Yosuan is a sixteen year old high school student who has a special plan for his summer vacation: beach and reggae. His father is in jail. He got an eighteen-year sentence for killing cows. When his mother can afford to she gives him some hard currency, and then he can go to a high-class discotheque.
“But for sure I will ride a crowded bus toward the beaches to the east of Havana in order to take a dip, go to the movies with my girlfriend, and most important of all, dance reggae in one of those “on the left”*(1) (illegal) parties organized in my neighborhood,” says Yosuan.
In Havana, with the arrival of summer, the number of ‘house’ parties (private) increases, as do the Mettalica or Pop ones. They are improvised in a trice, and always with the desire to make a profit.
Rodney, 35, disc Jockey by experience, rubs his palms together. “Four times a week we put on a party in a friend’s house. We charge 10 pesos per person (0.50 US cents). We sell ham sandwiches, mayonnaise, roast pork, bottles of soda, rum and Parkinsonil*(2) pills so people can get ‘high’. When the party is over, we share between $1,500 and $2,000 pesos (65 to 85 US dollars)”.
Affordable recreational options in the capital city are rare. A nice discotheque charges between 7 and 10 dollars: the bi-weekly salary of an engineer. This is just the entry fee. In order to drink a Daiquiri, Cuba Libre or Ale, you should have more than 20 dollars in your wallet, and don’t even think about cocktails.
It is not easy being a Romeo In Havana. A wad of money is more useful than a pretty face. The pretty boys can only date someone from the army of camouflaged hookers who swarm the city, promising them marriage or a USA visa. After leaving the bar or nightclub, if you weren’t cautious enough to keep 10 convertible pesos to take a taxi, either state or private, you risking getting home at dawn. The early morning public transportation service is almost nil.
The children of workers and doctors who live without stealing from their jobs, rule out recreational options in foreign currencies. Better off are the descendants of the generals, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and musicians who travel abroad.
Those who receive dollars from across the puddle can also go to a nightclub. Although the thing is ugly. The crisis has the relatives abroad paddling upstream and making phone calls to their family in Cuba asking them to stretch the dough. People who, last season, were bragging about being spendthrifts, now are counting even the pennies.
This is what happens with Ismael, 40. “In 2010 I could do a full itinerary on children’s facilities. But this year my parents lost their jobs. I had to make cuts. I told my daughter: plays, books, amusement parks, beaches in the outskirts and carry snacks. Everything in national currency.”
Cuba is a country difficult to understand. The roof is falling in on a lot of people. They eat little or poorly, with an excess of carbohydrates and fats. Their breakfast consists of black coffee mixed with peas as a filler.
However, they are able to spend $200 US dollars on buying the latest iPhone sold in the underground market. Diesel jeans or Nike sneakers. Or a five-day stay at the Melia Las Americas in Varadero beach, paying $600 cash.
According to Alberto, manager of an office that offers all-inclusive packages on different circuits in the country, with the arrival of summer the number of domestic tourists is expected to double.
There are no exact figures, but since 2008, when Raul Castro authorized that those born in the island could stay in the foreign currency hotels, hundreds of Cubans have paid a year’s salary to spend three days enjoying the first class tourism facilities.
Despite the stationary economic crisis that Cuba has been living for 22 years, in the months of July and August the number of tourist from our own yard increases. But most people still see the tranquil blue waters of Varadero beach on postcards. Ordinary Cubans will have to settle for watching American films or Brazilian soap operas in the TV.
They are lucky if they go camping. In families where the dollars are slippery, the vacations are a headache. In addition to an extra meal, they drink more water and consume more electricity. And at night, when the boredom is killing them, they want to buy a bottle of rum. And that’s the bad news. There is no money for such luxuries.
For those who live from day-to-day, the main issue is to feed their family; summer vacations become a true torment. Add to this 90 degrees in the shade, and an old Chinese fan that when you need it most, stops running.
Photo: Stuart Kane, Picasa. If you only have 10 Cuban pesos, then you go to ‘copelita’ and ask for ten scoops of ice cream, one Cuban peso per scoop, although the only flavor is strawberry. Like these two young men did, photographed in Bayamo. Wouldn’t it have been better to be served five scoops on each of two plates rather than ten scoops in ten cups? (TQ)
*(1) In Cuba “on the left” means illegal, as the black market .
