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The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García

Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly
browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of
pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn
cobs.

From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused
hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork fillets and sautéed rice, to
sell later in his small mobile shop positioned in a large car park, at
the main entrance to the International Book Fair in Havana.

A line of kiosks with aluminium tubes and coloured canvas tops offer
local favourites, like bread with suckling pig, ham and cheese
sandwiches, jellies, mineral water and canned drinks.

"My kiosk specialises in dishes from San Miguel de Padrón. But the
truth is that in this particular fair, sales are sluggish. Mainly
because the organisers prohibited the sale of alcohol. You can forget
about books and all that intellectual shit, you have to give Cubans beer
and reguetón if you want them to feel happy – the rest is secondary",
says Jesús.

Thursday February 16th started off rainy in Havana. Idelfonso, a
self-employed clown, looks up at the overcast sky and mutters, "if it
starts raining again, they'll have to take the circus and its tent away,
because no-one will bring their kids in bad weather. This fair has been
pretty bad for us. No-one has any money, and those who do prefer to
spend it on books and food", he says, in his bear get-up.

In different parts of the car park, private businesses rent
out inflatable toys for fifteen pesos for the kids to bounce about for
thirty minutes, and five pesos for a quick ride on a horse.

"Many families don't come to buy books. They would rather their kids
enjoyed themselves playing with the equipment. There are hardly any
amusement parks in the capital", says Rita, who deals with charging for
the horses.

Families and groups of friends lay towels out on the grass and picnic on
a hill from where you get a unique view of the city across the bay.

Gerard, a young man with tattooed forearms, feels uncomfortable. He
tells his wife to go off with the kid to play with the inflatable toys
while he complains about the lack of any beer.

"These people are really party poopers. Whose idea was it to stop
selling lager and nips of rum? I can't imagine it was because of Fidel
Castro's death, as the bloke has been pushing up daisies for over two
months now", moans Gerard, knocking back a lemonade as a temporary
solution to the matter.

Dora and Germán come from El Cotorro, in south west Havana, with two
enormous bags to buy "fifteen or twenty boxes of drink. We have a cafe
and we buy stuff here for ten pesos and then we sell them there for
twenty. If we have time, we buy a few books for our grandchildren".

The Book Fair always was a good excuse for thousands of Habaneros to
amuse themselves. Kids skipping classes looking over displays of foreign
books, inveterate bookworms, pseudo intellectuals who take the
opportunity to come over as writers, the peripheral catwalk of hustlers
and pickpockets selling tourists fake Cohíba cigars made in shacks in
deepest Havana.

But this time the organisers decided to put a stop to "sideshows which
have nothing to do with reading", says Idalia, a Editora Abril
bookseller, who adds:

"The fair has been turned into a mess. Like a strip club. Hustlers who
came to pull foreigners and people with money who have never read a book
and were downing beers 'til closing time. The number of people coming
here has definitely fallen, as nearly two million people came here two
years ago. Now the numbers have fallen to less than half" says Idalia,
who, in exchange for offering her opinions for Martí Noticias, asks me
to buy some books.

"The thing is, we get commission on our sales. And we aren't selling
much", she emphasises. From the books on display, I choose the biography
of Raúl Castro written by Nikolai Leonov, an ex high-up in the KGB and
personal friend of the Carribean autocrat.

The book, which looks good, costs 30 pesos, equivalent to three times
the daily minimum wage in Cuba. According to the official press, it is
the best selling book of the year. Idalia thinks differently.

"You can put any rubbish you like on paper. They give the book, just
like they did with Fidel's, as gifts to lots of people who attend
events, and then they record them as sales. And, being prioritised by
the printers, they have gigantic print-runs, and are on sale in all the
bookshops in the country. But, I haven't seen too much enthusiasm among
Cuban readers for Raúl's biography. Foreign lefties certainly do buy
books dedicated to Fidel", she tells me.

Although the present Book Fair is dedicated to Canada and the tedious
state official Armando Hart Dávalos, the dead Fidel Castro is the prime
actor.

There is no lack of sets of Fidel Castro's speeches on the local
publishers' stands, a revised edition of History will Absolve Me and
cartoon books eulogising the dictator from Birán.

"God help us! Fidel everywhere", says a lady walking through the Mexican
pavilion looking for a diary she has promised her granddaughter. The
foreign publishers are the busiest, in spite of the high foreign
currency prices.

They also sell pirate Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar teeshirts, as
well as a collection of Barcelona and Real Madrid posters. A Mexican
bookseller tells us that "We take advantage of the fact that Cubans like
football, and so we push this merchandise".

At midday St Charles Fort looks just like an informal flea market. A few
serious readers sit down, leaning against the ancient cannons which
protect the fort, in order to read George Orwell's 1984 or a Gabriel
García Márquez novel.

The less serious fill up nylon bags with books on spritual advice or
magazines about fashion and cooking. Then they form a little queue at
the exit from La Cabaña, to get the bus going to the centre of Havana.

Few visitors know the dark history of the fort, an ancient prison and
location of hundreds of firing squads for Castro opponents. The thing is
that in Cuba the disinformation, fear of knowing the truth, and amnesia
help people live apathetic and apolitical lives.

Translated by GH

Source: The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-fidel-castro-fair-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Tell Us, General, What's Plan B?

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of "XXI
Century Socialism" is wavering and threatening to collapse. It's only a
matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the
economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the
government's grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable
demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his
mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature
of the regime: increase repression and "arm the people."

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street
protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also
by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future
poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet.
Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style
dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country.

Thus, "Maduro-phobia" has become viral, people have taken to the streets
and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands
are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional
thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro,
allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his
presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin
American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands
of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have
decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan
government are guided by and directed from the Havana's Palace of the
Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very
suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba's high command would drag
the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward
the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a
dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of
Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though
this would mean the end of the "socialist" regime in Venezuela -with the
consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula,
as well as the income capital sources from health professionals
services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro's significant absence at
the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support
for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly
accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against
the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the
suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban
official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually
circumscribed condemnation pronouncements "to the regional rightist
coup" – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government's
political and mass organizations and other non-governmental
organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the
possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba's part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know
the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as
it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in
various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and
intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro's
agents, so it may be assumed that the regime's political strategists
have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba's aid workers, which are in Venezuela in
the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by
Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work
in Venezuela as "collaborators" in ALBA programs, in the very probable
case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain
the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of
the Venezuelan regime? Why don't the official media offer more accurate
information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in
Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these
Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated
by the violence incited from power?

Cuba's past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the
same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same
subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were
sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and
other remote points of the world's geography. Fidel Castro, who was
never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de
facto – the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers
were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the
Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of
that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks
in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always
brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a
temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the "revolution" have
passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive
green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are
disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very "socialist
model "is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite
poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering
the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the
sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in
Venezuela.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of
several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not
important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide
the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of "the stateless
ones who sold out to the empire" in Venezuela, to try to ignite some
spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and
to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in
Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in
a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes
it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It's true that times have
changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information
spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the
consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer
seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic
marches for "the boy Elian," to cite the most conspicuous example, but
neither should we underestimate the regime's histrionic capacity and
social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle
displayed during Fidel Castro's funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been
applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the
possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship.
That's how warped they are. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the
narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the
Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to
keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is
experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows
what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one
thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela
is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás
Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban
regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island's
destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Tell Us, General, What's Plan B? – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/tell-us-general-whats-plan-b/ Continue reading
Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn cobs. From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork … Continue reading "The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García" Continue reading
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another … Continue reading "Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?" Continue reading
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions Washington, April 22 (RHC)-- The U.S. Justice Department has escalated its approach to so-called "sanctuary cities," writing to at least eight jurisdictions to put them on notice they could be failing to … Continue reading
Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze
when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his
wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar
Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated
neighborhood of La Victoria, in the heart of Havana.

A couple of cylindrical metallic tanks that can carry 55 gallons of
water each are attached to the truck. At seven o'clock in the morning,
when the city listens as a symphonized tune, a trail of alarm clocks,
and Havanans get ready to go to work or school, Antonio unloads dozens
of buckets to several customers in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo.

"Two years ago, for filling a 55-gallon tank, I charged 50 Cuban pesos
(equivalent to two dollars) but now, because of the drought which is
causing some scarcity, the price has risen to 60 pesos for each tank,"
Antonio explains, while lunching on a serving of congrí rice, pork steak
and cole slaw and cucumber in a private restaurant.

After five o'clock in the afternoon he goes back to the capital's
neighborhood to sell the water. In one day he can earn 500 pesos, about
20 dollars. "In addition to earning money, I keep in shape," he says,
and shows his trained biceps after almost twenty years carrying buckets
of water.

In Havana there are more than 170,000 units that do not receive drinking
water in their homes. Some of them due to breaks in the pipes and others
because with aluminum sheets and pieces of cardboard and veneers they
have raised frightening shacks without bathrooms and lacking the most
basic conditions for human life.

According to an official of the state-run Aguas de La Habana, "these
people are supposed to receive water in (state) tanker trucks. But
because of the lack of gasoline, the drought that affects the country or
simply corruption, the 'pipers' sell water to those who can pay, and
thousands of families do not receive water in a timely manner."

In Cuba, plagued with a dysfunctional government and low productivity
that generates scarcity, anything can become a business. Why not water.

From aguateros, like Antonio, who travel through the cracked streets of
the old part of Havana selling water, to the tanker trucks of the state
companies that also profit from the precious liquid.

"A full tank at this time costs between 25 and 30 pesos Cuban
convertible pesos (about 25-30 dollars US). And demand outstrips
supply. The buyers are business owners who have restaurants or rent out
lodging, those who have swimming pools in their homes and in buildings
where there is water shortage and people have a source of hard
currency," says the driver of a tanker truck.

The problem of the water supply in the capital is longstanding. For lack
of a coherent hydraulic policy, the regime has been overwhelmed by
something that is as essential as water.

With a population that exceeds two and a half million inhabitants,
Havana continues to have as its main source of supply the old Albear
aqueduct, a masterpiece of industrial engineering that began to be built
in 1858 and was inaugurated in 1893, for a city of 600,000 people.

When Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, and after the October 1963
passage of Hurricane Flora, which left more than a thousand dead in the
eastern part of the island, hundreds of dams and reservoirs of water
were built that multiplied the country's water storage capacity by a
factor of five.

In 1987 the construction of the El Gato aqueduct began in the
southeastern part of Havana. But because of lack of maintenance of the
aqueduct and sewer networks, more than half of the water that was
distributed was lost by leaks and ruptures of the pipes.

In the midst of the current drought, which plagues 81% of the country
and is considered the worst that Cuba has suffered in the last hundred
years, authorities that manage water resources have tightened measures
to prevent water being wasted.

Manuel Manso, Aguas de La Habana's ombudsman, explained that an
inspector squad of 108 workers is trying to interact more directly with
consumers, whether business or residential. One of the provisions is the
application of fines, with 870 already having been imposed on private
companies, in amounts of up to one thousand Cuban pesos (about 42 dollars).

Although the regime has invested nearly 9 million dollars in the
rehabilitation of 550 miles of water networks in the capital, the effort
appears to be inadequate.

"The company repairs a section, but then the water pressure damages
another section that has not yet been repaired. Also, the quality of the
repairs is not always good. And the technological obsolescence and
timespans between maintenance complicate things. It's like 'plowing the
sea,' (a complete waste of effort)," says an engineer.

A health and epidemiology specialist is worried that "the water deficit
in the residential sector could have an impact on the emergence of new
outbreaks of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, carriers of dengue fever,
chikungunya and other deadly diseases. Plus there is the proliferation
of rats and cockroaches. Water scarcity, poor cleanliness in streets and
public spaces, and the irresponsibility of citizens who dump garbage on
any street corner have made Havana one of the dirtiest cities in Latin
America."

If the drought persists, along with poor hygiene in the city and
problems with water supply, which cause families to store water in
inappropriate containers without adequate protection, the arrival of
summer could bring the breeding ground for a huge epidemic of
mosquito-borne diseases.

"Every year we run the same danger, for not carrying out the necessary
preventative work and the lack of hygiene in the city," said one
official. And walking on the edge of a cliff always carries risks.

The worst has not yet come. But the conditions are given.

Note: Although this article is limited to Havana, the water shortage due
to drought has long been affecting all provinces.

Source: Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-risk-of-health-crisis-due-to-lack-of-potable-water-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated neighborhood of La Victoria, in the … Continue reading "Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García" Continue reading
For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn't a Priority / Iván García

Iván García, 19 April 2017 — When evening falls, Yainier and a group of
friends who live in El Canal, a neighborhood in the Cerro municipality,
20 minutes by car from the center of Havana, grab a table by the door of
an old bodega, and between swigs of rum and Reggaeton, they play
dominoes well into the dawn.

They are six unemployed youths who live by whatever "falls off the back
of a truck." They also sell clothing imported from Russia or Panama,
joints of Creole marijuana and toothpaste robbed the night before from a
local factory.

They note down the domino scores they accumulate in a school notebook.
The duo that gets to 100 points earns 20 pesos, the equivalent of one
dollar, and if they really kick ass, they can earn double that amount.

The winners buy more rum, and between laughter and chatting, they kill
time in a country where the hours seem to have 120 minutes. No one has a
plan for the future.

In the seven or eight hours they pass playing, they usually talk about
women, football or black-market businesses. Politics is not a subject of
conversation.

The dissident, Eliécer Ávila, lives a few blocks away from where they're
playing dominoes. He's an engineer and the leader of Somos Más (We Are
More), an organization that supports democracy, free elections and free
speech.

Probably Ávila is the most well-known dissident among Cubans who drink
their morning coffee without milk. His debate in 2008 with Ricardo
Alarcón, then the president of the one-note national parliament, was a
success on the Island. The concerns of the young computer engineer and
Alarcón's incoherent answers circulated clandestinely on flash drives.

Eliécer, together with Antonio Rodiles, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Julio
Aleaga Pesant, figure among the most well-prepared dissidents in Cuba.
Born in 1985 in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, Ávila has leadership qualities
and good speaking skills.

