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The Cuban Regime Survives by Fear / Iván García

Iván García, 21 March 2017 — In the slum of Lawton, south of Havana, the
need for housing has converted an old collective residence with narrow
passageways into a bunkhouse. With dividers made from cardboard or
bricks recovered from demolished buildings, "apartments" have appeared
where a dozen families reside, living on the razor's edge.

Among the blasting Reggaeton music and illegal businesses, cane alcohol,
stolen the night before from a state distillery, is sold and later used
in the preparation of home-made rum; or clothing with pirated labels,
bought in bulk from stalls in Colón, a stone's throw from the Panama
Canal. A while back, when cattle were slaughtered in the Lawton or
Virgen del Camino slaughterhouses, you could get beef at the wholesale
price.

These overpopulated townships in the capital are cradles of
prostitution, drugs and illegal gambling. Lawton, like no other
neighborhood in Havana, is the "model" for marginalization and crime.
People live from robbing state institutions, selling junk or whatever
falls from a truck.

But don't talk to them about political reforms, ask them to endorse a
dissident party or protest about the brutal beatings that the political
police give a few blocks away to the Ladies in White, who every Sunday
speak about political prisoners and democracy in Cuba.

Let's call him Miguel, a guy who earns money selling marijuana,
psychotropic substances or cambolo, a lethal mix of cocaine with a small
dose of bicarbonate. He's been in prison almost a third of his life. He
had plans to emigrate to the United States but interrupted them after
Obama's repeal of the "wet foot-dry foot" policy.

Miguel has few topics of conversation. Women, sports, under-the-table
businesses. His life is a fixed portrait: alcohol, sex and "flying,"
with reddened eyes from smoking marijuana.

When you ask his opinion about the dissident movement and the continued
repression against the Ladies in White, he coughs slightly, scratches
his chin, and says: "Man, get off that channel. Those women are crazy.
This government of sons of bitches that we have, you aren't going to
bring it down with marches or speeches. If they don't grab a gun, the
security forces will always kick them down. They're brave, but it's not
going to change this shitty country."

Most of the neighbors in the converted bunkhouse think the same way.
They're capable of jumping the fence of a State factory to rob two
gallons of alcohol, but don't talk to them about politics, human rights
or freedom of expression.

"Mi amor, who wants to get into trouble? The police have gone nuts with
the businesses and prostitution. But when you go down the path of human
rights, you're in trouble for life," comments Denia, a matron.

She prefers to speak about her business. From a black bag she brings out
her Huawei telephone and shows several photos of half-nude girls while
chanting out the price. "Look how much money. Over there, whoever wants
can beat them up," says Denia, referring to the Ladies in White.

Generally, with a few exceptions, the citizens of the Republic of Cuba
have become immune or prefer to opt for amnesia when the subjects of
dissidence, freedom and democracy are brought up.

"There are several reasons. Pathological fear, which certainly infuses
authoritarian societies like the Cuban one. You must add to that the
fact that the Government media has known very well how to sell the story
of an opposition that is minimal, divided and corrupt, interested only
in American dollars," affirms Carlos, a sociologist.

Also, the dissidence is operating on an uneven playing field. It doesn't
have hours of radio or television coverage to spread its political
programs. The repression has obligated hundreds of political opponents
to leave the country. And State Security has infiltrated moles in almost
all the dissident groups.

"The special services efficiently short-circuit the relation of the
neighbors of the barrio and the people who support the dissidence. How
do you overcome that abyss? By expanding bridges to the interior of the
Island. I believe the opposition is more focused on political crusades
toward the exterior. The other is to amplify what the majority of Cubans
want to hear: There isn't food; to buy a change of clothing costs a
three months' salary; the terrible transport service; the water
shortage….There is a long list of subjects the dissidents can exploit,"
says Enrique.

I perceive that around 80 percent of the population has important common
ground with the local opposition. The timid economic openings and
repeals of absurd regulations were always claimed by the dissidence,
from greater autonomy for private work, foreign travel or being tourists
in their own country.

According to some dissidents, many neighbors approach them to say hello
and delve into the motives for their detentions after a brutal verbal
lynching or a beating. But there aren't enough.

Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, the leader of the Alianza Democrática
Oriental (Eastern Democratic Alliance) and director of Palenque Visión
(Palenque Vision), felt frustrated when street protests demanding rights
for everybody were taking place, and people were only watching from the
curb of a sidewalk.

"One night I was in the hospital's emergency room, since my son had a
high fever, and I initiated a protest because of the poor medical
attention. Several patients were in the same situation. But no one
raised their voice when the patrols arrived and the political police
detained me by force. That night I realized that I had to change my
method to reach ordinary Cubans. Perhaps the independent press is a more
effective way," Lobaina told me several months ago in Guantánamo.

Although independent journalists reflect that other Cuba that the
autocracy pretends to ignore, their notes, reports or complaints have a
limited reach because of the lack of Internet service and the
precariousness of their daily lives.

For the majority of citizens, democracy, human rights and freedom of
expression are not synonymous with a plate of food, but with repression.
How to awaken a Cuban from indifference is a good question for a debate.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Cuban Regime Survives by Fear / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-cuban-regime-survives-by-fear-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Iván García, 21 March 2017 — In the slum of Lawton, south of Havana, the need for housing has converted an old collective residence with narrow passageways into a bunkhouse. With dividers made from cardboard or bricks recovered from demolished buildings, “apartments” have appeared where a dozen families reside, living on the razor’s edge. Among … Continue reading "The Cuban Regime Survives by Fear / Iván García" Continue reading
… Trump has continued the looser Cuba travel regulations implemented in 2015 … website A bike trip exploring Havana, with casual conversations with shopkeepers … up three half-day tours in Havana to look at Art Deco … lessons at Havana Music). My daughter, who plays trombone, studied Cuban jazz … Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 March 2017 — To the voices that call for more autonomy for athletes, the Cuban government has just responded with a clear message. “To enter into a contract abroad, the athlete” must have “adequate social behavior,” according to Ramiro Domínguez, legal director of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and … Continue reading "“Adequate Social Behavior” Is The Requirement For A Sports Contract Abroad for a Cuban Athlete" Continue reading
Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom?
By Neal Simpson
The Patriot Ledger

HAVANA - At a small beach town on the Bay of Pigs, 27-year-old Kenny
Bring Mendoza approached to see if we needed a taxi.

We didn't, but Kenny was happy to show off his proficiency in English
and even willing to answer a few of my questions about recent economic
policy changes in Cuba, things as basic as buying cars or renting out
rooms. But Kenny wanted me to know that one of the biggest changes was
that we were talking at all.


"A couple of years ago, I couldn't be sitting here, speaking with you,"
he told me.

The fact that citizens and tourists now mingle more or less freely in
Cuba, an ostensibly socialist country 90 miles off the U.S. coast, is
just one sign that this island nation is increasingly opening itself up
to the world and, in particular, to the U.S., its longtime archenemy.

U.S. airlines now fly direct from New York to Hanava, cruise ships tower
over the city's aging piers and Americans are increasingly easy to find
among the Canadian and European tourists who have been visiting the
island for decades. Travel agents on the South Shore say they're
fielding a growing number of calls from people who want to know how they
can get to Cuba before the rest of the tourists arrive.

"It's still the unknown for people," said Susan Peavey, whose agency has
offices in Marshfield and Harwich Port. "Everybody is really interested."

I was one of those tourists last month, exploring the island nation in
the tradition of a Ledger photojournalist and editor who had visited
every decade or so to try to understand life in a place that was largely
off-limits to Americans.

What I found was a Cuba that looked much the same as it would have in
decades past despite profound economic changes that are lifting the
fortunes of some Cubans while leaving many behind. Cuba's socialist
government, under pressure to spur growth in a stagnant economy still
recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 25 years ago,
has begun to tear down many of the barriers that have separated Cubans
from the outside world. Residents can now rent out rooms to tourists,
open a limited number of privately owned restaurants, access the
internet and stay at resorts that were previously reserved for
foreigners. From Havana to Playa Girón, there's ample evidence of
President Raul Castro's effort to grow the economy's private sector,
which largely takes the form of self employment, not companies.

But some Cubans I talked with told me that thawing U.S.-Cuba relations,
and the growing number of American tourists visiting the island in the
last two years, has meant more for their personal livelihood than the
loosening of laws on personal property. They told me they'd welcome more
Americans and seemed to harbor no resentment over the Cold War-era
embargo that the U.S. continues to enforce against its Caribbean
neighbor after more than half a century.


"For me," Junior Fuentes Garcia, a 42-year-old Cuban selling books and
watches in Habana Vieja's Plaza De Armas, told me in Spanish, "the
economy is more important."

Cuba opens its doors

Arriving in old Havana at night, the city can look to American eyes like
the set of a post-apocalyptic movie set on a Caribbean island some 50
years after catastrophe cut it off from the rest of civilization. The
streets of Habana Vieja are dimly lit, narrow and filled with people who
are quick to get out of the way whenever a big 1950s Chevy or Ford comes
around a corner. The architecture, hauntingly beautiful but often gutted
and abandoned, recalls a time when Havana was the playground of wealthy
American gangsters and known as the Paris of the Caribbean despite the
extreme poverty and illiteracy most Cubans lived with before the revolution.

Havana by day is a different place, and much more difficult to
understand. Tower cranes rise over government-funded construction
projects along the Paseo de MartÍ while in the adjacent borough of
Habana Centro men labor with 5-gallon buckets and rope to keep up
dilapidated buildings that pre-date the revolution. A fellow traveler
and I walked around a gleaming white hotel that had risen on the site of
a former school building, then toured the nearby Museum of the
Revolution, where the paint was peeling off the terra cotta tiles of
what was once a presidential palace.

And of course, there were the big, beautiful mid-century American cars
that have become inextricably associated with modern-day Cuba even
though they share the country's roads with at least as many newer
Volkswagens, Kias and a variety of makes I had never seen. They are
truly everywhere, though many have been pressed into service as taxis
for tourists.

It's easy to understand why Cubans fortunate enough to have a car would
be tempted to spend their days driving tourists around. Under the Cuban
government's confounding dual-currency system, tourists use one kind of
peso pegged to the American dollar while Cuban citizens mostly use
another kind of peso that's worth closer to 4 cents each. The system,
which is meant to give the government control over American dollars
coming into the country, means that taxi drivers can charge foreigners
rates not far below what they'd pay in the U.S. and make far more than
the average Cuban wage of less than $200 a month, according to a survey
conducted last year by Moscow-based firm Rose Marketing Limited.

I talked with one taxi driver who spoke gleefully about the flood of
Americans he had seen over the last two years and the many more he hoped
were on their way. His mother and sister had moved to the U.S. in recent
years, but he said life in Cuba was too good for him to follow.


Tourism 'brain drain'

Grant Burrier, an assistant professor at Curry College in Milton who has
been visiting Cuba regularly since 2005, told me that the money-making
potential in tourism is actually becoming a problem for the Cuban
government, which has announced but not followed through with plans to
consolidate its two currencies. Burrier said the lure of the tourist
economy has created an internal "brain drain" in Cuba, tempting
engineers and other high-skill workers to leave their government jobs to
seek work in the tourism sector.

In that sense, he said the tourist trade has fueled "severe inequality"
between Cubans who have access to the tourist currency and those who do not.

"Those kinds of issues will be really problematic for the long-term
future of the Cuban economy," he said.

The socialistic ideal of economic equality is clearly far from achieved
in Cuba, but there were no signs of extreme poverty during my brief time
there. Despite its stagnant economy, the Cuban government continues to
provide its citizens with free health care and education as well as
subsidies for food. The country's infant mortality rate is lower than
that of the U.S., and its literacy rate is 99.8 percent, according to
the CIA World Factbook.

But even with all that, it's not clear whether the Cuban government can
maintain the ideals of the revolution as a younger generation comes into
power and gains a better understanding – thanks in part to the internet
– of the lifestyles and consumer goods available outside the confines of
socialism. The median age in Cuba is now 41, according to the CIA World
Factbook, meaning most Cubans were born more than a decade after the
Cuban Revolution and the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion two years
later. The median-aged Cuban was a teenager when the Soviet Union
collapsed and Cuba was left in the lurch.

"That's going to be the key struggle for the revolution going on," said
Burrier, who visited Cuba with 17 Curry students earlier this year.
"Most people you talk to in Cuba, they just want opportunity. They want
economic opportunity, they want economic stability."


American business

Many people in the United States are betting on economic opportunity in
Cuba as well. Last month, a delegation that included U.S. Reps. Jim
McGovern and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts visited Cuba and met with
representatives from Northeastern University and the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council to discuss opportunities in the agriculture and
health sectors. Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat and
longtime advocate for a more open Cuba, is adamant that the island will
soon open its doors wide to American business.

"They obviously have tremendous needs and those need are going to be met
by American capitalism," said Delahunt, whose next trip to Cuba in May
will be aboard a cruise ship. "That's just what's going to happen."

But Delahunt and most Cuba watchers don't expect change to come quickly
to one of the world's last remaining Marxist-Leninist countries. The
country's leaders only need to look to their former ally, Russia, to see
what happens when a country pulls out of a communist economy too quickly.

"I wouldn't be surprised if every year we hear about one or two little
changes," said Javier Corrales, a son of Cuban exiles who teaches
political science at Amherst College, "but they're not interested in
going fast."

Neal Simpson may be reached at nesimpson@ledger.com or follow him on
Twitter @NSimpson_Ledger.

Source: Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom? -
http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20170324/change-is-coming-to-cuba-but-how-quickly-and-for-whom Continue reading
"And Then You Hear People Say That Racism Doesn't Exist In Cuba" / Cubanet

I literally just saw a police officer ask a couple of kids for their
identification and I'm pretty sure he did it because they were black.
That's just the life they were dealt. I have almost never seen the same
happen to white kids. It's as if whites are invisible to the police.

