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Havana Hustling / Ivan Garcia

February 25, 2014 3 comments

oficios-de-buscavidas-620x330This time the phone call came in the middle of the night and the message was grim.

Edania, a retired teacher who has set up a small business of making phone calls and taking messages for the neighborhood, hurried to give the bad news to a family that lives two doors down from her house, in the rundown neighborhood of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padrón, in the northern part of Havana.

“The thing is taking off like wildfire,” says Edania. “The retired people can’t afford it, so I decided to take advantage of the fact that I’m one of the few people with a phone in the neighborhood. I started charging one Cuban peso to pass on messages and two pesos for local calls in Havana. If the call is outside the city, I charge 3  pesos per minute. Many people are providing this service, which is one of the officially recognized self-employment businesses, but I have no intention signing up at the tax office. I only get 150 or 200 Cuban pesos per month [$6-8 USD], which barely supplements my meager pension. I don’t charge for funeral news.”

In the interior of the island as well as in the capital it has become common for neighbors who have telephones to charge for calls. Richard, a retired resident of the Diez de Octubre district of Havana, has a small money box next to his phone with a list of the various call charges.

“I also sell mobile phone cards. I buy them for 10 CUCs [about $11 USD] and sell them for 11; the ones that cost 5 I resell for 6. But apparently someone in the neighborhood has been talking, because the state inspectors have visited me, demanding that I legalize the business. I told them to go to government offices and demand better pensions for the old people, and then come back and see me,” says Richard.

After the vaunted economic reforms in Cuba—an exotic blend of wildly exploitative state capitalism mixed with Marxist speeches and slogans by Fidel Castro—a torrent of quirky trades flooded the Havana neighborhoods.

The elderly are the losers in this wild mixture of everything from sidewalk pastry vendors to high-quality eateries. In the world of self-employment, everything is available.

From people who offer pirated DVDs of Oscar-nominated movies for 25 Cuban pesos, to elderly public-restroom attendants.

In this spectrum of emerging trades, you find “experts” in umbrella repair, button-covering, funeral cosmetology, matchbox-refilling, and shoe repair. For 50 Cuban pesos they’ll carry buckets of water and fill your 60-gallon tank.

Havana is a tropical bazaar. A hive of hustlers. On the avenue that encircles the old port of Havana, a diverse group of citizens converges to try to earn a living.

Right next to Maestranza children’s playground, Delia, decked out in a floral costume, works as an itinerant fortune teller. “I charge ten Cuban pesos for each card-reading. If you want an in-depth session then the price goes up to 25. It’s even more expensive for foreigners, who can afford more.”

Several tourist buses stop at Avenida del Puerto. As the visitors take photos of the Bay and the Christ of Casablanca statue, street musicians sing old boleros and guarachas, trying to attract their attention.

Leonel is one of them. “For 20 years I’ve devoted myself to making soup (singing while the customers ate). There have been good and bad days. But I’ve always made more than the wages the state paid. When no one in Cuba remembered Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, or Pio Leyva, God rest their souls, they also had to work as lunchtime entertainers, and to sing in seedy bars. They were lucky that a producer like Ry Cooder lifted them out of poverty,” Leonel said, playing a ranchera as he approached some Mexican tourists, hoping to pass the hat.

A dilapidated port-a-potty, serving as a urinal for the customers of three bayfront bars, is looked after by two rickety old men.

They charge one peso to urinate, three to defecate. “It’s because the toilet is clogged. We have to carry a greater quantity of water,” they say. They get the water for flushing right out of the bay, with a can tied to a rope.

“It’s hard work. We’re here up to twelve hours. But when I get home with 10 or 15 CUCs, I ask the Lord to give me strength to live a few more years so I can help my wife, who’s bedridden after a stroke,” says one of the old men.

The buses are now gone. A quartet of street musicians, all elderly, lean against the sea wall, waiting for new tourists.

