Last July 31st, Raul Castro completed his first five years in charge of Cuba’s destiny. Unlike Fidel, he speaks little and isn’t too inclined to self-adulation. He knows the Cuban economic model is a fiasco and bets on a miracle.
The old conspirator, now president of the Republic, has drawn his master plan. It relies on various cardinal sectors. And it isn’t the dream of a visionary or the fatherland’s little founder. If there is something he knows how to do, it is listen to those who know how and let them do it.
Of course, he is not a democrat. He is an old school Communist dinosaur. He is surrounded by a clan of military-entrepreneurs who have put away their striking uniforms and Spartan life in the barracks, and now they wear white guayaberas. They are informed on the latest innovative methods of business administration and finance.
The General has seen how the central planning of Marxist Socialism has failed. Therefore, he looks to China and Vietnam, two nations that still opt for the bizarre ideology, but are economically growing using capitalist methods.
He doesn’t want to improvise as his brother did. The sole commander got used to conceiving plans as if they were strings of sausages and, when they didn’t work, blamed others for it and turned the page.
Castro II, 80, knows that his principal enemy is time, and not the local dissidence or the lethal Creole bureaucracy.
But if he makes changes too fast he may lose the reins of reforms and become the Caribbean Gorbachev. The Revolution’s gravedigger. That idea terrifies the General. Therefore, his reforms go at a danzon pace. Slow, methodical and safe.
He doesn’t want surprises. When things get stuck, he shifts gears while the car is running. He knows how to improvise. As in the case of self-employment.
The gypsy cab drivers were unhappy about the taxes. He didn’t think twice, and made a tax reduction from one thousand to six hundred pesos.
The same with the paladares*; rumors and dislikes. He enacted an ordinance raising the number of seats in private restaurants from 20 to 50 chairs. With the land leases he has made amendments. The number of private trades have been expanded to 181. If necessary he will make other changes, according to the circumstances.
Raúl Castro doesn’t stick to a dogma or fixed ideas. Publicly, he speaks of a planned economy. A speech to toss some bones to and provide pleasant music for the ears of the party orthodox wing. And also for his brother who looks on puzzles, from his bedside, at the chips that his successor has been moving.
Many think that Fidel Castro is abandoned to the mercy of God. We can not forget that the legendary partisan has an important asset in his hands: Hugo Chávez.
If Raul steps out of the script, Castro could convince Chavez to close the oil tap to the island. With this blackmail, he controls the excesses of the ‘olive green technocrats’ and their ambitions of founding state capitalism.
The Bolivarian is Fidel Castro’s wildcard, his counterpart. An unconditional. Because of these honors and attention, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias feels strong. And at times, with hidden criticism, sends his hurtful remarks to Raul’s followers.
The General needs oil from the infamous Chavez. And to play on both sides. Like the conspirator he has always been.
Do not forget that Raul was the “Machiavelli” behind the episode of sectarianism in the Communist Party in the ’60s, known as ‘the microfaction’. He and his intelligence apparatus were those who managed the children and carried out purges in the armed forces, in 1989-90, at the time of the Ochoa and Abrantes cases.
While Fidel was interested in enhancing his image as a world-class statesman, Castro II was conspiring in the shadows. Since the mid ’90s, the real power in the island has been held by the General. The intrigues and political maneuvers are his favorite sauce.
Raul Castro has drawn his master plan facing the future.
One of his pillars is the water hydraulic resource. For two years, he has been building a major water transfer system across the eastern municipalities of the island. The port of Mariel is one of his ventures for an economic resurgence. Some scholars think that when the embargo becomes history, this harbor could be the largest in the Caribbean, outperforming the port of Miami.
Another strategy is to expand tourism and especially to attract travelers with money to spend. Today, the tourists who visit Cuba are using all-inclusive packages and, on average, spend $ 36 a day which its too little.
The General aims for the wealthy and the businessmen to make their trips to the island. Therefore he has launched the construction of hunting grounds and 18-hole golf courses. There’s also an increasing lobby to resume real estate construction.
In his economic design for the coming years, offshore drilling on the Cuban shelf is crucial. If the geological survey has the desired results, the dependence on Venezuelan oil will be cut short. And he would not have to bear Chavez’s subtle insults.