His project goes over the heads of people in the neighborhood, like the
six domino players, who are indifferent to the reality of their country.
How to achieve anything is a problem to solve for a repressed local
opposition, which up to now has no power to convoke a meeting. Without
going farther, in the slum area of Canal, where most inhabitants are
black and deathly poor, almost no one is interested in demanding
inalienable rights in any modern society.

One of those neighbors is Raisán, a mulatto with discolored skin, who
religiously pays his dues to the Cuban Workers Center, the only labor
organization that's authorized on the Island. However, he recognizes
that the Center, which supposedly ensures his salary and labor demands,
doesn't even attempt to manage them.

"Brother, this has to change. You can't live on a salary of 400 Cuban
pesos — around 17 dollars — while it costs 10 times that to eat or dress
yourself," says Raisán, after making a list of the daily hardships that
the government never solves.

There's a dichotomy in Cuba. Ask any Cuban his assessment of the
performance of the State organizations and you can publish several tomes
of complaints. People are tired of political rhetoric. The citizens want
better services, salaries and living conditions. But they don't have the
legal tools to carry out their propositions.

Creating a movement or party that looks out for their interests,
changing the political dynamic and demanding the democratization of
society, continue to be taboo subjects. Although the dissidence requests
these rights, it still hasn't managed to gain the confidence of the
beleagured citizens, for whom the priority is to find food and money
sufficient to allow them to repair their houses, among other needs.

State Security, the political police, short-circuits any initiative that
tries to insert the opposition inside the population. And certainly it's
the fear, typical of a tyrannical regime that has more severe laws for
dissenting than for certain common crimes. Fear is a powerful wall of
containment that repels nonconformists.

Cuban society continues being excessively simulated. It always was.
During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, after the assault on the
Presidential Palace by the Revolutionary Directorate, March 13, 1957,
the authorities called for an act of reconciliation with the dictator,
and in spite of the rain, 250,000 residents of Havana responded in a
spontaneous manner.

The same thing happened in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In
silence, without protesting, Cubans saw how Castro knocked out
democracy, dismantled the legal judicial machinery, buried the free
press, eliminated private businesses and governed the country like a
vulgar autocrat.

The answer to discontent always was to emigrate. A considerable segment
of the citizenry didn't support – nor do they support – those who bet on
peacefully reclaiming their rights, inserting themselves into politics
and denouncing the frequent attacks on human rights.

People prefer to look away or continue coming to the game, seated in the
stands.

To get Cubans to understand that the best solution to their complaints
is democracy, free elections and a coherent and independent judicial
framework, which supports small and medium-sized businesses, until now
has been a subject that stopped with the internal opposition. Which has
tried, but without success.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn't a Priority / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/for-ordinary-cubans-democracy-isnt-a-priority-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Iván García, 19 April 2017 — When evening falls, Yainier and a group of friends who live in El Canal, a neighborhood in the Cerro municipality, 20 minutes by car from the center of Havana, grab a table by the door of an old bodega, and between swigs of rum and Reggaeton, they play dominoes well … Continue reading "For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn’t a Priority / Iván García" Continue reading
Cockfighting in Cuba: clandestine venues, state arenas
By Sarah Marsh and Alexandre Meneghini
Reuters April 20, 2017

CIEGO DE AVILA (Reuters) - Cuban farmer Pascual Ferrel says his favorite
fighting cock's prowess was "off the charts," so after it died of
illness he had the black and red rooster preserved and displays it on
his mantelpiece beside a television.

"He fought six times and was invincible," the 64-year old recalled
fondly, talking over the crowing of 60 birds in his farmyard in the
central Cuban region of Ciego de Avila.

Though it is banned in many parts of the world, cockfighting is favored
throughout the Caribbean and in Cuba its popularity is growing.

Last year, Ciego de Avila opened its first official cockfighting arena
with 1,000 seats, the largest in Cuba, to the dismay of animal rights
activists who see it as a step backward.

Cockfighting is a blood sport because of the harm cocks do to each other
in cockpits, exacerbated by metal spurs that can be attached to birds'
own spurs.

After the 1959 revolution, Cuba cracked down on cockfighting as part of
a ban on gambling, recalls Ferrel.

Over the years that stance has softened. Official arenas have opened and
hidden arenas are tolerated as long as there are no brawls.

"'People say: if the government is allowed to hold cockfights, why can't
we?" says Nora Garcia Perez, head of Cuban animal welfare association
Aniplant.

Enthusiasts argue that cockfighting is a centuries-old tradition.
Critics say it is cruel, and they blame its popularity on lack of
entertainment options, poor education on animal welfare, and its
money-making potential.

In Ciego de Avila, there is a different clandestine arena for every day
of the week, some hidden among marabu brush or in sugarcane fields, down
dirt tracks with no signs.

People carrying cockerels in slings or under their arms travel to these
venues by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or in candy-colored vintage
American cars.

Arenas made of wood and palm fronds operate like fairgrounds. Ranchera
music blasts from loudspeakers, roasted pork and rum are sold and tables
are set up with dice and card games.

"You'll see how fun this is," says Yaidelin Rodriguez, 32, a regular
with her husband, writing in a notebook bets she has placed on her cock.

Gambling is outlawed in Cuba but wads of cash exchange hands at most
arenas. Enthusiasts wear baseball caps that read "Cocks win me money,
women take it away."

In the Ciego de Avila official arena, foreigners pay up to $60 for a
front row seat. At concealed arenas, mainly a local affair, seats are $2
to $8, a princely sum in a country where the average monthly state
salary is $25.

"We can earn about $600 a day from entrance fees and the sale of seats,"
says Reinol, who declined to give his full name.

He splits that sum with his business partner and still earns more from
it than from his regular job as a butcher.

Cuba also exports cockerels, breeders say, adding that cocks with proven
fighting prowess could sell for up to $1000.

At a secluded arena near Ciego de Avila one recent afternoon,
cigar-smoking, rum-swigging owners guarded their birds to make sure no
one hurt or poisoned them before the fight.

"Come on," "Go for it," onlookers screeched once it began, the cocks
flying at one another in rage.

"You have to train the cocks like they are boxers, so they are
prepared," says Basilio Gonzalesm adding they must also be groomed,
scarlet legs sheared and feathers clipped.

Some, like cockfighting enthusiast Jorge Guerra, dream of making more
money in countries where betting is legal.

"I'd like to go somewhere with big competitions and bets like Puerto
Rico," the farmer said. "I'd like to show someone how much money I could
make for them breeding cocks."

Click here to see a related photo essay: http://reut.rs/2pCDa3B

(Editing by Christian Plumb and; Toni Reinhold)

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Vermont Nonprofit Helps Fix Up Tennis Courts In Cuba
By MITCH WERTLIEB & LIAM ELDER-CONNORS
VPR News

An offshoot of a Vermont-based nonprofit is helping young athletes in
Cuba with some critical improvements to the places they play. And we're
not talking about baseball.

Kids on the Ball is helping to repair some of Cuba's badly damaged
tennis courts — fixes that cost more than half a million dollars. The
group eventually wants to foster some lasting ties between Cuban tennis
players and their U.S. counterparts.

Jake Agna is the founder of Kids on the Ball, and this week he's
traveling down to Cuba for the ribbon-cutting for newly resurfaced
courts there. He spoke with VPR before his trip.

The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the
full audio above.

VPR: What prompted you to first visit Cuba? What did you discover in
connection with kids playing tennis and the conditions of the courts?

Agna: "In America, I had gotten a lot of acclaim for grassroots tennis,
because that's what we've been doing ... since 2000. But my daughter
nudged me and said, 'These guys? This is grassroots tennis.' And so I
got up there, humbled right off the bat, and said, 'You know, I don't
know why I'm down here in a lot of ways, I wanted to see what you guys got.'

"So they took me out to the National Tennis Center pretty quickly, and
it was just humbling. The courts were really beat up. I've never seen
balls that beat up ... the nets were strung up to chairs and I felt a
lump in my throat.

"I looked at these kids [and] the first thing you notice is the attitude
— tremendous attitude and talent. I mean, the kids are physically fit,
but more than anything, just the energy and the enthusiasm was like, I
was surprised."

How did you get the idea to raise money to repair these courts, and how
did you make that happen?

"I told the Cubans that I'm going to go back to some of the foundations
that I talk to and see if they are willing to get behind this. My plan
was to help them right off the bat with balls, string, rackets, shoes, a
stringing machine, and then the first phase basically was to fix the
courts, which was going to be a lot of money.

"Second phase was to fix this building that's there, it's the National
Tennis Center — it's really beat up. And then the third phase was to get
kids to play each other — American kids to go down there and Cuban kids
come up [here].

"And so I came back and I went to a couple of the major donors I have. I
went to Bob Stiller, who at that time had Green Mountain Coffee
Roasters, and he gave a tremendous donation to get it off the ground.
And then I just was enthused, I felt like it could happen. That's how I
fundraise. I just get in a mood and I just started calling people up and
we got a lot of money pretty quickly."

When you started traveling to Cuba, President Obama was in office and
was working to reestablish diplomatic ties to Cuba. Now it's unclear
where U.S.-Cuban relations are headed in the Trump Administration. Has
the new political climate affected what you're doing in Cuba?

"Not really, but for sure the Cubans are asking questions. The normal
Joe on the street, the cab driver, says, 'What do you think's going to
happen?' And you know, I don't know.

"It was amazing, we started right at the right time. Cuba was opening
up, I started to take people down on trips because partly I wanted to
fundraise that way, but mostly I wanted people to see what I saw and
come back with stories. I thought that would be the way to spread the
word about how great a people they are.

What are your hopes for getting some of these Cuban players to Vermont
at some point, and again, do you think that might be affected by what
happens with the Trump Administration?

"I do think that the embargo has to be lifted for these kids to be able
to come out of there and play. Over the past two years, we've taken some
teenage kids down there. That's what I want to see is, I want to see our
kids play with their kids, because everybody comes back saying, 'Man,
that was fun.'"

Source: Vermont Nonprofit Helps Fix Up Tennis Courts In Cuba | Vermont
Public Radio -
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"Being A Teacher Is Not Profitable In Cuba But It Teaches You To Love"


The damages to educational quality caused by the lack of preparation of
the "emerging teachers" remain to be measured. (Telesur)
14ymedio, Caridad Cruz/Mario Penton, Cienfuegos/Miami, 17 April 2017 –
teaching children cursive writing and educating them is much more than a
job for Adrian, an elementary school teacher in Ciego de Avila. His
threadbare pants stained with chalk dust make clear that he is not one
of those most favored by the economic changes on the island, even with
the recent 200 Cuban peso (about $8 US) raise in his monthly salary,
which he received for teaching 27 third graders, more than the state
class size norms.

In January, Ministry of Education Resolution 31 decreed a selective
salary increase of between 200 and 250 Cuban pesos for those teachers
who have more students in their classrooms than the norms set for
primary education. In the case of junior high and high schools, the
teachers who teach more than one subject also receive a cash incentive.

"Money is not the main thing in life, rather it is fulfillment, and that
is what my profession gives me," says this 29-year-old "emergent"
teacher, who graduated in the years in which the chronic absence of
teachers made Fidel Castro launch his Battle of Ideas and graduate
thousands of young people as teachers with just eight months of training.

At that time the hook used by the Government was exemption from
compulsory military service and the possibility of getting a university
degree in humanities without passing the qualifying exams.

Most of the young people who started the project left after the first
years of work in one of the lowest paid professions in the country.

The damages to the quality of education caused by the lack of
preparation of these emerging teachers remain to be measured, although
with the arrival of Raúl Castro to the power in 2006, that program, like
the other programs of the Battle of Ideas fell by the wayside.

"In January they raised the salary, but they do not want to call it a
salary increase because it only affects those who have more than 25
children in the classroom, but at least it's something," he says.

At the beginning of the century, Cuba decided to limit class size to 20
students, but the chronic shortage of teachers and the exodus of
professionals to other better paid work prevented this plan from being
maintained.

"For years I did the same job and they did not pay me extra," Adrian
laments. "The workers union's only purpose is to march on the first of
May of the plaza. They never demand anything."

Adrian has a salary of 570 pesos, about 23 dollars. He lives with his
mother, a retired teacher of 68, and he is the family's main
support. His salary "is not enough," he confesses, so he secretly sells
treats among the students at recess.

"If it was not for that, I could not make ends meet," he says. "After
all, nobody can live on their salary in Cuba."

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in
recent years. In 2013 it was 512 pesos, two years later, 537 pesos

Teachers are not allowed to engage in business activities in schools,
but many principals turn a blind eye to avoid losing the few experienced
teachers they have left.

"They say that in some provinces, like Matanzas, the state sells food
products to teachers at subsidized prices (above and beyond what is in
the rationing system). If they did that, at least I would not have to
sell candy," he adds.

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in
recent years. In 2013 it was 512 Cuban pesos, two years later, in 2015,
official data confirm that the average wage is 537 pesos, the equivalent
of about 21 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) per month.

The current real wage, after deducting accumulated inflation, is
equivalent to only 28% of the 1989 purchasing power, according to
calculations by economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.

Adrian's mother, Elisa, recalls the years when she began as a
"Makarenko" teacher (a collectivist method created by the Russian
pedagogue of the same name) in the '60s and says that the difficulties
now are nothing compared to what her generation experienced.

"We earned 87 pesos a month and to be a teacher you had to climb Pico
Turquino (the highest mountain in Cuba) and teach in very different
places. There is nothing like teaching, it is teaching a person to fly.
It's the best profession in the world. If I were born again I would be a
teacher again," she says.

In the past academic year 2015-2016, there were 4,218 fewer teachers
compared to the previous year. The trend has been accentuated since the
2008-2009 academic year in which official statistics begin to reflect
the massive hemorrhaging of educators.


Numbers of teachers in front of the classroom — 2005 to 2016. Source:
Statistical yearbook of Cuba.
"Despite the salary of teachers and the conditions in which they perform
their work, many remain in their posts. A driver in the city earns in
one week what an education professional earns in a month," says Elisa.