*(2) Trihexyphenidyl HCL, is an antiparkinsonian agent. Alcohol may increase drowsiness and dizziness while taking this medication.( Extracted from Wikipedia.)
Translated by : Adrian Rodriguez.
July 25 2011
The Spanish businessman Sebastián Martínez Ferraté, charged with corruption of minors, pimping and illegal economic activities, will be judged on Monday July 18 at the Provincial Court of Havana, whose official seat is located on Prado, Teniente and Rey. However, trials in the presence of diplomats and the media are usually held in the 10th of October Municipal Court, on Carmen and Juan Delgado.
On a ward of La Condesa, a special prison for foreigners on the outskirts of the capital. Martinez Ferraté has been waiting for a year for a trial whose verdict is known beforehand.
The prosecution requested 15 years’ imprisonment, maybe reduced to 10 or 5. But it is clear that they will have him pay the bill for having made, or contributing to making, in 2008, a documentary showing the full extent of prostitution, including child prostitution.
It also exposed the corruption existing around prostitution on the island. The documentary was shown on Tele Cinco, a private TV channel in Spain. It was a blockbuster.
And a blow to the Cuban authorities. So they began plotting their revenge. It is known that every year the US State Department places Cuba on the list of countries where child prostitution is practiced. Something that bothers the government a lot. And the Sebastián case served to send a message to the insolent foreign visitors who might dare to show the ugly face of the country.
The documentary might be new for those who support the Castros in Spain. But for a Cuban independent journalist it is more of the same.
What the audio-visual documents continues to happen in Cuba. Each day the prostitutes are younger and almost an industry of prostitution has been erected. I’m not saying the police stand around with their arms crossed, but for every prostitute, pimp or child molester put behind bars, four more appear.
Prostitution is a social phenomenon. Dragged down by poverty, lack of opportunity and the desire to emigrate, a legion of women sell themselves to tourists for two 20-dollar bills.
The government has never offered an estimate of the number of people enrolled in prostitution. But there are thousands. The public knows about the increase in prostitution and pimping, and they mention it under their breath.
What bothers the authorities is that the subject is being put on display by the mainstream media. And with child prostitution being a sensitive issue, the director of a hotel chain in Mallorca prepared a trap for Ferraté Martinez.
According to the writer Ángel Santiesteban in his blog, The Children that Nobody Wanted, through a Cuban “friend” related to Martinez, in July 2010, they had him come to Cuba believing that he would be making a documentary about the hotel business. No sooner did he arrive in Havana then he was arrested and put into jail.
The Spaniard sinned by naiveté. The Cuban government does not forgive certain “offenses.” They punish them. Harshly. Sebastian Martinez joined the list of guinea pigs that serve the Castro regime for negotiating future deals.
He will become a currency of exchange. Like the American Alan Gross or local dissidents. There are a range of options for exchanging Martinez. From a line of credit, asking the Spanish politicians to raise support for the unique position of the EU, up to silence and complicity with the regime in Havana.Or anything else. You can figure it out.
Translated by Regina Anavy
July 18 2011
According to Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, fighter for Afrocuban rights and member of the Ladies in White support group, the community activist and dissident Sonia Garro Alfonso, 35, was detained by the police on Thursday, July 14 at 7 PM.
“I was with her until 6 PM. Hours later, a neighbor telephoned me and told me the police had taken Garro away to an unknown location, along with her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, also a dissident. Then I asked around and found out that Sonia is under arrest in the 7th police station in the Havana neighborhood of La Lisa,” said Fresneda.
Previously, Garro had been advised by the intelligence services that they were not going to allow her to carry out the public protests that, along with six other women, she frequently carries out in various Havana locations and plazas.
This past May her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, played a leading part in a famous incident when he chained himself, machete in hand, on the roof of his house while demanding freedom for Sonia, who was under arrest at the time. This indignant Cuban still keeps up his rebellious attitude: he goes out in public with one arm in chains.
Garro has been particularly active in the past few months, but without neglecting her community project to help the poor children of her neighborhood, no matter what the political beliefs of their parents may be.
These women’s street protests are considered a serious threat by the State Security forces. They have been threatened with arrest and trial, particularly Sonia. In the month of June she complained that the number of the case they have opened against her is 2801/2011.