Among the Castro II projects is future participation in the businesses of Cuban-Americans who haven’t been too critical of the regime.
Raul Castro wants to go down in history as the statesman who laid the foundations for economic development in Cuba. Many are wary of him. He looks like a bad guy. But there are bad guys, like Pinochet in Chile, who sometimes do good things.
Paladares — literally, palates — are small private restaurants, where actually you eat in a home’s dining room.
Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez.
August 1 2011
The United States embargo is relative. If Cuba had fulfilled its economic duties, it could buy merchandise in any other place without worrying about the shipping freight cost.
In spite of the embargo, Raul Castro can afford the luxury of buying Humvee jeeps – a United States army vehicle – to travel Cayo Saetía’s virgin prairies, in Holguin province, when the top brass goes hunting.
Therefore, who suffers the consequences of the embargo most is the average Cuban, not their rulers. Right now, the Cuban-American political lobbyists are exerting strong pressure in order to enforce the embargo restrictions.
As in any conflict, there are supporters and detractors. There is a phenomenon associated with the embargo of the utmost importance. It is the future compensation or restitution for those affected as a result of the massive nationalizations of American companies and Cuban citizens by Fidel Castro’s “olive green government” in the first years of the Revolution.
According to the Helms-Burton Act, even if there is a future democratic government in Cuba, the embargo would continue until the victims of the expropriation have been compensated. For many, it’s something simple. They naively believe democracy is a magic wand that will turn into gold all the shit accumulated after 52 years of economic disasters.
But it is not like that. See for yourself: Cuba owes money to everybody. We are the most indebted country in the world on a per person basis. To Russia we owe 25 million rubles. To Spain, China and the Paris Club, billions of dollars.
Add a few more billions to the Cubans, now U.S. citizens, who lost their properties. In fact, there are a significant number of legal suits in the United States on the issue of compensation.
It is known that the Castro brothers are not going to pay. Therefore, the huge debt will fall on the shoulders of a future democratic government. The more time it takes, the more money will be accumulated. And the Cuban government will have to pay. Or sit down and negotiate.
The changes in the island can be delayed from ten to fifteen years, but they will come. The design drawn up by the current government is based on military corporations that accumulate large investments. They have been distributing the nation among themselves. A real pinata.
A future administration will be bankrupt. Even with deep cuts in social services, encouraging foreign investment or implementing flexible laws and low taxes, it won’t be able to accumulate enough capital to pay the national debt.
Antonio Rodiles, economist, from one of the think tanks who resides in Havana, has looked deeply into the subject and addresses the issue in an article entitled “Liberalization of vacant land and dilapidated properties, a necessary step to initiate a recovery process”. It’s founded on the experience of the Eastern European communist countries.
According to Mr. Rodiles, a future Cuban democratic government could compensate by selling bonds, businesses, lots and vacant land to foreign companies or citizens affected by expropriation.
In this article, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, dissident economist, rationalizes that “in regard to the refunds, the Cuban reality advises other methods. With regard to housing, we are in favor of a massive granting of these properties, along with all the responsibilities inherent to the current onerous usufructuaries.”
Espinosa Chepe believes that the fairest approach could be the return of these properties to their former owners. “But because of the time elapsed and the transformations of these properties, some of them already destroyed; the best solution would be to pay the original owners, which could be done through bonds”.
To undertake the payment of the debts incurred by the Castro brothers, a future government would have to auction the businesses and draw up a severe adjustments plan. Wilfredo Vallin, attorney at law, believes it’s probable that many countries, the United States among them, will forgive the Cuban national debt.
But a real policy is not articulated on the basis of assumptions. It wouldn’t be a profitable strategy for a new government in Cuba to disburse huge expenses to pay for an inherited debt due to Castro’s economic anarchy.
If the Castro brothers, as it’s supposed, have no intention whatsoever of compensating the property owners, then it would have to be negotiated with a future transitional government. Lifting the embargo now is a good way to save time.
The businesses and economically affected citizens should be financially compensated, without affecting Cuba’s development, and without fiscal adjustments that provoke social unrest. After five decades, plus any extended delay to end Castro’s dynasty, it is not advisable to require more sacrifices from the people.
