accomplished."

As Don Quixote says, "for empty words, the noise of bells."

And what did the President of the United States try to do by going to
that Island situated beyond all comprehension? Like Hank Morgan, the
hero of Mark Twain's celebrated novel, "A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court," Barack Obama was transported to the land of never
again, convinced that normal diplomatic relations and a surge in
commerce will give way, in the end, to greater liberty for Cubans.

Hank Morgan was saved from death by fire by knowing when a solar eclipse
would occur, but Barack Obama, lame duck that he is, was slowly roasted
over a barbeque.

For the exegetes of the Revolution, Obama did not go to Cuba, as he
said, with the purpose of "burying the last remnant of the Cold War on
the American continent," but rather with more nefarious intentions. The
United States, according to Raúl Castro, has changed its former hostile
strategy for "a perverse strategy of political-ideological subversion
that threatens the very essences of the Revolution."

As the song says:

Not with you and not without you

are my sorrows eased

with you because you slay me

without you because I die.

The United States has taken giant steps in the normalization of its
relations with Cuba, and the Island's government is taking good
advantage of this. But it has not changed its rhetoric, nor has it
advanced one millimeter on the path that leads to democracy.

The rapprochement between the two countries has provoked an enormous
controversy between supporters and detractors, while Raúl Castro and his
minions observe the bullfight, with satisfaction, from the sidelines.

For The Washington Post, the policy of the Obama Administration toward
the Cuban government has stymied the efforts of those who fight for
democracy on the Island: the activists who have spent their lives
struggling against the regime at enormous personal cost.

It is they, and the Cuban people, who should lay the foundations of a
new nation with democracy and liberty, and not those who,
illegitimately, have usurped that right and want to continue doing so
through deceit.

The Cuban Revolution is a corpse, but that corpse has not yet been
buried, and its stench will take time in going away. Meanwhile, Cubans
continue to live inside a cage with heavy bars, which the government is
now sugar-coating, like sugar-coating a pill to hide its bitterness.

As in Oscar Wilde's gothic novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," Raúl
Castro shows a benevolent face, but his smile is the reverse of a
mocking grimace. His tactic is tall tales; his strategy, maintaining his
position in power.

Allow me to end my contribution by reading a brief poem of León Felipe,
a Spanish writer exiled in Mexico after the Spanish civil war. It is
entitled, "I Know All the Tales," and I believe it reflects very well
the great deceit of the Cuban government's reforms.

It says:

I do not know much, it is true.

I only tell what I have seen.

And I have seen:

that man's cradle is rocked by tales…

That man's cries of anguish

are drowned out by tales…

That man's weeping is tamped down with tales…

That the bones of man are buried with tales…

And that the fear of man…

has invented all the tales.

I do not know much, it is true.

But I have been lulled to sleep with all the tales….

I know all the tales.

Thank you very much.

Translator's Notes:
*In fact, Cubans call Raul Castro not "El Chino," as in the original
text here, but "La China" — The Chinese Woman — as a slur on his
parentage and his sexuality.
**"Pre-criminal dangerousness" is a crime in Cuba's Penal Code and
carries a sentence of 1-4 years in prison.
*** An expression that alludes to the former Soviet bloc, and decisions
made unanimously–more out of fear or coercion than by conviction–during
Communist Party meetings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Cuba: Tallies and Tales of the Reforms / Vicente Botín –
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Vicente Botín, Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), The Hilton Miami Downtown Hotel, 29 July 2016. Once upon a time… A female cat fell in love with a handsome young man and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite to turn her into a woman. The goddess, pitying the cat’s yearning, … Continue reading "Cuba: Tallies and Tales of the Reforms / Vicente Botín" Continue reading
Omega and Odyssey Compete for 'Weekly Packet' Audience / 14ymedio, Luz
Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 September 2016 – Two young men wait on the
centrally located corner of San Lazaro and San Francisco in Havana,
at the door of the private business Copypack. They have in hand a hard
disk to get the 'Weekly Packet' without knowing that through this
compendium of audiovisuals a discrete battle is being fought to
monopolize the public's preferences. Who chooses the compilation called
Omega and who chooses Odyssey? That is the question.

With names from the epics, which seem straight out of video games and
science fiction movies, the two great parent companies of this singular
television alternative are trying to capture audience. They are the germ
of the channels that the island's TV viewers will enjoy in the future,
without sneaking around or standing in line to make copies to take home.

"I realized that my 'packet' was Odyssey because I asked for some copies
of Q'Manía TV and they told me that that material only came out on
Omega," said one of the customers waiting on the sidewalk. "I was
surprised, because I had no idea of those details," he said.

The two productions houses that copy, organize and distribute around one
terabyte of material every week started offering movies, series, and
foreign magazines, but they have been expanding and shaping their own
content. While Omega is betting more on series delivered episode by
episode, Odyssey is "best for finding music and videoclips," say their
followers.

Full Copy is a business with two locations in Havana, one in Vedado and
another in Lawton, that offers the Omega packet every day from 7 in the
morning, or a courier will bring it to your house for 1 Cuban
Convertible peso. "Every week we sell more than a thousand copies," says
Javier, an employee.

The director and producer Rolando Lorenzo, who heads one of the leading
programs in the Weekly Packet, explains that when he got the first
deliveries of his production ready, dedicated to promoting the history
of show business and advertising private businesses, the Omega managers
gave him an "exclusive" space without paying "a single centavo."

