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
Like two boxers who stare each other in the eye, before beginning their attack, came TwittHab, the first encounter between official and alternative ‘twitterers’. If the proposition was to fraternize and build bridges, this first exploratory round between virtual gladiators who’ve made blogs, Facebook and Twitter a tool for spreading their ideas, was below expectations.
The cause wasn’t the attendance at the debate of heavyweights. The star blogger of the alternatives, Yoani Sánchez, was mute. Also absent were Claudia Cadelo, Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas Castellanos, and Miriam Celaya — bloggers of an indubitable level.
For the band of those supporting Fidel Castro’s brand of socialism neither the excellent bloggers Sandra Álvarez, nor Elaine Díaz, nor the ghost-like Yohandry Fontana appeared. But it wasn’t bad. It is always welcome to build bridges.
And of course, the dialog, the presentations and the interchange of e-mails between cybernauts who sometimes trade acidic disqualifications on the net are preferable to physical violence practiced by the piece by certain groups loyal to the regime.
Four in the afternoon of Friday 1 July passed in an aseptic cubicle in the Cuba Pavillion, in La Rampa, in the heart of Havana, a chat was started between ‘twitterers’ accepted by the government and the others, those who want profound changes in the matter of political and economic freedoms.
The pro-government ones played with a 5:1 advantage. Of the more than thirty attendees, there were only six independent bloggers and ‘twitterers’. Leunam Rodriguez, a young twenty-something who seven months ago opened a Twitter account, played moderator. The exchange started cold, with scorched looks and the logical suspicion between persons who reside in a nation where debate of opposite opinions is a rare bird.
Of course, respect got priority, although there were threats of uprisings. One of them happened when the blogger Henry Constantín, after noting gratitude for the diplomatic and polite climate, said “Some days ago, when I was expelled from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) for political motives, I was beaten and received threats from State Security, now in this room I see that I can state my opinions without receiving a sudden volley of blows”.
The response of the official bloggers and twitterers was that in this encounter there would be no blows. Leunam defended the right of each one to freely express his views, as much on the net as in any other way. He declared himself a part of the revolutionary project and paraphrasing the troubadour Silvio Rodriguez, noted that “revolution is evolution”.
And so, when an alternative blogger identified as Agustín López gave a speech with clear political bias, the journalist, blogger and editor of the magazine The Middle Way, Enrique Ubieta, jumped like a spring.
“Please, we are here to fraternize, not to make political allegations”, said Ubieta. A difficult result in a meeting between individuals with different ways of thinking, politics doesn’t rise to the fore.
It is precisely the political arguments that make citizens different. If they had talked about sports, stamp collecting, fashion, or cinema, perhaps everyone would have ended up drinking some beers in a bar.
But if they share political differences, Cuban bloggers from one or another group, we’ll have more things that unite us than divide us. We all suffer chaotic public transport, the poor state of the streets and housing, and how expensive it is to bring food home to the family table, among other material difficulties.
Talking is always healthy. To reason and respect the discrepancies of others. Softening jealousies will cost enough. Something is more than nothing. And at least in this first encounter, ‘twitterers’ of both groups could look face to face and even exchange greetings.
It would have been better if there had been some principle players in this virtual “battle of ideas”. We missed Elaine and Sandra, Yoani and Claudia. And those present remained without knowing who, in reality, is Yohandry Fontana — he will keep being an ethereal guy, a question mark.
Perhaps these debates with uncovered faces will be a test balloon on the part of the government of Raúl Castro. Or they might not be. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Photo: Iván is the mulatto whom we see in the last row, on the left.
Translated by: JT
July 3 2011