“It’s been a long journey to return to the beginning. Before the Revolution I was already a soup peddler. For me nothing has changed. Except that life is more expensive and I’m older,” says the singer and guitarist. His dream is that on some tourist bus, a guy like Ry Cooder will come and rescue him from oblivion.

Iván García

Photo: In central areas of Santiago de Cuba, which like Old Havana are usually frequented by tourists, musicians also look for a living in streets and parks. Taken from Martí News.

Translated by Tomás A.

17 February 2014

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The Silent Successes of the Cuban Dissidence / Ivan Garcia

February 7, 2014 1 comment

Gustavo-Arcos-Bergnes-620x330Before the olive-green autocracy designed economic reforms, the peaceful, illegal opposition was demanding opportunities in small businesses and in the agricultural sector as well as repeal of the absurd apartheid in the tourist, information and technology spheres that turned the Cuban into a third class citizen.

General Raul Castro and his entourage of technocrats headed by the czar of economic reform, Marino Murillo, were not the first to demand changes in national life. No.

When Fidel Castro governed the nation as if it were a military camp, the current “reformers” occupied more or less important positions within the army and the status quo.

None raised his voice publicly to demand reforms. No one with the government dared to write an article asking for immediate economic or social transformations.

If within the setting of the State Council those issues were aired, we Cubans did not have access to those debates. The tedious national press never published an editorial report about the course or changes that the nation should have undertaken.

Maybe the Catholic Church, in some pastoral letter, with timidity and in a measured tone, approached certain aspects. The intellectuals who today present themselves to us as representatives of a modern left also remained quiet.

Neither did Cuban followers of Castro-ism in the United States and Europe question the fact that their compatriots on the island had no access to mobile telephones, depended on the State for travel abroad or lost their property if they decided to leave the country.

Who did publicly raise a voice was the internal dissidence. Since the end of the 1970’s, when Ricardo Bofill founded the Committee for Human Rights; in addition to demanding changes in political matters and respect for individual liberties, he demanded economic opportunities and legal changes in property rights.

Independent journalists have also, since their emergence in the mid-90’s and, more recently, the alternative bloggers. If the articles demanding greater economic, political and social autonomy were published, several volumes would be needed.

Something not lacking among the Cuban dissidence is political discourse. And they all solicit greater citizen freedoms, from the first of Bofill, Martha Beatriz’s, Vladimiro Roca’s, Rene Gomez Manzano’s and Felix Bonne ’s Fatherland is for All, Oswaldo Paya’s Varela Project, to Antonio Rodiles’ Demand for Another Cuba or Oscar Elias Biscet’s Emilia Project.

The local opposition can be criticized for its limited scope in adding members and widening its community base. But its indubitable merits in the submission of economic and political demands cannot be overlooked.

The current economic reforms established by Castro II answer several core demands raised by the dissidence. No few opponents suffered harassment, beatings and years in prison for demanding some of the current changes, which the regime tries to register as its political triumphs.

The abrogation of absurd prohibitions on things like the sale of cars and houses, travel abroad or access to the internet has formed part of the dissidents’ proposals.

Now, a sector of the Catholic Church is lobbying the government. A stratum of intellectuals from the moderate left raises reforms of greater scope and respect for political differences.

But when Fidel Castro governed with an iron fist, those voices kept silent. It will always be desirable to remind leaders that Cuba is not a private estate and that each Cuban, wherever he resides, has the right to express his policy proposals.

But, unfortunately, we usually ignore or overlook that barely a decade ago, when fear, conformity and indolence put a zipper on our mouths, a group of fellow countrymen spent time demanding reforms and liberties at risk even to their lives.

Currently, while the debate by the intellectuals close to the regime centers on the economic aspect, the dissidence keeps demanding political openings.

One may or may not agree with the strategies of the opponents. But you cannot fail to recognize that they have been — and continue to be — the ones who have paid with jail, abuse and exile for their just claims.

