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Raul Castro Handles the Situation with Tweezers

May 22, 2010 2 comments


The government of General Raul Castro is handling the Cuban situation with kid gloves, and a lot of discretion. The jubilation and cheap partying of revolutionary re-affirmation is pure distraction.

The national economy is sinking without remedy. The prescription for alleviating the disaster appears most like the neo-liberal variety that is criticized with such passion by the creole mandarins.

The forecast is not encouraging. Go figure. The measures designed by Raul Castro’s advisers are unpopular and hard. Very hard. One million three hundred thousand people will be unemployed. Inefficient industries will close. Worker transportation at the big enterprises will be eliminated.

The lunch also. Already the stimulus in convertible currency has been seriously affected. A well-informed source assures that they are studying cutting the payment of the wages in hard currency to a minimum that should not exceed 35 convertible Cuban pesos.

What could come down in this summer of fire is not friendly. According to a source consulted, during the month that the Football World Cup in South Africa begins, which State Television is going to transmit in full, it would be a good time to start with a package of regulations that would put people’s backs up.

A considerable part of the public will have their eyes on the Cup. One of the main measures is to dismiss between 100,000 and 200,000 workers from the inflated payroll slates. They are thinking of sending them home with 60% of their salary, and they are also considering placing them in some other sectors that have an enormous shortage of personnel, like the construction or agricultural industries, according to the source, who works in a branch of government.

To save face, the government of the Castro brothers intends to put into effect a model of private co-ops in small sectors such as barber shops or beauty parlors.

According to this person, the possibility is being looked at of eliminating some important subsidies like the ration card. “There is an exception, that foresees leaving the ration card only for cases of social security, in other words senior citizens, disabled people or families of low income,” points out the source and adds: “Everything is under meticulous study.”

The regime of General Castro who who will turn 79 on the upcoming June 3, has calculated to not make a false step. Twenty-one years of deep economic crisis has created a very important wearing down of a big sector of the population that is openly complaining about the policies of the government.

The rubber band will not stretch any more. It looks like the moment to apply the rumored formulas to save the economy has arrived. The situation of productivity and of finances on the island is going up in smoke.

It is strongly rumored that the next school year will be delayed until October. Essential food such as rice, salt and oil will not be readily available in the national currency, and prices have tripled. Fruits and vegetables continue to have stratospheric prices.

Many times, because of an ill-fated measure of the state organ in charge of commercialization, the products do not reach the markets, and are lost in the fields or are spoiled in warehouses.

Little and bad is the news that is falling upon us this hot summer.

Rogelio Lopez, a 67-year-old biologist by profession assures us that the oil spill in the Mexican Gulf is already provoking the hurried migration of sharks and other marine predators. Even the usual seaside months of July and August, when people rush to the beaches en masse, could be endangered by the black tide.

All a skinny dog gets are fleas. Castro II has other fronts open. One, that of the corruption at all levels. The other, political. With active opposition, the Ladies in White are trying to gain public space, the mediation of the church and the upcoming visit of the Vatican chancellor, who in addition to a face-to-face dialogue with the authorities, brings an express petition to the Havana government to free certain political prisoners.

To climb out of the hole induced by 51 years of bad economic administration, aggravated by the gringo embargo, clearly, the solution will bring strong criticism and bigger discontent in the population as well as an increase in illegal emigration.

Cuba is not Greece. None of the international organizations will inject huge sums of capital into the precarious Cuban economy. In addition, the foreign investments will continue to be minimal. We only have the summer which promises us good football, abundant heat and a new notch on the belt. Another one.

Ivan Garcia

Photos: Manu Dias. Raúl Castro is received by a native of Bahia de Acarajé, during a stop he made in Bahia, Brasil in July of 2009.

Translated By: Mari Mesa Contreras

Waiting for a Dialogue….and an Inquest

April 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Nothing will be solved with the hard discourse. There will be no solution because  General Raul Castro launches the call to slaughter against the dissidence. Neither will there be a way out of the deep crisis that Cuba inhabits, with the usual television Roundtables, where four rigid guys share their uniform opinions.

Cuba needs a dialogue, more than ever, not with the European Union or the United States, no. A national serious debate is urgent with our own people. Courageous. And once and for all, talk with the dissidents, government people and the opposition, official journalist and independent ones, bloggers of any tendency, without exceptions.