Entrepreneurial by nature, Lorenzo appreciated the gesture that helped
him when his project was just starting out. The producer believes that
"quality leads to power" and his program will help Omega develop even
more and of course he pushes for Q Manía TV to grow its audience.

The director says that Omega "has its privileges" and proudly says that
his program is available "in many places in the packet because it is in
several folders," especially in the first one, organized alphabetically,
something that he calls "a luxury" and he pushes to keep his commitment
to quality.

On 26th Street, in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution municipality, is one
of the most important places in the capital for the distribution of the
Weekly Packet from Odyssey. Its employees explain to 14ymedio the "daily
update," unlike Omega, along with the variety of music and TV series.

"The real difference is in Odyssey's musical selection," says a young
messenger who is responsible for distributing both packets on his
bicycle and he says that "both have daily updates." Laughing, he says
that both firms behave like "Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, which are more
similar than they want to acknowledge in public."

Odyssey is managed by Abdel, "The Essence," a very well-known music
producer on the island. Thanks to its wide selection, many of the
artists that can't show their videoclips on the popular TV show Lucas,
thanks to censorship, find a space on this audiovisual compendium. The
young man doesn't hesitate to assert that in his hands is "the best
Packet of the week."

However, Omega is no slouch and recently has created alliances with
musical promoters like Eje Record or Crazy Boys to expand its variety of
songs, soundtracks and videos with national singers.

Both parent companies have evolved in content distribution toward the
advertising business. From the work of an artist who is just starting
out, to reports focused on private businesses, the private sector
determines more and more the content of the Weekly Packet.

In a country where only ideological propaganda is permitted, promoted
and disseminated by the government on national television, alternative
networks of distribution have filled the commercial spaces that are
missing on the small screen.

Elio Hector Lopez, "The Transporter," known for being one of the
managers of the Weekly Packet, announced some months ago his intentions
to mutate his company toward advertising, and recognizes the need to
evolve in this sense of be able to survive in the future.

The producers who manage the Weekly Packet have a view of the future and
dream that their compilation of audiovisuals will shape morning television.

Source: Omega and Odyssey Compete for 'Weekly Packet' Audience /
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The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García

Iván García, 19 September 2016 — Let's get to know Osmel, born in
Havana, in 1968. You can smell his body three yards away. He's a carrier
of HIV; he drinks alcohol and makes trouble seven days a week and
doesn't have any known residence.

He sleeps on top of some cartons in a building that threatens to fall
down. He eats little and poorly and makes some money collecting old
things in the dump at Calle 100, west of the capital.

His skin looks scorched, and every morning he tries to sell things on
the outskirts of the Plaza Roja in La Vibora: a pair of used shoes,
pieces of second-generation computers or a collection of old Bohemia
magazines.

He says that Social Security "because of my advanced diabetes helps me
with 140 pesos (7 dollars) a month, which more or less allows me to get
what I need from the store and buy meat and medicine."

Undoubtedly, Osmel would like to have a family, sleep in a bed and have
a daily bath. "I dream about this all the time. To eat hot food, have a
wife and watch television with my kids. But how can I get that if what I
earn in a month by selling old junk or cutting stone doesn't cover my
needs?" he asks, and he answers himself:

"So that's why I have to get drunk. The money left to me goes for that.
Maybe it's the fastest way to kill myself," he says and takes a sip of
murky alcohol from a plastic bottle, filtered with industrial carbon.

Like Osmel, hundreds of indigents wander through the streets of Havana,
trying to survive in "the revolution of the humble, by the humble and
for the humble," as Fidel Castro once described it, which in practice
has been transformed into an incipient military capitalism that benefits
very few.

The Cuba of the Castro brothers happened to have a functional Social
Security, sustained by the blank check that the Kremlin provided, for
limited aid to retired and sick people, among others, who receive a
handful of pesos that isn't even enough to cover a third of what they need.

The big losers of the tepid economic reforms undertaken by General Raúl
Castro are the old people and those at risk of social exclusion. Not all
of them are beggars without a roof, like Osmel, but many are obligated
to sell newspapers, nylon bags, single cigarettes and cones of peanuts
in the streets, or become night watchmen for private companies or State
businesses to earn some extra pesos.

The worst isn't the present; it's the future. Keep in mind this date: In
2025, more than 30 percent of the Cuban population will be over 60
years. With emigration soaring, finances in the red and a lack of
coherent politics that offers net benefits to women and men of the third
age [retired], it's evident that Cuba will not be a good place for old
people to live.

Although the old are the most affected by the new economic direction,
according to Argelio, a sociologist, "almost 40 percent of the citizenry
lives below the poverty line accepted by international agencies, which
is measured by those who earn less than one dollar a day. For those in
extreme poverty, the figure on the Island hovers around 15 percent.

Specialists consulted consider that there are many reasons for the steep
fall in the level of life in Cuba. "The prolonged economic crisis, which
now has lasted for 27 years, an economy with ineffective structures,
sluggishness in applying efficient models of business management, the
circulation of two monies, low salaries and a decrease in productive and
export capacity. Except for the sale of services and tourism, in most
indices, Cuba has gone backwards," says Jorge, a professor of political
economics.