She receives a pension of 230 Cuban pesos a month, about 9 CUC. In the
afternoons she has a small group of six children that she tutors for the
price of 2 CUC per month each.

"I do it to help my son. We have to pay for the refrigerator, and life
has become very expensive: a liter of oil costs almost a quarter of my
retirement, and don't even talk about the price of milk. Luckily I have
an ulcer and they give me a ration of milk," says the teacher.

Every afternoon Adrian collects the 27 notebooks of his students to
review them carefully and correct the spelling mistakes. Jhonatán,
"a javaito (Afro-Cuban) who escaped the devil," helps him to carry them
home.

"That nine-year-old boy's mother was arrested because he was a
jinetera (a prostitute). He lives with his father who is an alcoholic
and who often beats him. The only signs of affection he receives are in
school," says Elisa.

"Being a teacher is not profitable but it teaches you to love," the
retired teacher says with emotion. "Sometimes Adriancito even buys the
boy shoes because he has nothing to wear to school."

Source: "Being A Teacher Is Not Profitable In Cuba But It Teaches You To
Love" – Translating Cuba -
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14ymedio, Caridad Cruz/Mario Penton, Cienfuegos/Miami, 17 April 2017 – teaching children cursive writing and educating them is much more than a job for Adrian, an elementary school teacher in Ciego de Avila. His threadbare pants stained with chalk dust make clear that he is not one of those most favored by the economic changes on the … Continue reading "“Being A Teacher Is Not Profitable In Cuba But It Teaches You To Love”" Continue reading
… to be Cuban." It was my second day in Cuba. After getting swindled for a $200 taxi ride from the Havana … going – far away from the Havana airport and its money changers … to cities beyond Havana such as Santa Clara. Cuba sits just 100 … Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 – Cuba just suspended the sending of a group of 710 health professionals who would have worked on the “More Doctors” mission in Brazil, our of fear of desertions, according to a report from the Brazilian press informed by that country’s Ministry of Health. The decision not to … Continue reading "Cuba Stops Sending Doctors To Brazil For Fear Of Defections" Continue reading
5 Things Cruise Lines Won't Tell You About Cuba
April 13, 2017

Of all the ports I've sailed into as a crew member, Havana is my
favorite. I fell in love with the city while working as a guide on the
first round of Cuba cruises. We were the only ship from the United
States, with just 700 passengers every 2 weeks. This summer is the
beginning of a new era for Havana. If you're considering a cruise to
Cuba, don't hesitate! But make sure you follow my insider tips to get
the most out of your visit.

#1- Don't miss the sail in: Sailing into Havana is like going back in
time. On the port side of the ship, you'll get up close and personal
with the Morro Castle as you sail through the narrow harbor. On the
starboard side, you'll enjoy a panoramic view of hustle and bustle of
central Havana, Art Deco facades, classic cars, and pedestrian traffic
on the Malécon, Cuba's ocean-front boulevard. Get a good spot on the top
deck early in the morning and bring your binoculars.

#2- Carry a lot of water with you: It's going to be a long, sweaty day
and you need water by your side. I suggest investing in a 40 oz.
Hydroflask. Fill it with ice and water from the ship before disembark.
You'll have cold water for 12+ hours and create less waste from buying
and disposing plastic bottles.

#3- Don't get stuck in the line to exchange money: Your credit and debit
cards from the United States likely won't work in Cuba so you'll need to
exchange money…and so does everyone else. Either get off the ship before
you're fellow cruisers, or get stuck in an hour long backup at the
exchange booths in the cruise terminal. Another option is to exchange
money at the San José Artisans Market down the street. Save money: Make
sure you bring Euros, Pounds, or Canadian Dollars to avoid the extra 10%
exchange fee on United States Dollars.

#4- Get away from the bus: Tours are great, but let's face it, you spend
more time stuck on a bus than you do immersing in the local culture.
Budget some time in your schedule to stroll around the Plazas of Old
Havana or visit a museum near Parque Central. Just make sure you check
the "self-guided" box when you fill out your affidavit. This means that
you agree to document the educational and cultural activities you do
while you're in Cuba.

#5- Do some research beforehand: Enrichment presentations can be hit or
miss, so don't wait until you're onboard to start thinking about Cuban
politics and culture. This doesn't mean you have to bury your head in a
long history book. Rent the movie Una Noche. It's a thriller about
teenagers who try and escape Havana on a homemade raft. If you're
looking for a quick and easy read, checkout my cruise-friendly guide 12
Hours in Havana available on Amazon.

About the Author:
Greg Shapiro is a millennial travel hacker, an expert at packing lots of
fun into short periods of time. From backpacking South America to
sailing around the world, he's visited over 35 countries and counting.

Source: 5 Things Cruise Lines Won't Tell You About Cuba -
http://cruisefever.net/5-things-cruise-lines-wont-tell-cuba/ Continue reading
Cuban-American Relations in 2017
BY SAMANTHA MENDIGUREN AND JORGE DUANY • APRIL 12, 2017

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Jorge Duany,
director of the Cuban Research Institute.

Upon Fidel Castro's arrival to power in 1959, the United States and Cuba
built up an oppositional animosity toward one another. The US responded
to Cuba's communist ideology with an embargo in hopes of overthrowing
the regime.

Strict regulations were enforced until President Barack Obama began to
make progress toward normalizing this protracted animosity. On July 20,
2015, Washington and Havana marked the restoration of diplomatic
relations. This has led to an ease on remittances and travel, but
financial, economic and commercial restrictions still remain.

Although Obama made efforts toward removing hostility between the two
countries, shortly before leaving office he ended the
"wet-foot/dry-foot" policy implemented in 1995 allowing for Cubans to
remain in the US once they reached its shores. While the cancellation of
this policy coincides with the new Trump administration's views on
tightening immigrant documentation, many US policies toward Cuba are up
for debate.

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Jorge Duany,
director of the Cuban Research Institute and professor of anthropology
at Florida International University (FIU). Born in Havana, Cuba, Duany
shares his insight on Cuban-American relations and predicts what will
come of this year.

Samantha Mendiguren: The US and Cuba reopened diplomatic relations after
more than 50 years. What effect has this had on Cuba?

Jorge Duany: On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced he
would take several steps to normalize relations between the US and Cuba
— some of those steps have been quite significant, especially the
removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. And that
had a number of consequences — among them, from our little corner in the
world, that public universities in Florida were now able to cover travel
expenses to and from Cuba.

I mention that because that has been the most important consequence of
the change, not only for us but for Florida in general and particularly
for academic and cultural exchanges with Cuba. We don't know what's
going to happen with that particular move because the new secretary of
state under the Trump administration mentioned that he was going to
review this policy change, so that means that the Trump administration
might revert it.

The main impact of the changes in US policy toward Cuba has been to
increase the official contact between the US and Cuban governments at
all levels, from the president's visit to Cuba last year in March to a
number of lower-level but still significant contacts between
representatives of both governments. Several agreements have been signed
to conduct and collaborate with scientific research, for instance, and
even more policy-oriented issues like drug trafficking, undocumented
migration and so forth. So I think that has been the major change in the
past two years and a few months, especially once the US and Cuban
embassies were opened in the two capitals.

In addition, there has been some impact on trade, communication and
travel. There are a number of other areas that still haven't produced
significant results. For instance, there was a proposal to build
tractors in Cuba by a Cuban-American Jewish businessman, but
unfortunately it did not go through. That would have been the first time
there was direct investment by the US on Cuban soil for decades. So
there are some significant achievements and some failures in the
relationship between the two countries over the last two years.

Mendiguren: While the US and Cuba have amended diplomatic relations, the
commercial, economic and financial embargo still remains. Do you foresee
these positions changing with the new Trump administration?

Duany: As of now we're waiting to see. And we've been waiting ever since
the new administration took office on January 20th. It's been a little
more than a month and there has been no official change, specifically on
US' Cuba policy, except for a couple of tweets by the president and some
very strong language regarding human rights in Cuba, but so far we don't
know what concrete measures will be taken by the new administration.

We're still figuring out what the new administration will do about it
because we were expecting Trump to change it rather than Obama. So the
fact that Obama did it about one week before the new administration took
office was not only surprising but quite controversial.

I imagine that putting Cuba back on that black list of sponsors of
terrorism and even closing the embassy, which Trump mentioned at some
point during the campaign as a candidate, are very unlikely. All the
other changes are under revision, for instance the relaxation of
requirements for travel to Cuba, short of allowing tourism — which is
not allowed under the embargo law — and some other minor changes. I
don't know whether people will be able to bring cigars and rum or not
from Cuba, which was one of the latest changes in US' Cuba policy.

Mendiguren: What needs to happen within Cuba for the US to seriously
consider removing the economic embargo?

Duany: The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 sets several conditions to be met:
free elections, competitive party politics, respect for human rights and
so on, which are very difficult to be met by any government, let alone a
communist government such as the one in power in Cuba. Short of those
major changes what could happen is that Congress decides to look at the
embargo again and, given the changes that have taken place between the
two countries, if a majority of Congress decides it's time to lift the
embargo, that may take place.

However, I think it's very unlikely that it's going to happen given that
the majority of Congress is in Republican hands. And again, there are
few signs on the Cuban government's side that it will move in the
direction stipulated by the Helms-Burton Act.

Mendiguren: Why do you believe that Cuban Americans supported Trump in a
much higher degree than other Latin American groups in the United States?

Duany: I think Trump made one of the last stops of his campaign in late
October of last year when he came to Miami, and of course he was here
several times, has strong connections to south Florida and made a very
strong promise to revert all of President Obama's executive orders
regarding Cuba. He got the support of the veterans of the Bay of Pigs
invasion, which had not endorsed any presidential candidate in the past
five decades. The veterans reflect a broader sector of the community,
particularly the early wave of Cuban refugees from the 1960s, who tend
to be more conservative. Probably that sector of the community did give
him a majority support.

However, there is a lot of argument here in Miami as to exactly what
percentage of the Cuban-American vote went to Trump. I've seen some
estimates that suggest something like 60%, which I think is a little
exaggerated; others are closer to 50-52%, a slight majority. I don't
think there's any doubt that Trump got a much larger percentage of the
Cuban-American vote than any other Latino community, but we don't know
yet what specific percentage actually did. Once Trump sided with the
more conservative sector of the Cuban-American electorate, which means
older, first generation, better-off exiles and their children, he did
get the majority of the vote.

However, there's also a growing number of Cuban Americans, both those
who were born in the US and those who have come in the last three
decades, who are increasingly leaning toward the Democratic Party and
there's also quite a lot of evidence that that particular sector of the
community tended to favor Hillary Clinton. But in the final analysis I'd
say that because many of these more recent immigrants aren't US citizens
or aren't registered to vote, they're still a minority in terms of the
electorate of Cuban origin.

Mendiguren: Obama ended the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. How do you think
this affects the Cuban-American community? Do you think Trump will
change this policy?

Duany: We're still figuring out what the new administration will do
about it because we were expecting Trump to change it rather than Obama.
So the fact that Obama did it about one week before the new
administration took office was not only surprising but quite
controversial. Some of the polls that have been conducted, especially
here at FIU in the past couple of years, have found that the majority of
the Cuban-American community does support the wet-foot/dry-foot policy
and the Cuban Adjustment Act. However, when you break it down by age and
time of arrival, the earlier Cuban refugees probably wouldn't support as
strongly that particular policy measure.

The main reason is because of the concern in south Florida about the
abuse of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy by some Cuban immigrants, who are
not necessarily political refugees and who go back to Cuba once they get
their permanent residence. That issue got a lot of media coverage here
in south Florida, and even in Washington. Marco Rubio, for instance, and
Carlos Curbelo were two of the main critics of the policy and even the
Cuban Adjustment Act.

However, because of political party affiliation, when Obama decided to
cancel the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, that put the new government in a
difficult situation because the incoming president had said that he
would revert all of Obama's executive orders. But this one is likely to
stay, because it seems to fit within the discourse of the new
administration of reducing undocumented migration to the US, which was
facilitated by the wet-foot/dry-foot policy toward Cubans.

Mendiguren: How has Fidel Castro's death affected Cuba and its relation
to the US? What implementations have been set by Raúl Castro and what do
you expect from him in the future? What will happen when he leaves his
position?

Duany: Fidel was out of the picture for about 10 years since his
retirement and mysterious medical emergency. He was coming out of his
house every so often and made public appearances, and wrote that column
that probably wasn't written by him in Cuba's official press, Granma.
But as far as I can tell, looking back at those years, there had been a
transition or a succession of power from Fidel to Raúl, and Raúl was
pretty much the one who was leading the Cuban government and actually
made some changes.

But Fidel still had a strong symbolic influence, for instance when he
criticized Obama's visit in calling him "Brother Obama" and saying some
very nasty things about his visit; whereas Raúl was very friendly with
Obama, sat next to him at the Tampa-Cuba baseball game and so on.

So, with Fidel out of the picture, one theory is that Raúl will finally,
in whatever time he remains in power, be freer to continue his reforms
than when he was under the shadow of Fidel. Another theory is that there
was never that kind of big brother/younger brother distinction in terms
of their actual thoughts and actions.

With Fidel out of the picture, in the next year or so when Raúl has said
he would retire, he might, for instance, accelerate some of the reforms
he started but that Fidel and his entourage didn't support. I'm thinking
especially of the US-Cuba normalization process. Fidel didn't
particularly like this, he didn't stand in the way of the process but he
did make a couple of critical comments about the process of
reestablishing diplomatic relations with the US.

In about a year from now, [Raúl] has declared that he wants to retire
from the presidency and that has led to all kinds of speculations as to
who's next in line. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the vice president, seems to be
the heir to the throne, so to speak, although some people speculate that
it might be somebody from the Castro family itself and the inner circle
— we don't know that yet either.