Now, without another word, Cubans have to make a new holes in their belt. But when they get used to living in freedom, at the first change, outraged, they will throw themselves to protest on the streets. Those are the benefits of a democracy.
Video: Cay Saetia. Located in the Bay of Nipe, north of the province of Holguin. Despite being considered Raul Castro’s “private island,” the town lives off of tourism, which it is controlled by Gaviota S.A, a group run by the military. One of the main attractions are the safaris, where tourists can see camels, deer, antelopes, water buffaloes, boars, horses and parrots among other species.
Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez
July 27 2011
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
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
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
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
Ciro Diaz, 33, guitar player for the group Porno for Ricardo and musical producer, had all the ingredients to be a jet setter of the Revolution. He was born and raised in the heart of a family who listened to Fidel Castro’s long speeches and went to the Revolutionary celebrations cyclically generated by the olive green government.
Diaz, a guy of a medium height, brown eyes and incipient baldness, studied at the elite Vladimir Ilyich Lenin High School, south of Havana, Cuba. One of those labs where the regime tried to mold the future “New Man.”
With Ciro the experiment didn’t work. Between rock music and political discrepancies, Diaz never fully understood the Prussian logic of the one and only commander. And he withheld the free applause for the father of the Cuban Revolution.
His idols were others. Nirvana, Metallica and Aerosmith. Since his first year of High School, he was the composer of songs that, later and without pretensions, he performed in the different bands at his school, which would form and disband in a period of a few months. In between octaves and complex theorems, Diaz graduated in mathematics on a sunny afternoon on July of 2004.
Earlier, starting in 1998, he was the guitar player for the band “Porno para Ricardo,” led by Gorky Aguila. Music was a serious business. “I had my first performances with a big audience playing for “Porno.” We had critical opinions about the regime. It was especially perceived in our concerts, where we told jokes against the government,” says Ciro, seated in front of a console table in an independent recording studio built in Gorki’s house.
The rebel attitude of the rock band set off the red alarms of the island censors. The musicians in Cuba know very well what price they will have to pay for certain positions that break away from the guidelines dictated by the troop of bureaucrats who rule the national culture. “It’s simple. As if it was a part of a magic trick, you disappear from artistic life. They ban your concerts. And you can not record in the state’s recording studios,” Ciro explains.
Then, another life begins. In the underground world. Like an armadillo. Offering special concerts to your fans in a concrete factory backyard or in the park of your neighborhood.
Several times, running to escape from the cops, they left behind some musical instruments. By then, the Special Services came to the conclusion that they had to raise the bar for “Porno para Ricardo,” whom they already labeled as “a disturber of the public order,” the step before sticking you with the label “counterrevolutionary.”
In 2004, the band leader, Gorki Aguila, was sentenced to 4 years in jail. “They made up false charges of drug possession. That’s precisely when the band started to have a notorious anti-governmental stance. Thanks to international support, Gorki only served two years in jail.”
The harassment of the members of “Porno” became a nightmare. The bad news came down over their heads. In 2008, The government pulled several judicial tricks out of its sleeve to open a new case against Gorki. In an almost desperate act, the members and some of the band followers, decided to use the peaceful protest method.
At a Pablo Milanes concert, on August 28 of 2009 in the Anti-imperialist Bandstand, known by everybody as the “protest-drome,” they tried to pull out a banner demanding the release of Aguila, who was detained at a local precinct.
“That became a battle ground. We were attacked physically and verbally by law enforcement agents,” remembers Ciro. Starting from this period, when the group couldn’t interact with its followers or record compact discs, the idea of having their own recording studio was born.
Such a crazy idea developed after the musician Gorki Aguila sold one thousand CDs during his trip to United States. “To that money, we added the help from friends in Europe and Central America. Building the recording studio was an odyssey indeed. We were under the microscope of the Cuban State Security forces, and for that reason we took the precaution of buying the materials and the equipment with their respective paper work. Everything by the book,” Ciro points out.
The dream came true a year and a half later. In June 2010, La Paja (“Jerk off”) Records was inaugurated. A studio built by the members of the band that allow them to make their own CDs.