They could have been grandparents who run errands and care for their grandchildren. Or State officials who speechify about poverty and inequality, eating well twice a day, having chauffeured cars and traveling around the world in the name of the Cuban revolution.

But they decided to bet on democracy. And they are paying for it.

Iván García

Translated by mlk.

6 February 2014

Mariel, Brazil, Havana and Washington / Ivan Garcia

February 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Lula-Castro-Puerto-Mariel-655x337-620x330Miami would like to remain Latin America’s main commercial port. In June 2013 President Barack Obama toured the $1.2 billion renovation and expansion now being carried out at the port of Miami.

Commercial interest is reflected in large-scale investments in the ports of Norfolk, New York, Baltimore, Charleston, Jacksonville and Savannah. According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), public-private partnerships will invest up to $46 billion in port infrastructure.

With the expansion of the Panama Canal and the introduction of a new generation of container ships know as post-Panamax, which can pass through the canal with almost three times as much cargo, commercial trade in the Americas will experience a profound change.

The numbers dazzle the experts and countries in the region do not want to be left behind. Their primary interest is, of course, the vast market to the north that Canada and the United States represent.

But no less important is being positioned as a leader in the interregional port trade. This has unleashed a veritable “port war,” which has led to multimillion-dollar investments and higher concentration, with fewer ports for maritime traffic. These will have to be both larger and deeper to accommodate ships which will be bigger and can carry more goods.

Experts agree that post-Panamax traffic is likely to be concentrated in trans-shipment ports, as was the case with air transport. With that in mind, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Cuba are investing heavily in improvements and modernizations to their major port facilities.

The Cuban government has placed special emphasis on developing the port of Mariel, located 45 kilometers west of Havana, due to its excellent natural conditions. The project is backed with 682 million dollars from public and private Brazilian investors.

The first stage could be completed by the end of this month to coincide with the visit of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to the CELAC conference, which will take place on January 28 and 29.

Construction is being carried out by the Brazilian firm Odebrecht. Management of the port and its container terminal, which in the future will be able to handle up to three million containers, will be provided by a Singapore-based firm.

Nine-hundred million dollars have been invested in the first phase. And in keeping with the trade demands of the future port, the Cuban regime has designated it a special economic development zone with its own special jurisdiction.

In the area surrounding the port of Mariel, an area of some 465 square kilometers, the government has begun making direct investments to benefit economic sectors such as biotechnology and textiles, among other areas.

The port of Mariel is geographically well-positioned for regional commerce. Under normal conditions, without an embargo by the United States, it would be a formidable competitor to its counterpart in Miami.

But under current circumstances, given the burden of the U.S. trade embargo, it is not unreasonable to ask if such a monumental investment would be beneficial to the Cuban economy.

In the past Fidel Castro came up with irrational economic schemes such as the plans for harvesting ten million tons of sugar, intensive farming or the construction of a nuclear power station in Juraguá, Cienfuegos, 300 kilometers east of Havana, where he wasted billions dollars with no results.

Castro II has abandoned the colossal volunteerism of his brother. With the usual paucity of information, the regime has yet to set forth the operational strategy it plans to deploy after the inauguration of the port of Mariel.

If one thing is clear, it is that as long as there is an embargo, whose rules stipulate a six-month prohibition from entering U.S. ports for ships which have dropped anchor in Cuba, the docks of Mariel will come out the loser, even without ever having engaged in the regional competition of post-Panamax ports.

The largest share of interregional trade is with the United States, Canada and Mexico, which are economic partners. The twenty-eight E.U. countries will think twice before making large investments in Mariel.

China is only an ideological partner of the Castros. In trade and finance it is tied to the United States. With characteristic pragmatism Beijing will keep placing its bets where the  money is.

And the money is in the north or in regions of Latin America such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru. I do not believe many ships flying a Chinese flag and trading with the United States will anchor in Mariel as long as the embargo remains in place.