And then you hear people say that racism doesn't exist in Cuba. And the
funny thing is that it could've been those same whites that just
finished robbing a house around here because whites also steal. I walk a
lot around the neighborhood of Vedado, so I see many things.

Because of the color of my skin and my mean look, I get stopped all the
time by the cops. I don't want any problems. People look at me and think
that I'm a tough guy but really, I don't like fights or drama.

My thing is, I just like walking around town from time to time, finding
small little jobs here and there to make money. Some days I sell fish
and on other days I sell cans of paint.

I'm not really committed to anything right now but I have to find my
way. I live alone but regardless I have to take care of myself. And on
the weekends, I like to drink a little, like anybody would.

Definitely not beer though, because it's more expensive. Besides, I'm
more of a 'rum' type of guy, even though I advise people not to drink
it. Rum is the reason why so many people are messed up in this country.
I have a friend who went blind because he drank whatever he could get
his hands on. I think he ended up drinking wood alcohol.

Translated by Oliver Inca, Patricio Pazmino, Marta Reyes

Source: "And Then You Hear People Say That Racism Doesn't Exist In Cuba"
/ Cubanet – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/and-then-you-hear-people-say-that-racism-doesnt-exist-in-cuba-cubanet/ Continue reading
"San Lazaro Has Been My Savior" / Cubanet

San Lázaro has been my savior. I've been through some very hard times
and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way.
Many people don't understand why I do this. I left school in ninth
grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little
money. How was she going to raise my ailing brother and me, if the money
was never enough, not even for food?

They always called us 'poorly dressed', and to top it off we lived in a
house cramped with people. (…) Since 2007 I've been making my
pilgrimage. I remember the first time, I did the whole trip in
somersaults. My brother went with me. I swear that one was the most
exhausting trip. I passed through many villages, but I was told that was
how it was supposed to be, I had to prove my faith. And I did.

Once I got to El Rincón they took pictures of me, movies… I felt that
San Lázaro was with me. It was my first time at the Santuario del Rincón
[the church dedicated to San Lázaro in the village of El Rincón to the
south of Havna], and when I came in the door it was something amazing.
Seeing the photographers and the people shouting, giving me water, it
felt good. (…)

Today I'm alone, my brother feels better. I start my trajectory in
November and I go around the streets of Havana collecting alms. Everyone
stops, even the children. I see fear in their little faces, but one day
they will understand.

Translated by: Beverly James, Aliya Kreisberg, Aracelys Pichardo-Bonilla

Source: "San Lazaro Has Been My Savior" / Cubanet – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/san-lazaro-has-been-my-savior-cubanet/ Continue reading
Store Sales and Cuba's Army of Resellers
March 22, 2017
By Alexander Londres

HAVANA TIMES — Everything begins with an order "from above". Then the
paperwork comes down and nighttime preparations. The following day, from
the crack of dawn, the commotion, chaos, crowds… This isn't an
undercover operation; there's a sale.

Every once in a while, because of policies which fit in with the
jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance and Prices and the Ministry of
Domestic Trade, as well as the military's hard-currency stores, and
those belonging to CIMEX corporation, they comply with the centralized
government's decision to reduce the retail price of some consumer goods
according to national economic convenience and other commercial factors
(standstill, expiration dates, etc.).

Generally-speaking, when prices are cut on basic food items, home
products, or toiletries – the most sought-after items by Cuban families
-, it is the best time for the extremely criticized and scorned
resellers to come into action. They flood the stores with friends and
family, cause a racket and hubbub in long lines, and manage to get their
hands on the lion's share of sale items, whatever it is.

This is something which has become normal in the eyes of the public
because of just how frequently it happens. The authorities are
well-aware of what is going on and they have even tried to put a stop to
it by sometimes placing limits on how much you can buy at the state-run
establishments.

Doing so proves counter-productive to a certain extent, as every
commercial store's main objective is to sell, not to regulate sales.
Nevertheless, taking into account the social peculiarities in Cuba, it
has been put into practice – in order to defend the country's
achievements, those who understand it say. An action against hoarding –
another name which this phenomenon goes by – which to tell you the
truth, has provided the desired effect on very few occasions: resellers
continue to do it come hell or high water, dedicating themselves body
and soul to scheming and making easy money.

At the end of the day, with or without a limit on purchases, the truth
is that the high prices on sale items remain after the long journey of
the item (manufacturer-distributor-marketer-store-reseller), which has
to be paid by the needy population who didn't find out about the "price
cut" in time, or simply couldn't buy because the amount put on sale was
very small and quickly ran out.

Nobody has been able to scientifically explain how resellers are always
the first ones to find out about the sales. I imagine that they must
have the most foolproof, better articulated and updated communication
network in the country. Or is it that they take advantage of
"accidental" leaks in information, caused by some "selfless" worker in
the retail sector? Who can say exactly?

Orlando, a salesman at a store, told me that, "there have even be cases
where resellers themselves carry out some kind of study, where they take
into account the three month meriod when a product can be reduced, and
then using this information, they demand the price cut themselves."

What is indeed clear here is that these street businesspeople aren't
being arrested, and their lives are being deliberately made easy –
although they also provide a great deal of work for the "brave and
virtuous" body of inspectors which are supposed to deal with them. The
resellers manage to masterfully avoid them in the majority of cases – or
bribe them to turn a blind eye – therefore giving them free reign to
their illegal trade, without a concern in the world.

I ask myself whether there is an effective way of putting a stop to
these individuals' "struggle" to make a living, which, although it's
true that they work with great determination and commitment, it's also
true that it isn't the most innocent or healthy way to make a living.

On the other hand, and taking into account the fact that the
government's unemployment rates in Cuba are so low, it would be
interesting to know what kind of job category these "workers" fall
under, who operate without a legal status. Are they non-government
employees in the non-private sector (which the self-employed are
considered)? Or do they appear as unemployed?

It would also be interesting if in the next population census, some kind
of instrument was used to find out the closest possible to real figure
of this large number of fighters in the world of reselling, who swarm
about Cuba's city streets, selling everything underneath the sun. Then
they would be able to assess what benefits these popular figures should
receive on a social level, which, by the way, are the same as the
benefits professionals, builders and the working population who honestly
contribute to the sustainability and socio-economic development of this
island.

Maybe, in this way, with stats in hand, the (in)competent authorities in
our country would be able to take greater note of the issue – as a more
conclusive action to protect consumers, if they want to – always
defending these other Cubans, the majority, without a doubt, who also
seek out and find alternative ways to get by, in their daily fight to
eat, without pinching from other people's pockets.

Source: Store Sales and Cuba's Army of Resellers - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124304 Continue reading
I literally just saw a police officer ask a couple of kids for their identification and I’m pretty sure he did it because they were black. That’s just the life they were dealt. I have almost never seen the same happen to white kids. It’s as if whites are invisible to the police. And then you … Continue reading "“And Then You Hear People Say That Racism Doesn’t Exist In Cuba” / Cubanet" Continue reading
San Lázaro has been my savior. I’ve been through some very hard times and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way. Many people don’t understand why I do this. I left school in ninth grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little … Continue reading "“San Lazaro Has Been My Savior” / Cubanet" Continue reading
Censored at the Camaguey Festival, Rapper 'Rapshela' Denounces "Fear of
Liberty" / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 22 March 2017 – Hip Hop has
become that redoubt of rebellion that other musical genres, like rock
and roll, used to embody. The Trakean2 Fesitval, which ended Monday in
Camaguey, gave voice to performers who sing as if they were shooting
truths at the public, but censorship against Cuban rapper Rashel
Cervantes – known as Rapshela – who lives in Spain, overshadowed the event.

Also missing were rappers who sing their lyrics in marginal
neighborhoods where the genre enjoys the greatest vitality. But that is
what was decided by the Brothers Saiz Association, who organized the
ninth edition of the event with 40 participating rappers, including MCs
(Masters of Ceremony), breakdancers and graffiti artists. Cockfights,
the improvised verbal confrontations between musicians, were the moments
most appreciated by the public.

Rapshela could not appear before the public in spite of having travelled
to the Island for the occasion. Problems with her cultural visa and
reproof by the organizers prevented it.

After spending her own money for the plane ticket from Barcelona, where
she lives, Rapshela ran into the cancellation of the presumed
institutional promise to pay for her travel from Havana to Camaguey. She
managed to arrive nevertheless, but the obstacles had not ended: as a
resident abroad she did not receive authorization to appear in time.

"As soon as I arrived I went to the AHS, and the organizer [Eliecer
Velazquez] told me that I could not sing because I was living abroad,"
she tells this daily. Nor was the artist included in the lodging and
food options that other guests enjoyed. A situation that she regrets
"after four months of speaking" with the event promoters.

In a gesture of solidarity, Los Compinches, a group from Pinar del Rio,
invited Rapshela to accompany them to the stage. But when the artist
began to sing, the Festival organizers ordered the microphone sound
lowered. A little later the spectacle came to an end.

The event generated an intense debate when other musicians and the
public clamored for her to be permitted to sing, but the organizers
proved inflexible. Although they declined to give their version of what
happened, Eliecer Velazquez justified himself to the artist, arguing
that it was the first time that he had organized a festival, and he did
not know "that there was so much paperwork to do." The promoter
explained to the singer that she sought the cultural visa too late and
that is why they did not grant it.

Among the attendees, many considered it absurd that a Cuban had to wait
for a cultural visa to appear in the city where she was born, so they
saw what happened as censorship masked in bureaucratic delays.

The organization also had disagreements with some lyrics by the group
Los Compinches, in which marijuana consumption is promoted and Cuba's
economic situation is criticized.

Before the microphones went mute, the spectators had shown great
enthusiasm and repeated choruses like Don't step on the herb, smoke it.
A second song increased nervousness of the authorities when the singer
explained that the video clip that accompanied the lyrics had been censored.

Joaquin Corbillon Perez, member of the group, does not explain what they
did wrong although he argues that the Brothers Saiz Association is not
responsible for the situation. "The guilty ones are much higher and are
the ones who prohibit it," he said.

The AHS director from Pinar del Rio, Denis Perez Acanda, also a member
of Los Compinches, defended the lyrics of his song and characterized as
an "act of repression" the fact that the organizers did not let Rapshela
sing.

For Rapshela the problems that she suffered transcend the music scene.
"The Cuban people are censored," she says. In her opinion "rap is a
weapon for expression" and "a window to liberty, but here they are
scared of liberty."

The organizer of the Havana female rap festival and manager of the Somos
Mucho Más (We Are Much More) project, Yamay Mejias Hernandez, known as
La Fina (The Fine One), showed her solidarity with Rapshela because "she
is Cuban, Camagueyan, and has never performed in her land. What she
wanted was to introduce herself and for her people to hear her."

Mejias Hernandez, also a feminist activist, told 14ymedio about the
festival's other problems. "It needs a little more organization, maybe
more coordination in the places where they hold the concerts at night."
She thinks that Cristo Park, a site intended to offer concerts, did not
meet the requirements for nighttime performances.

"There have to be more theoretical events like discussions, meetings,
book readings," adds Mejias Hernandez. "They need more female presence
because at this event only two female rappers appeared." The singer
asserts that throughout the Island there are many females who are
connected to the genre.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Censored at the Camaguey Festival, Rapper 'Rapshela' Denounces
"Fear of Liberty" / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/censored-at-the-camaguey-festival-rapper-rapshela-denounces-fear-of-liberty-14ymedio-sol-garcia-basulto/ Continue reading
"My Father Washed His Hands Of Me And My Mom Did The Best She Could" /
Cubanet

I studied at a Camilito [one of the Camilo Cienfuegos Military
Academies]. But for financial reasons, I had to drop out and start
working. My father washed his hands of me and my mom did the best she
could. When I used to go out on the weekends, I would come home with no
shoes. It was very hard.

I started working as a bicycle taxi driver approximately four years ago.
My work hours are around 7AM to 5PM, and I pay 3 CUC [equivalent to
$3.00 U.S.] a day for the bicycle rental. Clients call me or look for me
because I have a reputation for being trustworthy and honest. Thanks to
them I always have work.

What I'd really like is the restaurant business, to be a bartender or
something like that. I've always wanted to better myself professionally,
but if I were attending night school I couldn't work past 1pm. That
wouldn't allow me to earn enough money to accomplish the goals I've set.
If I continue down this path, ten years from now, I'm not going to be
much good to anyone unless my quality of life changes for the better.

I have thought about leaving Cuba. I love my country, but there is so
much that needs to be changed and no one knows where to start. My dream
is to have my own business. I'm willing to make sacrifices. But I don't
want to do it for no reason.

Translated by Mayra Condo, Karlina Cordero, Stephanie Desouza

Source: "My Father Washed His Hands Of Me And My Mom Did The Best She
Could" / Cubanet – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/my-father-washed-his-hands-of-me-and-my-mom-did-the-best-she-could-cubanet/ Continue reading
"My Dream Was to Become a Cameraman" / Cubanet

My name is Ángel Martínez and my dream was to become a cameraman. I
always thought about photography. Just like you, my friends made fun of
me, but I was stubborn and I started to work as a television assistant
in 1954. I got to know the best of the culture of that time. At work, I
was the first one in and the last one out. That's how I climbed up the
ladder till I earned the title of cameraman (…)

Many years later in the middle of the Special Period [the early 1990s],
they retired me. They explained that they were concerned about me making
a mistake behind the cameras, and that I was of retirement age. They
gave me this bicycle, which helps me get around and sell my goods [on
the bike are paper cones filled with peanuts]. It's not a lot of money
but it's some. At least enough to pay taxes and keep a little over 260
pesos, which is my pension. They convinced me, but I swear that even now
that the equipment is more modern, as long as I'm mentally fit, I will
keep on dreaming.