But if he does retire there's still the question as to whether he will
remain as the first secretary of the Communist Party, which is really
the power behind the throne, or as the commander-in-chief of the armed
forces, and it doesn't look like he's going to let go of those very
powerful positions. So, there might be a new president who doesn't
really have control over the main institutions in Cuba (the army, the
Communist Party), and become the figurehead of the Cuban government.

Then when you go, you find yourself being treated sometimes as a
foreigner, sometimes as a Cuban. You have to pay more, you have to use
the more expensive currency — there's all kinds of experiences that make
you feel like you're not at home.

What I think is now at a crossroads is the question of what kind of
relationship Castro will establish with the new US administration. Raúl
has restated that he's willing to negotiate, that he's willing to talk
to the new government like he had said before with the Obama
administration, but there hasn't been much in the way of a response from
Washington either, so it's kind of a standstill at this point. And it's
unclear where the Trump administration wants to move with this, or just
keep it the same or return to December 16, 2014.

Mendiguren: You've written extensively about Cuban identity and the
diaspora. Can you explain the cultural and political divide between
Cubans and Cuban Americans — do you think that this chasm can be
reconciled into one national identity?

Duany: It's a long history of love and hate between Cuba and the US. In
fact we just held a conference where we used what I think is a good icon
of that relationship. It's an image of a cigar box from Key West,
Florida, in 1898, that shows the symbols of Cuba and the US as these
very strong women giving each other the gift of tobacco — a cigar —
which was then processed in Key West and sold to the US market.

And that of course alludes to migration to the US from Cuba, which is
really a long and protracted process. It began more than a century and a
half ago with the Cuban War of Independence against Spain and continued
throughout the first half of the 20th century. It became massive after
1959, so these very strong historical and cultural links between the US
and Cuba, particularly with Florida, are now stronger than before.

And despite the lack of diplomatic relations and the lack of economic
ties between the two countries over the last 60 years or so, you do find
links between the two places. For instance, travel between Miami and
Havana is very strong now; depending on your sources it could be as many
as 400,000 people of Cuban origin based in the US traveling to Cuba for
a visit. The telephone calls, the remittances, the money that people
send their relatives to the island is in the millions of dollars —and
then more recently, I think as part of this opening about, the
increasing number of artists, musicians, writers and even academics who
have expanded and strengthened these personal and family links between
Cubans on and off the island.

Now, the division is still very much there and all kinds of restrictions
are still difficult to overcome, including visas and passports. Since I
was born in Cuba, I have a very difficult time traveling there because I
either have to get a Cuban passport, which I don't have right now (I'm
still waiting for one since I applied in July, but no response yet), or
I can apply for a one-time only Cuban visa, which is very expensive.

Then when you go, you find yourself being treated sometimes as a
foreigner, sometimes as a Cuban. You have to pay more, you have to use
the more expensive currency — there's all kinds of experiences that make
you feel like you're not at home.

Yet at the same time, you were born there, you have family, and you're
familiar with the culture, the language, the food and the music. In any
case, it's an issue for many Cuban Americans of various generations,
both my own generation and my children's generation, to decide for
themselves in terms of their identity and how they want to define
themselves. If you're a US citizen but your parents were born in Cuba,
even the issue of traveling to Cuba is a major dilemma. I know that a
lot of young Cuban Americans won't go to look for their roots on the
island because their parents or grandparents went through such a
difficult, traumatic experience that they don't want to offend them.

In fact, some FIU students will wait until their parents and
grandparents have passed so that they respect that experience. This
issue of identity of the second generation and the links between the
island and the US are very intractable. They're still difficult to
overcome especially in this, what seems to be, a Cold-War division
between Cuba and the US.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Fair Observer's editorial policy.

Source: Cuban-American Relations in 2017 -
https://www.fairobserver.com/region/latin_america/cuba-america-relations-trump-castro-news-20170/ Continue reading
Cuba after Fidel Castro: Full of life, but it is life on the brink of death
By ANNIKA HERNROTH-ROTHSTEIN • 4/10/17 8:00 PM

HAVANA — The young woman sees me watch in amazement as she gets up from
her seat and attempts to carry the four bags with her through the aisle
of the plane, and she gestures at them and shrugs.

"There is nothing in Cuba, so whatever we can, we bring."

It took me a few days to fully grasp what she had told me, being a
first-time visitor in a country entering its 58th year of communist
dictatorship, and its very first without Fidel Castro. I came here to
find out what had changed since his passing, and what was next for the
island regime, but to my great surprise it was business as usual, in
more ways than one.

On my way from the airport I ask my cab driver if things feel different
since Castro's death. He shakes his head and tells me that even on the
night of his passing there was little movement in the streets or
commotion through Havana.

"I was impressed, actually. Fidel has been everything, you know? He is
the father of the revolution and when he dies – nothing – not a word.
They were able to control everything, even then."

By "they" he means the regime, now taking orders from Fidel's brother
Raoul Castro, and the security apparatus attached to it, with its
infamous security service, Direccion General de Intelligencia (DGI)
making sure the wheels turn smoothly. It is a simple yet brilliant
scheme, where every neighborhood has an informant, reporting to the
Comites de Defensa de la Revolution (CDR), a secret police in charge of
keeping tabs on counter-revolutionary activity, and every infraction or
sign of disloyalty is met with stern and immediate consequences. Given
the dire straits of the people in Cuba, the regime is not willing to
take any chances, having experienced revolutions in the past it knows
not to allow the flame of change to be ignited.

With a monthly salary of $30 USD per person, supplemented with a fixed
portion of rice, eggs and beans, the people of Cuba have been forced to
use every opportunity to make some money on the side in order to avoid
starvation. This has resulted in a shadow-society to take shape within
communist Cuba, a society that is highly capitalist in every single way.
I get evidence of this en route to old Havana one day, when my driver
stops for gas and is told there is none left, only to leave the car with
a fistful of cash and return later, car filled-up and ready.

"This is what we call the Cuban way. You see, the gas station belongs to
the government, so the only way for these men to earn something extra is
to sell gas to the highest bidder and deny those who can't pay. I call
it communist capitalism."

The same is true everywhere you go: people cooking the books to fill
their plates and fight their way out of desperation, and as a tourist
you accept it and move on, constantly struggling with the guilt of
living here in a bubble that everyday Cubans will never be privy to. To
outsiders, the combination of poverty and oppression and the recent loss
of the symbol of the revolution would inevitably result in a turn toward
democracy and capitalism. But as the regime does its best to convey,
very little has been buried with Fidel.

The Cubans I have spoken to are proud of their country. Even though they
criticize the regime, under promise of anonymity, they are quick to add
that they don't necessarily want Cuba to become the United States or
just any other country in the West. When I ask them if they believe that
democracy and capitalism will come to Cuba now that Fidel has left and
Raoul is on his way out, they respond in the negative, saying that
whatever will come next will be a Cuban version of those things, an
adaptation from what it is now.

And the way things are looking, they may be right. Rumor has it Raoul
Castro has already reshuffled the government, replacing generals and
ministers with his personal confidants so that he will remain the
unofficial leader even after his assumed successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel,
is sworn in as president in 2018. This ensures that even though Fidel is
dead, the spirit of the revolution lives on, and the Cubans I've spoken
to fear that the regime will take steps to emphasize the status quo by
tightening its grip on the population.

It is not an improbable scenario, but rather a common tactic for
totalitarian regimes when dealing with dramatic shifts, as most recently
seen in Iran after the nuclear deal, where executions and imprisonments
have risen dramatically during and after the rapprochement with the
West. There is an important difference, however, and that is that Cuba
is unlike many other countries of its kind, and that difference may
actually be a hindrance in its journey toward democracy.

One thing that sets Cuba apart from other totalitarian regimes is the
romance that surrounds it, still, despite the thousands of extrajudicial
executions and arbitrary imprisonments, a ruined national economy, and
denial of basic freedoms of association, religion, movement, and speech
having taken place in the past 58 years. Even those who do not hold an
ideological torch for the communist revolution are still enchanted with
the country's beauty, charm, and lust for life, making it easier to
disregard the daily crimes committed against its people and quell the
international community's instinct to intervene.

Cuba is truly magical, and yes, it is full of life, but once you step
outside of the lush hotel garden you see that it is life on the brink of
death, magic existing in a state of suspended animation.

There are several shadow-societies existing side by side in Cuba, and
through these the population has come to function and survive, with very
limited resources and freedoms.

This is made possible by the geographical and cultural proximity to the
U.S., loosening of sanctions and the idea of Cuba being kept alive
through and by the booming Cuban tourism industry. This process is
quietly supported by the regime itself because, ironically, the only way
for the communist revolution to survive is by covert capitalism, keeping
the population from starvation, and turning a blind eye to this keeps
the oppressive communist regime from having to admit defeat.

There were no rallies through Havana on the eve of Fidel's death and
now, almost 4 months later, he has already moved from leader to martyr,
cementing a well-directed legacy. Life goes on for the Cubans, with or
without the father of the revolution, as they watch tourists flood their
Island paradise, hoping to benefit from some of the overflow.

Cuba is lively and loud – full of life for days of play. But when it
really matters, it is quiet – its people's fate decided in silence,
without so much as a word.

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein (@truthandfiction) is a journalist and author,
based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Source: Cuba after Fidel Castro: Full of life, but it is life on the
brink of death | Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cuba-after-fidel-castro-full-of-life-but-it-is-life-on-the-brink-of-death/article/2619841 Continue reading
… in the long run.  Mark Cuban, businessman, investor, owner of the … Continue reading
What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations
Apr 11, 2017 Latin America North America

When the Obama administration reestablished U.S. diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December 2014, many experts predicted that it would bring a
flood of new money to the island, transforming its economy and political
culture for the better. Almost two-and-a-half years later, U.S. trade
with Cuba continues to languish, and a handful of executive orders on
the part of President Donald Trump could soon set back the clock to the
days when hardline opposition to ties with Cuba's communist regime was
the norm in Washington. What is the future of U.S.-Cuba ties now that
the honeymoon that began under Obama is over? Which aspects, if any, of
the Obama administration campaign to open up Cuba are most likely to
survive?

On the one hand, during his presidential campaign, "Trump certainly
talked about repudiating what Obama has done with Cuba," says Stephen
Kobrin, Wharton emeritus management professor. "Clearly, with the stroke
of a pen, he could eliminate a lot of the liberalization that occurred
under Obama," which was enacted as executive orders, not congressionally
sanctioned legislation. On the other hand, "the streets have not exactly
been paved with gold in Cuba," Kobrin notes. "There hasn't been a great
rush to do business in Cuba. Right now, there is not a huge amount of
interest." Of the dramatic rapprochement with Cuba undertaken by
President Obama, Kobrin adds: "It was an historical event that seems to
have come and gone."

Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat, senior adviser at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, notes, "One of the missed
opportunities is that not as many deals were done" as anticipated.
"That's bad for a number of different reasons. One, I think U.S.
companies have missed out. I think the Cuban people and the Cuban
government have missed out on great U.S. products and services." He adds
that now — just as the Trump administration is reviewing its Cuba policy
— instead of having 100 U.S. companies advocating for liberalization by
going to their congressional representatives and saying, 'Look, we have
this business now in Cuba,' "you only have 25 or 30 or so." (Editor's
note: Arnavat, who recently returned from Cuba, addressed this topic at
the 2017 Wharton Latin American Conference, where Knowledge@Wharton
interviewed him. The interview will be published soon.)

Uncertainty and Disappointment

"The impact of Donald Trump's victory can be defined by one word:
'uncertainty,'" notes John Kavulich, president of the New York-based
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "That uncertainty has negatively
impacted interest by U.S. companies [in Cuba]."

In both countries, disappointment has been fueled by misunderstanding of
the potential impact of their mutual ties. Charles Shapiro, president of
the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, says that "U.S. business people
thought that they were going to go to Cuba and see hundred dollar bills
floating down the streets. Just as Americans thought that Cuba was going
to change pretty quickly after December 2014, individual Cubans also
thought that their standard of living was going to change [right away] …
[that] their lives were going to get better. Both of those expectations
were wrong; real life is more complicated."

Many Americans imagined that the Cuban government would soon liberate
political prisoners and make political reforms. When that didn't happen,
critics argued that the U.S. was making all the concessions, but the
Cubans were doing nothing to open their economy. Notes Kavulich,
"Basically, an overall negative narrative has been created."

And while uncertainty is growing over which measures Trump might take to
unwind the Obama administration's efforts, "the Cuban government is not
doing its part to mitigate any of the uncertainty," Kavulich notes.
"What it could do would be to allow more U.S. companies to have a
presence in Cuba, more U.S. companies to directly engage with the
licensed independent sector in Cuba. They are not allowing that." Adds
Arnavat, "If you look at Cuba's plan for economic development, [foreign
direct investment] just doesn't quite fit into their priorities. And
then even if it's the right kind of company, and the right opportunity,
they still blame the embargo, right?"

It's not just the Americans who aren't investing in Cuba now, notes
Shapiro. "The Chinese are not investing in Cuba," nor are the
Brazilians or the Europeans. "It's because you can make more money
investing in Singapore or Atlanta, Georgia" or many other places under
the current system in Cuba. He adds, "One gets the sense that the
government of Cuba doesn't understand that foreign direct investment is
a competition — that the investor gets to decide where he is going to
get the best return on his money. There are not people out there wanting
to throw their money at Cuba in a way that doesn't allow them to make a
competitive return on their investment. That's the issue."

In the travel sector, explains Kavulich, "The airlines, in their
exuberance and enthusiasm to get as many routes as possible, far
exceeded what the reality was going to be. All the airlines asked for
far more seats than they were going to be able to fill. They asked for
approximately three million seats, when the agreement with the Cubans
was for about one to 1.2 million. From the beginning, it was out of
whack, but the airlines were all trying to grab as many of the routes as
they could."

As international hotel companies signed building contracts, U.S.
arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34% between 2015 and 2016. Hotel rates soared
by between 100% and 400%, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night
skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight
Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and other carriers started
operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn't
welcomed U.S. airlines in decades. But the novelty has worn off, and
hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overestimated demand for Cuba
are cutting back on their routes and using smaller planes.