Raisa, an economist, blames the disaster on "poor governmental
management, the decapitalization of the country by the dual currency
system and low salaries, which distorts transactions, real productivity
and the buying power of the population. There are three or four types of
monetary exchanges in the export business and non-agriculture
cooperatives that affect economic performance. Raising salaries without
a productive base is counter-productive, but earning poor salaries is
even more so. The dual currency should be repealed now, although it
brings with it associated short-term phenomena that could trigger social
conflict."

In October 2013, the Havana Regime announced the unification of the dual
currency and put into play a group of measures that would progressively
culminate with the withdrawal of the Cuban Convertible peso (CUC),
leaving only the Cuban peso (CUP). But the slowness and the new state of
austerity made the autocracy think twice before initiating an in-depth
monetary reform.

With an average salary that doesn't exceed 27 dollars/month, the average
Cuban must get by as well as he can to have one or two hot meals a day,
get soap, deodorant and detergent and buy clothing and shoes. To reach a
decent standard of living, Cubans need the equivalent of 20 minimum
salaries of 300 Cuban pesos a month, which would add up to the
equivalent 280 dollars per capita.

And probably this isn't enough, since the accumulation of material
hardships and lack of maintenance in the homes triple these figures.
Although the Government doesn't talk about the camouflaged inflation
that affects, above all, the State workers who earn in Cuban pesos, the
prices in the hard-currency shops — that require Cuban Convertible pesos
— reveal the real state of the situation.

Three examples: If a worker wants to buy a flat-screen television, he
needs a salary of a year and a half. To furnish his house, a salary of
five years. And if he dreams of owning a modern car, at the present
price in State agencies, he needs a salary of 180 years.

If this isn't inflation, let someone show me otherwise.

Diario Las Américas, September 9, 2015.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-challenge-of-living-without-dollars-in-cuba-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 September 2016 – Two young men wait on the centrally located corner of San Lazaro and San Francisco in Havana, at the door of the private business Copypack. They have in hand a hard disk to get the ‘Weekly Packet’ without knowing that through this compendium of audiovisuals a discrete battle is … Continue reading "Omega and Odyssey Compete for ‘Weekly Packet’ Audience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
Iván García, 19 September 2016 — Let’s get to know Osmel, born in Havana, in 1968. You can smell his body three yards away. He’s a carrier of HIV; he drinks alcohol and makes trouble seven days a week and doesn’t have any known residence. He sleeps on top of some cartons in a building that … Continue reading "The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García" Continue reading
The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 September 2016 — In recent days, the
Cuban official media announced the implementation of a tax on personal
income for workers in the State's business sector, as well as an
extension of payments called Social Security Special Contribution (CESS)
– that workers at the so-called "perfecting entities" were already
paying into.

The new measure will take effect on October 1st of this year and will
involve over 1.3 million workers who will "benefit" from the Business
Improvement System (SPE) along with those receiving payments for results
and profits. Such an arrangement "confirms the redistributive function
of tax revenues and allows a decreasing participation of the State
budget in the financing of public expenditure," according to officials
quoted by the official press.

The payment of taxes will be deducted directly from State company
workers' income by the State company, which will forward it to the State
Budget. That is, workers will collect their a salary after deductions
are taken by their State employer for payment to the State.

Contrary to what might happen in a moderately democratic country, where
workers can join together in free trade unions and make demands against
measures that affect their wages and income, in Cuba there have been no
demonstrations, strikes or insubordination in the labor groups affected
by this arrangement. Nor is this expected to occur. Against the grain of
what some imaginative foreign digital media may claim about "over one
million angry workers," to date no event in the Cuban scene justifies
such a headline.

Actually, Cuban State workers, deprived of such a basic right as free
association, have developed in recent decades other peculiar ways of
processing their dissatisfaction with government actions that harm them,
such as being less productive and increasing theft and "diversion" of
resources to round up their depressed wages with additional "profits"
from such diversions; or emigrating to the private sector – which has
been becoming more frequent and expeditious – or permanently leaving the
country to seek prosperity away from the costly "protection" of the
Castro regime.

For its part, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC, Cuban Workers
Center), the only "union" legally recognized in Cuba, not only has
failed to fulfill the functions it supposedly was created for, and – on
the contrary – is developing a whole strategy of support for the
government, holding meetings at the grassroots level so that union
leaders may enlighten workers about the need to contribute to the State
Budget as a way of contributing to the fabulous social benefits they are
enjoying, especially with regard to health and education.

For this purpose there have been commissioners who, either due to their
lack of mental capacity, out of sheer perversity, or for both reasons,
mention among these "freebies" the public's use of battered highways and
roads, the calamitous sewer system or even the precarious and almost
nonexistent system of streetlights.

However, implementation of the new tax measures should not surprise
anyone. Since the 2011 Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party
(PCC), the Guidelines framed on Fiscal Policy announced that "higher
taxes for higher incomes" (Guideline 57) would be established, and that
the tax system would gradually "advance widely to increase its
effectiveness as an element of redistribution of income."

In that vein, on November 2012, Law 113 (of the Tax System) was
approved, repealing Law 73 of August 1994, establishing a special
provision that reads: "Personal Income tax on salaries and other
qualifying income, in accordance with the special rules and Property Tax
on Housing and vacant lots to Cuban-born citizens and foreign
individuals permanently residing in the national territory, will be
required, if economic and social conditions warrant its implementation,
which will be approved by the Budget Act of the corresponding year."