“I got an audio operator’s license, and I pay taxes for it. The idea is not only to record our music . Also help to produce discs of marginalized groups regardless of genre, it can be rock, punk, salsa or hip hop. Any musicians whom the State closes their recording doors on can count on us,” said Diaz.
Independent recording studios flourish today in Havana. “There’s a dozen. But there are very few with the professionalism and rigorous standards of ours.” In ten months, they have produced seven discs. Two of them complete. The principal producer of the “Jerk off Records” is Ciro Diaz, a guitar player for “Porno para Ricardo” and for a group called “La Babosa Azul” ( The Blue Slug).
Although in reality he considers himself a composer. He has written hundreds of songs and composed themes for short films and documentaries. He spends half of the day between the console and the computer, producing music.
Right now, he is frantic. He had to repeat six times the recording of a string group, that didn’t come out the way he wanted. “Production steals a lot of time from my work as a composer. But it is something I enjoy. My dream is to give a mega-concert on the same square where one day we were repressed.”
Translated by Adrian Rodriguez
June 25 2011
The fiery debate and emotions around the reforms of General Raul Castro were circumscribed to the air-conditioned rooms of the Palace of Conventions, where between April 16-19 the five commissions of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party were in session.
Cubans warily followed the central report and saw on the TV news the abstracts of the linguistic, rather than political, debates of the different commissions debating the future of Cuba. At the end, as a common practice, the 986 delegates unanimously approved the economic policies proposed by Castro II to straighten the bow of the already cracked olive green ship, which with 52 years of sinuous navigation is at great risk of sinking.
The communist delegates can feel the sublime over-enjoyment of the spectrum of supposed controversies surrounding the economic plan to be executed in the next five years.
A lot of delegates, probably, believe without any doubt in the project designed by the economic tsar Marino Murillo and his troop of technocrats who, during four days, traded the military uniforms for elegant white guayabera shirts.
Some of them preferred to remain silent. Maybe they have a lot of doubts and decided to wait to know the amount of truthfulness involved in the Castro II proclaimed democracy in the Cuban Communist Party. In Cuba it is always right to be cautious in political matters.
Not always when the bosses fire the starting gun so that the political commissioners, official journalists and partisans will talk and unreservedly criticize the status quo, is it a signal of a change in the leaders mentality.
On the island naivety is a sin you can’t commit. Because the mandarins who today say that not everybody has to raise their hands at the same time to support one of the revolution’s projects, it is still the same ones who are written on a black list of those who criticized their decrees and those who, in their eagerness to be creative, contributed with their own ideas.
The people on the street are not fools neither. The VI Congress touched interesting points and the regime anticipated opening a little the iron fist that monitors citizens’ lives.
But everything here is still the same. Maybe worse. The money doesn’t want to land in the wallets. The food is more expensive every day. And the salaries are still frozen in time, in spite of inflation and the shortages.
Out of the party’s meeting, the common person got as a result the imminent authorization allowing him to buy and sell cars and homes. The homes part of the deal sounds weird: although on the island 90% of the families own their homes, by official decree they couldn’t transfer them and if they left the country, the government took ownership of their properties.
Amending the front page (it seems), now the common Cuban citizen waits for more concessions. Like the permission to come and go from the national territory, the decriminalization of political dissent or, at last, access to the internet from home.
I doubt that Castro II will fulfill those wishes. He is not Aladdin. He is only a politician who turns back, knowing that opening the fist too much may trigger a cataclysm that may end the personal revolution made by his brother Fidel.
This, socialism, has to be preserved by all means. Making controlled changes heavily reined in, therefore the beast don’t run away out of control.
Then, at the end of the day, people who for breakfast have coffee without milk, who are the majority in Cuba, didn’t see themselves represented by the “polemic” delegates, who either keep on silent or ignore the bunch of rights and civil liberties claimed, not only by the dissidents, but by the Cuban citizens while waiting in the long lines at the local grocery stores, or in the interior of the collective gypsy cabs.
The regime’s propagandistic marketing wants to sell us the idea that the Congress happened in a rush of constructive criticism, a kind of tropical Perestroika and the new popular ideas that will nurture the homeland’s economic future.