Sonia Garro as well as Mercedes Fresneda and other women have been reminded by the authorities of what Fidel Castro said in his day, and which has been firmly reiterated by his brother: that in Cuba the street belongs to the revolutionaries.
Photo: Laritza Diversent. Sona Garro with some of the children from the independent cultural center that operates in her home, on Avenida 47 No. 11638, between 116 and 118, Los Quemados, Marianao.
Translated by S. Solá
July 17 2011
His brother Raul, around the same, will turn 90 years old and I don’t think he will have the strength to blow the birthday cake candles. If God’s grace lets them live, they will be two boring grandpas. A piece of Cuban history prostrated in wheelchairs.
In 2021, probably before, those who rule the nation’s destinies would have been adjusting the itinerary on their political sextant. If the ship still being captained by the olive-green entrepreneurs, Cuba will be a mix of a virtual communism and state capitalism enthroned in the principal economic sectors.
Maybe by that time Cuban intelligence will have designed an obedient and nice opposition. And, not to be outdone, they will hold elections every five years. There will be two or three political parties with pompous names that will preach the same, but using different formats.
Of course, the military magnates will have the complete control of the economy and the political life. They will let private enterprise and will encourage and reward it with lower taxes. And the powerful Cuban-Americans, will be compensated for the expropriated properties during the first years of the revolution.
If by then, the commercial firms such as Bacardi, Fanjul and other millionaires of Cuban origin would prefer to invest and leave aside “those absurd ideas like democracy and human rights,” the doors to doing business in Cuba will be open.
Those annoying political activists and independent journalists who step out of the script will have to be careful. When a honeymoon with the Florida’s wealthy fellows exists, the embargo will be a relic, and from time to time the United States president will spend his vacation in Varadero, it won’t be necessary to set up political circuses against the dissidents.
The trouble makers will end in a grave. They will be buried three meters under, with a shot in the neck. Like in Mexico or Colombia. Nobody will want to know who killed them.
Cuba is a State in liquidation sale. The subsidies are already being dismantled and the creole mandarins now talk about profits and loss. To work, damn it! It has been said in all assemblies.
On the economy side everything is figured out. The preservation of the planned economy is to appease Fidel Castro, who hates the free market. But there are areas, such as real estate, crude oil extraction or tourism advocating for mixed enterprises.
Many generals-turned-businessmen, dressed in white guayaberas, will give the welcome speeches at some golf tournaments. The black caddies will return to carry the golf clubs and the cash registers will be ringing with so many stunning greenbacks.
The Mariel seaport will be a goldmine. It will make Miami look small. In the Chinese factories the people will work for two dollars a day. And they will be satisfied. In a State enterprise they would only receive fifty cents of a dollar.
So this, more or less, will be Cuba’s outlook after ten years.
To put in place or not a two-headed system, combining the worst of the capitalism along with the totalitarian society’s repressive brutality, will be left in the hands of a dissidence that must mature and gain political conscience. Otherwise, they will be blatantly bought with hard currency, in order to get a slice and keep their mouths shut.
The future looks ugly. I may be missing details. But not too many.
Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez
July 15 2011
When it comes time for sex, black Cuban women don’t feel discriminated against. Rather used. Roxana, 36, an architect, endures with Asian patience the sexual harassment from her white bosses, the gross come-ons, and the outright proposals to go to bed for 20 dollars.
What I have to put up with is incredible. From one boss who undresses me with his eyes and tries to blackmail me with a promotion or a trip abroad in exchange for sleeping with him, to the drunks on the street who offer me money,” says Roxana, while waiting for the bus going her way back home.
Racism in Cuba has several faces. And variations. More or less subtle. Even the forms are more explicit. But when it comes time to “play the tune” (fuck), skin color disappears as if by magic.
Especially if you are a woman. In a quick survey of 14 white men, ten said they wanted to sleep with black and mestizo women, “and if they are hookers, the better.” To the other four, mulatto women, “light skinned mulatto females without bad hair (kinky),” make them horny.
The story changes when it comes to marriage. Of the 14, only 2 would marry a black woman, and maybe 6 with a mulatto female if she were spectacular. “But I prefer to marry a white woman,” says one of those asked.