Translated by Maite Arias, Tamara Belmeni and Jorge Caceres

Source: "My Dream Was to Become a Cameraman" / Cubanet – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/my-dream-was-to-become-a-cameraman-cubanet/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 22 March 2017 – Hip Hop has become that redoubt of rebellion that other musical genres, like rock and roll, used to embody. The Trakean2 Fesitval, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to performers who sing as if they were shooting truths at the public, but censorship against Cuban … Continue reading "Censored at the Camaguey Festival, Rapper ‘Rapshela’ Denounces “Fear of Liberty” / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto" Continue reading
I studied at a Camilito [one of the Camilo Cienfuegos Military Academies]. But for financial reasons, I had to drop out and start working. My father washed his hands of me and my mom did the best she could. When I used to go out on the weekends, I would come home with no shoes. … Continue reading "“My Father Washed His Hands Of Me And My Mom Did The Best She Could” / Cubanet" Continue reading
My name is Ángel Martínez and my dream was to become a cameraman. I always thought about photography. Just like you, my friends made fun of me, but I was stubborn and I started to work as a television assistant in 1954. I got to know the best of the culture of that time. At … Continue reading "“My Dream Was to Become a Cameraman” / Cubanet" Continue reading
… behind hard currency.” She continues, “Cuba is the same totalitarian hellhole … hour flight from Charlotte to Havana recently and spent a week … of the Revolution in central Havana. Our tour leader warned my … make money. Still, while ordinary Cubans suffer under a stifling economic … Continue reading
Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor
Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News 3:17 p.m. ET March 21, 2017

Detroit — Michigan and Cuba could be great business partners, Cuba's
ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday.

"I think (like Cuba,) your main asset here is the people," José Ramón
Cabañas Rodríguez said after his keynote address to the Detroit Economic
Club. "We probably should think about how we can compliment each other.
No doubt agriculture is one field, but there are many others."

Cabañas, who is based in Washington, D.C., and has been Cuba's
ambassador to the U.S. since 2015, spoke to a crowd of about 200 people
at the club's luncheon.

"I invite all of you to come to Cuba and see what we have done over the
last few years," he said.

He was visiting Michigan and Detroit to discuss America's embargo on the
communist Caribbean island nation and future investment opportunities
there. The U.S. has maintained a 59-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and
formal ban on Americans engaging in tourism on the island. But the ban
on trade with Cuba softened in 2014, when then-President Barack Obama
announced the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with the
small nation.

Cabañas said the blockade on Cuba continues to have profound
repercussions on the country's economy and called members of the
audience at the economic club luncheon to urge elected officials to lift it.

"The U.S. has been wasting money, many, many millions of dollars in the
last 20 years in order to reach and influence the Cuban people," he
said. "Our suggestion is: Let's stop all of that. Let's use that money
in a productive way, and let's do business with Cuba the same way we do
with everyone else."

Kimberly Hairston, 52, of Southfield said she was excited to hear the
ambassador's speech Tuesday.

"I think it's very encouraging and very promising," said Hairston, who
attended the luncheon with a group of students from the Wayne County
Community College District, where she works in student services. "I hope
relations between Cuba and the U.S can become stronger."

Cabañas speech at the Detroit Economic Club comes a day after he spoke
to the board of directors of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Kevin Robson, horticulture specialist with the bureau, said Cabañas
spent about 90 minutes talking to board members about normalizing trade
relations between Cuba and the U.S through bilateral agreements and
potential opportunities for Michigan's farmers to export dairy and fruit
to the island Latin American country.

Michigan and Metro Detroit have small populations of people with Cuban
ancestry.

Am estimated 10,000 people of Cuban descent, or about a tenth of one
percent of the state's total population, call Michigan home, according
to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Metro Detroit, those of Cuban ancestry
account for about 3,000 — or .06 percent — of the area's 4.2 million
people, the agency reports.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Source: Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor -
http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2017/03/21/cuba-detroit/99459650/ Continue reading
How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in Business
The challenge of running a restaurant "a la izquierda"
by Suzanne Cope Mar 21, 2017, 2:02pm EDT

On a recent January evening, tourists and a few Habaneros sat under a
palm frond canopy sipping rum cocktails, listening to a live band
playing Cuban folk songs — and eating notoriously difficult-to-procure
lobster, a special of the day.

California Cafe, a paladar, or newly legal, privately owned restaurant
in a country where the state has controlled almost all businesses for
the past half century, is owned by a couple who met in San Francisco.
Paver Core Broche is Cuban, Shona Baum is American, and they decided to
return to Havana to open a restaurant in February 2015, not long after
the regulations for private businesses started loosening.

"In some ways it was really easy," Baum says about the process of
opening a paladar in Havana. "You can't even open a coffee cart in San
Francisco without a million permits and tons of money, and here… we
bought the space, and applied for a license, and it didn't take that long."

But in Cuba, most businesses can't simply call up a bulk vendor or
wholesaler purveyor to place a produce order, since most means of
production are controlled by the government. The country uses two
currencies, Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) and Cuban pesos (CUPs), the
former tied to the U.S. dollar and known as the "tourist currency," the
latter, valued at 1/25th of the CUC, used by the government to pay its
oversized labor force. (Paladares and private businesses might charge in
either.) Running a restaurant can be complicated in the best of
situations, but it's especially challenging in a country where most
aspects of daily life are tightly regulated — and where much of the
economy operates a la izquierda, or "on the left."

As California Cafe grew, both Baum (who works the front of the house)
and Broche (who cooks) had to learn to navigate the labyrinth of
sourcing food and supplies in a place where the state-run corner bodega
might have 100 imported fruit cakes on the shelf but no toilet paper.
Baum says the reality in Cuba is that product availability is sporadic.
"When they have mayonnaise, they have three million [jars of]
mayonnaise, and then it's gone and they have three million of something
else," she says.

To find many necessary items — from condiments to serving plates — one
has to travel around the city visiting various markets. That process can
quickly become time-consuming, and Broche and Baum hired a full-time
person to help with sourcing. They also rent a storeroom to stockpile
enough nonperishables to last a few weeks of service, and they plan
their menu around ingredients that are usually available. The result is
a style they call "Californian-Cuban fusion," with vegetable-heavy
dishes like pork and vegetable "California" skewers.

But the inconsistent availability of products is only one aspect of
sourcing that makes operating a paladar a complicated endeavor in
Havana. The other is the persistence of a la izquierda — the Cuban black
market. There are many ingredients and products needed by restaurants
that are either illegal to buy or else often expensive or scarce, such
as lobster or non-processed cheese. And staples like toilet paper,
vinegar, and beer can also suddenly become hard to find, or "esta
perdido," (literally "it's lost"), Baum says. Numerous restaurant owners
note that if they want to stay in business, they have to buy certain
things a la izquierda.

Alexi, a paladar owner near Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago de
Cuba, worked for many years in the state-owned hotel industry before
opening his own open-air restaurant with tented tables right on the
Caribbean. "You must be enterprising to get all of the things you need
for your restaurant," he says. "Today we have something, but tomorrow it
will be quite difficult to get that same thing … and it is illegal to
buy some things. For example, the government has made all kinds of
seafood illegal to buy. So sometimes I have to buy products other ways."

The Cuban black market works in many ways to circumvent the government's
control of goods. One is the common — and complicated — practice of
state-owned-store employees holding back certain goods to sell a la
izquierda, while accepting pay-offs for other goods — procured illegally
by individuals — to be sold in their shop instead. The government has
strict regulations on the sale of almost every food sourced, from
seafood to coffee to tomatoes, setting the harvest goals and prices for
each farmer or fisherman and prohibiting the sale of excess through
private channels. To make extra money, almost any person within the
supply chain might reserve products to be sold at a price he or she
dictates.

Buying products a la izquierda is so integrated into daily Cuban life
that it often does not look much different than most other transactions
to the average non-Cuban — these sales aren't all happening in dark
alleys with secret handshakes. Rather, there is a complex system of
bribery and separate record-keeping that many employees of both state-
and private-run businesses take part in.

Both Alexi and a former military cook, Marcus, who lives in Santiago de
Cuba, attribute this in part to the government prioritizing state-run
restaurants and hotels when they distribute the best-quality food. "If I
have a good paladar, then that means people are going to eat at my
paladar and they are not going to be a good customer for the
government," Marcus says. "That's [the government's] loss, and they
don't want that." Marcus is currently attending a military cooking
school, but hopes to soon work in a tourist hotel and eventually own his
own restaurant, a dream that wouldn't have been possible just a few
years ago.

Paladares were technically legalized in the 1990s, partially in reaction
to a mass poisoning in an illegal restaurant, when a cook accidentally
added rat poison to the food. However, they were highly regulated, and
it was difficult to obtain their required permits until the 2011
economic reforms under Raúl Castro's leadership. These reforms made
opening paladares much easier — and in 2016, the government announced
plans to ease other private ownership laws as well, paving the way for
individuals to open a variety of private businesses.

These changes, along with the revised laws allowing United States
citizens to more easily travel and send money to the island, have helped
the number of paladares swell. After President Barack Obama restored
diplomatic relations with Cuba in mid-2015, U.S. tourism to the country
hit an all-time high, with 615,000 travelers visiting Cuba from the U.S.
in 2016.

However, the support for this quickly growing class of business has not
been enough to sustain them, particularly as competition increases.
There have been reports of food shortages for locals in part due to the
demand of private restaurants (although some Cubans are equally quick to
blame farmer strikes and government disorganization over the emerging
private sector). Leo, one of the owners of the popular Havana paladar
Havana Blue, has noted the number of paladares that have already come
and gone in his quickly changing city. "There are some that open and
then close," he says. "Not because of lack of demand. It's also bad
management. Many people don't have the foggiest idea because they have
never run a restaurant before."

The government, for its part, has made some effort to support paladares,
at least in gesture. It opened a version of a wholesale market, but
multiple paladar owners question its usefulness. The prices aren't any
cheaper than a retail market, and availability is still often
unpredictable. "People pull up and the beer is gone in two minutes,"
Baum says.

Baum also says that the national bank reached out to small business
owners in the last two years to offer loans. While commonplace in the
United States, this kind of credit is mostly unheard of in Cuba. Yet
when Baum asked about interest rates, the bank associate was vague.
"'Don't worry, we'll give you a good rate!'" was the answer.

Ministry of Agriculture journalist Jose Ignacio Fleitas Adan says the
government is working to do better. "There's an intention, and also
projects and plans, to increase food production and availability," he
says, echoing the official government response. "Es complicado," he adds
with a laugh.

And that seems to be the one truism about food sourcing in Cuba,
particularly when one is running a business. Baum mentions two
restaurants nearby that were shut down recently. "They just
disappeared," she says. "Basically, they were doing illegal things. So
there's a lot of fear around what's going to happen next." She questions
whether more crackdowns are coming for those who buy goods a la izquierda.

What were those shuttered restaurant doing that was more illegal than
what anyone else is doing? Baum pursed her lips. This answer, too, was
complicado. "I spoke with someone who ate there, and they had dried
cranberries on their salad. Which is great, but clearly dried
cranberries aren't available here." She pauses. "What you realize over
time is that there are people who are really well connected, so it's
hard for the regular people like us, and all the other people in our boat."

Still, the opportunities for business owners are lucrative. A Cuban
working in the growing service industry — as a taxi driver or a
restaurant host — can earn exponentially more than the average state
wage of around 20 to 40 CUCs per month. Many educated young Cubans are
thus leaving professions like teaching or medicine to work in the
emerging private sector. When I walked into a new Mediterranean-themed
paladar with Habanero food writer Sisi Colomina, the first question she
asked the host was, "What did you do before?" The answer: psychology.

This wage disparity also makes it easy to understand why so many people
risk buying and selling a la izquierda, or starting their own businesses
in an uncertain market, to supplement their meager income. What
successful paladares demonstrate is that capitalism can work in a
country where almost all aspects of (legal) businesses have being
tightly controlled by the state for more than 50 years.

Yet while many come to the restaurant business for monetary reasons, for
others, opening a paladar is a chance to follow their passion. "It was
always my dream — illegal or legal," Alexi says. "Cooking is an art." He
also called paladars the most popular private businesses in the country
by almost any metric: They're "the most important window for showing the
possibilities to other Cubans."

And while the challenges of food sourcing can make running a private
business in a communist state complicated, Baum does appear to love her
work. We finished our cocktail as she sang along to the band and then
did a sweep of the patio to help her servers deliver food and greet
customers she had met earlier in the week. When she sat back down, she
admitted that the business had a rocky start. But now, she says, she is
"slowly falling in love with Cuba."

Suzanne Cope is the author of Small Batch and an upcoming book on food
and revolution.
Editor: Erin DeJesus

Source: How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in
Business - Eater -
http://www.eater.com/2017/3/21/14946146/cuba-paladar-private-restaurant-black-market Continue reading
"We've Been Investigating Ivan Garcia for Five Years" / Iván García

Iván García Quintero, Havana, 19 March 2017 — When the summons arrived
for an interview with a police official, the girl's puzzled family
thought it was a mistake.

Let's call them Kenia, Pedro, and Camila. They are neighbors of mine and
prefer to remain anonymous.

Kenia was summoned to a police station on Finlay street, in the
Sevillano District, near the State Security barracks known as Villa Marista.

"When I arrived, the man started harassing and threatening me, saying
that I hung around with foreigners. Then he wanted to get information
about Ivan García, 'a known counterrevolutionary that we've been
investigating for five years.' He wanted to know details about his
private life, about where he got the money to repair his house. He also
asked my opinion about his work as an independent journalist. At one
point he described him as a 'terrorist' and said that both he and his
mother were 'conspirators.'

"I was in a state of shock. I told him that he is a friend of mine and
my family, and that if what he said is true, why didn't he arrest him.
The officer who interviewed me— young, hostile, and with a military
haircut — replied that for now they had no evidence, but they were
contacting people like me to collaborate with them and give them more
information. I refused to be an informant," says Kenya.