In April 2016, the VII Congress of the PCC once again took up the issue
of the need for the population to develop a tax culture, stressed the
inability of the State to continue assuming the costs of social benefits
and announced that it was studying the implementation of a system of
personal income tax… when suitable conditions existed.

In light of today, it becomes obvious that these "conditions" did not
refer specifically to an increase in workers' purchasing power, which is
still insufficient despite the much vaunted 54% increase in the average
wage in the State business sector from 2013 to the present, which places
the wage at 779 Cuban pesos (about US $31) according to official
figures. Rather the "conditions" are the State's increasing inability to
ensure the already deficient social security by itself, plus the budget
deficit, which the government's own media places at 1.2 billion Cuban
pesos, which must be covered by the treasury.

As officially reported, the State budget for 2016 is 52.4 billion Cuban
pesos, of which 5.7 billion (more than 10% of the total budget) went to
social security.

Hence Resolution #261 of 2 August 2016, by the Ministry of Finance and
Prices, which sets out in detail the tax rate aimed at complementing Law
113 of the Tax System. This should have been applied starting in the
second half of the year, but – apparently – nothing could be allowed to
mar the Ex-Undefeated One's 90th birthday celebration in August, so,
during the last regular session of the National Assembly of People's
Power it was agreed to postpone the implementation of the resolution
until the fourth quarter, starting with September's income.

Of course, in a "normal" society, an increase in social benefits
coincides with a rigorous compliance with a realistic tax policy. The
problem is that Cuba does not have either of these two premises: it is
neither a "normal" country nor does it have a "realistic" tax burden,
but quite the opposite.

In fact, Cuba's own laws demonize prosperity, limit and discourage
production capacity, and discourage and penalize the "accumulation of
wealth." At the same time, there is colossal inflation and a deviant
monetary duality: the country operates with two currencies, the Cuban
peso (CUP) and the so-called Cuban convertible peso (CUC). For the most
part wages are paid in the first currency, while a large portion of the
necessities of daily life are sold only in the second. With an exchange
rate of 25 Cuban pesos for 1 CUC, this creates an unbridgeable gap
between Cubans with access to hard currency, CUCs, and the always
insufficient living wage in national currency, CUPs, creating a
distortion between official projections, real wages and workers' cost of
living.

Other accompanying factors to the tax culture of a nation, not reflected
so far in the government's plans, are the economic freedoms of those who
produce the wealth – the taxpayers – and a necessary transparency in
financial figures. Both the source of funds of the State Budget and the
destiny of the revenue that feeds State funds through fiscal policy are
occult matters of science, under the management of only a small group of
anointed ones.

There are certain benefits of collateral privileges for some sectors,
which are also not in the public domain. For example, the population
does not know what percentage of the national budget is allocated to the
cost of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the
Interior (MININT), although both ministries were the first to apply the
SPE, while their employees enjoy higher wages, as well as prioritized
plans for housing construction and free or irrationally cheap vacations
at resorts with prices that are prohibitive for the pockets of common
workers. They also get guaranteed transportation services, the largest
motor home park in the country, preferential access to food products and
a long list of freebies.

In addition, there has been no information on the relationship between
the tax and the pensions that retirees get. That is, how many State
workers should pay taxes to cover the pensions of all retirees, and what
are the projections in this direction for a population that is aging at
an alarming rate, and that is, in addition, being hit by the growing and
constant exodus abroad of its labor force.

At the moment, workers – suddenly converted to taxpayers without
economic rights – have not been liberated of their patriotic obligations
such as the "donation" of a day's pay for the National Militias Troops,
a shell entity which nobody sees or belongs to, but with a fixed quota,
or of the union fees for an association whose primary function is to
defend management. Cuckolded and beaten.

What is uncontested is the efficiency of the State in sharpening its
pencils and doing its math. It is known that 1736 State-owned businesses
have average salaries in excess of 500 Cuban pesos at which the tax goes
into effect; therefore, their workers will begin to take on the new tax
burden that will make their incomes dwindle. The bad news is that,
presumably, many State workers will give up their jobs to look more
promising ones elsewhere. The good news is that Daddy State will stop
bragging about so many expensive freebies.

The "gains" made by the workers through half a century of "Revolution"
are quickly blurring.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-end-of-freebies-by-the-revolution-cubanet-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 September 2016 — In recent days, the Cuban official media announced the implementation of a tax on personal income for workers in the State’s business sector, as well as an extension of payments called Social Security Special Contribution (CESS) – that workers at the so-called “perfecting entities” were already paying … Continue reading "The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya" Continue reading
Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words "Democracy" Or "Hunger Strike" /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez/Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 September 2016 — If
you are considering sending a text message to a friend to wish him a
"happy coexistence" with his family or to suggest that he not give in to
"the dictatorship of work," it is very likely that the phrase will never
reach its destination. A filter implemented by the Telecommunications
Company of Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) blocks certain words from flowing through
the cellular network. (See below for the list.)

For years, users of the only cellphone company in the country have
suffered from congestion on the lines and areas of poor coverage, but
few have noticed that there is also a strict blockade on the use of key
terms and phrases in mobile messaging.

The discovery of this list has happened almost by chance. Several users,
upset that their messages were charged for but not delivered, exchanged
experiences. This week they connected the dots and found that texts
containing the following references never reached their destinations:
"human rights," "hunger strike," "José Daniel Ferrer," or the name of
the independent magazine "Coexistence."

