Why Doesn’t the Cuban Regime Dialogue With the Dissidence? / Ivan Garcia

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Nicolas-Maduro-Henrique-Capriles-570x330Luis, retired military and supporter of the regime, has a few arguments to debate with several neighbors playing dominoes in the doorway of a bodega in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton.

The theme of the day is the dialog between the opposition and Nicolas Maduro’s government, broadcast on Thursday night on TeleSur. Among the players were professionals, unemployed, ex prisoners and retirees.

“When we see this type of face-to-face debate, one realizes we are living in total feudalism. Cuba hurts. Here we have a ton of problems that have accumulated over these 55 years. The government has no respect. The solution is to carry on: more taxes, prohibitions on private work, and raising the price of powdered milk. Why don’t they follow the example of Venezuela and sit down to talk with the dissidence,” asks Joel, a former teacher who now survives selling fritters on Calzada 10 de Octubre.

The ex-soldier Luis feels dislocated by the several ideological pirouettes of the Castros. Unrelentingly sexist and homophobic, these new times are an undecipherable code.

“Even I have my doubts. I fought in Angola. We were trained in Che’s theories not to cede an inch to the enemy (and he signs with his fingers). But now everything is a mess. The old faggots, that we used to censure, walk around kissing on every corner. The self-employed earn five times more than a state worker. And the worms are called señor. If the government is on the wrong path, say so loud and clear. We supporters have a few reasonable arguments to fire back,” says Luis, annoyed.

The dialogue table between the opposition and the government in Venezuela was a success for many in Cuba. Arnaldo, manager of a hard currency store, continued the debate until around two in the morning.

“I was amazed. I don’t not know if it was a blunder of the official censorship. But the next day on the street, people wondered why dissent in Cuba remains a stigma. As for me, the discourse of the Venezuelan opposition was striking. They spoke without shouting, with statistics showing that the failure of the economic  model and highly critical of Cuban interference in Venezuela,” said the manager.

Noel, a private taxi driver, believes that “if the pretension was to ridicule the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) with the discourse of the Chavistas. it backfired. Capriles and company had a deeper analysis and objectives than the government. Like in Cuba, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) defended themselves by attacking and speaking ill of the capitalist past. They do not realize that what it’s about is the chaos of the present and how to try to solve it in the future.”

In a quick survey of the 11 people watching who watched the debate, 10 thought the opposition was superior. The best comments were for Guillermo Aveledo and Henrique Capriles.

“Those on the other side seemed like fascists. Frayed, with a mechanical discourse filled with dogmas like those of the Cuban Communist Party Talibans. The worst among the Chavista was the deputy Blanca Eekhout. She’s more fanatical and incoherent than Esteban Lazo, and that’s saying a lot,” commented a university student.

Although institutions and democracy in Venezuela have been taken by assault, with under-the-table privileges, populism and political cronyism among the PSUV comrades, in full retreat, the fact is that there is a legal opposition allowed to do battle in the political field.

Cuba is something else. Despite the efforts of CELAC (Central and Latin American Community) and the European Union patting the old leader on the back and seducing him with the red carpet treatment, it continues as the only country in the western hemisphere where dissidence is a state crime.

The opposition on the island is repressed with beatings and verbal lynchings. A law currently in effect, Law 88, allows the regime to imprison a dissident or free journalist for 20 years or more for writing a note the authorities deem harmful to their interests.

For Ana Maria, a professional who applauded Fidel Castro’s speeches for year, seeing a political dialogue like that in Venezuela on Telesur, allowed her to analyze things from a different perspective.

“It’s a dictatorship. No better or worse. It’s hard to accept that many of us Cubans have been wrong for too long. I lost my youth deluded, repeating slogans and accepting that others, without asking me my opinion, manipulated us at their will,” she confessed.

Eleven U.S. administrations, with controversial programs or others of dubious effectiveness such as Zunzuneo, have been unable to spread an original message and change the opinions of ordinary citizens, like the enduring repression, economic nonsense, rampant corruption, prohibitions of 3D movie rooms and the sale of cars at Ferrari prices, among others.