They were more direct with Pedro. "They accused me of giving
confidential information to Ivan Garcia. I told them that I had been
retired for four years. They threatened to open a file on me for
collaborating on some of the news stories written by Ivan. At the end of
the meeting, they warned me to be careful not to say anything to Ivan,
because 'he might get off scot-free, but you, Pedro, old as you are, you
could die in jail.'"

Without providing any evidence, they issued Camila a warning for
harassing tourists and prostitution. "I didn't sign it. But they told me
that if I keep associating with Ivan I will be prosecuted for
prostitution. I was accused of pimping and, together with Ivan, of
controlling several prostitutes who, in return for money, offered
information about their work. All that is a scandalous lie. Out of fear,
I promised to delete Ivan's phone from my contact list. "

All three were warned that they would soon be summoned again. I told
them that when they were, to let me know so I could go with them. If you
want to know about me, cite me; it is despicable to intimidate innocent
people.

In March 1991, four years before I began writing as an independent
journalist at Cuba Press, I was detained for two weeks in a cell at
Villa Marista, the headquarters of the State Security Department. They
accused me of "enemy propaganda." I was never tried, but beginning in
1991, for whatever reason, I was detained.

Then there was a period of less harassment until October 22, 2008, when
at the intersection of Prado and Teniente Rey, a Colombian colleague
handed me some books sent by Ernesto McCausland, a prestigious Colombian
journalist, writer, and filmmaker (deceased in 2012). The Colombian and
I were arrested by the police and placed in a patrol car. He was
released immediately, but they took me to the station at Zanja and
Lealtad and kept me in solitary confinement for 11 hours. I recounted
this in State of Siege.

Two years later, August 2010, brought the first harassment by Military
Counterintelligence. I was then writing for El Mundo.es/América, which
published three denunciations, the first titled Citación oficial. Three
years later, I would again be harassed by the secret police. On February
18, 2013, Diario Las Américas published, on its front page, "Las
Américas Journalist harassed by the Cuban government." Continuing
evidence of this remains posted on the blogsite Desde La Habana.

State Security knows where to find me. They have my phone number and the
address where I live. I wait for them.

Translated by Tomás A.

Source: "We've Been Investigating Ivan Garcia for Five Years" / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/weve-been-investigating-ivan-garcia-for-five-years-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Cuba: To Live As Third Class Citizens / Iván García

Iván García, 17 March 2017 — On a wooden shelf are displayed two bottles
of liquid detergent, a dozen packs of Populares cigarettes, a packet of
coffee, and, on a hastily-drawn poster, a quotation from the deceased
Fidel Castro.

Past 10:30 am, the hot bodega [in this case a store where rationed items
are sold] is like a steam oven. Luisa, the saleswoman, seated on a
plastic chair, tries to start up a rusty residential fan. In the
background can be heard the baritone voice of an announcer narrating a
soap opera scene.

In the bodega's storeroom, stacked in random heaps, are 10 or 12 bags of
rice, a half-empty container of vegetable oil, and several bags of
powdered milk that the State provides exclusively for children younger
than 7 years of age and for individuals who possess medical
documentation of having cancer or some other grave illness.

Sitting on the stoop at the store's entrance, two dirty guys knock back
mouthfuls of rum from a small jug while a stray dog, old and ragged,
urinates on the door. The monotony of the surreal panorama is broken
when the saleswoman hurls a piece of hose at the dog to frighten it away.

After a while, customers begin arriving, nylon bags dangling from their
forearms and ration books in their hands.

To all who were born in Cuba, the regime sells 7 pounds of rice, 20
ounces of black beans, a pouch of coffee blended with peas, a half-pound
of vegetable oil, and 1 pound of chicken per month–and on a daily basis
one bread roll, almost always poorly made.

This subsidized market basket, if consumed in small portions at lunch or
dinner, will probably last 10 or 12 days. After that, for the remainder
of the month, people are on their own. Housewives and mothers who, after
getting home from work, must turn on the stove should be given prizes
for creativity.

To feed a family requires 90 percent of the household income. Those who
make a low salary (which is the majority of the population) have no
choice but to purchase average to low-quality merchandise offered by the
State. Those who receive remittances from family or friends abroad in
hard currency can purchase higher-quality products.

The ration book, which was implemented in March 1962, is the reason that
thousands of Cubans have not died of hunger. Although what they eat
remains a mystery.

Luisa the saleswoman says that "for four months now, the rice we get at
the bodega is dreadful. Nobody can eat it. Not even the best cook could
make it better. It sticks, forming a sludge, and it tastes like hell.
And don't even mention the beans. They've been taken from the state
reserves, where they've been stored for ages. They have a terrible
smell. And you could try cooking them for four or five hours and they
still wouldn't soften. This is rice and beans that pigs would not eat."

But Diego and María, a couple of pensioners who between the two of them
take in the equivalent of 25 dollars a month, cannot afford the luxury
of discarding the subsidized rice.

"I mix it with the rice that's sold at 4 Cuban pesos per pound; it's
pretty good, and this way we can eat it. If you live in Cuba you can't
be picky. You have to eat what they give you, or what you can
find," María emphasizes.

If you go around inside any state-run cafeteria, you will note that
hygienic standards are nonexistent: stacks of cold-cut sandwiches,
fritters or portions of fried fish on aluminum trays surrounded by a
chorus of flies.

The elderly, those great losers in Raúl Castro's timid economic reforms,
tend to eat foods of low nutritional value and worse preparation, just
to lessen their hunger.

There is a chain of state-run dining halls on the Island that serve
lunch and dinner to more than a half-million people who are in extreme
poverty.

One of these facilities can be found in the old bar Diana, located on
the busy and dirty Calzada Diez de Octubre street. The rations cost 1
Cuban peso. According to a Social Security roster provided to the
administrator, about 100 Havana residents–almost all low-income elderly
people–are served there daily.

At two steel tables covered with cheap cloths, three women and four men,
holding their old metal bowls, await the day's rations. "The food isn't
worth mentioning. A bit of rice, often hard, watery beans, and a
croquette or a boiled egg. Sometimes they give you a little piece of
chicken," says Eusebio, a retired railway engineer who lives by himself.

A dozen people interviewed complain more about their bad luck, about
having no money and being dirt-poor, than about the bad cooking. "Yes,
it's bad, but at least in these dining rooms we can count on getting
lunch and dinner," notes Gladys, a single mother of four daughters who
receives Social Security.

A staff member admits that "it's very difficult to cook well without
seasonings and condiments. Nor do we get vegetables and fruits. On top
of that, the administrator and the cooks make off with the oil and the
chicken when we get them."

In Cuba, what is bad, unpleasant and incorrect goes beyond food
preparation. You can find it in the dirty stands that hold vegetables
and fruits, in the sale of unwrapped goods, or the adulteration of
standards for making sausages and weighing them appropriately at the
point of sale.

"It shows a lack of respect towards the population. Anything that you
buy in Cuban pesos is of horrible quality. It's the same for clothing,
hardware items or household items. In general, what is sold to the
people is shit. Look at these bags of watery yogurt," Mildred points out
while standing in line at a state store to buy whipped yogurt at 15
Cuban pesos per bag.

Even when purchases are made with convertible pesos*, it is hard in Cuba
to buy items of assured quality.

But Cubans, who must eat, dress and enjoy their leisure time by paying
for it with the national currency– the Cuban peso–must make do with
devalued merchandise. They are third-class citizens in their own country.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator's note: Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4
cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or
about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled,
promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Source: Cuba: To Live As Third Class Citizens / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-to-live-as-third-class-citizens-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Tourists, private enterprise give Cuba much needed boost
Posted: Monday, March 20, 2017 11:30 am
By David Bordewyk

Running an Italian restaurant plus a small bed and breakfast keeps owner
Yucimy on her feet from sunrise to well past sunset. It's 7 a.m., and
she is already preparing omelets for her five B&B guests. Her cheerful
greeting helps everyone shake off a night's sleep.
Meanwhile, Yucimy's employees are busy moving tables and chairs to the
sidewalk outside the restaurant, which fronts the town's main avenue,
and are inviting passerbys to stop in for breakfast.
Late afternoon will have Yucimy and staff, some of whom are family, busy
pouring drinks and planning dinner menus for the B&B guests. At night's
end, Yucimy can be found with her feet up in the small living room just
off the restaurant's kitchen, catching a few minutes of TV.
All in a day's work for this privately owned business. Welcome to
Vinales, Cuba.
In Havana, Rosana Vargas welcomes visitors to her jewelry store, where
she shares her small business story. She started making fine silver
jewelry five years ago in her small apartment. Today she has more than
40 people employed in her stylish, privately owned shop along a busy
capital city street.
How much does she pay in taxes to the government for her small business
success, she is asked.
Too much," Rosana says, sounding ever like a well-seasoned capitalist.
Except this isn't Wall Street or Main Street. This is Cuba.
Along with 28 other Americans from the Midwest, I traveled to Cuba for
seven days last week on a people to people tour, a kind of
educational/tourism tour of the island nation that has the approval of
both countries. An employee of a tourism company run by the Cuban
government was our guide.
The trip gave a view of a country with compelling contrasts and
day-to-day economic struggles for many Cubans that dropped our jaws. It
also introduced us to some wonderful, inspiring Cuban people.
To be sure, Cuba remains very much a country ruled by leaders who belong
to the Communist Party. Repression of speech, assembly, and the press
remain very much in play in Cuba today. The government pulls and pushes
the levers that control much of Cuba's way of life. It's been that way
since soon after Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime in 1959.
Yet, doors are opening. Capitalism, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance
are no longer negatives in Cuba. They are happening today in Havana and
other parts of the country.
It will be difficult for the government to put the brakes on this
growing capitalistic wave. President Raul Castro or the next leader may
decide to encourage even more of this kind of growth. Who knows?
This is a country where the average official salary of a state
government worker is the equivalent of about $25 per month. By the way,
most Cubans work for the government or government-owned enterprises.
Teachers, lawyers, and other professionals can make more money tending
bar or waiting tables in a restaurant than they can in the jobs they
were trained and educated to do.
There is a saying in Cuba that "if you pretend to pay me, I will pretend
to work."
Pretending to work for pretend pay is nothing new in Cuba. That's been
going on for many years.
What's new is the rapidly burgeoning capitalism.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Cuban economy went into a
free fall. Within a few years, the Cubans realized that growing tourism
was necessary to help stave off collapse.
Tourism in Cuba has indeed accelerated the past 20 years. Canadians,
Germans, British, Chinese, among others, travel to Cuba. They come for
the rum, cigars, salsa music, and the sun. The number of foreign
tourists coming to Cuba has risen from about 750,000 in 1995 to 3.5
million two years ago.
And now the Americans are coming. The warming of relations between the
two countries put in motion by the Obama administration means more and
more American tourists are wanting to go to Cuba. We bumped into fellow
Americans most everywhere we went during our week-long trip.
Cubans on the street we met cheer what Obama did. They express anxiety
about President Trump.
Which takes us back to the small town of Vinales, in the heart of Cuba's
tobacco-growing region. The town has been a tourist destination for many
years with bed-and-breakfasts throughout. Today, you see construction in
much of the town. Residents are adding a room or two where they can to
their small homes to accommodate the growing tourist tide.
Will growth in tourism pull Cuba out of its many economic problems?
Probably not. Economic stability likely will take much more, given the
scope of challenges.
A personal observation that overrides the nuts and bolts of Cuba's
wobbly GDP is this: My travel experience was that Cubans are genuine,
friendly, and welcoming. They smile wide and extend a hand when you tell
them where you are from. They are willing to chat, even if language is a
barrier. (Although almost no one seemed to know where South Dakota was
located in America. The closest point of reference that rang a bell with
Cubans was the Minnesota Twins. Cubans love baseball.)
More than once I heard Cubans on the street tell me they are eager for
the day when the embargo imposed on their country by the United States
will end. They believe such a move would make lives better for average
Cubans.
In the meantime, they keep building B&Bs (casa particulares), opening
privately-owned restaurants (paladares), and welcoming more American
tourists.
David Bordewyk is executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper
Association, Brookings. He participated in a people to people tour of
Cuba along with journalists and others from the Midwest March 5-12.

Source: Tourists, private enterprise give Cuba much needed boost - Black
Hills Pioneer: Opinion -
http://www.bhpioneer.com/opinion/tourists-private-enterprise-give-cuba-much-needed-boost/article_ffbe4ce2-0d76-11e7-8f17-73c0b08841d7.html Continue reading
Iván García Quintero, Havana, 19 March 2017 — When the summons arrived for an interview with a police official, the girl’s puzzled family thought it was a mistake. Let’s call them Kenia, Pedro, and Camila. They are neighbors of mine and prefer to remain anonymous. Kenia was summoned to a police station on Finlay street, … Continue reading "“We’ve Been Investigating Ivan Garcia for Five Years” / Iván García" Continue reading
Iván García, 17 March 2017 — On a wooden shelf are displayed two bottles of liquid detergent, a dozen packs of Populares cigarettes, a packet of coffee, and, on a hastily-drawn poster, a quotation from the deceased Fidel Castro. Past 10:30 am, the hot bodega [in this case a store where rationed items are sold] … Continue reading "Cuba: To Live As Third Class Citizens / Iván García" Continue reading
A Year After Obama's Visit, Cubans Feel Disillusioned With His Legacy /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 19 March 2017 – It rained when the presidential
plane touched down on the tarmac at Havana's Airport. On 20 March 2016,
Barack Obama began a historic visit to the island that awakened hopes
and sparked questions. One year after that visit, Cubans are taking
stock of what happened and, in particular, what did not happen.

The tenant of the White House evoked waves of enthusiasm during his tour
of Havana's streets. His official agenda included talking with young
entrepreneurs, he appeared on a comedy TV show, he visited a private
restaurant, and he met with representatives from civil society. They
were intense days during which popular illusions reached historic records.