Over several days and at different points in the national geography,
this newspaper has run tests from terminals with very different owners,
ranging from opponents and activists to people without any links to
independent movements. In all cases, messages containing certain
expressions "were lost on the way."

Cubacel is ETECSA's cellular network and the contract that each user
signs to get a mobile line makes clear that the among causes for which
the service will be terminated are uses "prejudicial to morality, public
order, state security or that serve as support in carrying out criminal
activities."

The customer is never warned that their messages will be subjected to a
content filter or that a part of their correspondence will be blocked if
it alludes to opponents, concepts that are uncomfortable for officialdom
such as "human rights" or to blogs critical of the government in the
style of "Generation Y."

Arnulfo Marrero, deputy chief of the ETECSA branch at 19 and B in
Vedado, Havana, was surprised on Friday morning by a complaint presented
to his office about the censorship. "We have nothing to do with this,
you should contact the Ministry of Communications (MICOM)," the official
explained to the bearer of the complaint.

"MICOM governs communications policy, because we don't make any
decisions here. All I can do is report it," said Marrero.

Censorship, however, is not yet activated on messages that are sent to
foreign countries, perhaps because of their high cost: 1 Cuban
convertible peso (about $1 US) per 160 characters. Blocking them would
provoke more complaints from disgruntled customers and would have set
off alarm bells much earlier. However, in text messages received from
abroad the same censorship applied to domestic text messaging is also
applied.

In late 2001, Pakistan implemented a similar filter on cellphone text
messages. The telecommunications authorities of that Asian country
created a list of more than 1,600 prohibited terms in English and Urdu,
which included obscene and insulting words, as well as words such as
"condom" and "homosexual."

In the Cuban case it is not morality that guides the scissors of
censorship, because all the words in the popular argot alluding to
sexuality can be sent freely. Cubans can narrate an entire orgy in 160
characters, but cannot send the word "democracia" to their recipients,
not even when they try the trick of changing the "i" to a "1" and try to
sneak in "democrac1a."

The difference with Pakistan lies not only in the reason for blocking
certain phrases or words, but also in the secrecy with which this
censorship has operated for months, perhaps years, in Cuba. Few have
noticed the relationship between certain expressions and communication
problems, because they attribute it to the chronic problems of
congestion and Cubacel's bad service.

With more than three million cell phone users, the Cuban authorities
have bet on few people associating errors in receiving messages with a
desire to prevent the transmission of concepts and words.

The meticulous choice of what terms to block has not been random.
Despite the high prices for mobile phone service, where one domestic
call can cost as much as half a day's wages, the presence of cellphones
in the hands of Cubans has changed ways of interacting and people find
parallel paths to avoid the excessive controls the government impose on
all areas of activity.

"I didn't know this was happening, although now that I read the list of
censored words I'm sure I've used one of them at least once," says Leo,
21, who was waiting outside the Cubacell office on Obispo Street in
Havana this Thursday.

"I watch the news with breakfast," said an astonished young man next to
him, who said he had not noticed blocked terms, "although ETECSA works
so badly that nothing should surprise us any more." During special days,
Christmas or Mother's Day, communicating becomes a real ordeal.

During his students years at the University of Information Sciences
(UCI), the engineer Eliecer Avila worked on the so-called Operation
Truth. His group monitored the internet and created matrices of opinion
favorable to the government in forums, blogs and digital diaries. At
present, Avila leads the independent Somos+ (We Are More) Movement,
which is also on the long list of terms blocked by Cubacel messaging.

"We implemented algorithm projects that, given certain phrases or words
entered by a user into their browser, they would appear preferentially
in official pages," Avila recalled for this newspaper. "We tried to
invisibilize alternative proposals or criticisms."

The presence of an intelligent filter is obvious in this case. If you
type in the text "cacerolazo" – a word meaning the banging and pots and
pans as a form of protest – your message will take much longer to arrive
than some other text. A similar slowdown occurs if you write the names
of Fidel Castro or Raúl Castro, and it is true in the latter case with
or without the accented letter U.

How many dissident meetings have been frustrated because the invitation
message never reached the invitees' inboxes? How many misunderstandings
between couples, domestic squabbles, and uncompleted professional tasks
result from the filtering of messages that include last names such as
Biscet and terms such as plebiscite?

Telecommunications censorship is not a new tool for the Plaza of the
Revolution. Activist frequently denounce the blocking of their
cellphones on December 10th, Human Rights Day, or other times when they
want to gather together.

During the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island in September of
2012, more than 100 opponents reported the suspension of their cellphone
service, along with house arrests and arbitrary detentions.

A blockade of uncomfortable digital sites has also been a common
practice for officialdom. On the list of inaccessible sites are portals
set up from abroad such as Cubaencuentro, as well as local newspapers
like 14ymedio. More than a few users manage to circumvent the censorship
by sending news via email or sending offline copies of pages that pass
from hand to hand thanks to technological devices like USB flash drives
and external hard drives.

In March of this year, Amnesty International noted that "only 25% of the
Cuban population uses the internet and only 5% of households have a
connection." This situation has strengthened the use of mobile phones,
especially texting, as a way of using "the internet without internet."