In these autocratic societies, you never know if an apparent reform will produce benefits or it will begin digging its own grave. It’s like walking on a minefield.

Iván García

Photo: Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, shaking hands with Henrique Capriles, secretary-general of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Madura greeted him without looking at his face, though Capriles looked at his, demonstrating and more correct and better behavior than the successor to Chavez. Taken from Noticias de Montreal.

15 April 2014

Overthrowing the Castros with Twitter / Ivan Garcia

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment
 Young Havanans with their cellphones. From Diario de las Américas.

Young Havanans with their cellphones. From Diario de las Américas.

Barack Obama and the State Department aren’t stupid. But on the issue of Cuba they act as if they were. Their cluelessness is monumental. They should check their sources of information.

The NSA team in charge of monitoring phone calls to and from Cuba, as well as emails and the preferences of the still small number of Internet users on the island seems to be on vacation.

A word to the US think tanks that come up with political strategies for Cuba: obsession disrupts insight.

Let’s analyze the points against having a couple of autocratic dinosaurs as neighbors. It’s true that Fidel Castro expropriated US business without paying a cent. He also seized the businesses of hundreds of Cubans who are now citizens of that country.

Castro has all the earmarks of a caudillo. Ninety miles from the United States, he blatantly allied with the Soviet empire and even placed nuclear arms in Cuba. He destablized governments in Latin America. He places himself on the chessboard of the Cold War, participating in various African wars.

As he was an annoying guy, they tried to kill him with a shot to the forehead or with a potent poison that was activated by using his pen. Out of bad luck of the lack of guts of his executioners, the plans failed.

For five decades, the bearded one continued to lash out against US imperialism. Then Hugo Chavez appeared on the scene along with the troupe of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. On Central America the presidential chair was returned to the unpresentable Daniel Ortega. Kicking the anti-American can.

I can understand what it means to have an annoying neighbor. I live in a building where a woman starts screaming insults at 8:00 in the morning and other one usually plays reggaeton at full volume. But common sense says, move or learn to live with different people.

Cuba and the United States will always be there. Closer than they wanted. What to do?

An American politician can raise the alarm because there is no democracy, nor political freedoms, nor freedom of expression on the island. He knows that Cubans on the other side of the pond have three state newspapers that say the same thing and that dissidence is prohibited. They consider it a horror. And he candidly thinks, “Let’s help them. Teach them how to install a democracy.”

This is where the gringo philosophy of reversing the status quo comes into play. They are right in their dissections, but the solution fails them.

Cuba’s problems, which range from political exclusion,the absence of an autonomous civil society, the legal illiteracy of most citizens, lack of freedom of the press and political parties and the fact that opposition is illegal, are a matter that concerns only Cubans.

From inability, egos, and ridiculous strategies, the dissidence hasn’t been able to connect with ordinary Cubans. Eight out of every ten Cubans are against the government and its proven inefficiency. For now, their decision is to escape.

It’s not for lack of information that people aren’t taking to the streets. Cuba is now North Korea. Shortwave radios are sold here and thousands of people connect illegal cable antennas. It’s just they are more interested in seeing a  Miami Heats game or Yaser Puig playing for the Dodgers than following CNN news in Spanish.

At present, Cuba has two million cellphone users. They can send text messages. But not to denounce human rights abuses. They used to ask for money from their families in Miami, the latest iPhone, or that their relatives expedite immigration procedures so they can permanently leave the country.

The Internet on the island is the most expensive in the world. One hour costs 4.50 CUC (5 dollars), the same as two pounds of meat in the black market. I usually go to internet rooms twice a week and talk with many people.

The majority don’t want to read El País, El Mundo or El Nuevo Herald. Nor Granma nor Juventud Rebelde. They want to send emails and tweet, to their wave. Upload photos on Facebook, look for a partner or work abroad.