You can see it from a bird’s eye view. Those who live the worst are blacks. Visit the filthy rooming houses of the slums or the huts reinforced with cardboard and aluminum that flourish in several Havana suburbs and you will see that almost all the tenants have dark skin
Of those swelling the island’s prisons, around 90% are black. The most violent and bloody crimes are usually committed by blacks. Youth gangs devoted to robbing occupied houses or assaulting people on the street, to steal their hard currency, an iPhone or a Messi T-shirt, generally are made up of blacks and mulattoes.
The Census showed that 65% of Cubans are white, 24.9% mestizo and 10.1% blacks. But when you walk through the streets, will notice that the number of black Cubans and mulattoes are significantly higher than the official data.
The race issue in Cuba is a real time bomb. The state looks the other way and attempts to minimize the issue. Meanwhile, white guys still crave black and mulatto women to lay with them in bed.
* Translator’s note: In Spanish the letter A after a noun indicates feminine, therefore cubana is a Cuban female.
July 10 2011
But regarding the Cuban embargo, the Americans show a notable stupidity. Let’s see it from its supporters’ angle. Its advocates think that if the United States lifts it, Castro and his olive green entrepreneurs, will be lining up their pockets with dollars.
They will keep on governing for decades. So the democrats and the human rights activists on the island will continue to be harassed or beaten by the mobs egged by the political police. With the embargo, they say, the United States tries to asphyxiate the regime, promote people’s discontent and provoke the angry Cubans to start a protest on the Havana waterfront.
But neither one thing nor the other happened. In 52 years, the common people didn’t throw themselves on the streets. Or maybe. On August 5, 1994, not to change the status quo, but to make Castro open the gate and to throw themselves into the sea heading to Florida using any floating object.
Of course, the embargo is pure gold for Castro’s propaganda. According to the official media, the Cuban economy is walking with crutches because of the “blockade’s” effects. I don’t think so.
The reality is that the system adopted by the brothers from Biran doesn’t work. All the ill conceived authoritarian ideas, where several essential human rights are suppressed, didn’t take off coherently in any nation.
Only under the boots and the tackling of the secret services is the system maintained. Actually, the commercial embargo affects common citizens. Sufferers of cancer or AIDS cannot afford the latest generation medicine patented in the United States. A regular Cuban can not make bank transactions with United States based branches.
Cuban Americans and foreign tourists can not use American credit cards. The trite excuse used by the embargo supporters, that if it didn’t exist the Castros would be a kind of rich guys, falls by itself.
Long ago, the Castros became the McDucks. I don’t think that the embargo’s toughening will turn them into panhandlers. The embargo is an authentic mirrors game. Its defenders didn’t achieve nothing. The authoritarianism and the lack of freedom continues.
Of course, the ones who blame the embargo for all the misfortunes that have been happening are also lying. Cuba’s bad situation is the fault of the government. And if you decide to visit Havana, with hard currency, you can buy Coca-Cola, Dell computers and Motorola mobile phones.
Ninety-five percent of State computers use Windows programs. The buses running on the Cuban streets have General Motors components. The foreign currency pharmacies sell American antibiotics and Johnson and Johnson syrups.
The embargo is a real sieve. It has more holes than a Swiss cheese. Add the fact that the United States is one of the Cuba’s main food providers .
Through donations to the island, previous generation medicines and antibiotics come to the island. More than a billion dollars annually are received through remittances. And another billion dollars in equipment, electric appliances and shoddy textiles, sent by Cubans living overseas.
What embargo are we talking about then? A policy or a rule is efficient if it works. But the Cuban embargo has not been working. In addition, it is not politically profitable.
Every year, a majority of countries vote against it in the UN, and for the record, many of the countries condemning the embargo are also critics of the island dictatorship. When the president of the United States decides to abolish the embargo, he will put the Havana regime against the wall.
Because the Cuban economy will still be a disaster. The people won’t live better. Nor will the pantries will be replenished with food. But there will be no excuses or emotional fuel to harangue the masses. The people governing will be naked to the world’s public eye. And therefore will be forced to change.
Who benefits from the Cuban embargo? Fidel and Raul Castro. No one else.
