The worst of the timid reforms of General Raul Castro is amnesia. In addition to the cynicism. All the prohibitions, whether it is sightseeing in your own country, having a cell phone, buying a car or now being able to sell, buy or exchange a home without the absurd regulations promulgated by the State, were designed by the government, where Castro II was the vice president.
There is no public apology from the government recognizing their blunders, especially not recognizing the guilt for those mistakes that ruled in national life for more than 50 years.
It is known that Fidel Castro, with no official opposition, drew up the rules, even violating his own constitution. Then in 2008 the General took the reins of power, at par, renewing the seats of power and retiring most of the ministers loyal to his brother. He terminated the inconsistencies, absurd violations of individual freedom, such as the boarding schools in the countryside where the students worked in the field, or not being able to stay in a hotel or sell your own home.
Cuba is a bizarre nation. Here, what is normal is abnormal and vice versa. For years, a majority wondered aloud why swapping homes should require permission from a state institution or why we have been denied the option of selling our homes, when the title shows us as the owner of the dwelling.
It was one of the many masks that allow the head of state to handle his citizens as if they were puppets. Castro II is throwing down some irrational regulations out of a pure instinct for survival.
There is still a large pile of prohibitions. From the abominable permits Cubans must ask for in order to travel, to the fatal stubbornness denying open access to the Internet, burdening the economic and personal future, in addition to monopolizing information, for a country with more than one million college graduates.
But let’s go back to the point. As of November 10, 2011, you can buy a house in Cuba.
According to the lawyer Laritza Diversent, the measure has its little tricks. To buy or sell in ‘special areas’, due to the population density in neighborhoods such as October 10, Cerro, Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, the person must have the approval of the corrupt Institute of Housing.
The licensed attorney, Diversent, has doubts about the new measures actually expediting the processing of the purchase and sale of a home. It is now mandatory to register the property in the Property Registry.
It turns out that the dilapidated legal offices do not have sufficient staff to deal with the number of customers who are coming round the corner. Something similar happens with the notaries, who are now increasing their legal presence in matters regarding the acquisition of a car or a house.
In each municipality, Havana has Notaries and Registries of Property. But due to the shortage of staff and computers, people have to wait in long lines from early in the morning.
Castro II attempts to lighten the bureaucratic burden suffered by ordinary Cubans as they try to process anything. Far from achieving this, the processing burdens are likely to increase. It is also unclear whether residents in so-called “frozen zones”, where ministers and mandarins live or where there are public or military institutions, can move without notice.
Despite the long lines, the paperwork, and of course the bribes that will run under the table to get things going, Cubans welcome the possibility of selling or buying a home.
Of course, the Real Estate stock is not very big. In Cuba, there is a deficit, the government says, of 600,000 homes. I think we should multiply this by three. It is common in a house to have, living together under one roof, three different generations. Given the lack of space, people expand their housing haphazardly.
It is very rare to see a house on the island that’s retained its original architecture. Rooms are added, sometimes endangering the structure of the house.
Those who have money go to the store and buy New York priced ceramics, floor tiles, sanitary ware or cement mortar. Note the record prices.
One meter of flooring costs between 12 and 27 CUC (convertible pesos). Tiles are around the same price. A sanitaryware set, including a sink produced in Brazil or Ecuador, costs from 150 to 200 CUC. The cement mortar costs 6.60 CUC. Sinks, faucets (taps) and other items also cost a good deal. To repair a house, the cost will not be less than 2,000 convertible pesos. That amounts to 48,000 national currency pesos. This is equivalent to the salary of an engineer working for 7 years, and he may not make even make that.
The government has removed subsidies for building materials sold in establishments known as ‘junkyards’. But because of the minimal delivery of items, within a few hours there is no cement or steel rods for sale.
There is so much apathy and corruption, that according to the official media, there are warehouses full of sand, blocks and other materials that lack means of transportation and so remain stranded.
Those who intend to buy a house in Cuba must have 2,000 CUC for a single room in a rooming sites; 20,000 CUC if you want a three bedroom apartment in satisfactory condition, or 60,000 CUC on average for a residence in the old quarter of Vedado, Nuevo Vedado or Miramar.
And, according to house brokers, it is likely that sales prices will rise rapidly. In Havana, a well-preserved 1956 car costs more than a two-bedroom apartment.
This tendency is bound to be reversed. The housing demand exceeds the supply. The remaining problem is the lack of money of the majority to take over a house. I guess that will increase phone calls to relatives abroad to send them the money. Exiles, prepare your wallets!
Photo: loooquito, Panoramio. Buildings repaired along the Paseo del Prado, Old Town Havana.
Translated by: CIMF, CASA
November 10 2011
When I heard through the BBC that Amy Winehouse had been found dead in her house in London, the first person I thought about was my niece, Yania. I’ll explain.
It’s because in the choir of her secondary school, in the year 2006-2007, her teacher not only selected Yania to be a soloist, but she proposed a song much heard at that time: Rehab, written and sung by Amy Winehouse.