Are they fed up with politics? I suppose. Are they afraid of going to jail if they openly confront the regime? Of course. Are they masochists who do not want to live in a democratic society? Evidently so. But they have no vocation to be martyrs.

This political apathy among a great segment of the population, weary of the olive-green loony bin, is fertile ground for the proselytizing efforts of the opposition, which has not done its job,

People are there in the streets. Only dissidents prefer to gatherings among themselves, chatting with diplomats and, since 2013, traveling the world to lecture on the status quo in Cuba and get their photo taken with heavyweights like Obama, Biden or Pope Francisco.

For the gringos I have good news and bad news. The bad is that it is great foolishness to expect to topple the Castros with Twitter, call it Zunzuneo or whatever it’s called. The good news is that this type of totalitarian regimes has not worked anywhere in the world and they crumble by themselves. You have to have patience.

There is a popular refrain in Cuba that states the obvious: desires don’t make babies.

Iván García

7 April 2014

Havana: The Poverty Behind the Glamour / Ivan Garcia

April 11, 2014 Leave a comment
El-Fanguito-uno-de-los-barrios-marginales-de-La-Habana-620x330

View of El Fanguito, one of Havana’s slums

Just across from Cordoba park, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora, is nestled a luxury cafe called Villa Hernandez.  It is a stunning mansion built in the early 20th century and renovated in detail by its owner.

At the entrance, a friendly doorman shows clients the menu on a black leather-covered card.  A pina colada costs almost five dollars.  And a meal for three people not less than 70 cuc, the equivalent of four months’ salary for Zaida, employed by a dining room situated two blocks from the glamour of Villa Hernandez which attracts retired people, the elderly, and the poor from the area.

“It is not a dining room, it is a state restaurant for people of limited means. They call it ’Route 15,’ and the usual menu is white rice, an infamous pea porridge, and croquettes,” says Zaida.

Like the majority of the area’s residents, she has never sat on a stool in the Villa Hernandez bar to drink a mojito or to “nibble” tapas of Serrano ham.

A block from the dining room, on the corner of Acosta and Gelabert, in a house with high ceilings in danger of collapse, live 17 families crowded together.  The people have scrounged in order to transform the old rooms into dwellings.

The method for gaining space is to create lofts with wooden or concrete platforms between the walls. Each, on his own or according to his economic possibilities, has built bathrooms and kitchens without the assistance of an engineer or architect.

Even the old basement, where there once existed an animal stable, has been converted into a place that only with much imagination might be called a home.

The neighbors of the place see the Villa Hernandez restaurant as a foreign territory. “They have told me that they eat very well. I am ashamed to enter and ask about the menu. What for, if I have no money? At the end of the year they put up pretty decorations and a giant Santa Claus. I have told my children that this kind of restaurant is not within the reach of our pockets,” says Remigio.

Like small islets, in Havana there have emerged houses for rent, gymnasiums, tapas bars, cafes and private restaurants much like those that a poor Cuban only sees in foreign films.

There exists a nocturnal Havana with many lights, elegant designs and excess air conditioning which is usually the letter of introduction for the apparent success of the controversial economic reforms promoted by Raul Castro.

It is good that little private businesses emerge. The majority of the population approves cutting out by the roots dependence on the State, the main agent of the socialized misery that is lived in Cuba.

But old people, the retired, professionals, and state workers ask themselves when fair salary reforms will happen that will permit a worker to acquire a household appliance or drink a beer in a private bar.

“That’s what it’s about. Almost all we Cubans approve of people opening businesses. After all, in economic matters, the government has shown a lethal inefficiency. But there are two discussions: one is sold to potential foreign investors and another internal that keeps crushing the commitment to Marxism and to governing in order to favor the poorest,” says Amado, an engineer.

In the business field, the government has opened the door, but not completely.  In the promulgated economic guidelines, it is recognized that the small businesses are designed such that people do not accumulate great capital.