However, Obama's decision to eliminate the wet foot/dry foot policy
before the end of his term in January, caused that sympathy to plummet.
Now, inquiring about his legacy on Cuban streets leads to answers mostly
filled with criticism, resentment or a sense of betrayal.

"I lost my life," Luis Pedroso, a soundman by profession, tells
14ymedio, He sold all his property to pay for an illegal trip to the
United States. He left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and then crossed
Mexico and arrived at the border in Nuevo Laredo, on 12 January when the
immigration policy that benefitted Cubans was no longer in force.

Cubans crowded the streets hoping to see Obama and his family. (EFE)
"What did he do that for?" asks Pedroso, about the act of the
Democrat. "We Cubans gave him our hearts and he betrayed us," he
says. The man sleeps on the couch of his sister's house waiting to "make
money again to leave." He thinks "Trump is less sympathetic," but
perhaps, "will get more loyal."

The months following the presidential visit, the emigration of Cubans to
the United States continued its growing trend. More than 50,000 Cubans
entered US territory during fiscal year 2016, according to the Office of
Field Operations of the Customs and Border Protection Service.

Norma works as a saleswoman in a private coffee shop in Havana's
Chinatown. She recalls that in the days when Obama was on the island,
"people were going crazy all over to try to see him." She was among the
hundreds of people who crowded along the Paseo del Prado when word
spread that The Beast (Obama's armored car) would pass by with the
presidential family.

The woman was especially hopeful about the economic benefits that could
come from the trip. "It seemed that everything would be fixed and that
we self-employed workers would be able to import and bring products from
over there," she reflects. But, "everything is stuck," is continues.

The entrepreneur would like to bring an "ice cream machine" from the
United States, and "ask for a loan or find an investor who wants to put
money into a small business." However, the customs restrictions imposed
on the Cuban side make commercial imports difficult, and there is no
easy way to send supplies to the island from the United States.

Nor have expectations in the countryside been met. Luis Garcia, a farmer
dedicated to planting rice outside Cienfuegos believes that "everything
has been greatly delayed." The flexibilities implemented by Obama from
the beginning of the diplomatic thaw were mainly directed toward the
private and agricultural sectors, but "the benefits haven't appeared,"
said the farmer.

The Cienfueguero continues to plow the land with an old yoke of oxen and
recalls that "there was much talk about the arrival of "resources,
tractors and seeds, but everything remains the same." Nevertheless he
believes that "Obama has been the best president of the United States
with regards to us, a man of integrity," he says.

The activists, who talked with Obama on that occasion and behind closed
doors, are also taking stock after twelve months.

For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the independent magazine Convivencia
(Coexistence), the main result of the trip was "to show that 'the enemy'
used as a weapon in the Cuban government's narrative was willing to
offer a white rose," as Obama demonstrated in his speech at Havana's
Gran Teatro.

The speech, broadcast live, is considered by many as "the best part of
the visit," says Valdez, who recognizes that "a year later,
unfortunately, the situation in Cuba is worsening." He cites an increase
in repression, the attacks on the United States in the official
discourse, which continues to be one of "trenches and confrontation."

The opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa was also at that table at the US
Embassy in Havana. He points out that after the arrival of the Democrat
there was an emphasis on "an awareness that our problems are our
problems, not problems caused by the United States." Obama helped to
defuse the "historic tension" between "democracy and nationalism."

On the other hand, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz who was traveling
during the historic visit, sums up the impact of Obama's trip as "none."
While "he left everyone filled with hopes," on the contrary, "what he
did was to put a final end to the wet foot/dry foot policy."

The former prisoner of the Black Spring believes that the visit "is not
something that is remembered gratefully right now." When it happened,
"everyone was very happy and filled with hopes, but a year later it's
completely different," she emphasized.

The columnist Miriam Celaya believes that beyond "being in favor or
against" Obama's actions toward the island "there is one thing that is
undeniable, and that is that he marked the Cuban policy of the last
fifty years like no other American president."

Celaya believes that the Democrat "ended the exceptionality" of the
Cuban issue "by taking away the government's foreign enemy." A situation
that has the Plaza of the Revolution "forced to render accounts. Ending
the wet foot/dry foot policy," also contributed to ending "the
emigration preference for Cubans in the United States."

"Any policy towards Cuba framed by US politicians, as long as this
system lasts, will have as an obligatory reference this parting of the
waters achieved by Obama," the independent journalist says.

Celaya believes that the population developed "tremendous expectations
that are now completely deflated. Many see Obama as the beloved and the
hated," an attitude that puts "the solutions in the United States, as if
they have to come from outside," she says.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer,
believes that Obama "did everything possible to help the people out of
the deep crisis in which Castroism has plunged us," but "the regime
closed all the doors".

The outgoing president urged Raúl Castro "to open up to his people, to
allow the people to recover the spaces" but instead, the authorities
remain "in their old position of controlling everything and doing
nothing that endangers the total control they have over society. "

"What's up, Cuba?" Obama tweeted when his plane was about to land in
Cuba. Today, listening to that question generates more concerns than
certainties.

Source: A Year After Obama's Visit, Cubans Feel Disillusioned With His
Legacy / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/a-year-after-obamas-visit-cubans-feel-disillusioned-with-his-legacy-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 19 March 2017 – It rained when the presidential plane touched down on the tarmac at Havana’s Airport. On 20 March 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the island that awakened hopes and sparked questions. One year after that visit, Cubans are taking stock of what happened and, in particular, … Continue reading "A Year After Obama’s Visit, Cubans Feel Disillusioned With His Legacy / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
State of the Cruise Industry: Trump Effect, Cuba and More
by Susan Young | Mar 15, 2017 9:32am


"Demand for cruising in the last 10 years has increased 62
percent," Cindy D'Aoust, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International
Association (CLIA), told thousands attending the Seatrade Cruise Global
conference's "State of the Industry" general session at Port Everglades,
FL, on Tuesday.

Some 25.3 million ocean passengers will sail on CLIA lines in 2016, she
said, noting that more than $50 billion in new cruise ship orders are on
the books right now. That's twice as many new ship orders than what the
industry had a decade ago, emphasized D'Aoust.

What's Driving Business?

The four major cruise company executives then sat for a "State of the
Industry" discussion with reporter Susan Li of MSNBC, the session's
moderator. "What's driving business?" she asked.

"All of us have great experiences onboard our very differentiated
brands," said Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival
Corporation. "People love cruising, they see it as a great value and
they can't stop talking about it to all their friends and relatives and
we all do a reasonably good job of now promoting [the experience]."

"Customers are happy, the economy is doing well and we've had the Trump
effect," said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line
Holdings,who said the stock market is at an all time high.

Dio Rio continued: "We haven't had any external shocks to the system, so
all systems are go and I think all of us are seeing that in bookings and
pricing. It's going to be a good year."

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises, focused on the
ability of cruising to give people the freedom to travel -- to go to
places in the world they might not go to on land.

Vago said the cruise industry's focus on safety and security makes them
feel cocooned and confident to travel: "Customers think, 'I can visit
that part of the world and I can do it in a safe mode. I can explore,
and I can 'touch' places."

From the perspective of Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean
Cruises Ltd.: "For a long time, we've really been expecting this – [a
strong surge in demand for cruise vacations] -- and in the last few
years, we've had a lot of things that retarded this, but all of a
sudden, I think the understanding of what a cruise offers, seems to have
taken hold."

He said it's almost as though someone released it from a bag. "We're
seeing it in the United States, which is a tremendous market because of
consumer confidence and the economy doing well," said Fain, but added
"actually we're [also] seeing it in Europe and Asia is just exploding."
Donald added that part of the burgeoning demand is because "we've
invested a lot to create demand." He said there's "no big correlation
between economic growth and demand. One factor? The industry is all over
the world, so it has the ability to weather any recession that hits one
region or economy.

The Trump Effect

What about the Trump effect? Li asked. "What about policies that U.S.
President Donald J. Trump's administration may take that could have an
effect on corporations, such as border taxes, corporate taxes that may
be cut?"

"It's too early to tell," said Donald. "We just have to wait to see what
the taxes are." He said his company pays taxes everywhere in the world
and operates in lots of political environments…so the industry
just has to wait for specifics of any policy changes.

Donald noted that the cruise industry pays lots of taxes that other
industries don't pay, and in some cases, there are taxes the industry
doesn't pay.
Vago emphasized that it wasn't Washington as much as Brussels [the
European Union] that was impacting the cruise industry. "From the
regulatory side, Brussels sometimes is certainly more the driver for our
industry," Vago stressed.

"One of the things that is very heartening to me…is that people do
understand the economic benefit that we all contribute to the local
society," Fain said, pointing to CLIA's release of annual numbers and a
thorough economic analysis that show the local economic impact in jobs
and other factors.
For example, Fain noted that CLIA's recent numbers show the cruise
industry is responsible for 350,000 jobs, just in the United States, and
there are many more across the globe.

"When you have that kind of economic impact, governments tend to want to
help [the industry involved]," Fain said. "While nobody can predict the
future, we have some really good reasons to believe that maybe we're not
as vulnerable than some."

Del Rio said "most businesses today recognize that the Trump
administration is a pro-business government and we're all going to
benefit from a basket of initiatives, whether it's infrastructure,
whether it's less regulations, tax reform that could put more money in
consumers' pockets, and that's good for all businesses."

Today, the industry carries 25 million people across all social/economic
levels, Deo Rio noted: "So everyone is going to benefit if it's true
that these kind of initiatives come to fruition."

"I agree we have to wait and see," he added, "but at least we're talking
about the right things and that puts a bounce in everybody's step, and
has triggered the Trump Effect."

He said the stock market is up nearly 13 percent since the beginning of
the year "and that's...great for business."

But What About Cuba?

Del Rio, a Cuban American who emigrated to the U.S. when he was seven,
is now head of a company that sails to Cuba and has publicly expressed
his delight at that development. All three of his line's brands are
sailing there this year.

So Li asked Del Rio about President Trump's potential "revisiting" of
the Cuba situation – with the potential for Trump to roll back existing
policies put in place by former President Obama allowing the cruise
industry to begin service.

"Let's hope he revisits it in a positive way," said Del Rio. "I'm all
for lifting the embargo. It's been a failed policy for 57 [or so]
years." He said that after that time frame, "you'd think someone wants
to try something new."

Del Rio continued: I salute President Obama for starting that process.
All of us are going to Cuba or have already gone. It's a major market
that could develop over time."

He noted that "Cuba has infrastructure limitations today but certainly
Cuba can be a major force in the cruise business for years to come, and
I hope the administration sees that potential. They are business oriented."

As for discussing the issue, "I think it's in the best interest always
to just bring people together," said Donald. "Who knows what the
administration is going to come up with. I have no particular insight on
that."

Donald said that as long as the Cuba policy that impacts cruise travel
isn't rolled back, "we'll continue to forge forward." He agreed with Del
Rio that the embargo being lifted would be the best policy for Americans
and for the Cuban people.

"But the powers that be will discuss that," Donald stressed. "We're just
privileged and honored to be able to sail there."

He said Cuba is a beautiful country with beautiful people and "so many
Americans want to go there."

Fain found it interesting that the cruise industry is so much in the
center of the discussion about Cuba, and says it demonstrates the
industry's advantage: "Nobody's talking about, 'oh, this is great for
the hotel industry.' Nobody is talking about, 'oh, this is great for the
airline industry.'"

Cruising offers an opportunity to visit ports of call or places that
would be a little more difficult to visit, said Fain. Even though Cuba
is a fairly insignificant part of any cruise line's business right now,
"I think it says something about one of the great attributes of
cruising, which is that we bring that infrastructure with us."

China Potential

Li asked if the administration would opt to label China a currency
manipulator, what effect that would have? Doesn't that hurt businesses
that do business in China?

"China one day – it's inevitable -- will be the largest cruise market in
the world," said Donald. Probably, larger than the entire cruise
industry is today and it's just sheer numbers of people."

He added that the China market will take a long time to develop, the
industry has to build ships to serve it, and there isn't enough shipyard
capacity to make it happen in a short time frame.

"But for us again, we're in the business of travel and we can connect
people," said Donald, adding that currency manipulation as a topic for
cruise leaders to weigh in on, "is kind of beyond us."

Vago emphasized that "our assets are movable," referring to the ability
of ships to be moved to markets, based on global conditions. "The world
is the oyster," he said, pointing to the industry's three percent market
penetration, which reveals great potential.

Whether executives are talking about China or Cuba, Vago said it's
important to remember that the cruise industry's assets can move as
needed. Still, he's excited about the potential for those markets and
others across the globe.

Source: State of the Cruise Industry: Trump Effect, Cuba and More |
Travel Agent Central -
http://www.travelagentcentral.com/cruises/state-cruise-industry-trump-effect-cuba-and-more Continue reading
When Cuban American Osmel Hernández recently arrived back in Havana after years …  trade embargo against Cuba. When it comes to Cuba, Hernández thinks politics … money in Cuba. He’s in the right business, as Havana, with … political course with Cuba as long as the Cuban government makes political … Continue reading
Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta
Labrada and Mario Penton

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March
2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a
visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal
market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of
electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do not want to wait
hours for a bus or pay the fares charged by the fixed-route shared taxis
known as almendrones (after the "almond" shape of the classic American
cars widely used in this service).

At first, he sold these light vehicles discreetly from his garage on
23rd Street, centrally located in Havana's Vedado district, he told
14ymedio. He asked between 2,500 and 3,000 Cuban Convertible pesos* for
each bike, three to four times his investment. It was a "solid
business," he confesses.

"So we had several months until things went bad," he recalls, referring
to the visa controls that the government of Rafael Correa imposed on
Cubans at the end of 2015.