Two major factors have changed since the high-profile restoration of
diplomatic ties during the Obama administration, says Wharton management
professor Mauro Guillen. "The first is the change in the U.S.
administration. The second is that Raul Castro has said that he will
step down in a couple of years. There is a power struggle going on in
Cuba between those who are traditional and others who believe, like
Raul, that there should be a change towards more freedoms in Cuba. Both
factors are making it difficult to get things moving in that direction."

Guillen adds: "Trump has not been president for even 100 days yet; we're
going to have to wait and see. It's not so much that [everyone has] lost
interest, but that there are so many other things going on that require
the attention" of lobbyists and policy makers in the U.S.

Travel: 'A Bad Telenovela'

Trump's first statement about changes in U.S. policy is expected soon,
but no one knows for sure what to expect. The Trump administration is
"not going to sit around with a majority in the [U.S.] House, Senate and
… the Supreme Court — and not do anything. They're taking their time
until they think the President and people around him have time to act,"
says David Lewis, president of Manchester Trade, a Washington
consultancy. "My view is that they are not going to leave this
[situation] as it is." That doesn't necessarily mean that Trump will
undo every policy change made by Obama, he adds.

According to Kavulich, "If they decide to go with increased enforcement
[of the travel rules] — which it seems they will do — that could lead to
the demise of the 'self-defined trips' that have become a popular way
for Americans to visit Cuba," despite the official ban on tourism. "One
change the Obama administration made was to allow people to go to Cuba
on their own. They didn't have to go with a group, and they could
self-certify. It was the honor system on steroids."

Lewis argues that the changes made in the travel sector "are going to
remain as is — not because [the Trump administration] thinks it's good,
but because to try and reverse travel is going to be a major quagmire, a
whirlpool, like a bad telenovela that will never end. You're going to
have to start fighting with the nuns who go to Cuba, with the college
kids who go to Cuba, with the NGOs. It will be a never-ending mad house,
which could engulf [the administration's] limited bench."

However, in order to pressure the Cuban government to liberalize its
economy, the Trump administration could tighten the screws on U.S.
visitors in various ways. Kavulich notes that it may try to make travel
harder for U.S. visitors to Cuba who don't comply with the official
rules, which make it impossible for Americans to visit as a tourist, by
requiring them to go through several inspections at customs. Overall,
the Trump administration "can do a lot without seeming as though they
are being punitive, simply by enforcing the regulations."

The Trump administration could also "make it clear that no further
licenses will be given to any [U.S.] company that wants to engage with
the Cuban military, which controls the Cuban hospitality sector," adds
Kavulich. "If they act retroactively, that means the Sheraton [in
Havana, the first hotel to operate under a U.S. brand since the 1959
revolution] gets closed; U.S. cruise ships can't dock at the ports; and
U.S. [air] carriers can't land at the airports because the Cuban
military controls all of it."

"With Trump, you're reading tea leaves," says Kobrin. "You never know
what's real and isn't. But he is not viscerally anti-communist. He isn't
part of the old Republican Cold War establishment. He doesn't seem to
have trouble dealing with Hungary, for example, and his problems with
China have more to do with what he perceives as 'American first' and
U.S. interests, rather than their political system." Moreover, "the
opposition to establishing relations with Cuba comes especially from
Congress and Cuban-American members of Congress, who are concerned about
the political system."

Reasons for Optimism

Originally, the expectation was that an announcement by the
administration regarding Cuba would be made in early February and then
March. "It seems as though the announcement is being held hostage to
whatever events are happening each day," Kobrin says. "It could end up
that the decision could be a tweet that is a response to something the
Cuban government does that we don't know about yet."

Overall, Kobrin says, "I've always felt that once liberalization occurs,
Cuba is just another island in the sun. It has some advantages in terms
of its medical system, the education of the populace, and so forth, but
then it has to compete with every other Caribbean island, once the
novelty has worn off. Cuba is not a logical place to put much in the way
of manufacturing or other sorts of industry, [except] maybe some health
care initiatives."

Shapiro is more optimistic. "The private sector in Cuba is growing.
Cubans call [self-employed workers] cuentapropistas — which means they
are 'working on their own account.' And they are [becoming] a larger
percentage of the work force. Lots of people in Cuba have their
government job, but they are doing other things as well. They can't
exist on a government salary.… Everybody in Cuba is working a deal."
Internet access has actually skyrocketed, he adds, with Wi-Fi hot spots
available in parks around the country. "Lots of people use them, and
they are owned by the government. Unlike the case in China, you can
access The New York Times in Cuba, and more importantly, El Pais from
Spain."

"I'm still a little bit hopeful and optimistic," Guillen says. "At
least, a framework has been established for the basic relationships….
Now we have cruise ships going through Havana, we have regularly
scheduled flights, and we have some broadening of the kinds of trade
that can be done. Let's give this first round of reforms some time to
sink in. Then, the [Trump] administration will have a better idea of
what it wants to do."

Source: What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations -
Knowledge@Wharton -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/future-holds-u-s-cuba-relations/ Continue reading
Cuba Searches for its "Lost" Money
April 11, 2017
By Eileen Sosin Martinez* (Progreso Semanal)

HAVANA TIMES — In my neighborhood, the story about Juan the butcher, who
took a detour with a truck full of minced meat, sold it and then left
the country, is famous. "It's a good thing he left," a neighbor warns,
"because if he was still here, people would have got their hands on him…
and they would have killed him." But, Juan's story belongs to a greater
narrative.

Days later, several markets in the city closed, among them the
Almendares Shopping Center (on 41 and 42 Streets) and the one on 51 and
26 Streets. Salespeople responded "Inventory check" or "Public Health
inspection" in a bad mood, and it's hard to believe them. For example,
at the Carlos III shopping mall, the rumor mill has it that the
inspection found adulterated and repackaged products, expired food items
on sale, price distortion… the real reason why these places have been
closed. The shit hit the fan, people usually say.

In late January, some results from the latest National Check of Internal
Controls were published, namely, losses of over 51 million CUC and over
90 million CUP (Adding up to over 55 million USD), just at
government-run busniesses in Havana alone.

The numbers come with exclamation marks: 51 million CUC and 90 million
CUP, lost or undeclared, in a country which came face to face with a
recession (-0.9% of GDP) last year, something which hasn't happened in
23 years.

It's barely reassuring that the capital's Head Comptroller, Miriam
Marban, explained that not everything is a result of crime, and adds
other reasons for the missing revenue, such as "production and sale
targets not being met" and "accounts for charging and paying."
Regardless, the statistics are scandalous.

The anti-corruption fight in Cuba took center stage with the opening of
Cuba's Comptroller General Office several years ago, one of the first
steps in updating the economic model. According to lawyer Michel
Fernandez Perez, its creation is the most important structural change in
the Cuban political system after the 1992 reforms.

Controls, controls…
"This institution will play an essential role in upholding order,
economic discipline, internal controls and tackling any cases of
corruption head-on, as well as the causes and conditions that might
encourage any leader or public servant's negligible and criminal
behavior," President Raul Castro stressed at the Cuban Parliament in
August 2009, when Cuba's Comptroller General's Office was approved.

This institution responds directly to the National Assembly of the
People's Power and the State Council, and its purpose is to help them in
carrying out "the highest supervision of State and Government bodies."

Taking this concept into account, Fernandez notes that the authority of
the Cuban Comptroller General's Office is above the government and every
executive-administrative apparatus; it is only subordinate to the most
important institutions of power.

In spite of this hierarchy, the Comptroller Office doesn't form part of
the country's constitutional framework. "Maybe from a legal-formal
viewpoint, it would have been better to have reformed the Constitution
(so as to introduce it)," the lawyer highlighted. This plus the
existence of the self-employed, non-agricultural cooperatives, dual
citizenship and other economic and political realities, remind us that
the Constitution does indeed need to be changed.

Cuba's armed forces may be audited, complying with a special disposition
in the law governing the Comptroller's Office, if the country's
president requests it and when he deems it to be timely.

Meanwhile, they are governed by their own internal control regulations,
and need to inform the Comptroller General about their activities at
least once a year.

[Editors Note: Much of Cuba's tourism industry is run by the Armed
Forces or contracted out to foreign companies. The same goes for
construction.]

Something similar happens in the case of the Communist Party
organizations and its related social and mass organizations; as well as
the National Assembly, State Council and Council of Ministers; the
Supreme Court and the Attorney General's Office. Their economic and
administrative dependencies are auditable, provided that the highest
authorities from these same institutions, or the State Council, request it.

When an audit ends, a document is drawn up which is then made public to
employees. That is to say, they only receive information about what has
happened. The Comptroller's Office complies with the functions that it
has been assigned, according to the law. However, dialogue and worker
participation don't really work in practice.

Cuba is a signatory of the United Nations Convention against Corruption,
a document it signed in 2005 (two years after it was created) and
ratified in 2007. Cuban Audit Regulations are in sync with International
Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI).

However, the critical factor which distinguishes the National
Comptroller's Office from its equivalents across the world is its lack
of public information. While in other countries it's normal for these
institutions to put up the findings of their investigations on their
website, here ordinary citizens don't find out anything, only skeleton
reports in the media, which lack statistics and are all too general.

This results in the inspection process being incomplete. By law, the
Comptroller is obliged to inform those who were subject of the
inspection, labor unions and high-ranking figures of its results and
recommendations. That's been made explicitly clear. So who is
responsible for informing the general public?

We're talking about monitoring the State's resources – read here, our
resources. As such, the logical thing is that we know, in excruciating
detail, the inspections findings and what measures were taken. Without
detailed and timely information there isn't any popular control or real
citizen participation.

Real public participation
One of the alleged causes of irregular accounts lies in the impoverished
economic situation Cuba is experiencing. "When workers are paid a
dignified salary which they can live off, I'm sure many of these cases
of corruption will disappear," claimed somebody in the comments of
Escambray newspaper.

Nevertheless, "although you can understand that we have problems which
affect Cuban people's everyday lives, as a matter of principle, we
cannot accept that this leads to people committing illegal activities,"
stressed Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel, during the closing ceremony
of the first International Audit and Control Workshop (2014) in Havana.

On the other hand, there are also those who have just wanted to get
rich. The Comptroller General, Gladys Bejerano, has stated that the key
motive continues to be "deviating resources" to sell them illegally for
illicit gain."

In both cases, the moral crack of those who say they are "fighting"
(luchando), "inventing" "resolving" as if that was positive… when they
should be saying that they are stealing, is commonplace.

Not by chance, the last two Internal Control inspections focused on the
extremely important sectors and processes for current change:
decentralizing State business operation, measures to "tackle" the aging
population, granting subsidies to the population, non-agricultural
cooperatives and the application of performance based salaries at State
businesses. Going beyond companies, the Comptroller Office is
responsible for verifying the ethical conduct of State managers and leaders.

We don't know much else about the millions lost at the beginning of this
article: "severe measures" were applied to nine managers; and 114
officials and employees were sanctioned with "lesser disciplinary
measures", because of their collateral responsibility. That's it.

The fact that the law has a chapter called "About popular participation"
gives us some hope. "It's society who has to control the public budget,
because we are the ones controlling what we spend," commented the
director of Budget Implementation at the Ministry of Finance and Prices,
Jesus Matos.

He's right; I completely agree. However, for that to happen we need
information, transparency and the real capacity to involve ourselves and
participate. There can't be socialism (much less a prosperous and
sustainable socialism) if workers don't participate.

Source: Cuba Searches for its "Lost" Money - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124670 Continue reading
'We have an advantage. We're not scared.' A former political prisoner to
run in the 'elections'
YUSIMÍ RODRÍGUEZ LÓPEZ | La Habana | 12 de Abril de 2017 - 12:10 CEST.

'We will take the voter's voice wherever necessary', says José Díaz Silva.

For his anti-Government activism José Díaz Silva has received four jail
sentences totaling 16 years. He is the leader of various internal
dissidence organizations, and frequently ends up in jail. Now he plans
to be a candidate to serve as a Poder Popular (national assembly)
delegate, running on the #Otro18 independent platform, exercising his
right, as stipulated in the Constitution, to elect and to be elected.

Never before had he thought about taking a step of this type. "I do not
belong to the CDR, nor did I use to vote. Years back, we wanted to be
observers. We went here to the Electoral Board close to here, and they
threw us out. I will run here and now because we want to define the
difference between their [pro-Government] candidates and ours," he
explains. In this way, we will not change the system, but we will act as
spokespeople for the community, which complains about its lack of say.
We know that they will (...) describe us as delinquents and
contrarrevolutionaries. They also claim that we are paid by the Empire.
A lie, and they know it," says Díaz Silva.

"I get help from my family in the US: two children (also former
political prisoners, for writing 'down with Fidel', as stated in their
court records), five siblings, and my mother. My wife has five siblings
there. There I have friends there who want to see a free and democratic
Cuba. They help human rights organizations and political prisoners. They
send food," he explains.

Díaz Silva is the president ofOpositores por una Nueva República,a
national delegate of the Movimiento Democracia, a national coordinator
of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Frente de Resistencia y Desobediencia
Civil, and one of the coordinators of the Democratic Action Unity Bureau
(MUAD).

"The way you entered through, I clear it with a mower I brought from the
United States. Where is the money assigned for that? It is robbed by
Áreas Verdes, Comunales, the municipal government. They report that the
highway is kept clean. But it is cleaned by a human rights activist," he
explains.

"We want to know where the budget assigned to each municipality goes,
which comes from taxes," he affirms.

He is already suffering retaliation for his intention to run for office
in his district.

"They have threatened us, telling us that they could easily tie us up in
the courts, which would prevent us from exercising our right. Manuel
Velásquez Licea and Eduardo Herrera Hernández, also candidates, have
been incarcerated for the past six months", he explains.

"On Tuesday, 28 March, at 4:35 a.m., they knocked on my door. They came
to conduct a search. The paper indicated 'electronic equipment and
others.' To make it legal, they have to look for something specific. The
witnesses were people they have used before to carry out acts of
rejection, brought from Santiago de las Vegas. This is a violation, as
the witnesses must be from the community," he complains.