A large segment of party officials and the official press believes it sees in each private entrepreneur a future criminal.

At the moment, self-employment is surrounded with high taxes, the expansion of the opening of a wholesale market, and a legion of state inspectors who demand a multitude of parameters, as if it were anchored in Manhattan or Zurich and not in a nation that has short supplies of things from toothpaste and deodorant to even salt and eggs.

The regime takes advantage of the poor to sell the Cuban brand. “Marketing has been created that shows an island interspersed with images of tenements, mulattas dancing to reggaeton, happy young people drinking rum, US cars from the ’50’s, the National Hotel and luxury restaurants,” says Carlos, a sociologist.

Successful managers, like Enrique Nunez, owner of La Guarida, situated in the mostly black neighborhood of San Leopoldo in downtown Havana, also benefit from the environment in order to grow their businesses.

La Guarida was one of the locations in the film Strawberry and Chocolate by the deceased director Tomas Gutierrez Alea. There, among many others, have dined Queen Sofia of Spain, Diego Armando Maradona and US congressmen.

The dilapidated multifamily building where it is located, with sheets put out to dry on interior balconies and unemployed mulattos and blacks playing dominoes at the foot of the stairway, has become the particular stamp of La Guarida.

“Yes, it’s embarrassing. But to carry on culinary or hospitality businesses in ruinous neighborhoods replete with hustlers and prostitutes, is an added value that works.  Maybe that happens because Havana is still not a violent or dangerous city like Caracas. And the naive Europeans like that touch of modernity surrounded by African misery,” points out the owner of a bar in the old part of the capital.

While the governmental propaganda exaggerates the economic opening, Zaida asks if someday her salary in the State dining room will permit her to have a daiquiri in Villa Hernandez. For her, for now, it would be easier for it to snow in Cuba.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  El Fanguito, old neighborhood of indigents in El Vedado, Havana, arose in 1935, at the mouth of the river Almendares, in the now-disappeared fishing village of Bongo and Gavilan. With Fidel Castro’s arrival in power, this and other Havana slums not only did not disappear but were growing. At any time, El Fanguito, La Timba, Los Pocitos, La Jata, Romerillo, El Canal, La Cuevita, Indalla, and La Corea, among others, are included in sightseeing tours through the capital, in order to be in tune with the fashion of mixing glamour with poverty, as occurs in Rio de Janeiro with the slums. The photo was taken from Cubanet (TQ).

Translated by mlk.

Spanish post
10 April 2014

Cuba Opens the Gates to Foreign Capital / Ivan Garcia

April 10, 2014 Leave a comment

cuba-contenedores-620x330When a government’s financial figures are in the red, everything takes on new urgency. By now the formulas to address the problem are well-known. Often new tax measures are imposed while bloated public spending is slashed.

But if the goal is to attract American dollars, euros or other forms of hard currency, then any reforms must tempt likely foreign investors and Cuban exiles alike.

The situation is pressing. Venezuela, the spigot from which Cuba’s oil flows, is in a firestorm of criminal and political violence and economic chaos. China is an ideological partner but only makes loans if it can reap some benefit.

The Cuban government does not have a lot of room to maneuver. Its solution has been to open things up a little but not completely. Except in the areas of health, education and defense, Cuba is for sale.

The communist party’s propaganda experts have been trying to sugarcoat the message to its audience. In recent months government officials have been working to attract foreign capital by offering investors a more important role in the Cuban economy.

“Foreign financial resources would do more than provide a complementary role to domestic investment initiatives and would play an important role, even in areas such as agriculture, where foreign investment has been rare,” said Pedro San Jorge, Director of Economic Policy at the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, in January.

In an interview with the newspaper Granma on March 17, José Luis Toledo Santander, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of People’s Power for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, said the new law “will also provide for a range of investments so that those who wish may know the areas of interest in the country.”

“This action will also be a breakthrough in terms of the paperwork required to make an investment by creating a more streamlined process,” the official added in response to a common complaint by business people that the Cuban bureaucracy is too slow.