I am afraid not. Certain things had changed. There’s a glaze of blackness and more skirts in the Central Committee. There will be fewer revolutionary marches and empty political speeches. They will issue more permits to open small variety stores or to sell bread and mayonnaise and pirated compact discs without so much effort. And that’s it.
Photo: Jutta Winkhaus. Playing dominoes at the side of the stairs leading to La Guarida: the famous “paladar” (a private home restaurant with a few seats) which is located in and old run down mansion in a poor Havana neighborhood.
Translated by Adrian Rodriguez
April 27 2011
The administration of General Raul Castro has known how to improvise with the car in motion. Castro II, who this past June 3rd turned 80 years old, has had a trajectory as a warrior, soldier, and politician, always crouching under the shadow of his media star brother who governed the island for 47 years with a self-centered power and long anti-imperialist speeches
General Castro knows his limitations. He doesn’t have the gift of gab to capture his world political counterparts or fill plazas with fiery harangues. He is used to working as a team. And he listens without interrupting the statements of others.
He also never had the complex of a world statesmen. He never was the top of the class. But he has taken on guiding the fate of a nation impoverished by 52 years of crazy economics, ferocious bureaucracy, military campaigns, and subversion in the Third World. He knows that his mission is trying to save the historic legacy of the revolution and attempting to create ideological continuity after his death and that of his brother.
Before starting to renovate the building on a weak foundation, he did an evaluation of the dangers. The diagnosis was correct. There were more than enough bureaucrats; the communist party is an intruder in the subject of business administration; there was a need to stimulate self-employment and also send more than a million workers to the unemployment lines.
He emphasized belt-tightening to not go over the budget, something sacred. No more taking money from public funds just to fulfill whimsical ideas like the construction of a biotechnology center outside of the annual planning. That was his brother’s way, who jumped over the rules as easily as drinking a glass of water.
Still Castro II believes in Marxist theories. But he is realistic. And when he opens on his desk the world map, he observes that no communist nation moved forward using quinquennial plans and a centralized economy. But he is cautious.
Still he has the jealous and vigilant eye of his brother taking note. He is trying to buy time. The erosion of power when he lets people act on their own disgusts Fidel Castro. He always preferred to keep the herd tied up. Let the state give the good and bad news. The awards or the punishments.
But the General and his military partners think differently. It doesn’t matter how you call the ideology, what it is essential is to have the power. And that people drink milk, eat well, and get enough money to consume and have fun.
Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz has always been a plotter. His reforms will be at a Danzón pace. Slow, sure, and anticipating disasters. But decidedly, at the end of the tunnel, the model Cuba tries to follow is a mixture of Vietnam and China, beautified with components from Latin-American folklore, like the nonsense of the new socialism of Chavez or the pragmatism of a modern left like the Brazilian one.
He plays three ways. From China he needs money and experience on handling a market economy and an inflexible control over the dissidents. Vietnam is a good example on how a nation can come back from a bloody war.
There are similarities between Cuba and Vietnam. Excepting the million deaths that the conflict between USA-Vietnam left behind, the almost 50 years of Castro I’s government left the nation financially and economically as if it was coming from a catastrophe.
The General is reluctantly supporting Chavez: he is an ally of his brother. An obnoxious political inheritance. The one from Barinas has no brakes. Not even a clutch. Ignores discretion. He has the brain directly connected with the tongue. A capital sin for a statesman.
But the Venezuelan commander has oil. Which is expensive, and Cuba needs it to restart its economy. Raul Castro doesn’t go all the way out, he prefers to follow him from a prudential distance. He uses logic. If Chavez has won the power through elections once, the same electoral system will take him back home.
That’s why he goes all the way out for Brazil. It is not a bad option. The green giant is the number ten economy of the world. The left, that governed and currently governs, has demonstrated a capacity beyond its third world political discourse against poverty and in favor of the social justice, being guests at the White House galas and in world economic summits.
Moreover, Brasil has the necessary technology to extract the possible crude oil deposited in the sea bed of Cuban waters, and its exploitation will end the Cuban dependency on the Venezuelan oil.