Now in these days when Cuba celebrates the 49th Anniversary of the Victory of Bay of Pigs, with Fidel Castro at the front, when in only 72 hours they defeated the troops consisting of Cuban exiles, backed by the Eisenhower government, I remember that in March 2001, a debate was held in Havana as a result of the 40 years anniversary of the Bay of Pig Invasion, with the participation of the protagonist of both countries.

Face to face, looking each other in the eye, were ex-CIA agents, former US officials and Cuban exiled fighters defeated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. It was a civilized conversation, without hatred, with the military officials from the Island, political analysts and Fidel Castro in the flesh.

It was an enriched debate. Nine years later we need other kinds of dialogues, profound and necessary. With monologues and insults, the economy does not function full steam ahead. With calling people who do not agree mercenaries, traitors or paid by the Yankee’s gold, the nation will not be proud of the performance of its government.

The ills that affect the country are someone’s fault. They are not orphans. Let us give credit to the almost 50 year’s embargo from the United States. But the biggest responsibility for the lethal inefficiency of the system belongs to the leaders. I will mention their names: Fidel and Raúl Castro.

The solution to the problems of the Nation belongs to everyone. Because those of us born in Cuba wish and want our country to come out of this motionlessness.

Of course, there will be heated controversies. Passions will be stirred, and everybody will hunker down in their respective ideologies, but from those differences, the measures that will change the status quo will emerge.

From my point of view, the problems of the Island could be remedied with dialogue. At a table.  Everyone. Those who live on one shore or the other. Seated. Smoking as if possessed, or drinking coffee. Carlos Alberto Montaner, Raúl Rivero, Max Lesnik, Zoë Valdes, Enrique Patterson and other intellectuals or high level economists who live in exile.

Together with the opposition like Martha Beatriz Roque, Elizardo Sánchez, Oswaldo Payá, René Gómez Manzano, Vladimiro Roca, Dagoberto Valdés, the independent journalist such as  Reynaldo Escobar y Luis Cino will offer their arguments, the Bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya, among others.

From the side of the government, along with the maximum leaders, intellectuals, and journalist of caliber would participate, in a civilized way, a series of right measures for the future.

Although some want to stand on the way, there are many things that unite us. I think that the journalist Pedro de La Hoz gets upset like me, when he has to wait three hours to make a simple legal procedure.

I suppose that Rosa Miriam Elizalde the reporter will be indignant when every night she watches the way that 50 percent of the drinking water distributed every day in the city is wasted.

I figure that the disastrous state of the hospitals, the lack of construction materials to repair the housing, the unknown future of the motherland, and the absurd laws not only awake the rage of the dissident lawyer Laritza Diversent, but also of the government attorneys.

We can change this and more, one way, dialoguing among all, I hope we do not have to wait 40 years to realize a profound debate like the one in 2001, among the protagonist of the Bay of Pigs.  Now we are working against the clock.

Ivan García

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras

The War of Insults: A Dead-End Street

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Some old strategists of the partisan information in Cuba feel nostalgia when they evoke the first thirty years of the Revolution. No one doubts that in this period a majority supported the olive-green government of Fidel Castro.

Not Later. Certain things changed. The logical wear and tear of power. The proverbial economic inefficiency. The emergence of a peaceful opposition, of dispersed theories and tendencies, who for the most part, at some stage in their adult lives, supported the regime.

In addition, in the mid-’90s, the new information technologies. Earlier, in the 1960s, there were hard-line opponents, who confronted Castro through violence. The only commander who destroyed the tyrannical Fulgencio Batista by means of guerrilla warfare.

It was the time of the Cold War and a world divided in two. Castro had an iron tight control over the propaganda media, which he used effectively, and exercised almost total control over the flow of information. He ruled without major setbacks.

It was a period in which to listen to a foreign radio station, be a pen pal with somebody from another country, to read Occidental writers, critical of socialism, or forbidden authors in USSR or their Eastern Europe satellites, could cost you prison. We should not forget.

With the stale pretext, the same in use today — being under siege by “Yankee imperialism” — it cut short the diatribe and the debate. Any comment against the official discourse, and a wave of intrigue or suspicion would fall over that person

Fidel Castro was the most to blame for the Cuban Revolution losing its originality and aspirations of equality, democracy and justice. It is his fault that many people stopped believing in the future of his project. He bet on the dogma of the Soviet totalitarian socialism.

And when, on a June evening in 1961, frowning, he placed a 45 caliber pistol on a table, before the shocked eyes of a selected group of intellectuals, and screaming he proclaimed: “Within the revolution everything, outside the revolution nothing,” what he accomplished was to exile the creativity and the respect for differences.