"I told them to wait, as I was going to get cleaned up. They kicked the
door in. They injured my hand and fingers, throwing me against the wall.
My head was swollen, but it subsided. I bled from my nose. They
handcuffed me. They burned our brochures. They took books, legal
documents (like sentences), two laptops, a mini laptop belonging to my
daughter, and another to my granddaughter, a disk drive, CDs; money,
mine and my daughter's; two chains worth some 1,200 CUC, my pressure
gauging device, two little short-wave radios, a printer, a television
set antenna, a large television set that my son bought and that entered
legally, through Customs. They left the one in the living room. They
broke the door to my daughter's room, to which I do not have a key. She
came when the neighbors told her, and they wouldn't let her in. From the
refrigerator they took a tin of Spam, packages of noodles, six or seven
bars of chocolate, and two of peanut butter, sent for the prisoners," he
explains.

"The police officers' ID numbers were 29140 and 29113, two captains. And
lieutenant 29156. There was an official from the MININT who, while the
search was carried out, lit up a cigarette. I told him that he was
showing a lack of respect, that in my house nobody smoked. He went
outside to smoke, very annoyed, and when he returned he said to me: 'you
people, for us, you are animals, dogs, and we are going to do away with
you.' I asked why he didn't say that on television, so that the people
could know their position. He responded: 'that's just what you'd like.'"

Díaz Silva says that he was taken to Santiago de las Vegas. The
authorities, he indicates, made eight copies of what they took from his
house, but did not give him one.

State Security agents Bruno and Raymo, who had threatened him before,
said to him: 'Have you seen how what we said is happening?'" the
activist recalls.

"The police fined me for handling stolen goods. They let me go the next
day, a 6:00 in the afternoon. Here there are no laws. They could kill us
and nothing would happen."

Do you think any members of your community will dare to nominate or vote
for you?

A family told me that they were going to nominate me. But it remains to
be seen, as they can take measures against the family… but residents
told me that I can count on their votes, and I think that they will dare
to follow through. When the Police entered my house, some neighbors
expressed their indignation to me. It was they who alerted my daughter.
And they are not dissenters.

Many presidents of the CDR and women with the Federation (FMC) approach
us, as dissidents, to tell us that we have their votes." There are even
police who tell us to "continue fighting, because you are right. They
see that what the regime says, that we are delinquents, is a lie.

How did Fidel and Raúl deal with this? With force. They killed. They
killed police heads, informers. It is in the documentaries that they
broadcast. We don't do those things. We are pursuing what Fidel Castro
claimed he wanted in History will Acquit Me: a state based on the rule
of law.

Traditional delegates, many eager to work, face barriers, like the lack
of resources. Will a dissident be able to do more for the community?

We don't promise anything, and we don't have conditions. After all, the
system is our enemy. But we will take the voice of the voter wherever it
is necessary. The community's vote will give us the right us to demand
solutions to problems before bodies. In this way we have an advantage,
because we are not scared, and we know the laws a little better.

In spite of your intention to run, you say that the way to remove the
Castros' Communist regime from power is with people in the streets.

They will always look for mechanisms to thwart anything that we do. We
have the example of Oswaldo Payá. It was necessary to change the law,
because he presented the signatures. I was a promoter of the Varela
Project. When it reached [the National Assembly], they said that the
Cuban socialist system was irrevocable, and the Constitution said so.
They mocked what they themselves had written, because they wrote that
Constitution and Penal Code. Now they will do the same thing, but this
is a way to tell the people that we have the right to change this
through peaceful channels.

Source: 'We have an advantage. We're not scared.' A former political
prisoner to run in the 'elections' | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1491991825_30312.html Continue reading
Police Arrest Activist Eliécer Ávila and Raid His Home

The video shows Eliecer Avila and other human rights activists at the
Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, protesting the confiscation
of Avila's laptop when he returned to the country from abroad.
https://youtu.be/0d9qfL6qOmg

14ymedio, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Some fifty uniformed members of the
National Revolutionary Police and the Ministry of the Interior raided
the home of the activist Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are
More) Movement this Saturday morning. The police seized documents and
home appliances, in addition to arresting the opponent, according to
detailed information from his wife, Rachell Vázquez, speaking to 14ymedio.

The police search began at six in the morning and lasted about four
hours during which the troops did not allow access to the property
located in the neighborhood of El Canal, in the Havana's Cerro
municipality. "We were going to eat something when they knocked on the
door," says Vázquez.

During the search, the police were accompanied by two witnesses of the
Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). "All they left us was
the TV," adds the wife. "Right now Eliécer is missing, because no one
knows where they took him," he says.

Hours earlier, the couple was at Terminal 3 of José Martí International
Airport, where Avila staged a protest to demand the return of several of
his belongings retained by the General Customs of the Republic. Last
Thursday, when the activist returned from a trip to Colombia, his
personal laptop was confiscated.

The opponent remained at the airport for more than 36 hours and insisted
to security agents that he would not leave the place until they returned
the computer. Other members of his organization joined in the protest.

After being arrested this Saturday Ávila made a phone call to his wife
to inform her that he is being held at the Police Station of Aguilera
and Lugareño in La Viñora. "He asked me to bring the deed of the house
and 1,000 CUP," says Vázquez, but "the police took the money in the
drawers."

In a video posted on the Somos+ website, Avila is seen in an airport
lounge with two activists carrying posters with the phrase "No More
Robbery." The opponent denounced in front of the camera that the
authorities "gave no explanations" and have not told him the reason for
confiscating his computer.

Police searches and raids on dissidents' homes have become common in the
last year. In its report for March, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights
and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced this procedure.

During that month "there were innumerable cases of dissidents deprived
of their computers, cell phones and other means of work as well as
cash," the report adds. These actions are aimed "to prevent the work of
peaceful opponents and to make them increasingly poor," said the
independent entity.

Source: Police Arrest Activist Eliécer Ávila and Raid His Home –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/police-arrest-activist-eliecer-avila-and-raid-his-home/ Continue reading
Tips from a traveler to Cuba
By Amelia Rayno APRIL 7, 2017 — 1:45PM
AMELIA RAYNO

During a solo people-to-people tour of Cuba, I learned some important
things through trial and error. Here are some important tips I wish I'd
known before I went:

• Bring more cash than you think you need; prices across the country
wildly vary and many taxi drivers, store clerks and restaurateurs will
simply name a price based on how rich you look. Modest haggling is
acceptable. Meanwhile, though the U.S. government now condones their
use, U.S. credit and debit cards are still not accepted at most
establishments and ATMs in the country, and U.S. citizens cannot receive
wired funds via Western Union. It is also worth noting that the Cuban
government charges a 10 percent fee to convert U.S. dollars to Cuban
currency; some places charge a fee in excess of that.

• Avoid people in uniforms, especially when you're dealing with money
issues. Regular citizens are mostly very helpful with directions and
other questions. Ask regular Cubans about where to exchange money in the
airport; avoid the tourist information desk. I was sent from that desk
to a small room, where an official exchanged my money and charged 3
percent, on top of the 10 percent fee for converting dollars.

• Consider getting some CUPs (Cuban pesos) along with your CUCs (Cuban
convertible pesos, a currency that is a 1:1 equivalent of the U.S.
dollar and the one tourists typically receive). Many traditional Cuban
restaurants list prices only in CUP. Other restaurants will note two
prices and hope tourists don't do the confusing calculation to realize
they're paying perhaps three to five times more in CUCs than they would
in CUPs. If you're unable to get CUPs at the currency transfer, it will
be possible to do so at a bank.

• Make friends with the locals. Besides benefiting from a population
that is highly cultured and educated, your new friends will help you get
around and negotiate prices. If you happen to run out of money, as I
did, you'll need them: Although U.S. citizens cannot receive wired
funds, Americans can send money to a Cuban. So you'll need to find a
Cuban friend who can pick up the funds for you. To be polite, give them
a generous tip for the trouble.

• Take gypsy cabs when possible. They are typically as safe as marked
taxis, and will ask for drastically lower fares. At the airports, you
can find a line of these unmarked cars out front.

• In general, hole-in-the-wall restaurants serve the best, cheapest and
most authentic Cuban food. Many of these do not have signs. Many do not
have alcohol. In Cuba, eating and drinking is often separated — you eat
first, then drink later. The restaurants that have English menus and
cater to tourists will be priced accordingly.

• Be wary of fresh produce. If it doesn't look good, don't eat it.
Vegetables are a common cause of food poisoning. Consider visiting your
doctor before departure and requesting some antibiotics to bring with you.

• Bring printed maps if possible. Google and Apple have not yet
digitally mapped the country.

• Exercise your Spanish as much as possible. Doing so will allow you to
communicate better, receive better prices and be harassed less.

• Skip Varadero. The oceanside city 40 minutes from Havana is reputed to
be one of Cuba's sparkling gems, but in my experience, the resort
destination lacked authentic charm. It had white beaches, but the
predominant languages were English and French and it seemed like a
Disney-esque version of Cuba.

• Bring back rum and cigars. Last year, the U.S. lifted the previous
$100 limit on the value of these items Americans could bring into the
country. The goods are now subject to the same duties as alcohol and
tobacco from other countries.

Source: Tips from a traveler to Cuba - StarTribune.com -
http://www.startribune.com/tips-from-a-traveler-to-cuba/418568233/ Continue reading
Cuban Hosts Complain About Airbnb's Payment System

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 April 2017 — Airbnb hosts in Cuba, who
were so enthusiastic at the beginning, have been complaining recently
about the delays in receiving the payments made by the tourists who have
stayed in their homes. The discontent is clear from the complaints
published on the platform of the American company and the interviews
conducted by 14ymedio.

On the Airbnb site a couple claims to have experienced repeated delays
in payments. "Between January and part of February 2016 we had a serious
delay in receiving the payments through the agency VaCuba," complained
Ileana and Rolando, who have had problems again in early 2017. "We are
already behind in the dates scheduled by Airbnb; we haven't received the
payments and right now we're waiting on three more payments," they explain.

The Miami-based courier company VaCuba, with headquarters in Miami, is
in charge of bringing the payments to the hosts who rent out their
homes, rooms and spaces through Airbnb. In any other country, these
payments are made in the ordinary way through internet transfers, but
the banking system in Cuba has hired this agency to send the cash to get
the money to the Airbnb hosts.

The growth of Airbnb in Cuba during the last year has been remarkable,
making it the country where the platform has grown the most thanks to
the extension of licenses of that allows Cuban hosts to attract clients
from all over the world, not only from the United States, like at the
beginning.

Jorge Ignacio, an economics student who rents out a house in the town of
Soroa, in Artemisa, told 14ymedio that in February of this year,
"there's nothing from Airbnb." Now he says he's "looking for
alternatives" to collect for the stays of his guests because VaCuba, the
only money distribution mechanism offered by Airbnb has collapsed,
"because there are so many customers" and it can't continue "counting
the 'kilos'," he comments. "I get the full amount of the payment but
always with a big delay," said Jorge Ignacio, explaining that it's not
an isolated case "because the whole world is in the same situation."

Rebeca Monzó, a Cuban artisan and blogger who has a room to rent in
Nuevo Vedado, has a different complaint but adds to the discomfort
generated in recent months. "The payment delay is almost a month, I
never receive the full amount, they bring me 19 CUC when they actually
owe me 500." Monzó says that a messenger from VaCuba explained that "the
Cuban bank is behind with the transfers" and that "it cannot get the
full amount at once" and that is why they prefer to "make partial payments."

As a retiree, Monzó says the situation is not easy because she doesn't
see the result of her efforts and she only receives a fraction of what
she spends on daily supplies that allow her to "maintain a functioning
business." The payments are not the only thing she needs to stay
afloat. Monzó does her best to earn the good comments that clients place
on her profile. Each morning she prepares the breakfast for her clients
with great care and when they arrive at her house, she receives them
with a welcome card she makes herself.

"I wrote an email to Airbnb to comment on the delay of the payments and
not only did they not answer me but they returned the message. I have
also asked other hosts who have been in this for a longer time and they
have told me that it is not possible to receive the money by any means
other than VaCuba."

She says that Airbnb always makes the payment "in less than two days"
and that the company notifies her by email. Monzó confesses that she
does not want to leave the platform because "it is very safe" and sends
"the type of clients that you ask for."

"I refuse to take in the tourists just off the street because I do not
want to take risks, I want it to always be through a company that
guarantees me the seriousness of the customer," says Monzó.

Other users of the platform say they have found a solution to the
problem by using AIS cards to send and receive transfers, which can be
found in any branch of the state-owned company Financiera Cimex.

"You can ask VaCuba to start sending the money to the AIS card,"
explains an Airbnb host.

By the end of 2016, at least 34,000 self-employed people were engaged in
renting homes to serve a growing number of tourists (4 million last
year). To do so legally, they have to get a license and pay taxes, which
are levied even when their rooms are not rented.

Source: Cuban Hosts Complain About Airbnb's Payment System – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-hosts-complain-about-airbnbs-payment-system/ Continue reading
Camila Cabello shares her success story: 'I want to be what people think
of when they think of America'
hola.com April 6, 2017

Long before her pop star days, Camila Cabello was a young girl looking
to start a new life in the United States. The singer and her mother
Sinuhe candidly opened up about their journey from Cuba to America in a
new interview with Glamour magazine. "We flew from Cuba to Mexico, and
went by bus to the American border; it took a month. We left everyone
behind, my friends, my family," Camila's mom recalled. "It was really
hard. I came here with no money and left everything that was familiar.
But I just made a list of goals, and every time I scratched one off, I
felt that everything was worth it."