In fact, right now, Brazil is an important economic partner for the government. 800 million dollars on the Mariel project speaks for itself. The already started construction west of Havana promises. And promises a lot. According to the figures of local analysts, it will be the biggest harbor in the Caribbean, with capacity to store more than a million containers, and with factories and duty-free zones in the near future
When the embargo is finally lifted and Castro’s heirs are welcomed in Washington, Miami’s cove as a door to the Americas may pass to a second place. It is the opening of Castro II’s play. He knows that no USA politician in office will dialogue with him or his brother.
And in advance he prepares a dolphin. Therefore, the current reforms of the General have several steps. And at the end the balance will be leaning towards a market economy. He hasn’t been dogmatic either.
When he notices that something does not work, either excessive taxation or absurd rules, as in the case of increasing the number of chairs in a ‘paladar‘ (a private home restaurant), lowering the taxes on gypsy cabs or increasing the amount of acres and the lease time for small farmers, he changed all of these without hesitation.
To maintain the Biran dynasty, the General will cede anything he has to. Including, to design an opposition to meet his needs. Remember, Raul is a full-time conspirator. Of course, the real reforms will begin after the death of Fidel.
Photo: EFE, La Habana.
Translated by Adrian Rodriguez
June 17 2011
They Threaten to Prosecute Opponent Sonia Garro and Six More Women for Marching Against the Government in Havana, Cuba.
According to opponent Sonia Garro, intelligence officers let her know that they may open a court case against her and six more women who several times organized peaceful marches of protest on the streets of Havana.
Garro commented that in one of the interrogations, agents of the State Security told her that “President Raul Castro himself wants to know who is the woman organizing protests on the streets. It may be possible that we won’t put all seven in prison, but for sure the leader or leaders will end up in a prison”.
Like the rest of the group, Sonia belongs to the Ladies supporting the Ladies in White. She, also, is a member of an Afrocuban independent association Led by Mercedes Fresneda, who is another of the ladies threatened with prosecution if they insist on engaging in anti-government protests.
Garro is one of the few opponents who is dedicated to do communitarian work in the island. Since 2007 she has led a project to help poor children, without taking into consideration the political affiliation of their parents. The project is operating where she lives, in the Los Quemados neighborhood, in the Marianao municipality in Havana,Cuba
Graduated as a nurse, in 2008 she was terminated from her job because of her political activities against the regime. She is the mother of a 14-year-old daughter and she is married to another dissident, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, who as an answer to the beatings given to Sonia by the police, in May of this year, chained himself on the roof of his home, machete in hand, yelling anti Castro slogans. Still today he goes out to the street with one arm chained, as a protest against police brutality.
“I feel harassed by the State Political Police. In front of my window there are constant repudiation rallies of mobs egged by the authorities. I received severe beatings and I suffer from a right knee contusion. On Thursday June 9, 2011, at a protest at the Anti-Imperialist Stage paying respect to Orlando Zapata, we were battered. They arrested me and kept me for two days in the police precinct of Aguilera, in the municipality of 10 de Octubre. The other six ladies were also arrested in different precincts. They opened a case against us for insult to patriotic symbols, disrespect and disorderly conduct”, Garro points out sitting on a ramshackle sofa.
The seven Cuban women who monthly go out to the street asking for democratic changes are Mercedes Fresneda, Ivonne Malleza, Niurka Luke, Yaquelin Bonne, Rosario Morales, Leidi Coca and Sonia Garro. Recently and separately, they have been taken to Cuban Intelligence’s “visiting house,” in order to intimidate and scare them.
“They offer you everything. From improving your way of life to becoming one of their agents. Officers of Cuban Intelligence with ranks of Lieutenant Colonel and Major talk with us. In charge of this harassment is a man called Tamayo, second chief of Section 21, the department dedicated to watch and to repress the opponents”, explain Mercedes Fresneda.
Garro adds that she has been threatened by the political police that if she continues with the street marches, her daughter will not longer continue studying.
These women promised to keep on in a public way expressing their grievance about the ways of the Cuban government. They believe it is their right. All of them have in common that they are poor, almost all are black or mestizo, and they were born with the revolution.
They are longing for profound and serious changes in the policies of their country. They are rooting for a democracy. And they shout for it.
Translated by Adrian Rodriguez
June 22 2011