Just on that day, in the National Library, the free exchange of political ideas was closed down. Almost 50 years has gone by since Castro’s words to the intellectuals. And nothing has changed. In different stages of the revolution, the official press, teased by the power, launched timid campaigns of criticism about the economy and some methods adopted by certain leaders.

However, they have been minor reproaches. The complaints of the press only go as far as to condemn the services, such as public transportation, and perhaps measures of the Party. In general it is criticism without mentioning names. They are more lethal when it is about the informal economy or the self employed.

Every time Cuba is condemned by an International organization, because of its harmful politics about Human Rights, by a country or the foreign media, pandemonium is unleashed.

In this spring of 2010, the insult and disqualifying campaigns turn each day more virulent. It just happens that we are in a century where the new technologies, like the Internet, Facebook, Twitter or mobile phones, quickly surpass the capacity of the media within the regime’s span of control, the so called “patio.”

In spite the thick lock that the Cuban government has put on the Internet, cable channels, or daily International newspapers, the people of Cuba are better informed than 30 years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of people are illegally connected to television through cable or Internet. A considerable number have mobile phones. In addition, some use the Internet services in their place of employment to check the information offered by the government.

The Castro brothers are very upset with the “Global Informative Monopolies.” Especially with Pedro J. Ramirez, Director of El Mundo, and the Prisa group, both in Spain and directed by Jesús Polanco.

Daily Spanish Newspapers like El Mundo and El País, are read by at least 5 per cent of the local population, but the articles published about the state of the things in the Island are spread with a speed that will awaken the envy of Usaín Bolt.

Because now the majority of the citizenship absolutely does not believe the propaganda of the government, in fact they do not trust the government. The Castros know this and they are involved in a media offensive of insults to all that dare to criticize them.

However, all the official information media have a weak spot, they lack autonomy and creativity. They are amanuenses who are waiting for orders from the Department of Ideological Orientation (DOR). In addition, the reporters who work for the State know very well the cost of stepping over the line drawn by the Communist Party.

They are always held in check. The independent journalists and the opposition, in 1995, used the Internet as a principal means of communication. After 2005, the bloggers joined with strength, at the edge of State control. It is true that they are read more out of Cuba, but is a start.

As long as the government does not understand that the best avenue to the solution of the problem in Cuba is to open a dialogue with the peaceful opposition, there will be no meeting of the minds.

With monologues, insults, condemnations of the world media or brainless campaigns against Twitter and Facebook, which are social networks and not generated by the CIA as it is assumed by some people within the government of the Island, the crumbling of the Country will continue long term and in slow motion.

Neither Pedro J. Ramirez nor the Prisa group are not the principal enemies of the Castros. It is the apathy of our own leaders and their fear of confronting political and economic changes. The rest is fireworks. Propaganda for local consumption, pure and simple.

Iván García

Photo: The Roundtable show on Cuban TV

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras

The Two Faces of a City

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

If something distinguishes the City of Havana it is its two faces, that quietly and peacefully coexist, in one the ugly and in need of painting and maintenance, and in the other the repaired and comfortable.

These contrasts have become more visible after the penalization of the dollar was lifted in 1993, when waves of capitalism spread first through the Capital and later through the rest of the country.

In Cuba, the differences hit you in the face. The services in stores and cafeterias paid with the national currency are deplorable. The variety of products can be counted with the fingers in one hand, and the bad quality of the products is insulting. The businesses are always dirty and empty and the service is bad, lacking work ethics, they spend their eight hours at work, talking to one another. To them they give the same, whether they work or not their salary won’t exceed 300 pesos, about 12 dollars.

The opposite happens in the islands of capitalism which, with an incredible speed, are popping up in the city. Malls, stores, cafeterias, restaurants, photo labs, gas stations and bookstores, are among the establishment with an acceptable presentation and a diversity of products that for a foreigner may not seem too extensive, but for a Cuban it is a novelty to see in the display case of a cafeteria around twenty articles.

To be able to buy or enjoy those establishments, you have to have Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC) the hard currency that replaced the dollar after April 9, 2004. It was a superlative incongruity that the money of the United States, the number one enemy of Fidel Castro and his Revolution, would circulate freely and make possible any transformation or social improvement

It is estimated that only through the concept of the family remittances, around one billion dollars come in the country annually. According to official statistics, forty per cent of Cubans have access to the hard currency. But in Havana the amount could go as high as sixty or seventy per cent of the population. That is why the growth of the offers in CUC or Convertible Cuban pesos do not stop increasing.  Especially if it is known that the the merchandise that it is sold in CUCs has its value altered due to the taxes.