Carrying a weight like that around one’s neck makes it difficult to attract large amounts of capital from leading companies. Of course, neither Raul Castro, Brazil’s former president, Lula da Silva — whose government authorized the expenditure — nor its current president, Dilma Rousseff, are fools.

A year ago the Brazilian foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, offered some clues when he publicly stated that the decision to invest in the port of Mariel was based on a post-embargo scenario.

The political strategy of Cuba’s autocrats is also moving in that direction. Regime officials are wearing out the soles of their shoes travelling the world in an attempt to attract fresh capital for the Mariel development zone.

And working through the U.S. Interests Section in Washington, they are lobbying to create and business-friendly atmosphere with the powerful clan of Cuban-American entrepreneurs.

Seeking the repeal of the embargo is perhaps the number one priority of the Cuban Foreign Ministry. The timid economic reforms and requests for dialogue with the United States by General Castro are made in hopes of lifting the embargo.

Except a few statements on Cuba by Obama and a handshake with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the White House has so far not been seduced by the aging president.

Cuba is not China. It does not have that country’s huge market and a significant portion of its economy depends on remittances from Cubans living on other shores.

Washington continues to demand that Cuba respect human rights and democracy, and hold free elections — something it did not do with China or Vietnam —  but in this regard the island has very little to offer.

The political retirement of Castro II could change the political dynamic between the two countries. But as long as the embargo is in place, a sizable project, such as the port of Mariel, makes little sense. Any real uptick in the Cuban economy — whether in trade, tourism or new technologies — will always be diminished by the negative impact of the embargo.

At this stage of the game, if the military government really wants to undermine the foundation for the embargo and offer its citizens its citizens a prosperous society, it must come up with some clear-cut political changes. Otherwise, we will remain stuck in a time-out.

Iván García

Photo: President Raul Castro and former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during his visit in January 2013 which marked the start of the expansion to the port of Mariel, which was made possible by a major investment from Brazil. From Infolatam.

18 January 2014

Goodbye to a Summit to Forget / Ivan Garcia

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

cumbre-celac-en-cubaIf you walk through the marginal and mostly black neighborhoods of Havana, you will not hear people talking about integration, inequality, human rights, democracy or freedom of expression.

They are hard neighborhoods. Their priorities run toward having containers full of potable water: it’s been decades since the precious liquid arrived in their precarious dwellings through the obsolete pipes.

Residents of these slums, like Gerardo, who pedals a bike-taxi 12 hours a day through Central Park environs, feel satisfied when they have food for a week, deodorant, tooth paste and detergent.

Poverty in Cuban is not just overwhelmingly material. It is also mental. A sine qua non for a wide segment of the population. It does not matter if you proudly hang an engineering or law degree in the living room of your house.

The system designed 55 years ago by Fidel Castro has been a champion in socializing poverty. For almost everyone. He is to blame for salaries being symbolic and unworthy.

But the worst is not the crude material poverty that shames you when, for example, you travel through one of the more than 60 destitute neighborhoods, real slums, that arm themselves on a night on the outskirts of the city.

The big problem for the majority in Cuba is that they do not have legal tools for changing the state of things. That’s they way it is. And people know it.

That’s why the solution for many is to emigrate. Or to do political juggling acts, pretending to applaud the official discourse, legal snares and to steal all they can on their jobs.

The wear and tear of a regime that still governs after five decades of economic failures disgusts a growing segment of the citizenry.

It is already known that in autocratic Marxist societies networks of commitments, information censorship, fear and police effectiveness are woven in an effort to contain the internal dissidence.

But the power of Fidel Castro, almost absolute until the 1980’s. has been eroding. Now the people do not keep quiet about their disagreements or unease about the State’s gross mismanagement.

Today on the island, in any line, park, corner or public transport, you hear racy criticism of the Castro brothers. And an interminable list of complaints. Nevertheless, those querulous debates go no further.

A high percentage of the population does not trust the mechanisms of government. People power is a mere adornment. Letters to a newspaper, a minister or any Central Committee office that attends citizen complaints do not usually solve or manage the disparate problems raised.