Only since 2008 were Cubans legally allowed to have a cellphone contract
and Cubacel currently has over three million users. Last year 800,000
new lines were established throughout the island, despite the high cost
of a national call, the equivalent of half the salary of a working day.

In July 2014, the governments of Cuba and China signed an agreement on
"cooperation in cyberspace." China has transferred to the island its
experience in monitoring and blocking content on the web, especially
what they have learned from their launch in 1998 of the so-called Golden
Shield Project, known worldwide as the Great Firewall, which employs
more than 30,000 censors.

Raul Castro's government has not only copied China's content filtering
strategy, but also the creation of its own social networks to discourage
Cubans from using Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. To achieve this an
ersatz Wikipedia, called Ecured, was created, along with a
platform-style Facebook dubbed La Tendera (The Shopkeeper) and an
unpopular substitute for Twitter known as El Pitazo (The Whistle), all
with little success.

We now know that the Cuban Government wants to go beyond such crude
imitations and aspires to follow in the footsteps of its Great Chinese
Brother, which has a long history of censoring text messaging through a
"keyword list." A user can have their entire messaging function disabled
if their content does not pass the filter of the censors. In the city of
Shanghai alone, the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reports, messaging
has been blocked for some 70,000 users.

List of Words and Phrases Known to be Blocked by Cubacel

14 y medio
14ymedio
Antunez
Antúnez
Berta Soler
Biscet
Carlos Amel
Coco Farinas
Coco Fariñas
Convivencia
Cuba Posible
Cubanet
Damas de Blanco
Democracia
Democrac1a
DDHH
Derechos humanos
Dictadura
Disidente
Elecciones libres
Generacion Y
Generación Y
Guillermo Farinas
Guillermo Fariñas
Hablemos Press
Huelga de hambre
Jose Daniel Ferrer
José Daniel Ferrer
Oscar Elias Biscet
Óscar Elías Biscet
Plebiscito
Policía Política
Policia Politica
Primavera Negra
Represión
Represion
Seguridad del Estado
Somos+
Todos Marchamos
Unpacu
Yoani Sanchez
Yoani Sánchez

Source: Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words "Democracy" Or "Hunger
Strike" / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubacel-censors-texts-with-the-words-democracy-or-hunger-strike-14ymedio-yoani-sanchez-reinaldo-escobar/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez/Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 September 2016 — If you are considering sending a text message to a friend to wish him a “happy coexistence” with his family or to suggest that he not give in to “the dictatorship of work,” it is very likely that the phrase will never reach its destination. A filter … Continue reading "Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words “Democracy” Or “Hunger Strike” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar" Continue reading
Make the most of it: Casa particulars in Cuba
Havana's casa particulars let travellers room with the locals and
experience another side of hospitality and the city.
By GRACE LISA SCOTT Special to the Star
Sat., Aug. 20, 2016

HAVANA, CUBA — "Welcome! You are our daughter now!" said Israel Sainz in
the cosy living room of the second-floor apartment he shares with
Maruchi Sainz in Old Havana.

Travellers looking for a fun, unique — and very Cuban — accommodation
experience will find it in Havana's casa particulars.

Cuba's brand of B&B came about in the late 1990s, when the Castro
government began easing restrictions on private businesses. One
concession was allowing Cubans to make an income renting out rooms in
their homes to tourists. Now registered casa particulars are all over
the country, wherever a blue upside-down anchor symbol is nailed near
the door.

For around 30 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) or about $39 (Canadian) a
night, tourists can land a private room, with breakfast usually costing
an additional 5 CUC ($6.45) and served by the hosts whenever their
guests want to get up.

At the Sainzs' apartment, breakfast consisted of an ample serving of
eggs, bread, fresh guava and pineapple, and amazing coffee.

If cost wasn't reason enough, the added bonus for travellers staying at
a casa particular is the opportunity to interact with locals who can
help them navigate the intricacies of everything they want to do while
in Havana.

Israel provided detailed directions to every destination, estimated how
much cab fares would cost, and recommended great places to eat. And like
true surrogate parents, he and Maruchi even insisted on doing this
writer's laundry.

Of course, like everything in Havana, quality can run the gamut.

This is literally someone's home, so levels of hospitality and
atmosphere can vary. There are multiple casa particulars that have
online information for booking in advance, such as casahabana.net.

If one is full, the owner will usually refer to a nearby alternative.
Every casa particular has cards available with the name of the owner,
the address and phone number.

As such, travellers pass cards around, and like anything, the best
things come on recommendation. Some Cubans don't speak fluent English,
though, so emailing and calling can be tricky, but it's worth the effort.


Grace Lisa Scott's trip to Cuba was partially supported by G Adventures,
which didn't review or approve this story.

When You Go

Israel and Maruchi Sainz, 56 Morro, Apt. 206, Old Havana, (+53) 5 829 7089
casahabana.net

Source: Make the most of it: Casa particulars in Cuba | Toronto Star -
https://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2016/08/20/make-the-most-of-it-casa-particulars-in-cuba.html Continue reading
As the future closes in, there's still time to travel to authentic Cuba
THE WASHINGTON POST
PUBLISHED: August 5, 2016 at 2:16 pm | UPDATED: August 5, 2016 at 2:19
By Moriah Balingit
The Washington Post

For many travelers, the goal is to physically move – to be flung through
airspace and to cross borders — but to remain in spaces that are
comfortably familiar. They would prefer to speak English and to use U.S.
currency and to avoid, except for those incidental times when fetching a
drink or a towel, any contact with the locals.