The visa waiver Cubans had enjoyed in Ecuador since 2008, along with the
immigration reform approved by Raúl Castro in 2013, led to an "airlift"
with thousands of trips made each year by private individuals, allowing
them to supply the Cuban informal market with products from the Andean
nation. As the Ecuadorian door closed, there were other shopping
destinations, including Russia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

For Yamilet García, a Cuban based in Miami, the 'motorinas', as they are
called, are 'a blessing'

"It is now more difficult" to find customers who are willing to pay what
he was formerly able to charge for an electric scooters, explains
Carlos. "There are a lot of people traveling," so the number of
"scooters of different brands and colors" has soared.

In South Florida, where the largest concentration of Cubans outside the
Island is located, this business opportunity did not go unnoticed.

Yudelkis Barceló, owner of the agency Envios y Más based in Miami,
explained to 14ymedio that for the last three years they have been in
the business of shipping electric scooters to Cuba.

"The customer acquires the product and in a period of six to eight weeks
they can pick it up at the Palco agency, west of Havana. Payment is made
in Miami. The company offers Voltage brand bikes of 750 Watts and 1,000
Watts, which cost $1,450 and $1,600 respectively, plus customs costs (70
Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) plus 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the first
case; and 170 CUC plus 400 CUP in the second case).

There are also other models of scooters: the Ava Aguila costs 1,950 CUC,
the Hornet is 1,850 CUC and the Mitshozuki is 1,750 CUC.

Barceló notes that the shipment of this equipment is intended for
personal use only, so his company does not violate the US
embargo. Shipments are made by sea.

"Everybody knows what transportation is like in Cuba. I sent one to my
brother who lives in Cotorro and he's happy because he doesn't have to
wait for the bus or take the shared-taxis," he says.

The Caribbean Express agency is another company that sends motorinas to
the Island.

"They are taking four to five months" to be delivered, explains one of
the sales agents who for protocol reasons prefers not to be identified.

"Only the Palco agency receives this type of product because it has the
scanner to analyze them, so there is a delay," he adds.

Another popular article among relatives who send products to Cuba are
electric bicycles, much cheaper than scooters and with speeds of between
15 mph and 30 mph.

On the Island you can buy the 60 volt LT1060 model with a three phase
1000 watt motor that the Angel Villareal Bravo Company of Santa Clara
assembles from components from China.

These are higher powered bikes compared to those previously produced by
that factory, and they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 mph.
They have hand controls to activate the horn, digital screen and disk
brakes, among other features.

This model "has characteristics similar to those currently imported by
many individuals" and will be sold in the government chain of "TRD
stores at a price of 1,261 CUC," Elier Pérez Pérez, deputy director of
the factory explained to the government newspaper Granma, saying they
expect to produce 5,000 units by the end of the year.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent
months, has contributed to a rebound in orders.

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be
registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment. A
condition that many riders do not meet.

However, many motorists and passers-by complain, "If anybody hits you,
they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about
it," says Pascual, a driver of a state vehicle.

"I've even found children under 16 driving these things," he complains.

"I take care of it like it's my child and the truth is that it has saved
me from a thousand problems," says Maikel, a computer engineer with a
Voltage Racing bike.

His problems go in another direction. "There are few parking lots where
I can feel safe leaving the bike and the cars don't show me any respect
on the road," he complains.

However, he says that the motorina has totally changed his life by
giving him a freedom of movement that he did not have before.

*Translator's note: Cuba has two currencies. Cuban Convertible pesos are
officially worth one US dollar each, although transaction fees raise the
cost for foreigners converting money on the island. Cuban pesos are
worth roughly 4 cents US each.

Source: Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio,
Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/scooters-ease-the-problem-of-public-transport-14ymedio-yosmany-mayeta-labrada-and-mario-penton/ Continue reading
THE SPY WHO SANG TO ME Teen idol Adam Faith claimed to be 'MI6 spy sent
to Cuba' in new book by close friend
Music producer David Courtney says the Sixties singer and actor was
tapped up by British spooks because of his business connections on the
Caribbean island
By George Sandeman
12th March 2017, 10:16 am Updated: 12th March 2017, 10:18 am

SIXTIES teen idol Adam Faith worked as an MI6 spy in Cuba, it has been
claimed.

The multi-talented singer and actor, who died at the age of 62 in 2003,
was said to have been tapped up by the British secret service because of
his business connections on the Caribbean island.
The claims have been made in a new book published by close friend David
Courtney, a music producer, who said he met Faith while the star was
having a meeting with a spook at the Savoy hotel in London.

He told The Sunday Times: "[Faith] called me to one side and asked me to
sit at a table across the way while he continued his meeting.

"I could see he had become more animated with his hands and nodding his
head. After about 15 minutes he waved over to me to join them. The guy
in question was a very pleasant unassuming chap. We talked for a while
and he left.

"I said to Adam 'What was that all about?' 'Well,' he said, 'I am going
to tell you something but you must never repeat it.' I agreed. 'I have
been filming a travelogue series for the BBC in Cuba, and that guy is
from MI6.

"'They approached me and said they knew I had built up connections in
Havana and asked me to do some work for them there, basically spy for
them in preparation for the post-Castro era.'"

The meeting was understood to have taken place ahead of a 1997 trip to
the Communist island which was in the process of opening up following
the fall of the Soviet Union six years earlier.

Faith was tapped up because of his business dealings on the Caribbean island
Courtney, who discovered Leo Sayer and also worked with Paul McCartney,
Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, is currently writing his memoirs and said
that Faith told him he was "crapping himself with fear" about the
dictator knowing he had spoken to MI6.

He said that Faith told him about being shown into a room where Castro
was seated behind a grand desk. "He looked up at me and said, 'I know
you.' He held up a copy of my first record in his hand and said to me in
broken English: 'What do you want if you don't want money?'"

Courtney said Faith never told him about what he did specifically for
MI6 but the music producer is convinced his friend, real name Terence
Nelhams-Wright, was telling the truth about Castro.

Source: Teen idol Adam Faith claimed to be 'MI6 spy sent to Cuba' in new
book by close friend -
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3070668/teen-idol-adam-faith-claimed-to-be-mi6-spy-sent-to-cuba-in-new-book-by-close-friend/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March 2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do … Continue reading "Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton" Continue reading
"This Job Is Not To Make Money"/ 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 – The Cuban state has begun a gradual
process of privatizing the sale of the official press in kiosks. Without
announcing the measure in the official media, the kiosks operated by the
"self-employed" have recently been authorized to engage in this activity
under a "postal agent" license (which is among the 201 private
occupations legalized in 2013), as reported by 14ymedio in an extensive
article by Miriam Celaya this Thursday.

"We have five kiosks, but they are already occupied by self-employed
workers," says an employee at the Post Office located at 26th Street in
Havana. The worker explains that "an interested party should locate a
kiosk where they want to work and request it… Once hired, the kiosk
operator should come and get the press here before eight in the
morning," she adds.

"For every newspaper I sell I earn 10 centavos in Cuban pesos (CUP) (a
fraction of a cent US) and if it's the Orbe I earn 20 centavos,"
explains a kiosk operator on 26th and 41st streets. "The problem is that
almost all the other publications are not available," he complains.
"Bohemia has not arrived, there is no Palante or Muchacha," he says in
relation to several missing publications.

"I get between 150 and 200 daily newspapers so I don't earn much,"
explains the self-employed operator. "This job is not to make money," he
said. The three-day course that entrepreneurs must take to occupy one of
these places is "a routine thing," he says. "Almost everything they told
us was to show us where to get the papers and the details of the prices."

The self-employed woman at the Tulipan and Loma street kiosk supplies
"many teachers, because they are required to have the paper but it's not
given to them." She complains about the low profits due to the "lateness
of the press." For her, it's important "that the publications come on
time, but by the time most of them arrive they are already old news."
The woman has to go to a nearby post office to get the dailies and says,
"I have to transport them myself, because most of those engaged in this
work are elderly* and they can't carry very much."

For each copy of Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores, the kiosk
operators pay 19 centavos for a paper that sells at retail for 20
centavos (roughly one cent US). According to a calculation made
by 14ymedio of the number of copies received each day or, when
applicable, each week (181 Granma, 116 Juventud Rebelde, 199 Tribuna,
169 Trabajadores, in addition to the magazines: 27 Orbe and 41 Bohemia),
the kiosk operators would earn about five Cuban pesos a month, if all
their papers and magazines sold at the stated prices.

However, the private operators have to pay a monthly fee of 10 Cuban
pesos for the license and the same for the use of the kiosk. Once these
expenses are deducted, it is clear that the kiosk operators pay the
state to sell the official press, not the reverse as would be normal.
The self-employed are able to assume these expenses because they
commonly collect more for each copy sold – in general buyers will offer
one Cuban peso instead of 20 centavos** – but that is entirely up to the
willingness of the buyers.

Translator's notes:

*It is common for the elderly to informally buy a stack of papers and
then walk around reselling them – providing a convenience for customers
by making the papers available everywhere. They earn a little money
because the customers willingly "overpay" for the papers, in exchange
for the convenience and as a way to help out old people with very meager
pensions.

**In this example the entrepreneur would earn a "profit" of about 3-4
cents US on each paper sold.

Source: "This Job Is Not To Make Money"/ 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/this-job-is-not-to-make-money-14ymedio/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 – The Cuban state has begun a gradual process of privatizing the sale of the official press in kiosks. Without announcing the measure in the official media, the kiosks operated by the “self-employed” have recently been authorized to engage in this activity under a “postal agent” license (which is among the … Continue reading "“This Job Is Not To Make Money”/ 14ymedio" Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 March 2017 — An aging prostitute is like a book with tattered pages depicting the life of a nation. A survival manual to approach the vagaries of reality, to learn about its most carnal and, at times, most sordid parts. Many of the courtesans of Utopia in Cuba are already octogenarians. … Continue reading "Utopia’s Courtesans / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez" Continue reading
Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast
As icy U.S.-Cuba relations begin to thaw, Cuba's knowledge economy is
waking up. But it's a delicate process

Like many Cubans, Ubaldo Huerta left his homeland during a time of deep
economic crisis following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989,
which decimated Cuba's economy and sent tens of thousands of Cubans
looking for better opportunities abroad. The 47-year-old electrical
engineer quickly found his way to Silicon Valley, where he worked as a
software developer for numerous startups and gained his U.S.
citizenship. Later he relocated to Barcelona, founded a Craigslist-like
online classified website and sold his venture to eBay in 2005.

But despite these accomplishments, Huerta never lost sight of his
homeland. He began splitting his time between Spain and Cuba and three
years ago co-founded Fonoma.com, a small startup that enables people
outside of Cuba to make payments to prepaid cell phone and WiFi accounts
used by friends and family in Cuba. The business employs 15 people,
including seven in Havana.

"I want to be in Cuba," Huerta told Salon. "I cannot find better
developers than the ones that I've found here. I used to work in Silicon
Valley so I don't really need the money. I'm doing this because it makes
economic sense, and it's fun."

Cuba is in a better economic position today than it was when Huerta left
25 years ago. Huerta said that he amount of cell phone and WiFi account
deposits Fonoma processes grew by 40 percent last year amid Cuba's
nascent WiFi revolution. Today, the startup handles hundreds of
thousands of dollars' worth of transactions, half of them from the
United States — an online venture that would have been unheard of a
decade ago.

Huerta isn't alone. Last year, computer engineer Bernardo Romero
González came up with an idea to develop an online ordering system that
allows people outside of Cuba to pay for gifts purchased from local
Cuban businesses to be delivered to friends and relatives on the island.
"This platform helps other entrepreneurs in Cuba to grow their
market," Romero told Salon. "Businesses in Cuba are limited to their
town or city because they don't have access to e-commerce. This creates
the financial platform that allows them to put their products on the
Internet."

Expected to go live before the end of the year, Cubazon will process
credit-card payments outside of Cuba and then wire money through the
same network used by Cubans abroad to send money to relatives back home
to pay the local Cuban business, such as a flower shop or bakery, to
make and deliver the gift. This system legally circumvents current U.S.
Treasury Department restrictions on payment processing in Cuba. Romero
expects 80 percent of his business to come from consumers in the United
States.

Romero was one of 10 winners of last year's 10x10kCuba, a contest
sponsored by U.S. groups promoting Cuban tech innovation that includes
the University of Stanford's School of Engineering. The 33-year-old
programmer recently completed an intense two-week program at Colorado's
Boom Town Accelerator, a Boulder-based tech innovation incubator
participating in the program.

Planting seeds for success

Since Cuba and the United States began the process of thawing their icy
Cold War-era relations, highly educated Cubans like Huerta and Romero
have become two of a small number of tech-industry pioneers cautiously
planting their stakes on their country's future relations with the
United States. Former U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to promote
private-sector engagement, along with a series of reforms in Cuba that
allows small businesses to operate, has made it easier for Cuba's
tech-startup economy, though many challenges still remain.

Proponents of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba argue that
promoting the tech industry in Cuba would unlock a lot of unused
potential, and help prevent Cuba's young tech talent from leaving the
island. Cuba needs these innovators at home to help figure out a way to
support its increasingly aging population.

Tres Mares Group, a Miami-based private equity investment firm that
follows business activity in Cuba, estimates that about 3,000 Cubans
currently work as freelancers in the local knowledge economy — many of
them doing work for companies in Canada and Spain — and as many as
50,000 qualified university-trained computer science engineers are
sitting on the bench, unable to fully utilize their skills. Most of
these computer science degree holders are graduates of the University
Campus José Antonio Echeverría (CUJAE by its Spanish acronym) or the
Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas, which is often compared to MIT.

On the U.S. side, companies are also starting to pay more attention to
the potential pool of Cuban talent.

"There are at least a half dozen firms [in the U.S.] who are working
with Cuban coders and programmers already," James Williams, president of
Engage Cuba, a Washington D.C. nonprofit coalition of private companies
working to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, told Salon. "The challenge is
that since we're in this new period, they're not promoting these
activities yet and keeping them quiet until this becomes more normalized
and routine. But it's something that's already happening."