Toledo Santander said the new law “also includes incentives and tax exemptions in certain circumstances, as well as an easing of customs duties to encourage investment.”

He stressed that “the process of foreign investment will be introduced without the country relinquishing its sovereignty or its chosen social and political system: socialism. This new law will allow foreign investment to be better targeted so that it serves the best interests of national development without concessions or setbacks.”

On Saturday March 29 the national television news broadcast reported sometime after 1 PM that the single-voice Cuban parliament had unanimously passed a new foreign investment law without providing more details

The new law provides for an exception to one passed in 1995 which assigned foreign capital a “complimentary” role in Cuban state investments. This meant that foreign investors could hold no more than a 50% stake in any joint venture.

The proportion was higher when it came to technology and retail businesses but only because of a strong interest in these sectors on the part of military autocrats. Between 1996 and 2003 roughly 400 firms in the mining, hospitality, food, automotive and real estate sectors were created in Cuba with foreign capital.

All were small-scale and supervised closely by authorities. Now it’s a choice of life or death. Fidel Castro’s revolution generated many promises and speeches, but these did nothing to foster the economic development that the country needed.

Cuba imports everything from toothbrushes to ball-point pens. Large areas of arable land are overrun with the invasive Marabou weed, and produce little or nothing. In 2013 the government imported almost two billion dollars worth of food.

Since 1959 government leaders have continuously promised ample harvests of malanga, potatoes and oranges coffee as well as a glass of milk per person per day, but the inefficient economic system hampers any such nationial initiatives.

Finally the last trump card was played. It involved opening the gates by luring foreign investors with generous tax exemptions. They included Cubans living in the United States and Europe but not virulent anti-Castro Cuban-Americans from Florida.

If they toned down their strident anti-Castro rhetoric, then perhaps Alfonso Fanjul, Carlos Saladrigas and company might come under consideration also.

Of course, it is not all clear sailing. The U.S. embargo presents a powerful obstacle to any business venture on the island. And the Castro brothers are not serious business partners.

On the contrary. They have changed or corrected course at whim in response to shifting political dynamics. Of the roughly 400 foreign firms that existed in 1998, only about 200 remained in operation as of spring 2014.

Several foreign businessmen, including Canadians, have been threatened with imprisonment while others, like Chilean Max Marambio*, have had arrest warrants issued against them by Cuban prosecutors.

Raul Castro, who inherited power by decree from his brother Fidel in 2006, has tried to clean up government institutions and establish more legal coherence, abolishing absurd laws that prevented the Cubans renting hotel rooms, having mobile phones and selling their own homes and cars.

In January 2013 a new emigration law was adopted that made it easier for Cubans, including dissidents, to travel abroad. Internet access became available, though at jaw-dropping prices, and Peugeot cars went on sale, though priced as if they were Lamborghinis.

For many European and American politicians, Cuba is in the process of becoming a modern nation whose past sins as well, as it’s the lack of democracy and freedom of expression, must be forgiven. Others say it’s just a ploy to buy time.

The average Cuba, whose morning coffee does not include milk, who has only one hot meal a day and who wastes two hours a day commuting to and from work on the inefficient public transport system, is not likely to be impressed with the much hyped opportunities.

Those who open private restaurants or receive remittances from overseas can weather the storm. Those who work for the state — in other words, most people — are the ones having it the worst.

Although the regime may try to camouflage its new policies by resorting to various ideological stunts, the person on the street realizes that the new Cuban reality is nothing more than state capitalism painted over in red.

For a wide segment of the Cuban population, the new investment law is a distant echo. It is yet to be see if it bring them any benefits.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Container ship entering Havana’s harbor. Operations at the Port of Havana will move once the port at Mariel is fully operational. Photo from Martí Noticias.