Relocating from her native Cuba to Miami was an adjustment for the
former Fifth Harmony member. She explained, "In Cuba there were days in
class where we would just watch cartoons. We weren't learning. But when
I came to the U.S., it was like: homework. A lot of things were suddenly
so ­different—being at a new school without my friends, I didn't speak
the language, and I missed my dad." Though her father reunited with
Camila and her mother a year and a half later.
MORE: Camila talks the scariest part of leaving Fifth Harmony
While the Bad Things singer was admittedly shy as a child, she used
music as a way to connect with others. "I was very introverted as a kid.
But I started bringing my CDs to the YMCA after school; I'd ask for the
boom box and go play my music in the corner and people would come over,"
she said. "And I created a little YouTube channel doing covers—I must
have posted 50. Even though I'd be like, 'Oh my god, this is so bad,'
music was the thing I was passionate enough about to get over being
shy." The 20-year-old was also inspired by a famous boy band, One
Direction, to pursue her passion. She shared, "After seeing a One
Direction 'tips on auditioning for The X Factor (USA)' video, I asked
Mom if I could audition" — and the rest is history.

Camila joined Fifth Harmony in 2012 on the competition show and left in
2016. Now as a solo artist the Work from Home singer said, "Right now
I'm in the process of writing about our whole journey. I want to make a
love song for immigrants. That word, immigrant, has such a negative
connotation—I can just imagine all the little girls who have dreams of
coming here and feel unwanted."
She continued, "It inspires me in my music to do my best to give [them]
the light that I have. I want to be what people think of when they think
of America—a person who, no matter what her first language was or what
her religion is, can see her dreams come to life if she works hard enough."

Source: Camila Cabello shares her success story: 'I want to be what
people think of when they think of America' -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/camila-cabello-shares-her-success-125422431.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 4 April 2017 — There was a time when its red card was a source of pride and most teenagers dreamed of entering its ranks. But those days have been left behind for the Young Communists Union (UJC), an organization that turns 55 this Tuesday, with an aging image and a noticeable decrease in … Continue reading "At 55, Cuba’s Young Communist Union Loses Relevance But Does Not Want To Retire" Continue reading
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 3 April 2017 — Juan Antonio Vargas Lefebre inspires exclamations of surprise among Santiago de Cuba’s inhabitants and visitors. At 72 and living in the Chicharrones neighborhood, the well-known fakir sets up in the first hours of the day in Enramadas Street and exhibits his circus talents so that … Continue reading "A Fakir “Without Money But Without Rival”" Continue reading
Volunteer Blood Donors Ignore The Cuban Regime's Business Dealings /
Iván García

Iván García, 6 March 2017 — A sloppy piece of cardboard painted with a
crayon announces the sale of a discolored house in the neighborhood of
La Vibora, 30 minutes by car south of Havana.

If Amanda, the owner, who is raving poor, manages to sell the house for
the equivalent of 40,000 dollars, she intends to buy two small
apartments, one for her daughter and the other for her son.

The house urgently needs substantial repairs. But Amanda's family
doesn't have the money needed to undertake the work. Frank, 36, her son,
is the custodian of a secondary school and earns a monthly salary of 365
Cuban pesos, around 17 dollars, and to help support the family, he's a
blood donor.

The Cuban regime doesn't pay for these donations. Frank, who gives blood
up to two times a month, should receive some 10 pounds of meat, a
half-kilo of fish and three pounds of chicken.

"There are always delays. It's a pain. In every municipality there's a
warehouse assigned to distribute this food to the blood donors. But it
never happens. And what is worse, the government doesn't reinstate you.
For example, you never receive fish. Several of us donors sent a letter
to the Ministry of Public Health complaining about the lack of supplies,
but we've never received an answer," complains Frank.

The material insecurity in Cuba is brutal. A growing number of families
have furniture in their homes that is half a century old, or more. They
lack modern appliances and must make their clothing and shoes last forever.

But the biggest problem is food, which devours between 80 and 90 percent
of the average salary, which, according to official data, is the
equivalent of 26 dollars a month.

Odalys, a nurse in a blood bank, says that "most volunteer donors give
blood in order to take some food home. There are also people who
occasionally give blood in order to receive a little snack of ham and
cheese and a soft drink."

The CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) are paramilitary
organizations, created as embryos of support for special services, to
collect commodities. They also conduct night patrols to expose
dissidents and those suspected of "illicit enrichment," an aberrant
judicial heading applied by the Castro government to any person who
improves his quality of life.

Also, the CDRs have campaigns for blood donations. A resident of Lawton,
the president of a CDR, affirms that "every time there are fewer people
who want to donate blood. The CDRs have become a mess. They're only busy
snitching on the dissidents. They haven't done night duty for some time
on my block, much less organized recreational activities."

Danaisis, who's been a doctor for three years, recognizes that "even in
the large hospitals in Havana, where there are dozens of surgical
interventions every day, they don't have sufficient plasma in their
blood banks. When a patient has to have an operation, family members
must donate blood. Or buy it from people at 20 dollars a donation."

Like Frank and the rest of blood donors in the 10 de Octubre
municipality, the nurse, Odalys, and the doctor, Danaisis, don't know
that the State exports, annually, hundreds of millions of dollars worth
of human blood derivatives.

According to María Welau, the executive director of the Cuba Archive
project, in an article published June 4, 2016, in Diario de Cuba, "For
decades, the Cuban State has coordinated a multimillion dollar business,
based on the commerce of blood extracted from its citizens, who ignore
this trafficking and don't receive any remuneration for their donations.
Already in the middle of the 1960s, reports indicate that Cuba sold
blood to Vietnam and Canada. In 1995, Cuba exported blood worth 30.1
million US dollars, and this commerce represented its fifth export
product, surpassed only by sugar, nickel, shellfish and cigars."

Werlau provides figures. "These exports don't appear in the official
statistics of the Cuban Government, published by the National Office of
Statistics and Information (ONEI), but data from the world commerce
indicate that in the 20 years between 1995 and 2014, Cuba exported 622.5
million dollars worth of human blood derivatives — which gives an
average of 31 million dollars a year — under the category of Uniform
Classification for International Commerce (SITC 3002), for human blood
components (plasma, etc.) and medical products derived from plasma (PDMP
is the acronym in English).

In this article, the Cuba Archive Director denounces the fact that "the
largest amount of these exports has been allocated to countries whose
authoritarian governments are political allies of Cuba, probably to
state entities that apply less strict criteria and have the same ethical
standards (Iran, Russia, Vietnam, Algeria until 2003; then to Venezuela,
Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador).

"According to Cuban Government reports, 93 percent of all units of human
blood collected are broken into their components, which permits a much
more lucrative business than if only plasma is sold, and facilitates the
production of derivatives of high value, like interferon, human albumin,
immunoglobulins, clotting factors, toxins, vaccinations and other
pharmaceutical products. This export commerce gives Cuba a considerable
advantage over its competitors, because it saves the usual cost
represented by payments to the doors, whose blood is the raw material of
the business."

Exporting plasma, whether animal or human, isn't a crime. What's
despicable is the lack of transparency of Raúl Castro's regime. Or that
Cubans like Frank have to give blood in exchange for a handful of meat
and a few pounds of chicken. Food that the State doesn't deliver most of
the time.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Volunteer Blood Donors Ignore The Cuban Regime's Business
Dealings / Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/volunteer-blood-donors-ignore-the-cuban-regimes-business-dealings-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 April 2017 – In any part of the world, the first option a politician has to participate in power is usually through elections, but in Cuba this path seems the most Utopian. However, on the eve of the start of the electoral process that will culminate with the formation of … Continue reading "Cuban Opponents Who Bet On The Ballot Box" Continue reading
… month with the hashtag #MySavingsTip. Cuban has gone on to found … his childhood slinging baseball cards, Cuban says, "I was a … to a self-made billionaire Mark Cuban, Daymond John and other … dropout cold-emailed Mark Cuban and got an investment Mark Cuban: The world … Continue reading
Iván García, 6 March 2017 — A sloppy piece of cardboard painted with a crayon announces the sale of a discolored house in the neighborhood of La Vibora, 30 minutes by car south of Havana. If Amanda, the owner, who is raving poor, manages to sell the house for the equivalent of 40,000 dollars, she … Continue reading "Volunteer Blood Donors Ignore The Cuban Regime’s Business Dealings / Iván García" Continue reading
Cuba's elderly adrift on the streets
By: Mario J. Penton and Luz Escobar
Posted: 04/2/2017 4:00 AM
Miami Herald/Tribune News Service

HAVANA — At 67, struggling against the challenges that come with aging
and a meagre pension, Raquel — an engineer who in her own words was
"formed by the Revolution" — survives by sifting through garbage every
day in search of recyclable products.

Hands that at one time drew plans and measured distances now pick up
cardboard, cans and other discarded containers.

"My life is a struggle from the moment I wake up," Raquel said.

"My last name? For what? And I don't want any photos. I have children,
and I once had a life. I don't want people talking about me," she said
after agreeing to tell her story.

Digging through garbage as a way to make a living was not part of
Raquel's plan, but she is not alone. Many within the island's growing
aging population are struggling with survival in their twilight years.

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Western Hemisphere, according
to official figures, amid an accelerated process that has even surprised
specialists who had not expected the phenomenon to become apparent until
2025.

Facing a pension system that is increasingly nonviable, a harsh economic
recession and an expected impact on social services as a result of the
aging population, the island is confronting one of the biggest
challenges of its history, experts say.

Almost 20 per cent of Cubans are older than 60 and the fertility rate
stands at 1.7 children per woman of child-bearing age.

To counter the aging population, the fertility rate would have to rise
to 2.4 children per woman of child-bearing age. Cuba's economically
active population shrank for the first time in 2015, by 126,000 people.

"The population aging that is affecting the country leads to a
significant increase in public spending as well as a drop in the
population of the fertile age, which in turn leads to a decrease in the
fertility rate," said Juan Valdes Paz, a Cuban sociologist who has
written several books on the issue.

Valdes said no government can be prepared for the kinds of demographic
problems Cuba has.

"If there's no harmony between demographic progress and economic
development, the latter is impacted," he said.

Government spending on public health per capita in 1999 was 21 per cent
lower than in 1989, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago said. Official Cuban
figures show that category of spending dropped from 11.3 per cent of the
country's gross domestic product in 2009 to eight per cent in 2012.

Although Raquel is retired, government pharmacies do not subsidize the
medicine she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. State social
service programs do not serve elderly Cubans who live with relatives or
other presumed caretakers.

"I get a pension of 240 pesos a month," said Raquel, the equivalent of
less than US$10. "From that money, I have to pay 50 pesos for the Haier
refrigerator the government forced me to buy and 100 pesos to buy my
medicines."

Cuba has about 300 daytime centres for the elderly and 144 nursing
homes, with a total capacity of about 20,000 clients. Officials have
acknowledged a significant portion are in terrible shape and many
elderly prefer to go into one of the 11 homes across the country run by
religious orders.

They operate thanks to foreign assistance, such as the Santovenia asylum
in the Cerro neighbourhood of Havana.

The state-run daycare centres charge 180 pesos per month and the nursing
homes charge about 400 pesos. Social security subsidizes the payments
when social service workers determine the clients cannot afford to pay
those fees.

Cuba once had one of the most generous and broadest social security
systems in Latin America. But that was largely possible because of the
massive subsidies from the Soviet Union, calculated by Mesa-Lago at
about US$65 billion over 30 years.

"Although the pensions were never high, there was an elaborate system
established by the state to facilitate access to food and other products
at subsidized prices," the economist said.

"After the Soviet subsidies ended in the early '90s, pensions remained
at about the same level, but their purchasing power collapsed. In 1993,
a retired Cuban could barely buy 16 per cent of what he could afford in
1989.

By the end of 2015, the purchasing power of retirees remained at barely
half of what it was when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba entered
into the so-called Special Period."

Raquel is a product of that reality.

"It bothers me when I hear talk of the good services for the elderly,"
she said. "I don't get any subsidies because I live with my son, his
wife and my two grandchildren. But they have their own expenses and
can't afford to also pick up all of mine.

"I need new dentures," she added, "and if you don't give the dentist a
little gift, they take months or come out bad."

Other elderly residents on the island echoed Raquel's sentiments.

"We are two old people living alone, we have no one overseas, so we
receive no remittances," said Andres, a former cartographer who lives
with his wife Silvia in the central city of Cienfuegos, and now sells
homemade vinegar and other products to make ends meet. "It's very hard
to get old and live off a US$10 pension when four drumsticks of chicken
cost US$5.

"Last year, I was awarded with a lifetime achievement recognition at
work and then I was laid off," he said. "I was already retired but
continued to work because we could not live on my pension."

After Fidel Castro left power in 2006, following a health emergency, the
Raul Castro government began drastic cutbacks in social security
benefits under the rubric of "the elimination of gratuities."

From the 582,060 Cubans who were receiving social assistance benefits
in 2006, such as disability or special diet funds, the number was
slashed to 175,106 by 2015.

Castro also removed several products from the highly subsidized ration
card, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, forcing everyone to pay far
more for those products when they bought them on the open market.

The government has launched some new programs for the elderly. The
Sistema de Atencion a la Familia (System to Help the Family), for
example, allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly to obtain food at
subsidized prices. That's a tiny number compared to Cuba's elderly
population, estimated at more than 2 million in a nation of about 11
million.

Some elderly Cubans also receive assistance from churches and
non-governmental organizations.

"People see me picking up cans, but they don't know I was a
prize-winning engineer and that I even travelled to the Soviet Union in
1983," Raquel said.

After retirement, she had to find other ways of making ends meet. She
cleaned the common areas of buildings where military officers lived near
the Plaza of the Revolution until she got too old to handle the work.

"They wanted me to wash the windows of a hallway on the ninth floor.
That was dangerous and I was afraid of falling. I preferred to leave,
even though they paid well," she said.

Raquel was earning 125 pesos (about US$5) per week — more than half her
monthly pension of 240 pesos.

Raquel said she sells the empty recyclable containers she collects to
state enterprises but would love to be able to sell them to a private
company, instead, to avoid bureaucratic problems and delays.

In the patio of her home, she has created a homemade tool to crush the
empty cans she finds on the streets.

The work can be profitable but competition is stiff and physically
tougher for the elderly and disabled who have to wait in long lines to
sell their products at state enterprises or pay someone else to hold
their spot in line.