Antonio, a corporate financier, affirms that all articles sold in Cuba have a marked up price of about 100 or 200 per cent over the cost. If we credit that information, the earnings that end up in the government coffers are very high. Just because we classify the country impoverished and of the third world it is not an obstacle for the prices on the Island to compete with those of London, Paris or New York. In spite of this, the sales in hard currency increase year after year.

If Cubans could go shopping in Florida, Jamaica, Caiman Islands, Dominican Republic or Mexico, the situation would be different. The internal hard currency market has no competition, and the citizens have no choice but to shop in the Socialist stores with the convertible Cuban peso, a little more pleasant and stocked, but equally inefficient as the ones that use the National currency.

Added to the family remittances are the earnings of artists, writers, famous athletes, and the female and male hustlers (jineteras and pingueros). In this category, you will also find the people within the Country who have a bank account in hard currency.

The Cuban peso, the National currency, is a caricature. With it, you can only buy vegetables, beans, pork meat, rum, cigarettes, and one or another “freed” product of quality inferior to that available for convertible Cuban pesos.

While communist Havana looks like a metropolis demolished by a bombardment, reflecting the decadency of the system, its capitalist counterpart, in plain view, projects its impeccable and colorful paint. And with big glass panes, in some instances tinted, so that the poor outside can not see what it is offered inside.  Jewels of urban architecture such as “the Lonja Del Comercio” (1909) and the Bacardi Building (1930) both in Old Havana. They have been transformed to offices equipped with up-to-date technology.

Seventeen years have gone by since the penalty for owning dollars was lifted, announced by Fidel Castro on July 26, 1993. In this time, capitalism has advanced slowly through the City. Hotels, Malls, Taxi Fleets and leased cars for tourists serve as testimony. However, this has not been an obstacle to Havana having two faces.

Iván García

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras

Where there’s smoke…

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Let us leave aside the journalistic theory that an unconfirmed rumor is not newsworthy. At least not in Cuba. On the island, idle gossip acquires the character of news. It even happens that at times the rumor is more accurate than the miserly news the regime deigns to publish.

It so happens that the government controls every aspect of society. It masterfully manages the flow of information. Although it cannot prevent infiltrations from happening in the form of gossip and whispers.

In any society where freedom of the press is a part of the laws embedded in the Constitution, a journalist only has to pick up the phone and call a government source to confirm a point.

Or demand information in the name of a set of rights that prevent a government from denying or manipulating. This does not happen in Cuba. Here, when rumor is repeated with insistence, it is because something is happening.

I will give you examples. The government reported as accurate that 26 demented people died Havana in the Psychiatric Hospital of Mazorra in January. Independent journalist and other sources raised the figure to more than 60, including those who died in several Havana Nursing Homes during the cold wave the country endured at the beginning of the year.

In addition, the government hides information about the economic collapse. According to rumors, there is a video only shown to the members of the Communist Party, about the difficult crisis of resources.

And these days, it is vox populi, that there is a supposed corruption scandal involving the highest figures of the government. The rumors mention the names of the Minister of the Interior, Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, and one from the Armed Forces, Julio Casas Regueiro. Without much fanfare, the minister of Aeronautics, Rogelio Acevedo was taken out circulation. And in previous days a strong man from the Castro’s elite, the Chilean Max Marambio, aka El Guatón, was as well.

The official press keeps the usual silence. The Cuban media has to wait for executive orders to divulge the news, to the rest of the island, the hoaxes and speculations are known as Radio Bemba, the gossip network, literally “Lip Radio.”

In the absence of credible information, Radio Bemba is spread at supersonic speed.  Whispers involve everything, from Fidel Castro and his brother Raul’s health, to new state prohibitions or laws that will be proclaimed. The ratio of correct guesses is about 60%.

As a result, people believe the rumors to be more truthful than the insipid state information, which paints a perfect world for us, one where everything increases, from the meat production to the construction of homes. The National Television News, whose acronym is NTV, is called No Te Veo — I don’t watch you — by the man on the street.

But if someone’s credibility is in the basement, it is that of the news media. Cubans consider that the disinformation is three times greater than the information.

Whether it is by emails, Twitter or SMS, it is common to learn certain news before the State Press releases it. Now, in this spring doomed to be hot, when Cubans do not expect anything good from the meager economy, and where the whispers of scandals involving big personalities grow like a snowball, it remains to be seen whether the wave of whispers is true or false.