For some years Cuba has been living in a time out.  Many believe that the solution to societal and economic structural problems is biological, and that they will be resolved by magic, when the Castros die.

As bad as they live and for lack of a future, a wide segment of Cubans is indifferent to meetings like the recently completed CELAC Summit. They feel like a tropical political comedy.

In the modern world forums and meetings between nations abound and lack concrete actions and practices. Right now, politicians of the whole world live at a low ebb. They have not learned to manage the needs and desires of their people.

On the American continent corruption and extreme neo-populism abound. To their credit they are democratically elected presidents. Except Cuba. A contrasting difference.

Also striking is the anachronistic discourse of the Cuban regime when compared with that of other regional politicians.

The speeches of the island’s representatives seem like outputs from the age of the dinosaurs. You listen to how Pinera, Humala, Santos or Rousseff openly express needs that affect their countries and their tangible bet on democracy and human rights.

Raul Castro, out of focus in his inaugural speech, analyzed poverty, inequality and other phenomena in Latin America as if Cuba did not also suffer from them. He tried to seem like a teacher holding class for a group of students.

The future of the world is increasingly of blocs. It is positive that Latin America is seen as an inclusive entity. The great merit of the Second Summit was declaring Latin America a Zone of Peace.

But there are many challenges ahead. The continent continues to be the most unequal and violent region on the planet. Caracas, Michoacan or Tegucigalpa are true slaughterhouses.

Neither can one get around the tendency of the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela or Nicaragua to reform the Constitution at their convenience. It creates a harmful precedent: that of politicians endorsed by institutions saturated by colleagues and buddies from the party that are perpetuated in power.

Demagoguery floats in several nations of the region. Political honesty and frankness is a rare bird.

It is not possible that none of the 31 governors that were at the Summit in Havana, elected in democratic plebiscites, with opposition parties and free press, have not questioned the Cuban regime about its lack of freedoms and its repression of the dissidence.

Like a Russian doll, the olive-green autocracy tries to regenerate itself and govern without respect to the democratic clauses of CELAC.

If they are committed to integrating the Cuba of the Castros into the Latin American and Caribbean community, ethically, some leader should let them know. And not exactly in a quiet voice.

Iván García

Translated by mlk.

3 February 2014

The People of Havana Return to Their Routines / Ivan Garcia

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

mercado-negro-negra-vende-mani2-600x330Now Eduardo is back. In the wake of the Second CELAC Summit, an omnibus with police and paramedics made a sweep of the beggars who were camping out in Vedado or Old Havana.

“I was in a shelter known as La Colonia, in Boyeros municipality (20 kilometers west of the center of the capital). The treatment was harsh. It looked like a jail. But at least they guaranteed lunch and food,” said the vagabond, who usually bets on an image of San Lázaro to ask for money at the entrance of a complex of exclusive shops in the Habana Libre hotel.

After being warned by the police, a group of alcoholics and beggars who usually sell used clothing and old books on the corner of Carmen and 10th of October in the slum of La Vibora, stayed away for a week.

“They told us we made the city look ugly. A police official said we should get lost until the end of the Summit. The important visits, like that of the Pope or meetings of presidents, together with the cold, are a pain in the neck for us, because we have to go to places outside the city. We live like gypsies. Almost all of us sleep in cartons in some doorway. In the neighborhood of la Calzada and 10th of October, we find a few pesos by doing metal plating, cutting stone, and some neighbors give us food,” remarked Ariel, a hopeless alcoholic.

Barely did the CELAC Summit end, when the beggars and dumpster divers returned to their work.

These events are also usually trouble for those who live on the margins on the law. Like Ramiro, a part-time transvestite, who prostitutes himself on the central avenues after work.

“During those days you walk around wound up. The police get very nervous. A client told me that they were mobilizing, since they expected groups of human rights marchers or public demonstrations. Once it was over, I returned to the struggle,” says Ramiro.