"In January, I made 3,900 pesos on beer bottles. But I paid 500 pesos to
hold my spot in line because I can't just lay down on the floor while I
wait," she said. "Aluminum also pays well. They pay 40 pesos for a sack
of cans. It's eight pesos per kilogram."

Cuba does not have official statistics on poverty.

A 1996 government study concluded 20.1 per cent of the two million
people in Havana were "at risk of not being able to afford a basic
necessity."

A poll in 2000 found 78 per cent of the country's elderly complained
their income was not enough to cover their expenses.

The majority of the elderly polled said their main sources of income
were their pension benefits, assistance from relatives on the island and
remittances sent by relatives and friends abroad.

Many elderly now walk the streets in Havana and other cities, selling
homemade candy or peanuts to make ends meet.

Others resell newspapers or pick through garbage for items to sell. The
number of beggars on the streets of Cuba's main cities has visibly
increased.

For Raquel, the daily struggle is but another chapter of her life.

"I have always been a hard worker because the most important thing is my
family," she said. "It doesn't bother me to wear old clothes while I
collect the cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who just
started high school.

"The kids in school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very
good and he's not ashamed of me, at least not that he shows," she said.
"He always defends me against the mockery."

— Miami Herald

Source: Cuba's elderly adrift on the streets - Winnipeg Free Press -
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/world/cubas-elderly-adrift-on-the-streets-417886713.html Continue reading
What the tourist industry reveals about Cuba
The revolutionary economy is neither efficient nor fun
Apr 1st 2017 | HAVANA

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

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

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

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


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

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

Pearl of the Antilles, meet swine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sun, sand and socialism: What the tourist industry reveals about
Cuba | The Economist -
http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21719812-revolutionary-economy-neither-efficient-nor-fun-what-tourist-industry-reveals-about Continue reading
Port of Seattle hopes to help out Cuban ports
Glenn Farley, KING 7:30 PM. PDT March 30, 2017

As Cuba develops its ports, the Port of Seattle hopes to be a role model.

In January, Port of Seattle commissioners and its then chief executive
met with Cuban transportation officials in Havana. The occasion was the
opening of the first direct west coast service to Cuba by SeaTac based
Alaska Airlines.

"I think there's a real opportunity to bring executives from Cuba to
Port of Seattle to learn best practices, to learn about the airport, the
seaport, and the cruise business," said Port Commissioner Stephanie
Bowman. "A little known fact people don't really recall...Cuba was the
number one importer of peas and lentils before the embargo."

The Port of Seattle considers itself to be unique with a cargo seaport,
cruise ship terminals, and a large airport all under one government
entity. The Port of Seattle says it can offer help and guidance in any
one of those areas.

"They're looking to becoming a major trans shipment point for the
Caribbean. And that's where we can offer our expertise, on the marine
cargo side of the business," Bowman said.

"They're in a very tough place. They're dying for foreign investment,"
said Commissioner Fred Felleman, who was also on the trip. "They want to
open their doors, and we want to help them do that. Meanwhile, they
don't have the infrastructure in place to absorb that crush."

The crush Felleman and many Cubans are concerned about is what if the
nearly six decade old series of economic embargoes placed on the
regime of Fidel Castro were to quickly go away and open the island's
economy to an on rush of American tourists. Politically, the U.S. and
Cuba have been on opposite poles since the 1959 communist revolution,
even though the island is just 90 miles away from Florida.

Felleman, a longtime Seattle-based environmentalist, particularly in the
area of marine mammals, says the Port of Seattle's environmental
initiatives could help the Cubans manage that impact.

"Sustainable development is the only way these guys can prosper for the
long haul," Felleman said. "I think they understand they have something
very special. The question is, can they get in front of the curve?"

In 2014, relations between Cuba and the United States grew closer with
the re-establishment of embassies in both capitals and installations of
ambassadors. The so called "embargo," which is actually a series of
sanctions, is still in place, but with special permissions and licensing
arrangements issued by the U.S. government. There has been growing
levels of business interaction with Cuba.

Now, what will the new administration of President Donald Trump do?
Thus far, the administration has said little about Cuba other than
it's being studied. During the campaign, candidate Trump made statements
that ranged from vowing to undo the Obama administration's opening to
saying that 50 years of sanctions was enough.

Source: Port of Seattle hopes to help out Cuban ports | KING5.com -
http://www.king5.com/money/port-of-seattle-hopes-to-help-out-cuban-ports/427038904 Continue reading
Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook
By Sarah Marsh | CIRO REDONDO, CUBA

Cuba, battling a chronic energy deficit, has all the sunshine, wind and
sugar to fuel what should be a booming renewables sector - if only it
could find the money.

The country's first utility-scale renewable energy project, a biomass
plant in Ciro Redondo, is finally under construction thanks to an
injection of funds from China, a socialist ally and in recent years, the
communist-led island's merchant bank of last resort.

Turning Cuba's renewables potential into reality has become a state
priority over the past year since crisis-stricken ally Venezuela slashed
subsidized oil shipments to Cuba that were supposed to help power its
traditional plants.

Some foreign players in green energy, such as Spain's Gamesa and
Germany's Siemens, have shown early interest in the country. But the
overall paucity of foreign financing means that this project, being
carried out by Cuban-British joint venture Biopower, is still the
exception rather than the rule.

The financing puzzle is a crucial one to solve if cash-strapped Cuba is
to hit its target of renewables filling 24 percent of its energy needs
by 2030, up from 4 percent today, a strategy that would require billions
of dollars in investment.

The government announced last July it was rationing energy, raising
fears of a return to the crippling blackouts of the "Special Period"
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The energy shortage comes at a
time when growing tourism and private business creation are generating
greater demand.

"The most challenging thing we have had to deal with in the last six
years of developing this project has been the financing," said Biopower
President Andrew Macdonald, while touring the site of the Ciro Redondo
plant.

The Scotsman, who has been doing business with Cuba for more than a
decade, said the U.S. blockade had "strangled" funding from Europe "and
other obvious sources", with banks afraid of sanctions.

His start-up Havana Energy joined forces with a subsidiary of domestic
sugar monopoly Azcuba to create Biopower in 2012, with a contract to
build five plants attached to sugar mills.

The plants are projected to use sugar cane byproduct bagasse and
fast-growing woody weed marabu as biofuels, costing around $800 million
to add some 300 MW to the grid.

Biopower was finally able this year to start building the first one,
thanks to a decision by China's Shanghai Electric Group Ltd to buy an
equity stake in Havana Energy. The JV is now looking for external
financing for the next four plants.

"We have to check whether the funders are open for the Cuban market or
not," said Zhengyue Chen, former investment manager at Shanghai Electric
and current Biopower chief financial officer.

RISKY INVESTMENT

Some international companies have shown an interest in gaining a
foothold in the slowly opening Cuban market, encouraged by a three-year
old investment law that allows full foreign ownership of renewables
projects.

Cuba last year signed a deal with Spain's Gamesa for the construction of
seven wind-powered plants and with Siemens for the upgrade of the
creaking power grid.

These are just preliminary agreements, however, which may not become
concrete contracts, Western diplomats based in Havana say, given
difficulty agreeing on a financing framework and actually securing the
funds.

On top of the U.S. trade embargo, which frightens banks from offering
Cuba loans, Cuba's payment capacity is questionable. While it has
improved its debt servicing record under President Raul Castro, it is
falling behind on paying foreign providers.

And it has little to offer as payment guarantees in hard currency. Its
state electricity utility generates revenue in Cuban pesos, which are
not traded internationally, only into convertible Cuban pesos at a
state-fixed rate. The government has promised to unify those two
currencies, but it is unclear how.

"If no currency indexation is provided from the government, significant
devaluation poses a great threat to investors' revenue," said World Bank
renewable energy expert Yao Zhao.

Moreover Cuba does not belong to multilateral institutions like the
Inter-American Development Bank that could provide external guarantees.

CHINESE FUNDING

That is likely to force further reliance on China, already Cuba's top
creditor in recent years, having offered loans as a way to hike trade
with the island. Shanghai Electric is importing and building the Ciro
Redondo plant, as well as helping finance it.

Project Manager Li Hui, already directing excavators shifting earth on
site, said he will stay on after the factory is built as the head of the
company's first branch in Cuba.

"We will hand them over a fully-functioning power plant," he said,
adding that Shanghai Electric had to bring over new building equipment
because the Cuban ones were antiquated and lacked spare parts.

But even Chinese largesse may have its limits. Chen said Biopower was
now in discussions with overseas funders, mainly from Europe, and hoped
to secure commercial funds for the second plant by the end of this year.

Macdonald said he hoped his project would be part of the launch of many
foreign participations in the energy sector.

"But today, we are still pioneers," he said.

(Editing by Christian Plumb and Edward Tobin)

Source: Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook | Reuters -
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-energy-idUSKBN1720EB Continue reading
… money transfer license from the Cuban government. “I am looking at … money transfer license from the Cuban government,” Shostak said. “While currently … States would normalize relations with Cuba after more than 50 years … congressionally-mandated US trade embargo on Cuba continues to remain in effect … Continue reading
Cuba's communists dig in as Castro's reform drive hits the sand

Islanders mystified as 'economic tsar' Marino Murillo not heard in
public for a year

Cuban president Raúl Castro is preparing to step down next year,
Venezuela has cut millions of dollars in aid and Donald Trump's election
has cast a shadow over the nascent US-Cuba detente. Unnerved by the
changes, Havana has allowed its domestic reform drive to grind to a halt
as the Communist party battens down the hatches.

Marino Murillo, the senior official leading Cuba's reforms, has not been
heard in public for almost a year. His absence has mystified Cubans and
dented the high expectations Mr Castro's liberalising drive once
fomented, both at home and abroad.

"There are three reasons for the pause in the reforms — and I say pause,
because inevitably reforms will continue at some point," says Richard
Feinberg, a Cuba scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"Senior leadership is focused on managing austerity and preparing the
succession as Raúl steps down . . . They are also managing a backlash
over emerging inequality, low state wages and inflation."

Mr Castro made reform the hallmark of his presidency when he formally
took over from his elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008. He sought to
decentralise the economy and boost productivity by allowing
self-employment, slashing state bureaucracy, welcoming foreign
investment and unifying Cuba's dual currency system.

Mr Murillo, who became known as Cuba's "economic reform tsar" when he
was appointed minister of planning and the economy in 2009, was the
technocrat in charge of implementing the changes. In some ways, he and
Mr Castro made up a tag team that repeatedly cajoled Cuba's stolid
bureaucracy to reform.

While Mr Castro's revolutionary stature provided moral cover, Mr Murillo
gave lengthy PowerPoint presentations to party and government members
that explained the changes. His talks, usually an hour long, were later
broadcast on state television, sometimes more than once.

By contrast, Mr Murillo has not uttered a word in public since last
July. At the same time, price controls have been slapped on burgeoning
private sector businesses in agriculture and transport.

The reversal comes as Mr Castro, 85, prepares to carry out his pledge to
step down as president on February 24 next year. If he does so, 2018
will be the first time in six decades that Cuba has not been ruled by a
Castro — although he is expected to remain head of the Communist party
and armed forces. Fidel Castro died last November.

"In a way, the reforms have not gone far enough but at the same time too
far," says Bert Hoffman, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global
and Area Studies. "Not far enough to . . . lift up growth [but] too far
in that social inequalities are widening, the cost of living is rising
and the Communist party fears the discontent this produces."

These tensions became clear at a party congress in April 2016, which
admitted that reforms had failed to meet popular expectations in terms
of economic growth, supplies of goods and higher wages. At the same
time, a debate on state television showed party delegates fuming over a
private onion farmer who had earned enough money to buy a car and fix
his house.

In many ways, Cuba has been here before. Reformist officials have often
had their wings clipped after liberalising drives were stifled by
hardliners who feared loss of control. One famous case is that of Carlos
Lage, Fidel Castro's "economic fixer" in the 1990s, who was
unceremoniously dismissed in 2009 and now works as a paediatrician.

One difference today is that Mr Murillo still seems to enjoy official
blessing. He was promoted to the powerful politburo in 2011 and remains
chairman of the government's economic policy commission.

The slowdown in domestic reforms suggests the orthodox wing of the
Communist party is strengthening, says Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor
emeritus of economics at Pittsburgh University and a long-time Cuba
watcher. He sees reform opponents using Mr Murillo as a scapegoat to
strengthen their position before Mr Castro steps down.

"All this has been a severe blow to Murillo, although the main problem
is the deterioration of the Venezuelan economy," he says.

Caracas has long supplied Havana with 100,000 barrels per day of
subsidised oil, but Venezuela's economic and political crises have
forced it to cut shipments by as much as 40 per cent. Largely as a
result, Cuba's economy shrank by almost 1 per cent in 2016, entering its
first recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In another setback for reformists, Mr Trump has promised to re-examine
the detente begun under his predecessor Barack Obama — although the US
president has taken no concrete steps since his election last November.
His state department has yet to appoint an official in charge of Latin
American affairs.

Some US businesses have scaled back their initial euphoria about
opportunities in Cuba. Although 615,000 Cuban-Americans and US tourists
visited the country last year — of a total 4m foreign visitors —
Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways cancelled scheduled US flights on
March 13, citing lack of demand and market saturation. American Airlines
and JetBlue have also reduced their schedules.

"They [the Cubans] have managed quite well to dampen reform
expectations," says a senior European diplomat, referring to Mr
Murillo's muting.

However, the corollary of prioritising political stability over economic
reforms, at least for now, is that complaints about government inertia,
low wages, high prices, shortages and deteriorating services have become
routine.

One clear sign of that came in a rare private survey carried out in Cuba
late last year by the independent NORC research group at the University
of Chicago, in which 46 per cent described the country's economy as
"poor or very poor". A similar number said they expected it to stay the
same while only three in 10 expected it to improve. Remarkably, half of
polled Cubans said they wanted to leave the country.

Source: Cuba's communists dig in as Castro's reform drive hits the sand
- https://www.ft.com/content/c84eb5a2-0fe3-11e7-b030-768954394623 Continue reading
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 -
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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? -
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"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 -
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"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 -
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