Indeed, there is still a lot to be done, and a lot that can be undone,
which is why many stakeholders on both sides of the Florida Straits are
being cautious about promoting their activities.

Suspicions abound

On the Cuban side, many hardliners in Cuba's Communist government are
suspicious of U.S. efforts to promote greater Internet access,
suspicions that were confirmed in 2014 when reports emerged that the
U.S. Agency for International Development was secretly funding a project
that used social media to try to foment an Arab Spring-like revolution
in Cuba. Though the failed project ended in 2012, whispers among people
who declined to speak to Salon on the record because of the sensitivity
of the issue claim similar efforts persist through other web-based front
organizations backed by the U.S. government.

On the U.S. side is an 800-pound gorilla in the White House known as
President Donald Trump. On the campaign trail Trump criticized Obama's
Cuba policy and promised to terminate his predecessor's efforts to
normalize relations with Cuba. The president also installed Mauricio
Claver-Carone, an active supporter of the 56-year-old U.S. embargo
against Cuba, to his transition team. Congress, too, is still reticent
to remove the embargo that would be perceived to empower Cuba's
authoritarian regime with a history of human rights violations — despite
the glaring fact that Congress accepts trade and diplomatic ties with
other authoritarian governments like China and Saudi Arabia. Another
concern among proponents of closer U.S.-Cuba trade ties is the fact the
China and Cuba trade ties are growing.

Many, including Huerta and Romero, are watching to see the direction the
president will take, and they're hoping that his business-focused
disposition will encourage him to avoid disrupting efforts to promote
Cuban entrepreneurship.

Romero said he hopes that at worst Trump doesn't upend efforts begun by
Obama three years ago to help him and other Cubans grow a local tech
industry. At best he said he would like to see better access to U.S.
banking services and to be able to market his apps on sites like the
Apple Store.

"After December 2014, when closer relations began between both
countries, I had the opportunity to come to the United States to make
connections and find people to help me to develop my ideas," he said. "I
think that the United States is naturally the country that should do
this work with Cuba."

Source: Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast - Salon.com -
http://www.salon.com/2017/03/11/cubas-nascent-tech-industry-is-growing-fast/ Continue reading
An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro Name / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 February 2017 — In Cuba being a member of the
Castro family is like having a modern-day license to commit piracy.
This inalienable right comes in handy for the dynasty's descendants,
especially those born with the compound surnames Castro Soto del Valle
and Castro Espín.* The most recent example of the prerogatives that come
from sharing a pedigree with the royal family of Cuba is a private
business in Havana's exclusive Miramar district run by Sandro Castro
Arteaga.

In addition to being a well-known DJ, the young man is the son of Alexis
Castro Soto del Valle and grandson of the late Cuban leader Fidel
Castro. In the midst of a campaign against drugs, prostitution and
fraud, the capital's municipal government "temporarily" suspended the
issuance of licenses for new privately owned restaurants on September
16, 2016. Yet in that same month it ignored directives from Isabel
Hamze, acting vice-president of the Provincial Administrative Council,
and issued a permit for a new bar and restaurant to be operated by Sandro.

Located at the intersection of 7th Avenue and 70th Street in Miramar,
the former Italian restaurant is now a fashionable discotheque, a place
where an elite young crowd enjoys Havana's nightlife with no concern for
the hour of day, the day of the month, or how much alcohol or other
substances are consumed. The establishment, which reserves the right to
admit whomever it chooses, has a maximum legal occupancy of ninety
people, far beyond the limit set by law for seats in private restaurants.

The restaurant sector grew out of a governmental self-employment
initiative known as cuentapropismo, which was an intended as a
palliative solution to families' economic problems. As a result, there
are now more than 1,700 private restaurants throughout the island. These
small businesses have benefitted from Raul Castro's modest reforms, the
noticeable boom in tourism and the rapprochement with the United States.

"If you like what's cool, what's exclusive, and you like rubbing elbows
with celebrities, Fantasy has what you're looking for. It offers
different environments, good music and a demanding clientele. The
interiors aren't anything great but it's the perfect place to organize
an event. Once inside, you are protected while at the same time you are
beyond the law. It's heaven for party-goers," says a young regular. "In
a country where everything is controlled, it's uncontrolled," he adds.

Another Cuban youth, who lives in Miami but was recently visiting the
island, says he has been to the discotheque a couple of times and claims
that the requirement for getting in is "looking like you have enough
dollars to pay. If not, you are not well received."

"You have to make a reservation beforehand but, if someone gets there
and offers them more money, you run the risk of losing your table.
Individual drinks cost an average three or four dollars and a bottle can
go for as much as eighty-five dollars," adds the young visitor from Miami.

Faced with such blatant chicanery, Havana started reissuing licenses for
new private restaurants on October 24, although it continues to warn
owners that they must comply with regulations on noise and closing times
(3:00 AM) as well as prohibitions against hiring artists, on the
consumption and sale of drugs, and on prostitution and pimping.

It also announced that there would be routine quarterly inspections of
new and established businesses in which "different factors" — a
euphemism for the regime's various agencies of repression — would
oversee compliance with regulations. It also set up groups in every
region to monitor this new form on non-governmental management.

But Fantasy manages to evade any oversight. It defies easy
categorization. By day it is a pizzeria and by night a nightclub. This
combination leads to a certain "ambiguity" in terms of its actual use
and purpose.

"Where the captain rules, the soldiers have no say. No one can go
against the son of Alexis Castro Soto del Valle. It's a scandal; it's
unbearable. They play music at full volume. Boys come and get into fist
fights. Trucks make deliveries at all hours of the day and night. The
police are here but they don't do anything. Miramar is a residential
area. We have sent a ton of letters complaining to authorities but they
don't dare take any action. Sandro is one of Fidel's grandsons and
that's all that matters," says a neighbor who, like others, prefers to
remain anonymous.

*Translator's note: A reference to the children of Fidel and Raul
Castro respectively.

Source: An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro
Name / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
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Juan Juan Almeida, 9 February 2017  — In Cuba being a member of the Castro family is like having a modern-day license to commit  piracy. This inalienable right comes in handy for the dynasty’s descendants, especially those born with the compound surnames Castro Soto del Valle and Castro Espín.* The most recent example of the … Continue reading "An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro Name / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed),
43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents
said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the
depths of Cuba.

The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked
asphalt and the small of cane juice, revolved around the sugar mill and
the usual thing was that grandfathers, fathers and grandsons worked in
the sugar industry.

It was a sugar mill town like many others. Squat brick houses half
plastered, a handful of white wood houses, guarded by five or six grungy
prefabricated buildings, built after Fidel Castro's Revolution.

The present and future of the village was to drink alcohol distilled
from cane, playing baseball on scrub ground and taming some lost mare
around some stinking green creek.

But Nivaldo wasn't a cane cutter nor a worker at the mill. He graduated
as a doctor on a rainy night in 1997 and after completing his social
service in a mountainous area of Santiago de Cuba, specialized in
orthopedics.

When he stepped in Havana for the first time, like almost all the
country people, he took a photo at the base of the Capitol, and used a
finger to count the number of floors in the Habana Libre Hotel or the
Fosca Building.

"My dream was to be a doctor. Have a family and live according to my
professional status. I'm a specialist, I have a marvelous family, but in
order to maintain it I do things I'm not proud of."

"I have been on international missions in South Africa, Pakistan and
Venezuela. Not out of conviction but simply to earn money and repair and
furnish my house. In Cuba it's hard to find a doctor who hasn't violated
the Hippocratic oath, and accepted gifts or money to maintain his
family. In the countries where I have worked, I've seen patients under
the table who have paid me. In Cuba I have groups of patients who've
given me gifts, a box of beer that costs sixty Cuban convertible pesos,
according to the seriousness of their suffering."

On the Castro brother's island a lot of things don't work. You can wait
an hour and a half to get from one part of town to another because the
chaos that is public transport.

From the time you get up in the morning the problems accumulate.
There's no water in the tank. There's no money to buy a pair of shoes
for the kids. Or you have to eat whatever there is, not what you need or
desire.

Let's not even talk about other things, also important for human beings,
like freedom of expression, the right to join a party other than the
communist party, or to elect the president of the Republic.

But healthcare, universal coverage, was the pride of the autocrat Fidel
Castro. It worked well as long as the former USSR was sending checks
worth millions and connected a pipeline of petroleum coming from the
Caucasus.

Later with the fall of Soviet Communism the deficit came. Ruined
hospitals, nurses looking like police agents and missing medical
specialists. The Raul Castro regime tried to keep the the flagship of
the Revolution afloat, but it was taking on water everywhere.

The first ones who become fed up are the doctors. If not all of them, at
least a broad segment. The causes vary, but the keys are the low
salaries and the lack of recognition for their work.

Migdalia, a dermatologist points out that "for six years I earned 700
Cuban pesos — about 35 dollars — and the salary was barely enough for me
to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. Now I get 1,600 Cuban pesos
— almost 75 dollars — and it's not enough either. So I accept patients
who give me bread and ham, or a piece of clothing, or money in cash, and
I give them personalized attention."

Joel, an allergist, wonders why, if what the international media says is
true and the government gets between 7 and 8 billion dollars from the
sale of medical services, "they don't pay us salaries consistent with
the inflation in the country. I was in Venezuela two years. The
neighbors gave me food and gave me gifts of clothing and things. Rather
than a doctor, I looked like a merchant buying stuff to sell when I came
back. I got to Cuba, after three years on a mission, between business
and the money I saved I had some four thousand dollars, not even enough
to rebuild my house. Now I'm chasing a mission in Trinidad and Tobago or
Qatar, but to get it you have to pay some official at the Ministry of
Public Health (MINSAP) some 400 or 500 bucks for them to put you on the
list. For these reasons, among others, many doctors decide to emigrate."

If we credit the statistics, a little more than three thousand doctors
have deserted in the last seven years. Venezuela is a destination that
puts their lives at risk. The delirious criminality in the South
American country has provoked, according to a statistic from 2010, the
deaths of 67 Cuban health professionals.

The lack of high-quality specialists makes it difficult to care for
patients in Cuba. Daniel has been looking for an ear specialist for six
months to diagnose and treat a problem.

"They only treat you as am emergency in a hospital if you're dying.
Diseases and symptoms that require lab tests, exams with equipment such
as cat scans or x-rays. can only be obtained quickly by paying with
money or gifts. Preventive medicine on the island is in crisis," Daniel
affirms.

Twice a month, Marta pays 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to the
dentist who sees her daughter. "It's the only way to get high quality
care. If you don't pay, and try to work through the system, they don't
fix your mouth or they do it badly."

Aida, who works for a bank, waited almost a year to get an appointment
with an allergist. "Her appointment at the polyclinic was once a month.
But she never went. With two little bites of ham, two soft drinks and 5
CUC I was able to get an allergist to see me. Then, if they see that you
have resources, then they stretch out the attention to get more money
out of you. Some doctors have become hucksters. It's painful."

When you go to appointments at hospitals, you see that the majority of
patients are bringing gifts for the doctor. But it can be a gift in
kind. Though many prefer cash.

Source: Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-renting-out-medical-specialists-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age
67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer
"trained by the Revolution," scavenges among the garbage for the
sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured
spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons,
cans and empty containers.

"My last name? Why? And I don't want any photos. I have children and I
had a life. I don't want people to talk about me," she says while
agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and
disappointment. "I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of
those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes."

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to
official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even
the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become
acute before 2025.

With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an
economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a
result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the
biggest challenges in its history.

"I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars).
From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier
refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older,
less energy efficient models] and an additional 100 pesos for the
purchase of medicines," says Raquel.

Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines
she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program
does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with
relatives.

"One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a
significant increase in public spending and the decline of the
population of childbearing age," explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist
based on the island and author of several books on the subject.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from
11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country's
fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the
population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4
children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were
126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.

For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such
as those facing Cuba.

One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return,
according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.

In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and
socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about
20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and
physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer
to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive
thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia
nursing home, in Havana's Cerro district.

The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a
month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security
grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that
they can't pay the cost.

Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security
systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it
received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65
billion dollars over 30 years.

"Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system
provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and
food at subsidized prices," explains the economist.

"It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults.
They don't give me any subsides because I live with my son, my
daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own
expenses and cannot take care of me," says Raquel.

"I need dentures and if you don't bring the dentist a gift they make
them badly or it takes months," she adds.

With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy
pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In
1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension
would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of
pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special
Period, according to Mesa-Lago's calculations.

Raúl Castro's administration drastically reduced the number of
beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called "the
elimination of gratuities." From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some
5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of
the population.

Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through
the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and
matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.

The government has authorized some assistance programs for the
elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income
elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small
figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people
in Cuba.

Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.

"People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an
avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in
1983, in the Andropov era," Raquel explains.

When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal
tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited
by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district,
until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.

"They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth
floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to
leave it, even though they paid well," she says.

For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars)
almost half as much as her pension.

Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although
she confesses that she wants "like mad" to get a contract with a small
private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state
company and its delays.

In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she
collects in the streets.

"In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have
to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can
not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos.
It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans."

In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data
available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1%
of the population were "at risk of not meeting some essential needs." A
survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income
insufficient to cover their living expenses.

Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were
mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something
from their work and remittances from abroad.

Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy
on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or
search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant
increase in beggars on the streets of the country's main cities has
become apparent.

"It doesn't bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one
who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school," says Raquel.

"The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very
good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He
always comes out and defends me from mockery," she says proudly.

Source: With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash
/ 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/with-a-pension-of-240-pesos-raquel-survives-thanks-to-the-trash-14ymedio-luz-escobar-and-mario-penton/ Continue reading
Cuba's self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US embargo
By KATARINA HALL • 3/8/17 8:00 PM

At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the
Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on
United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16
other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an
initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade
and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.

Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will
alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The
president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural
Expansion Act would "increase US agricultural exports, create jobs
across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality
American food." While these efforts are an important step in improving
American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform
its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its
desired effect.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was
implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that
restricting the population's access to cheap foreign goods makes the
country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its
widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one
thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice
for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.

While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an
important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods
will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal
embargo.

I spent last year doing research on economic remittances in Cuba.
Throughout my time there, I conducted several interviews with Havana
residents. Like many Cuba observers, I went in thinking that the
external embargo was Cuba's main stumbling block toward development.
Through these conversations I learned that many Cubans think
differently, against the wishes of state propaganda officials.

As one of my interviewees, Jorge, put it: "The embargo that most affects
us is internal. We don't need the United States; we can buy things from
Mexico, Panama, China." The problem, he explained, is that import taxes
in Cuba are so high that it makes it impossible for anyone to buy things
from other countries. "Either that," Jorge continued, "or the customs
officials steal your goods because they can." One time, Jorge went as
far as to destroy a new microwave he had purchased in St. Martin because
custom officials would not let him keep it. "If they wouldn't let me
keep my microwave, I wasn't going to let them have it."

Even if companies are able to legally pay the taxes, the price of goods
drastically increases well beyond the reach of an average Cuban. My
Havana neighbor, Maria Elena, explained that in Cuba you do see imported
goods like refrigerators from China, anti-electricity antennas from
Spain, even your occasional Nestlé ice cream. "But I can't afford any of
these with my $20 a month salary," she said, "a $3 ice cream becomes a
luxury." A resident from the next-door building, Lismary, said that
sometimes import taxes raise the price of a good by 110 percent. With
these prices, American products entering the Cuban market could only be
sold at stores for foreigners or hotels, not your average Cuban store.

If U.S. companies were to become established in Cuba, they would run
into another problem: it takes ages for customs to process goods.
Manuel, a Havana resident who worked for a Spanish company, told me that
sometimes it took his company six months to a year to get the permits
needed for their products to be released by customs. "That is, 6 months
plus countless bribes," he said, "and sometimes we get the products too
late, when we don't need them anymore." Having products stuck so long in
customs could eventually lead to losses for Cubans importing goods and
American companies in Cuba.

Despite their intentions, efforts like the Senate legislation are
unlikely to help average Cubans. While it is true that these efforts
might help the economic growth of some states, and perhaps the communist
regime, they will not provide cheap foods for the Cuban population. As
noble as the intentions of such campaigns might be, it will not be until
the internal embargo in Cuba is removed that Cuban people will begin to
benefit from trade with the U.S.

Katarina Hall is the director of the Human Rights Center at Universidad
Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. She is also a Young Voices Advocate.

Source: Cuba's self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US
embargo | Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cubas-self-imposed-embargo-is-hurting-cubans-more-than-the-us-embargo/article/2616539 Continue reading
Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in Syracuse
mgreenlar@syracuse.com
Michael Greenlar | mgreenlar@syracuse.com

on March 09, 2017 at 1:54 PM, updated March 09, 2017 at 2:11 PM
Syracuse, N.Y. -- Alejandro Cobus would leave his apartment in Syracuse
for his ballet class three hours early. He'd walk nearly six miles in
the snow and cold in sneakers. Then he'd warm up, dance for the next
three hours, and walk the same route home in the dark.

He never complained.

"We had no idea," Kathleen Rathbun said. Rathbun is the artistic
director of the Syracuse City Ballet and its school, Ballet & Dance of
Upstate NY. When they found out, the parents of other dancers and
Rathbun began giving Cobus rides.

Until December, Cobus and Jose Carlos Pino were dancers with the elite
national ballet company of Cuba, Ballet de Camaguey. The men, 20, began
their careers at the age of 8 in Cuba. The government program in the
communist country chooses the dancers. They leave their families for school.

"This is your career," Cobus said through an interpreter.

Getting into the program, and staying in, is a tremendous
accomplishment. Cuba, like Russia, trains some of the best ballet
dancers in the world. Now, fate and circumstance have dropped the two
young men in Syracuse where they are dancing with the Syracuse City
Ballet in its production of Snow White.

In Cuba, Cobus and Pino found little opportunity and meager pay. Dancers
were given a place to live and paid $10 a month, they said. They were
given small rations of meat and rice, they said, but it was not nearly
enough to fuel their constant movement. Both men said they often went
hungry.

Beyond those practical struggles, they saw, stretched before them, a
world of little opportunity. There are only a few good roles for men in
the company. And that company was the only company available to them in
a world where the government controls every choice.

In December, when the company was touring in Mexico, the two men walked
away from everything they knew. They defected from Cuba, crossing the
border into Texas, legally, as political refugees.

They left behind their families. The mothers of both young men are
school teachers who make about $20 a month. The pay is so meager that in
all of their years of dancing, neither man's mother has seen him on stage.

The road to Syracuse for both men has been accidental in the way fate
sometimes seems. At first, Pino and Cobus split up. Pino had relatives
in Houston, so he stayed there for a while. Cobus had no one and no money.

Cobus got a job driving a van until he saved up enough money to make it
to Miami. When he was in Miami, Cobus said, he found help at a church.
There, someone made a connection for him with InterFaith Works in
Syracuse, which brought him to Syracuse and helped him find an
apartment. They also helped him find the ballet and are continuing to
help him learn English.

On the surface, Syracuse seems like a place that couldn't be farther
from Cobus' tropical home. But when he found a place to dance, he found
a new home. Ballet, after all, is the same in every tongue. And he found
warmth, family even, in Rathbun and her ballet company.

Cobus called Pino to tell him he found a place where they could both
live and dance.

Pino arrived two weeks ago. He and Cobus are sharing the small apartment
in Syracuse. They are friends, but more like "hermanos," brothers. And
opposite in so many ways.

Cobus leans forward as they talk, pointing and unpointing his toes. The
men are paid a little by the ballet, but they need other work, Cobus
says. He tries to think what he could do with his meager English -
cleaning during the day maybe, so he can dance at night?

Pino leans back in his chair, he legs outstretched. He smiles and tells
Cobus he worries too much. All will be fine.

They bicker, in a friendly way. Cobus gets up too early, Pino says.
Cobus says Pino sleeps too late.

Rathbun smiles at them and laughs before their words are even
translated. She calls them, "the boys." She and dance moms from the
school have clothed them, driven them. A dance mom, Erica Stark,
translates for them. As they talk before rehearsal, another mother
brings sandwiches for them.

When asked what their ultimate goal is, Rathbun already knows the answer
for Cobus: Basilio in Don Quixote.

"He is always doing it in the studio," Rathbun says. The role is full of
dramatic leaps, including a spiraling, dangerous one that Cobus adds.
(That makes Rathbun grimace because she worries he'll fall).

Pino would be Albrecht in Giselle, he says.

While dance was chosen for them, neither man would change his life path.
They live to dance.

In a back room studio at the Civic Center, where the ballet is doing its
dress rehearsal for Snow White, Cobus and Pino take turns running
through leaps and twists across the floor. It is a friendly show of
one-upping. One man runs and leaps, the other take a cell phone video.
Then they switch.

Cobus does that spiraling leap that makes Rathbun nervous. The first
time, he falters and puts him hand down. The second time, he nails it.

Here, though they have so little, their dreams seem closer. Even this
one: Perhaps one day their mothers, who gave them to the ballet when
they were still little boys, will see them fill the stage with leaps so
large it seems like there must be a tiny bit of magic somewhere.

"Algun dia," they both say. And smile.

Some day.

Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, life and culture in Central New York.

Source: Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in
Syracuse | syracuse.com -
http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/03/cuban_dancers_who_walked_away_from_their_country_are_now_building_new_dreams_in.html Continue reading
Boulder company helps Cuba catch up in the tech race
Next with Kyle Clark. 9NEWS @ 6. 3/7/2017
Mike Grady , KUSA 2:52 PM. MST March 08, 2017

BOULDER, COLO. - A good laugh can be a great cure for a lack of
creativity. That's why you'll hear plenty of it at Boomtown Accelerator
in Boulder.

Jose Vieitez, the co-founder, helps startups fine tune their software,
business strategy and other elements essential to a successful business.

"When you start a company, it's very easy to start building product and
figure out how to make money later," he says.

But this group is not made up of Boulder techies

"My company is called Isladentro," Indhira Sotillo says through a
translator. "It is a mobile application that acts as a guide to Cuba."

Her app is essentially a type of Yelp for Cuba.

Sotillo founded Isladentro in Havana in 2013. She visited Boomtown on
Tuesday with two other Cuban tech startups.

"It's been a great benefit to be able to learn about business here, but
also to show what we're able to do in Cuba," Sotillo says.

The companies are among the 10 winners of the 10x10KCuba competition.
They've earned the opportunity to work with accelerators in America and
Mexico.

Running a Cuban based tech company isn't like starting one in the U.S.
It creates unique challenges, which call for creative solutions.
Sotillo's app is offline now because in Cuba people have very limited
internet connectivity.

"All of the information is in the app, so you have the sense of being
online even though you're not."

Vieitez's family still lives in Cuba. He knows firsthand the sacrifice
that Cuban entrepreneurs make daily.

"All the time you have to make sure that you're playing by government
rules, and in addition making good business decisions which can be
difficult," he says.
Vieitez hopes the ideas developed during the two weeks he's spending
with the companies will have a global impact. And Indhira is looking
forward to sharing her foreign tech experience back home.

"Everyone is helping each other be successful in their businesses, and
that's something I'd like to take back to Cuba," she says.

Source: Boulder company helps Cuba catch up in the tech race | 9news.com
-
http://www.9news.com/news/local/next/boulder-company-helps-cuba-catch-up-in-the-tech-race/420890424 Continue reading
Want to visit Cuba before it's commercialized? You can't, says 'Havana'
author
BY CONNIE OGLE
cogle@miamiherald.com

Journalist Mark Kurlansky has a sobering message for Americans who say
they want to visit Havana before it's ruined.

"You can't go before it's wrecked because it's already wrecked," he
says. "It's not the place it was in the 1950s or even the 1970s and
'80s. Americans are so egocentric. They think now suddenly it's going to
become commercial because we're there. But you can be commercial and
touristic without Americans, and Havana has already become that."

A former Chicago Tribune correspondent, Kurlansky covered the Caribbean
in the 1970s and '80s. Author of books on a startling variety of topics
— the histories of cod, salt, oysters, paper, the song "Dancing in the
Street" and frozen food among them — he has turned his attention to what
he calls "the Caribbean's great city" in his 30th book. "Havana: A
Subtropical Delirium" is the latest installment of Bloomsbury's "The
Writer and the City" series, which includes works on Florence (by David
Leavitt), Manhattan (Patrick McGrath) and Prague (John Banville).

Kurlansky, who will talk about the book on March 9 at Books & Books in
Coral Gables, jumped at the chance to produce a book about the city,
about which he writes, "Havana, for all its smells, sweat, crumbling
walls, isolation and difficult history, is the most romantic city in the
world."

"I'm an urban person," says the author, who lives in New York City.
"It's a big city, with lots of neighborhoods and things going on. And
the people are great, such great people. They have a wonderful, cynical
sense of humor. They're warm, welcoming people. That's why it's such a
great tourist place — they're glad to see people. It's economic, but
they want to talk to you, too."

"Havana" is not a political book, though writing about the Cuban capital
without mentioning the country's volatile politics is impossible. As you
might expect, the revolution looms large. But Kurlansky also focuses on
other aspects of the city: its history, culture, food, music and sports
(surprisingly, he writes that interest is shifting away from baseball
and moving toward soccer).

"Havana children have put away their small balls and sticks and taken to
foot-dribbling large balls down the street," writes Kurlansky, who also
wrote a book about Dominican baseball. "This might even be intentional
on the government's part. Just as baseball was originally popularized as
a way of embracing America and rejecting Spain, Cubans may now be
turning back to soccer as a way of rejecting the United States and
embracing Europe."

"Havana" comes at a time when American interest in travel to the island
has peaked, with a record 4 million visitors last year, a 13 percent
increase over the previous year. New cruise and airline service could
make 2017 another record-breaker, with Cuba expecting an extra 100,000
visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

Despite these shifts, Kurlansky thinks the biggest changes have already
occurred.

"The really big changes happened after the fall of the Soviet Union," he
says. "Cuba was a different country when the Soviets were there. ...
They would have these goals. Most had to do with replacing things cut
off by the embargo. So they made their own Coca-Cola and ice cream. They
didn't care about tourism. The downside was there were very few hotels
and restaurants. You felt like a pioneer there. But there was tremendous
energy and enthusiasm. They were trying to create a new society. But
when the Soviets left, they didn't have any more money."

Talking about the revolution in such mild tones used to get you censured
in Miami, and Kurlansky is sure he got the occasional side-eye from
Miami airport workers when he returned from Cuba during his reporting
days. But during a recent interview with WLRN that included an hourlong
call-in segment, he didn't get a single hostile phone call, which makes
him think Miami attitudes toward visiting Cuba are shifting a bit.

Now if only Americans could understand the best thing about Havana.

"People in America think of it as a sad and downtrodden place, and I
guess it could be, but it's not because that's not who Cubans are," he
says. "In Cuba, you get a good story every day you go out walking.
People are so funny. The most popular form of joke is a Fidel joke. You
get lots of jokes about the revolution. That's their nature."

Source: Havana, Cuba is the most romantic city in the world, says author
Mark Kurlansky | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/books/article136876033.html Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed), 43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the depths of Cuba. The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked asphalt and the … Continue reading "Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García" Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age 67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer “trained by the Revolution,” scavenges among the garbage for the sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons, cans … Continue reading "With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton" Continue reading