*Translator’s note: In 2010 Cuban prosecutors accused Marambio and his firm, Río Zaza, of corruption. Marambio claimed the actions were retribution on the part of Fidel and Raul Castro for his support for Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a candidate in Chile’s 2009 presidential election. Marambio filed suit with the International Court of Arbitration in Paris against his Cuban business partner, Coralsa, a state-owned juice and dairy company. On July 17 the court found in favor of Marambio and ordered Coralsa to pay over $17.5 million dollars in damages “for refusing to cooperate in good faith” in the process of liquidating Rio Zaza.

30 March 2014

Major League Stars in Havana / Ivan Garcia

April 5, 2014 Leave a comment
Ken-Griffey-Jr-en-La-Habana-620x330

Ken Griffey Jr, with young ballplayers in Havana

Monday night, February the 10th, two Cuban journalists were invited to the welcoming reception Mr. John Caulfield–head of the USA Interest Section in Cuba–offered in his residence to three major league baseball players, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin y Joe Logan.

The journalists who had opportunity to talk with these three legends of  American baseball  were Daniel Palacios Almarales, former sports writer for Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) and collaborator on the website Café Fuerte, and me, who started in independent journalism in 1995 writing about sports. In addition to journalists we are bloggers. Palacios has a blog, Visor Cubano, and I have two, From Havana and The blog of Iván García and his friends.

Among the guests there were also grand old names from Cuban sports, such as Tony Gonzalez, a shortstop of great scope who in the 60s played with the Industriales team.

For two and a half hours, in a free-flowing environment, those present not only could greet Griffey, Larkin and Logan, but also take advantage of the fact that they were signing balls and books. And, certainly, to leave with graphic witness of an unrepeatable occasion. By request of my colleague Palacios, I shot a couple of photos of him next to Larkin and Griffey.

Thanks to an official from the Interest Section, I was able chat brief with Ken Griffey Jr., the most enjoyed of the night for his amiability and simplicity. And for his elegance, in spite of being dressed in a simple long sleeved white shirt and black trousers.

Griffey was satisfied with his trip to Havana. He enjoyed everything: the spontaneous meeting with dozens of fans at Central Park; talking baseball with people and participating in the training of a group of baseball playing kids in Liberty City, and in the Havana municipality of Marianao.

With regards to the Cuban players in the Big Leagues, he said when he played a season with the Chicago White Sox, he met the shortstop Alexia Ramirez, “and excellent person and a great professional, very meticulous in his training.”

The former stars of the Big Leagues, return to the United States on Thursday,  13 February. Before leaving, they will probably be received by Antonio Castro.

Apart from being a son of his father, Tony Castro, as he is called, is the vice-president of the Cuban Federation of Baseball and principal strategist of the new government policy of authorizing Cuban athletes to play in professional clubs of different countries and continents.

Though the topic was not mentioned in the conversation, both Griffey Jr. and I are aware that in these moments, due to  the United States embargo on Cuba, players living on the island cannot be signed by Major League teams in the U.S.

Maybe the diplomacy of the baseball will contribute to a political thaw, an inheritance of the Cold War, which for over more than five decades has maintained tense and at times aggressive relations between Cuba and the United States.

Iván García

Video: Ken Griffey Jr during with a group of children, in Liberty City, Marianao, Havana. Taken by Cubadebate.

Translated by: Rafael

15 February 2014

Thank You, Eusebio / Ivan Garcia

April 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Eusebio-born-in-Mozambiqu-006With the unexpected death of Eusebio da Silva Ferreira on the morning of January 5, the soccer world lost one of its greatest players and an extraordinary ambassador for the sport, an honest and simple man, who never forgot his humble origins despite his fame.

Sports columns of the five continents have dedicated reviews and reports to him. Photos and videos have flooded the internet. Hundreds of condolences have made their way to his widow, Flora, and to his children and grandchildren. And millions of messages have circulated on social media sites remembering The Black Panther, as he was known, for his speed and skill.