But where there’s smoke…

Ivan García

Photo: Janex & Alba, Flickr. River in Baracoa, in the extreme east of Cuba.
Translator’s note on the photo: The Spanish expression for, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is (loosely translated) “When the river sounds, it is because it carrying water.”

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras

Ballplayers Longing For Six Figure Salaries

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

They can’t sleep easy at night.  The millionaire salaries that they pay the ballplayers in the Big Leagues of the United States give the Cuban players a migraine.  It’s no small wonder.

Every time a newspaper from the other side of the pond falls in their hands, or they watch it through Florida TV Channels, they see the Angel’s great hitter, Kendry Morales, who had a dream career, or when they see that the lefty Aroldis Chapman pitching 100 miles per hour signed six seasons with the Cincinnati Reds for 30.25 millions dollars (he will make a minimum of 5 millions dollars per season). It is inevitable that the young local baseball stars like Aramis Mendez sighs to play one day in the big arena.

The drip drip drip of desertions from the national sports increases. When in 1991 the right handed pitcher René Arocha from the Havana town of Regla, from the other side of the bay, opened the spigot of baseball players that preferred to play as professionals and manage their money without the inference of the State, since then the number grows year by year

A little more than 300 baseball players have left the country. At the first opportunity, however it might be, by abandoning the team in the middle of a game, or throwing themselves onto the sea in any floating object. They want to leave behind their modest lives of playing the whole year just to get the salary of a simple worker.

In Cuba a baseball player plays in the national classics, he does not work, and he competes the whole year like his counterparts, the professionals, do. When he goes to the pay window he collects super modest salary. Noelvis Rodríguez, a shortstop with good hands and a hot batting average, makes 278 Cuban pesos a month (around 12 dollars) as an exterminator even though he has never done this job before.

It is an old trick of the countries with totalitarian societies. They say that the athletes are amateurs, but actually, since infancy they are groomed as sportsmen of high efficiency. Since the now-extinct USSR appeared in the sports arena, back in 1952 in the Olympic games of Helsinki. The hierarchy of the communist states was eager to obtain great results in the sport arena to be able to show the superiority of the socialist system over undesirable and wild capitalism.

In all these nations, including Cuba, they could go without butter and beef but they will have plenty of Olympic winners; since an early age, their athletic abilities are manufactured like sausages and polished in the sporting schools.

In the quest for Olympic glory, they even practice dirty tricks. The biggest cheaters were the East Germans. To a swimmer like Cornelia Ender or an arrogant runner like Marita Koch, they were stuffed with forbidden substances to achieve results that border science fiction.

On the Island they also resorted to doping, although not with the same intensity as the East European athletes who had shining scores, like the disk thrower Luis Mariano Delis, or the weight lifter Daniel Núñez, they incurred in the use of forbidden substances to place themselves among the best of the world

The main sports of all times in Cuba are boxing and baseball. Before 1959 baseball players, the size of Adolfo Luque, Orestes Miñoso and Martin Dihigo, and pugilist like Kid Chocolate.

After the arrival of the bearded ones, sport was diversified, and they were great winners, like Las Morenas del Caribe in volleyball, track and field athletes, headed by the phenomenal runner of the 400 and 800 meters Alberto Juantorena, double Olympic champion in Montreal in 1976.

But the unexhaustible quarry was always in baseball and boxing. In the first years of the Revolution, the athletes who ran away from their Country to make money and compete for whichever country would take them were few. After 1991 when René Arocha started the stampede, the exodus of boxers and baseball players has increased

Mediocre athletes do not leave, no way. They want to make juicy salaries, Olympic boxing champions like Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yan Bartelemí, and Odlanier Solís. Baseball players the caliber of the brothers Liván Hernández, José Ariel Contreras, Kendry Morales, Dayán Viciedo and Aroldis Chapman.

That is the reason why young talents like Noelvis Rodríguez watch mesmerized from home at the spectacular plays of their idols. If one day they make it to the Major Leagues, they also expect six figure salaries, and to be able to rescue their relatives out of their poverty. The government of the Castro brothers maintains a sterile struggle with its athletes.

The Castros plead that they compete in the name of honor and the love of the motherland. That money is not important but the love of their compatriots. Baseball stars like Kendry Morales and Aroldis Chapman got tired of hearing the string of patriotic rhetoric, while living in their humble concrete shacks

Their meager salaries disgust many Cuban baseball players. A long time ago, they glanced to the north. They wait for the opportunity to escape from the Island and make their dreams come true.

By the request of those interviewed, the names has been changed.

Translated by: Mari Mesa

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