Many others crave the opposite — not so much a vacation but an immersive
experience, sharing the food, sharing language and picking up on the
tiny details that shape daily life. Whether or not you desire it, this
is the kind of experience the average traveler is likely to have in
Cuba, because it is practically mandated by law.

The law — while relaxed — still puts strict limitations on what
Americans can do when traveling to Cuba, requiring cultural exchange
activities for many travelers. Some travel operators have interpreted
the rules to mean that all-inclusive resorts — those booze-soaked
cocoons popular in the Yucatan and elsewhere in the Caribbean — are
off-limits to Americans (though they do exist). The travel restrictions
and U.S. embargo — which will remain in effect until it is lifted by
Congress — means travel to Cuba is not easily planned on a whim.

But it is well worth the legwork. Cuba had long been a place of distant
fascination for me. When President Barack Obama announced that he would
reopen diplomatic relations with the island nation, the urgency to go
grew. (I spoke to many travelers who felt the same way, fearful that
U.S. tourists would spoil the island.)

Despite numerous novice traveler mishaps, Cuba ended up delivering on
its magic. To see the island now is to see a place in flux, to play
witness to history and to get a glimpse into the Cuban people's mix of
emotions — anxiety, excitement, fear — over the coming shift. It is to
observe mind-bending surreality, to see hints of modernity — such as the
crowds of tourists and locals slumped over smartphones and huddled
around public WiFi spots — amid noisy, rumbling decades-old cars, the
omnipresent reminder of a nation slowed by the embargo.

Everyone I encountered had a view on how the island will change and
whether it will be for good or for bad: my tour guide; the geographer
and taxi driver who studied the world but had never left the island; the
man who sold me ice cream; the former nurse who made my breakfast at a
guest house in Old Havana; the doctors who ran a guest house and cooked
us fish in Viñales; the young musician who boasted that Cuba was free of
American-brand racism. And everyone was happy to share (in Spanish, mind
you).

Every day was filled with spectacular sights and deep conversations. I
sensed that I was seeing a place that could rapidly slip away.

I realized that I must have sounded suspicious, speaking slowly in
Spanish inflected with a distinctly American accent.

"I don't have cash but I have money that I can transfer to you on the
Internet. Do you know about PayPal?"

The woman on the other end of the line sounded puzzled. No, no PayPal.

I was in Havana, and due to some bad counsel at the currency exchange
counter in Cancun, Mexico, (do not change your U.S. dollars to Canadian
ones, or you will lose big) my friend and I were running low on cash. We
could pay our room and board, yes, but it meant cheap sandwiches from
the tiny corner shop down the street for the rest of the week. There was
little hope of getting any more cash — the embargo, after all, makes it
nearly impossible. Had we really gotten desperate, we could have had
someone wire us money, but that would have taken time, and on vacation,
time is a premium. In the end, it meant no souvenirs — save for a few
copies of Granma, the official voice of the Communist Party of Cuba
Central Committee — a lot of walking and sticking to activities that
were cheap.

That is lesson No. 1 for tourists from the United States. Cuba is a cash
economy, and not a cash economy in the way you may be accustomed to
thinking of one. Americans are, for the most part, barred from accessing
their bank accounts from this tropical island. And even if we were not,
keep in mind that nearly everything in Cuba takes time, that lines — for
fruit and bread rations, for WiFi cards and at banks — have become an
essential part of Cuban life. Even though carrying cash feels
disconcerting, it will save you time, headaches and possibly a night
crashing on the streets of Havana. (Luckily, it did not come to this for
me.)

When visitors arrive in Cuba, foreign coinage is exchanged into a
special currency known as a CUC — a Cuban convertible peso. Travelers
from the United States are levied an immediate 10 percent penalty, so
some opt to exchange first to euros. But do the math before you go this
route, keeping in mind that many banks levy their own fees for
exchanging U.S. dollars into euros.

Americans wishing to visit the island now must fall into one of 12
categories and still should document their trips — keeping notes,
itineraries and receipts. The most expansive of these categories — the
one the casual traveler is most likely to qualify under — is
people-to-people travel. And that, as its name suggests, requires
getting away from a resort, out of the tour bus and interacting with
Cubans. If this is your kind of vacation, Cuba is your ideal destination.

My friend and I booked a tour through Cuba Adventures, opting for its
six-day Western Cuba tour package. We paid deposits with credit cards
online (they have offices based outside of Cuba).

Official people-to-people tours tend to be pricier than ordinary ones
and pack in a full day of educational activities while also arranging
transportation, accommodations and meals in order to ensure compliance
with U.S. laws.

While my tour was not officially licensed as a people-to-people one, it
featured many of the aspects of such a tour: stays in guest houses,
educational tours, lessons on history and politics (formal and informal,
my favorite, perhaps, being the one from the geographer, who gave me a
ride to the airport). But it had a much lighter schedule of activities,
meaning more free time. In recent months, the Obama administration has
expanded the category to allow ordinary travelers — rather than tour
groups, which charge a premium – to plot their own people-to-people tours.

My friend — a graduate student studying urban planning – and I began our
journey in Cancun, where we purchased a Cuban visa ($25 to $30) and
filled out a simple form given to us at the ticket counter specifying
which of the 12 categories we were traveling to Cuba under. (I went as a
journalist.) Our trip happened to coincide with Obama's historic visit
to the island, but we planned ours well in advance of the White House's
announcement.