Eusebio was born in the suburb of Mafalala, in the city of Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, Mozambique. He was the fourth son of seven born to Mozambican Elisa Anissabeni with her husband, the Angolan Laurindo Antonio da Silva Ferreira, a railroad worker. His father died of tetanus when Eusebio was eight years old. He and his siblings were left in the charge of their mother, in a situation of extreme poverty. As a boy, Eusebio often escaped his classes to play barefoot soccer with his friends in improvised playing fields.

Carlos Toro dedicated an article to him in El Mundo: “On the 25th of January, he would have turned 72-years-old and Portugal would have rendered him, like it is doing today, high sports and patriotic honors. ’Wherever I go, Eusebio is the name that people mention to me,” Mario Soares, president of Portugal from 1986-1996, once said.

“Forget about Cristiano Ronaldo, the young mythical figure of Portuguese sport, and about Luis Figo, who has the greatest number of international attendance for his country. The king of Portuguese football was, is Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. Eusebio. The International Federation of History and Statistics considers him to be ninth among the 50 best players in the twentieth century.

“A mulato, the son of a white father and a black mother, born in Mozambique, won the right to be saluted as one of the best soccer players of all time, including those we have in the 21st century, thanks to his performances in the imposing Benfica and with the magnificent Portuguese national team of the 1960s”.

Pelé in his Twitter profile said: “I regret the death of my brother Eusebio. We became friends during the World Cup of 1966 in England and last met in the game between Brazil and Portugal in Boston (in September 2013). My condolences to his family and may God receive him with open arms”.

Jaime Rincón wrote in Marca: “Eusebio’s career was unique from the start. His arrival in Europe was full of the mystery and emotion that usually accompanies great figures. At 17 years old, Eusebio was smuggled through the airport of Maputo on course to Lisbon. There, Benfica hid him in a small hotel room in the Algarve under a false name. No precaution was too small to secure the soccer player and prevent his ending up in the Sporting Club of Portugal.*

“With a small salary given his sporting achievements until then, Eusebio soon demonstrated that soccer was seeing a different type of player. Capable of doing 100 meters in eleven seconds, the Panther had power and ability, speed and definition. He possessed a veritable cannon in his right leg, a lethal weapon that made all the difference.

“At only 18-years-old, Eusebio dazzled on the day of his debut in Paris. Before another great such as Pelé, the Panther left the field with 3-0 on the scoreboard. With an insulting audacity, the pearl of Mozambique achieved a hat-trick that not even the subsequent goals of The King could erase”.

Sir Bobby Charlton, a living legend of British football and ex-player for Manchester United and England, remembered him like this: “Eusebio was one of the best soccer players I have had the privilege to play. I met him on numerous occasions after our sports careers were finished. I’m proud to have had him as both an opponent and a friend”.

Eusebio never came to Cuba, but we Cubans who love football and sports knew him. And we thank him for having shot down prejudices and taboos. And for proving, in any country and in any sphere of life, whether you be man or woman, white, mulatto or black, young or old, what matters is dignity and the spirit of excellence.

Iván García and Tania Quintero

Photo: Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. Taken by The Guardian, from an interview on June 6th, 2010.

*Translator’s note: There was fear that he would be kidnapped by a rival team.

 Translated by LW

6 January 2014

Is Baseball Finished in Cuba? / Ivan Garcia

March 26, 2014 1 comment

Jackie-Robinson-1919-1972-620x330Fidel Castro has been an effective gravedigger. He buried sugar crops and the agricultural abundance of old. Recently, Cuba had to import sugar from Brazil and the Dominican Republic to meet the consumption needs of international tourists.

With this type of negative aura that has always surrounded Castro, it makes sense these days what baseball fans were saying after the dismal failure of Villa Clara in the Caribbean Series on Margarita Island: we are currently living through the last days of baseball.

I think not. We have the genes of baseball players in our DNA. Has it been dealt a fierce blow? It is true. Due to the obstinate and stupid policies of the state, baseball finds itself stationary, mired in crisis.