Yania’s teacher thought that with Yania’s deep voice, she could sing a good version of Rehab. And she did. Her grandmother – my mother – told me that a rumor spread throughout the school, based only on the choir practice, that there was a student (13 years old at the time), “who sang like Amy Winehouse”. Apart from the typical adolescent hype, she had had to sing Rehab dozens of times, requested by school mates, teachers and relatives.
The first ones who were surprised when they attended the school concert were her mother – my sister – and her grandmother. She came on at the end and as soon as she was announced, applause broke out. And when she finished, people were stomping their feet, whistling and yelling “Black Power”: Yania, my niece, was not only black and pretty but was also a good girl with her head well-adjusted. This is something her family, friends, and neighbors of La Vibora, the neighborhood where she lived in La Habana, are proud of.
At this effervescence of enthusiasm for the ‘Black Power’ in Lucerne, in some way influenced by the fact that, thousands of miles away from Switzerland, in the United States for the first time an African-American had a chance to win a presidential election, that he eventually won.
I have not had a chance to hear the full version of Rehab that Yania sings, only one verse, which she sang to me over the phone. It’s a shame that my mother or my sister didn’t have a digital camera that day. Or, better yet, a video, to record it. Although in the photo gallery of the high school you can still see it, so Tania told me. If it is possible, I will ask that she put the link here (it is one of the rehearsals, with Yania in the purple and white pullover).
From the chorus of eighth graders, she became a soloist, but refused to be typecast with Winehouse, and, with the approval of the music teacher, she interpreted Hometown Glory, by Adele, the British singer-songwriter who then wasn’t as famous as she is now. In ninth grade, the third and final year of high school, she sang Sunny, which had its greatest popularity in the years when her mother and I were born in a hospital in Havana.
After that one day when she was able to gain a foothold in the difficult and competitive world of music, my niece Yania has had her feet on the ground and now strives to finish high school and college in Switzerland, her second homeland.
Photo: Jutta Vogel. From the interview conducted by journalist Dominique Schärer and published in September 2004 in Amnesty magazine with the title “Ich habe eine grosse innere Freiheit” (I have a great inner freedom). It was taken at a playground near her home in Lucerne. Yania appears between her mother, Tamila Garcia and her grandmother, Tania Quintero.
Note .- When Ivan sent this account, I did not know that Yania had dedicated a post to Amy Winehouse, in my blog. On June 3, 2009, the day she turned 15, Ivan wrote The 15 years of Yania. He left it that day on the blog ‘From Havana’, but all blog posts published in 2009 ‘mysteriously’ disappeared. It will be reproduced in his new blog. Meanwhile, I copy them from the beginning: “My niece is a black girl, almost as tall as Michelle Obama, and with a voice like Amy Winehouse. She is called Yania Betancourt García and her 15th birthday is on June 3, 2009. Since 2003, she has lived in the peaceful city of Lucerne, Switzerland, with her mother and grandmother. She studies in eighth grade in a secondary school, with students with better grades. In her spare time, she sings with a group of teenagers, where her deep voice has the unmistakable stamp of her African ancestors. The band, her classroom and her friends are like a mini UN: Tamil, Serbian, Croatian, Filipino, Swiss … and she, a Cuban, born in 1994 in the special period, in the neighborhood of La Vibora, La Habana “(Tania Quintero).
Translated by: CIMF
July 25 2011
It’s now known that the Castro brothers’ government defends itself by attacking. When an independent journalist or alternative blogger writes about the other face of Cuba that the official media ignores, they jump at your neck like a spring.
They use all kinds of tactics. From offense, calumny, and discrediting to the hackneyed output of justifying the misdeeds that plague Cuban society with the comparative statements that this also happens in other places.
And it’s true. In other latitudes people jump the gate, and in the United States they enter undocumented. In many countries prostitution, drugs and social violence are rampant. But the brutal difference is that this is published in the press. It’s not a secret. Not even the ugly face of the society is hidden.
In Cuba, reporters who are employees of the regime try to color the national panorama with the laughter of happy children, hardworking farmers, humble athletes, honest police officers and, finally, they assert that the island is the best and most efficient democracy on the planet.
They are the fifth wheel of the car. The way they defend a theory is to negate the other. They go over the easy track. Anyone who disagrees is a traitor, a mercenary bought by Yankee gold.
Shamelessness isn’t new. This kind of state misinformation was put into practice by the Bolsheviks first, and by Adolf Hitler later on.
The advantages of having a controlled flow of information are undeniable. It’s easier to govern when you control what is said, informed, and opined.
Since journalism emerged outside of government control in the early 90s or the wave of independent bloggers starting in 2007, the regime viciously attacks those who disagree and sign their names in blogs, websites or foreign publications.
It’s undoubtable that the new technologies are a powerful enemy against the Cuban regime. From the mobile phone and its SMS (text messaging) service, through social networks like Twitter and Facebook and ending with different anti-Castro websites.
The Castro brothers know that the force and state of opinion can generate the network of networks. Because of that they strive to clog the Internet with a troupe of hardworking clerks dedicated to defend them, tooth and nail. They are afraid that the people can access an Internet without locks.
But you can’t cover up the sun with one finger. Cuba has many realities. And nobody can include them. It’s a reality that people who defend the Castros and their tropical socialism exits. Just like it’s also a reality that there are many who oppose them.