While U.S. travelers have been flying to Havana for years from foreign
locales — Costa Rica and Mexico are popular – commercial airlines will
soon offer direct flights.

We landed at José Martí International Airport, gawking from the plane
windows at an island bathed in spectacular shades of green. After a long
wait in a currency line, we met our tour in Soroa, a mountainside
resort, penetrating deep into the green and winding our way through a
forest of astonishing density. The tour had arranged for a driver from
the airport.

From the balcony of our guest house, my friend and I took in the views
of a setting that was reminiscent of "Jurassic Park," where the
mysterious hoots of birds competed with the bass thump of party music in
the distance.

Breakfast at our guest house – and nearly every day – would bring a
rainbow's array of tropical fruit, cheese, meats and bread. The
following day, at Soroa's orchid gardens, we saw otherworldly trees and
flowers — clusters of roses that hung from trees in arrangements that
resembled globes, trees anchored into cliffsides with tentacle-like
roots. The garden sloped upwards, and on its peak we sipped freshly made
fruit juices and listened to live music. Even I, someone who regularly
manages to kill even the hardiest of succulents, found our very in-depth
lecture about the endless variety of orchids fascinating.

Later, our tour bus rambled on to a waterfall beyond a short, easy hike,
where my friend and I paddled around in the cool water among weary
backpackers and hikers.

Our next stop was Viñales, a small city further inland. From the Hotel
Los Jazmines, perched high above the valley, we surveyed a landscape
unlike any I had ever seen, deeply verdant and dominated by mogotes,
large, steep-sided hills that seem to appear from nowhere.

In this quiet town, we toured a tobacco farm and ate dinner at an
organic farm high above the valley, where a cat threaded its way through
our feet. An old man gave us a tour of the garden, showing us his
handwritten notes that identified the specimens in Spanish, French and
English.

The following day we headed to Havana, a city still gridlocked as
President Obama touched down for a historic visit. In one of the narrow,
aging buildings in Old Havana — where a shortage of construction
supplies means the buildings show their age — my friend and I checked
into a rooftop guest house, a sanctuary from the noise and the bustle
below. From there, we could see the dense clusters of decaying buildings
and the gleaming dome of the Capitol building in the distance.

That night, hours after Obama delivered an address to Cubans, I ordered
an ice cream cone.

"American?" the server inquired in English. I nodded.

"Obama, your president," he said.

"His words," he said, giving a mock shiver and brushing his forearms,
saying with his body language: gave me shivers.

He took the cone back from me and piled on another lump of soft serve.

The next day came a sobering tour of Old Havana, from its colonial roots
to its modern turmoil. Our tour guide ended in a square where we
gathered around a statue of a naked woman riding atop a chicken, tears
running down her face while she holds an enormous fork.

It was an expression of the anguish of what was called the "Special
Period," when the dissolution of the Soviet Union devastated the Cuban
economy, leading to widespread food shortages. As our tour guide tells
it, women grew so desperate that they turned to prostitution for food.

For the remainder of our unguided trip, we strolled the Malecón – the
seawall that separates the city from the crashing waves – and wandered
the narrow, charming streets of Old Havana. In the mornings, we took
long breakfasts with a former nurse who now served as house help and
gave us a crash course on the state of Cuban politics.

We, in turn, quenched her curiosity about the United States, a place she
knew mostly through movies and state television, where one channel
seemed to play U.S. crime dramas exclusively. She asked us if all Texans
carried guns on their belts, wore hats and talked strangely.

Cubans, she said, are ambivalent about the warming relations with the
United States. A former hospital worker, she had seen the effects the
embargo had on drug shortages. But she feared what more capitalism -—
and more tourists — would mean for the island.

On her recommendation, we took a group taxi to the beach town Guanabo,
waiting in a line near the Capitol to ride with a group of young men in
an old car. We dipped our toes in the powder-white sand and waded in the
warm, Caribbean water before hitching a ride back.

On my final night, I tried out some establishments that seemed to
represent where Old Havana is headed. The restaurant 304 O'Reilly served
up small plates and Spanish-style tapas. Across the street, at El Del
Frente, the walls were washed white with hip stencils of bicycles and
its rooftop bar was strung with lights.

Blended cocktails were served in tall glasses with accoutrements
meticulously arranged with tweezers. They seemed more fit for an art
show than for consumption.

The bartender told me that model Naomi Campbell has dined there. On my
first of two visits, a German television crew was filming some sort of
fashion reality show. I scrimped to ensure I had enough for a nice meal
on the final night – though this meant forgoing a taxi from a guest
house more than a mile from Old Havana and taking a group taxi on the
way home.

The bartender boasted that the tunes piped in through the speakers –
unusual for Old Havana, where establishments more often have live music
– was from a radio station in America. I told him the spot felt a little
like South Beach, very "guay," I said, employing the Castillian word for
"cool."

As the sun set over Old Havana, I watched a couple dance in the fading
light, shimmying and swaying not to Cuban salsa music but to the strains
of Justin Bieber, transmitted through the warm air all the way from New
York City.

Source: As the future closes in, there's still time to travel to
authentic Cuba – The Denver Post -
http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/05/travel-authentic-cuba/ Continue reading