Photo : In his blog the HoboTraveler, the journalist Andy Graham wrote that on Saturday December 6, 2009 he went with two Norwegians to the Jazz Café of the Gallery Paseo, a mall located at Paseo and Malecon, Vedado. Once in the interior, after paying 10 convertible pesos to enter, he asked for a Coca-Cola and they brought a 355 ml can of Coke which he decided to photograph, surprised that in Cuba they were selling the soft drink — a symbol of the USA. In his blog he also posted the picture of the back of the can, where you can see it is a Mexican coke (Tania Quintero)
Translated by Adrian Rodriguez
July 12 2011
Serafín, 69, never had toys. For his 8th birthday the gifts from his father were a pick and hoe. He woke him at 5 AM and they went to work in a row of onions. He told him, “If you want your children and grandchildren to have toys, you will have to get it out of the earth. Mother earth will give you your present and your future. There is no other option.” And that is how it has been for over five decades.
A descendant of immigrants from the Canary Islands, strong as a ceiba tree and with the blood pressure of a young man of 20, Serafïn is the owner of a small farm in the province of Sancti Spiritus, 300 kilometers east of Havana.
To get to his farm one must walk a long way and then cross the Zaza community dam, which looks like an inland sea, go along a dusty road where the invasive marabou weed and greenery stretch as far as the horizon and, after crossing a puddle somewhat dried up by the drought, reach a small village of poor people who eat little and poorly but who drink a lot of rum. Just behind the little village is Serafïn’s farm.
In its good days it had dozens of fruit trees and 120 cows. Fertile land that produced hundreds of hundred-pound sacks of onions, rice, greens and vegetables.
Old Serafïn and his children and grandchildren still live on the land. But the agricultural policies of the government do not inspire them to work. “Look, Acopio (a state-owned company) pays only two pesos and 80 centavos for a kilo of onions. And the people at the market buy them at 10 pesos a pound. In 2008, after President Raúl Castro began to pay three pesos a liter in order to stimulate milk production, I delivered almost a thousand liters a day. Things were not going bad for me. But in November of last year they raised the cost of a kilowatt from 0.75 to 1.30 an hour. And from the 2,500 pesos (100 dollars) I used to pay a month for electricity I now pay almost 10,000 pesos (400 dollars), which raises my cost of milk and agricultural production,” the farmer says while smoking a hand-rolled cigar.
According to Serafín, the government gives them supplies at non-subsidized prices. “They sell us a gallon of gas for 6 dollars. And the seeds and work tools are very expensive. Due to the drought, my family has had to make investments and buy pumps to extract water from wells and reservoirs, which makes our use of electricity skyrocket. If you add to this the fact that 80% of our production is sold to the government at laughable prices, you can understand why there is so much empty land full of blight and marabou weed.”
Serafín says that for a while he preferred to sell the cows to the government instead of using them for milk production. “The last straw,” says Augusto, Serafín’s youngest son, “is that at times we have to steal our own crops”. And when the inspector comes they claim that the crops were stolen (robbery has become a daily occurrence in the Cuban countryside), in order to have a little extra food for selling in the farmers markets where the law of supply and demand is in effect.
“The government forces you to lie and fix the figures. I think that not even the old feudal owners demanded they be given such a high percentage of products. In countries that are agricultural powerhouses like the United States, the government subsidizes the farmers. This is logical, since you don’t fool around with agriculture when you have to feed 300 million people, in addition to exporting food for 2 billion more all over the planet,” comments Serafín, a guajiro who likes to read and keep himself informed.
For him, if the regime really wants to fill family tables with vegetables, fruit and pork and for people to have coffee with milk for breakfast, it should create a law under which the State is not sold more than 15 or 20% of production.
“Laws that give you a guarantee. No regulations or orientations, that are exchanged for others according to its convenience. I do not know any small landholder that is not upset with the government. That is why when people travel around the island they see kilometers and kilometers of land that is not being cultivated. Nobody wants to work the land. There is very little stimulus,” says Serafín.
Before 1959, he remembers, Cuba had more than enough fruits and vegetables and even exported them. “But for that to happen, the government must change its abusive methods. The main responsibility for the scarcity of agricultural and cattle products is the Cuban government,” he states. That simple.
Translated by S. Solá
June 25 2011
The creators of Revolico define it as “a small and functional team of programmers who one day felt the urge of a more simple way, organized and efficient to advertise and review what other people were already advertising”.
It was born in 2007 and nobody knows for sure who manages a web in which you can find almost everything. It runs at full throttle, without government permission. Around two million advertisements have been seen on a monthly basis.