Whether or not you like the supporters of the regime, it’s also true that there are prostitutes in Havana that scare people. That corruption is a style of life and civic values have plummeted. Living in illegalities, like gambling or emptying containers into the port, have become normal.
According to my perception, the majority of Cubans are upset with the way the Castros govern. The number of probable immigrants is huge.
The future doesn’t locate talented youth in their country. Cuba is hurting. Even its most ardent supporters admit that they haven’t done their homework well. Their cowardice lies in teh fact that they don’t blame anybody for the disaster. And now there’s someone to blame: Fidel Castro.
Translated by: J.E.L.
October 30 2011
It’s almost a siege. Never before, since Cali 1971, when Cuba took second place by assault in the continent’s multi-sport games, moving Canada to third place, did the green caimán feel the breath of its opponents so close.
Then in Rio 2007, Brazil sent Cuba into water up to its neck. With a final push of athletics and combat sports, they made a killing in the shooting event in the land of samba and soccer. In a duel of power to power, Cuba won 59 gold medals to Brazil’s 54.
Now joining the effort are Canada and Mexico, the home of the Sixteenth Pan American Games, from October 14-30, in Guadalajara, with the participation of 5,996 athletes from 42 countries, including 442 Cubans. But Brazil feels it’s now time to take out the U.S., always the champion.
Brazil is very serious about sports. Today, Cuba excels in all team sports, except baseball. Even in combat events and athletics, which Cuba often sweeps, Brazil now is a rival to watch out for.
In the last world-wide judo contest, Brazil won more medals than Cuba. If their best male and female athletes go to Guadalajara, Cuba will have a hard time dominating the martial art.
Now boxing is not the flagship of yesteryear. Forget about winning nine or ten gold medals in the engagements of America. After a legion of fighters switched sides, they decided to sign as professionals, and the Cuban boxers have ceded territory.
It’s true that in the last World Cup held in Bakú, Cuba ranked second, with two gold medals and one silver. But Brazil made history with the gold obtained by the light welterweight Everton dos Santos, and the bronze of Esquiva Falcâo in the division of at least 75 kilos.
And it’s likely that Everton and Dodge will compete in Guadalajara. Moreover, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Dominica and the United States have some individuals who might take away the gold medals from Cuban boxing.
To secure second place in these Pan American Games, Cuba is confident that the wrestlers will sweep in freestyle and Greco-Roman. And take between nine and eleven titles in athletics. The United States will get third and fourth, giving options to the island’s athletes.
Jamaica, a potential number one in sprinting, will compete with runners of low rank. But we know that number ten of the Jamaican team wins at short-distance runs.
If the United States doesn’t keep a commitment to swimming and uses kids who aren’t very fast, then there will be a golden opportunity for Brazil to take some medals out of the pool.
Mexico can also outstep Cuba in different disciplines. Like Venezuela, Argentina or Canada, who are not made of stone. Brazil ought to impose itself in several group sports.
In volleyball, either beach or court, and between women and men, the yellow-greens should sweep up. If Cuba can achieve a good result in cycling and boating, it will have more options to stay in second place. Anyway, with countries winning even second place, the number of gold medals for Cuba should not exceed 50.
Look, among the 361 sports events that award medals, Cuba withdrew from participating in 111. Among others, Cuba will not compete in wrestling, football and women’s weightlifting.
In swimming, the Creole presence will be symbolic. The task of the Indian will have to do with combat sports and athletics, with its best exponents participating, say Olympic champions Dayron Robles or Yargelis Savigne, valued in the triple jump, Yarelis Barrios in discus, Yipsi Moreno in hammer-throwing, the decathlete Leonel Suárez and the phenomenon of the pole-vault, Lázaro Borges.
Taking account, it’s likely that Cuba can beat Brazil by taking two or three medals. But surely the Brazilians will be close behind. Suffice it to say that after four years, the colossus of the South must displace the Greater Antilles in the continental games.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to sleep soundly. It is the most powerful nation in the sport of the Americas. Although it has had its scares: in 1951 Argentina ranked first in the Pan American Games held in Havana in 1991, Cuba relegated them to second place.
But it has rained enough. And Cuba has lost many points in athletics. For various reasons, from the systemic economic crisis that has ravaged the island for 21 years to the incessant defections of athletes.
Mexico will be a red dot on the lens of Cuban athletes. The United States is on the other side of the gate. And that will always be a temptation for those athletes who dream of competing as professionals and earning high salaries.
Of course, Mexico is burning. There have been 44,000 deaths in the last five years. A wave of violence that changes these Pan American Games into a high-risk event.
To neutralize any threat, Felipe Calderón placed 11,000 specialized policemen, manned airplanes and Blackhawk helicopters to clear the zone of the feared gunmen of the Sinaloa cartel and the paramilitary bands in the style of the Zetas.
The Mexican authorities have declared they have not detected any suspicious activity and security is guaranteed 100 percent in Guadalajara 2011. But in sports, the threat to Cuba is called Brazil.
Translated by Regina Anavy
25 October 2011