Hookers in the suburbs in the style of Gisela, pretty and with an easy laugh, also make sacrifices. “I’ve been arrested twice for prostitution. I have to be careful. When they celebrate meetings like this, I “nail myself in” (stay at home). Later I go back to the routine.

Numerous dissidents, among them the intellectual Manuel Cuesta Morúa and the attorney Veizant Boloy, should now be returning to their homes, after several days of detention in police dungeons, to prevent them from holding a parallel forum.

Other members of the opposition, independent journalists, alternative bloggers and human rights activists were prevented by State Security from leaving their homes, and their cell phones were cut off.

The Second CELAC Summit, celebrated in Havana from January 25 to 29, didn’t bring too many benefits to the people of Havana. Among the lucky ones were the residents on San Lázaro Street, from the University staircase up to the Fragua Martiana Museum, in the Cayo Hueso district.

Owing to the presence of a torch parade in honor of the 161st anniversary of the birth of José Martí, a coat of paint was given to the facades of some buildings and homes, and several streets got new asphalt.

Owners of private restaurants and family businesses in zones neighboring PABEXPO, were closed on the days of the event. “I have a cake business, for weddings and parties, that I had to close, because of the exaggerated police presence and prohibitions for the circulation of autos. The clients disappeared,” indicated Alexander, the owner of a sweetshop in Miramar.

The “fat” expected by owners of private restaurants, craft vendors, and private taxi drivers remained far below expectations.

“The truth is that almost no one who took part in the Summit came by here, unless it was one or another first lady, say,” said a seller of paintings on the Plaza de la Catedral.

Paladars of caliber like La Guarida, located in the heart of the marginal neighborhood of San Leopoldo, kept hoping for reservations by the heavyweights. In November 1999, when the Kings of Spain attended the IberoAmerican Summit celebrated in Havana, the Queen Doña Sofía dined in the famous paladar (as private restaurants are called).

Josefina had more luck, with her hair salon in Old Havana. She gave a haircut to the indifferent Secretary General of the United Nations, the South Korean Ban Ki-moon. Though how much he paid for the cut isn’t known.

Iván García

Photo: Old Havana. While the woman trumpets her cone of “peanuts, toasted and hot,” very close to her are a policeman and a man having an exchange of words. Taken from Cubanet.

Translated by Regina Anavy

1 February 2014

CELAC for Cubans: Indifference and Repression / Ivan Garcia

February 2, 2014 1 comment

48-600x330For Zoila, 38-year old nurse, the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that is now going on in Havana adds up to “politically correct” speeches, banquets and photos.

“It’s more of the same. They talk about poverty, integration and social inclusion while in Cuba inequality grows. It is a cheeky that our president Raul Castro speaks about those topics. He should blush, in country where people have salaries of less than 20 dollars a month. The worst part is not earning little money, the food shortages or their high prices, the worst part is that we have no way of changing the state of things,” points out Zoila, at a bus stop in Vedado.

Osniel, 33 years old, bartender at a bar that sells exclusively in foreign currency, while he prepares daiquiris and mojitos, unenthusiastically and from the side watches a flatscreen installed on the premises, which broadcasts news about the roll out of the CELAC Summit.

“Whether they are Latin Americans, from the Americas or from ALBA, these summits are only useful for presidents and foreign ministers, who take advantage of them to talk face to face. For everyone else they are ineffective. There’s a lot of talk about eliminating poverty, respecting human rights, and creating grandiose economic projects. But with the passage of time, it almost all stays on the drawing board,” the barman emphasizes.

On the streets of Havana, it is increasingly difficult to find people who are optimistic or who are not angry. The Diario de las Américas spoke with some twenty citizens about the Summit’s news interest.

For sixteen it is a real annoyance, and four said that after 55 years, they are used to it. “It is what Castro’s boat* brought,” says Eugenio, 73 years old, retired.  The Cubavision channel dedicates 12 hours a day to the Summit.  “There’s no option but to rent films and soap operas. Or change to the sports channel; I don’t like baseball or soccer, but I prefer it over seeing such people giving speeches,” confesses Onelia, 56, housewife.