Dalia, an engineer, was repairing her home and in the black market couldn’t find aluminum windows. “I went to the site and found there Revolico offers that pleased me. In addition to the windows , I bought ceramic tiles for the bathroom floor”.
Rigoberto, a musician, before wasting a whole afternoon digging in the foreign currency businesses, prefers to check first Revolico’s ads. “Rarely can I find what I look for in the State stores. Through Revolico, I have been able to buy my musical instruments.”
Among the usual visitors to this retail web site, you can find people who are looking for the latest cell phone models, computers and their parts and equipment. It has become a benchmark for the acquisition of goods for sale at a lower price than those in the foreign currency market.
Although the prices are not cheap. This virtual store is governed by offer and demand. At this time of the year, you can find an air conditioner of a ton of capacity for 470 dollars.
If you wait until summertime most probably you will end up paying around 600 dollars for the same model. People speculate that may be an online business with the government approval, but the constant blockades to the site deny this rumor.
In the island, there’s a doubt over who is behind Revolico. Richard, a guy with an iPod always hanging from his neck, is one of the programmers that keep the on-line retailer running.
“Our server is overseas. The rest is easy. The internet surfers offer their goods and for a reasonable fee we posted on our site. The portal had a tremendous growth, it already has cars and real estate. We are bothering the regime because we are out of their monopoly and control”, points Richard.
A government official said that the Cuban State use to block the page because ignores the source of a lot of these products.” We have proof that some of the goods for sale are presumably stolen goods from the State warehouses”, he indicated.
It is difficult to verify the source. But the web site managers made very clear that it is forbidden to post advertisements about jobs and exploitation of minors or any link with sex and money; drugs and narcotics; prostitution and pimping; terrorism; any kind of weapons as well as religious or political propaganda.
The elderly, used to the long lines and the long walks under the burning heat of the sun, are not persuaded of this a little bit exotic way of buying. They prefer to see and touch the merchandise.
For the young people, knowledgeable in the ample possibilities of the internet, it is an effective way to get the goods that the State don’t offer. Like Saul, proud of his Toyota Yaris thanks to Revolico.com.
Photo : Reuters. Young woman from Havana, Cuba, turns on her PC to buy in Revolico.
Translated by Adrian Rodriguez
July 6 2011
In 52 years of Revolution, Cubans have become used to attending parades and events. Not always spontaneously. The members of rapid response brigades — paramilitary shock troops — are called to hold repudiation rallies and verbal lynchings against opponents, in particular against the Ladies in White.
Two weeks after the military parade in the Plaza de la Revolución on 16 April, Havaneros were called into mobilization again. This time at 7:30 in the morning, for International Workers’ Day, which has been observed for more than a century throughout the world, Cuba included.
Before 1959, the parades were combative and proper symbols of the anniversary were hung, or perhaps workers’ and unions’ demands. Now, since only one central workers’ union exists and other unions have been converted into administrative appendices and nuclei of the Communist Party — the only one permitted — the celebration of May Day has a clear and defined political tone.
It might be enough to read the official convocation: “The workers’ parade will be the expression of the unity of all the people and of its will to contribute to develop the implementation of the Cuban economic model through the strategies in accordance with the 6th Party Congress, and to establish the compromise of supporting and actively participating conscientiously in the transformation that this process demands to guarantee the continuity of socialism and the preservation of our independence and our national sovereignty”.
The cost of living has risen ferociously in the country, but those who parade in Havana and the rest of the provinces won’t be able to complain. Neither will they be able to shout or raise signs demanding raises in their salaries or claiming a series of measures in favor of self-employment. No. Among other political signs, some will certainly demand the liberation of the five Cuban spies condemned to long US prison sentences, and that Washington end its commercial embargo, in effect since 1962.
Despite the closeness to the World Press Freedom Day, on 3 May, to think that on the First of May it should occur to someone on the island to demand free traffic of information or internet for everyone.
In Cuba, one can march. Always and when one keeps to the time and date called by the government, the Party, or the Ministry of the Interior. Under this heading private initiatives are forbidden*.
Photo: Iván Castro, Flickr
(*) Recently, the police detained Darsi Ferrer, his wife and three more dissidents, who, outside the Coppelia Ice Cream shop, on the corner of L and 23 in Havana, were stopped while carrying signs demanding they be granted permits to travel overseas.