But we can make progress. If, for example, Cuban coaches could absorb the latest advances in the development of baseball via clinics (courses) with seasoned trainers from the United States. If the academies of the Major League organizations were allowed and if our players could play in the MLB without having to leave their homeland.

Although this would be the ideal, this nightmare of five and a half decades remains. In that sense, I am not optimistic. Because of the insane system established in Cuba, what could change within two years could equally extend for another fifty-five.

The methods used by autocrats to remain in power are known. Fear and repression inhibit many Cubans from publicly disagreeing. So people opt for a life raft. Marrying a foreigner. Or an offer letter of work anywhere in the world.

There are two possible scenarios. In the first, Raul Castro becomes a kind of tropical Jaruzelski and democratizes the island – I am skeptical – and the embargo is repealed. Perhaps, working hard, in around five or six years, Cuban ball players developed under modern methods would skyrocket into Major League teams.

The other option, the way we are going now, is that Cuba transforms into a discrete monarchy, where relatives, sons and compadres pull on the threads of the piñata and divide the loot amongst themselves.

The regime is engaged in unprecedented ideological spin. A mixture of family capitalism, few opportunities, micro-businesses and pure Stalinism.

The Castros want to negotiate, but with the gringos. Face to face. Seated at a table, dividing up the island as if it were their property. Under one of these scenarios, Antonio Castro, son of Fidel, would represent baseball and manage the future contracts of Cuban players.

The mouths of the Castro clan must be watering just thinking about that possibility. It has not yet arrived, but it looms, in backroom negotiations with businessmen of the style of Alfonso Fanjul.

If we want to raise the capacity of baseball, change must happen urgently. If the creole mandarins were sensible – 55 years have shown otherwise – they would design a new structure for the National Series. 16 teams seems to me too many.

Right now, according to the proven quality of local baseball, the right number would be a season with 6 teams and a minimum of 100 games.

The season should begin in September. You could have three stages. Six innings in the first 60 games. A round robin with 40 games and 4 teams. And ending with play offs between the top two in a best of seven matches.

The season would end in late January, so as not to overlap with the Caribbean Series or the World Baseball Classic. The few classy players that are left us, such as Alfredo Despaigne, Yulieski Gourriel, Frederick Cepeda, Norge Luis Ruiz, Freddy Asiel Álvarez or Vladimir García, if they are contracted to foreign leagues, it is preferable that they not to take part in the National Series.

The current level of our baseball only serves to stall us. Of course, before reforming the National Series, we should strengthen all of baseball’s development structures. From childhood to youth categories.

If the development categories of cadets and youth are still playing with limited quality balls, poor quality equipment, and bad playing fields, then the jump to premier level will not be achievable.

Cuba’s best trainers must work in the minor levels. All the people qualified to train players must have unlimited internet access to the latest information and game statistics.

Also, we should participate in academic and training camp baseball exchanges with the United States, Japan, South Korea and those Caribbean countries that play baseball. Cuban television should more frequently broadcast Major League games. Without the complex absurdities of broadcasting innings during the time that baseball-playing Cubans have to be on the move.

All that policy reorganisation would have to include selling affordable gloves and balls for children. Similarly, it would require the reconditioning and recuperation of those baseball fields that have been lost in the country.

The task is arduous and expensive. It remains to be seen if the state would find the resources or contemplate an agenda to improve the quality of the current game. If it’s smart, it would be the most practical idea. Then, in the unlikely event that Antonio Castro sits down to negotiate with MLB managers, we would have a greater amount of talent to offer.

Although I see the vision, insight has not been the greatest quality of the olive green autocracy.

Iván García

Photo: During the cold months in the United States, many players moved to the Caribbean to play baseball, including Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), who is pictured signing autographs at a stadium in Havana in 1947. A few weeks later, Robinson made history in his country by breaking the barrier that barred black players playing in the majors, thereby paving the way for other African-American, Caribbean and Latin American players. Taken by AARP Magazine.

Translated by: CIMF

18 March 2014

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