“The oven is not ready for the cakes. The news that started the year, the astronomical prices of cars for sale, has created too much distress. Then this optimistic discourse from the national press that contrasts with the hard reality that most of us live. In Cuba it seems that there are two planets. One artificial, highlighted by the government media, and the real one where disenchantment and uncertainty about the future worry many,” says Rogelio, 47, bank employee.

While the television harps on news about the Summit, Junior and a group of friends, after each ingests two Parkinsonil pills, buy a bottle of Mulata rum for 5 cuc, a week’s salary for a professional. They drink it all, to see if they can “change their bodies.”

“That ’molar’ (speech) does not interest me. The horde of old men in charge of Cuba does not notice that they are boring. Since I was born, in 1994, the same ’size’ (spiel), that if the Yankees, that if the ’blockade’ (embargo). But we continue the same or worse, above all the young. Without a future and ’stuffing tremendous cable’ (going through hardship). We escape taking pills with rum,” says Junior, hairless in the style of Brazilian soccer player Neymar.

Without intending it, Bruno Rodriguez was the one who knew best how to define the air of apparent political placidity that lives in the Summit. In a press conference, the Cuban foreign minister emphasized that he had never seen in an international forum an air of such harmony and consensus as he observed in Havana.

For the common Cuban, it all seems rehearsed. If there were discrepancies, they aired them discreetly. “It is shameful that the attendees of the Summit in their pronouncements have tried not to displease a host who is a dictator,” says a taxi driver.

Certainly, one has to chalk up a political goal for General Raul Castro. Not even his brother Fidel could agree with or attenuate the critics of his regime at international events held during the time that he was head of the country.

Whatever their ideological tendencies, the regional politicians seem like disciplined children. All facing the gallery. That strategy of extending the red carpet for the olive-green autocracy leaves the Cuban dissidence increasingly alone and isolated.

As of the moment of this writing, no one had met with opposition figures. Not even Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the OEA. The ridiculous level of commitment by Latin American democrats to a handful of women and men who claim political space and freedom of expression left the road clear for State Security forces to harass the opposition, independent journalists and human rights activists.

Jorge Olivera, 52-years-old, reporter, writer, and ex-prisoner of the Group of 75, on the night of January 23 two counterintelligence agents warned him not to participate in any dissident events during the Summit.

“They were emphatic. They told me they were not going to permit parallel meetings during the Summit. The cynicism of the Latin America politicians attending the event is worrying. No one has made a gesture or wanted to meet with us. They have a double standard. They speak and demand democracy, including in the CELAC charter, and they look away when it comes to the Cuban dissidence,” says Olivera.

A parallel forum sponsored by the Argentine organization CADAL (Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America) and dissidents on the island probably cannot be held due to the strong repression. They did not even permit the director of CADAL to enter the capital.

Manuel Cuesta Morua, co-sponsor of the forum, was detained in a Miramar police unit. The mobile phones of numerous opponents were cut off and others were not permitted to leave their homes or provinces. Dozens of arrests of activists were reported all over the island.

In Cuba, depending on who looks, the glass is half full or half empty. And there is not only one reality, but many and very different.

But it would be presumptuous to say that the harangues of the regime or the debates in the Summit are a news priority for the common people. Rather it is the opposite.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  Before and during the CELAC summit, the main avenues and streets of Havana were taken by police officers like this one, of the special brigade, who are distinguished by the black uniform and always walk with a dog.  The photo, by Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, was taken very close to Havana’s Central Park.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro and his associates started the Revolution by sailing on a small yacht from Mexico to Cuba. The yacht was purchased from an American who had named it “Granma,” which subsequently became the name of one of Cuba’s provinces and the country’s daily newspaper.

Translated by mlk

29 January 2014