Translated by: JT
May 1 2011
When some days ago the Venezuelan chancellor Nicolás Maduro read a plain official note, announcing that President Hugo Chávez Frías, aged 54, would be undergoing surgery in the lower abdomen, few in Cuba paid attention.
Maduro’s message was issued in Havana, during a bilateral meeting as part of the strategic alliance signed by Cuba and Venezuela — members of the ALBA, a mercantile, financial and political alliance in which Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua participate.
The information about Chávez’s surgery has been manipulated with tweezers by the State media, almost as if it were a State secret; a matter of national security.
Lacking a free and transparent press, the rumors ran from one extreme to the other. All were fables and whispers. Politicians and local impresarios must be pulling their hair with the bad news about the colonel from Barinas. To the average Cuban his health doesn’t matter too much. What worries them are the consequences that a fatal end would bring.
When Benito, age 49, factory worker, learned that Chávez would be operated on, he gave it no importance. “By his age and because he seemed like a healthy man. But it seems that the man is fucked. I know because of the news I heard on Radio Martí and from people who illegally watch television from Miami by the ‘antenna’ (satellite connection). If he disappears from the ‘air’ (he dies), he’d bring us a million internal problems, from oil right down to the money that resolves the thousands of Cuban co-ops in Venezuela”, he expressed, alarmed.
From there come the shots of the common citizens. It is calculated that more than 30,000 Cubans lend their services in Venezuela, like doctors, sports trainers, engineers, coaches, and military men. In practice, this collaboration has turned into an ‘industry’ that permits the government to invest petrodollars – a deal that fattens the national GDP. And on the good health of Chávez depends all those thousands of Cubans in Venezuela continuing to bring home dollars and merchandise.
For every doctor who works in Venezuela, his family in Cuba receives around 60 dollars monthly. A pittance. But with that monthly payment, four people can eat hot meals once a day. And when the doctor returns after two years of service, they load him or her up with garbage for their families and to nourish the little clothing stalls staffed by the self-employed throughout the country.
Besides, the ‘internationalists’, as those who cooperate are called, can choose their houses. A true privilege: in 75% of the housing in Cuba three different generations reside under the same roof and 63% of the housing is in fair or poor shape.
For all these advantages, for simple Cubans the death of the strong man from Caracas would strip even more from the worthless national economy. They aren’t walking far from the truth. In the last 52 years, Cuba has lived on its belly, maintained by other nations and brushing half the world’s teeth. Doubtlessly, a change of government in Venezuela would be a catastrophe with dramatic overtones.
Raúl Castro knows it, too. The loquacious Venezuelan President won his power by votes. And those same elections could send him back to Barinas. Because of this, Castro II intends to make his slow and methodical reforms, which would permit him to tone down the consequences in case of something unforeseen in Venezuela.
The governors of Cuba aren’t waiting for the cart to get in the way. Precisely now, when the olive green impresarios tried to make the economy move on its own, with new investments and elevated consumption of petroleum. It would be to return to the most critical stage of the “special period”. Like getting in the time machine, but going backwards.
That the horse should sink halfway through the puddle wasn’t in the contingency plans of the meticulous wise men of the regime, dedicated to plan variances and political strategies. But if changes occur in Venezuela, Cuba would be left adrift.
To the Havaneros, who generally aren’t used to being interested in political events, the news coming from the south has them sitting up and paying attention. Ernesto, aged 54, a shaman, doesn’t even want to think about it. “Two of my sons are working in Venezuela, and I have eleven ‘adoptees’ (from santería) there. The future of my children depends on the dollars they can bring home”, he says. And adds: “No religious brother has been able to confirm what’s been said, that Chávez was coming to Cuba to make himself a saint (‘un Ifá’)”.
The first rumors were reassuring about health problems. Chávez should make himself a saint. “I hope that’s the motive. If it were true that he has a terminal cancer, then we won’t see blacks”, says Oscar, age 35, a party militant.
More drastic is René, age 69, palero (practitioner of the Palo or Rules of the Congo). “I always knew that Fidel was going to pull Chávez through his disgrace. Castro has very strong protectors. And those he usually holds up, or who die first, or fall into disgrace”.
For now, Fidel Castro has company in the hospital.
Photo: AP. Chávez’s supporters in Caracas.
Translated by: JT
June 27 2011