Archive for March, 2014

Is Baseball Finished in Cuba? / Ivan Garcia

March 26, 2014 1 comment

Jackie-Robinson-1919-1972-620x330Fidel Castro has been an effective gravedigger. He buried sugar crops and the agricultural abundance of old. Recently, Cuba had to import sugar from Brazil and the Dominican Republic to meet the consumption needs of international tourists.

With this type of negative aura that has always surrounded Castro, it makes sense these days what baseball fans were saying after the dismal failure of Villa Clara in the Caribbean Series on Margarita Island: we are currently living through the last days of baseball.

I think not. We have the genes of baseball players in our DNA. Has it been dealt a fierce blow? It is true. Due to the obstinate and stupid policies of the state, baseball finds itself stationary, mired in crisis.

But we can make progress. If, for example, Cuban coaches could absorb the latest advances in the development of baseball via clinics (courses) with seasoned trainers from the United States. If the academies of the Major League organizations were allowed and if our players could play in the MLB without having to leave their homeland.

Although this would be the ideal, this nightmare of five and a half decades remains. In that sense, I am not optimistic. Because of the insane system established in Cuba, what could change within two years could equally extend for another fifty-five.

The methods used by autocrats to remain in power are known. Fear and repression inhibit many Cubans from publicly disagreeing. So people opt for a life raft. Marrying a foreigner. Or an offer letter of work anywhere in the world.

There are two possible scenarios. In the first, Raul Castro becomes a kind of tropical Jaruzelski and democratizes the island – I am skeptical – and the embargo is repealed. Perhaps, working hard, in around five or six years, Cuban ball players developed under modern methods would skyrocket into Major League teams.

The other option, the way we are going now, is that Cuba transforms into a discrete monarchy, where relatives, sons and compadres pull on the threads of the piñata and divide the loot amongst themselves.

The regime is engaged in unprecedented ideological spin. A mixture of family capitalism, few opportunities, micro-businesses and pure Stalinism.

The Castros want to negotiate, but with the gringos. Face to face. Seated at a table, dividing up the island as if it were their property. Under one of these scenarios, Antonio Castro, son of Fidel, would represent baseball and manage the future contracts of Cuban players.

The mouths of the Castro clan must be watering just thinking about that possibility. It has not yet arrived, but it looms, in backroom negotiations with businessmen of the style of Alfonso Fanjul.

If we want to raise the capacity of baseball, change must happen urgently. If the creole mandarins were sensible – 55 years have shown otherwise – they would design a new structure for the National Series. 16 teams seems to me too many.

Right now, according to the proven quality of local baseball, the right number would be a season with 6 teams and a minimum of 100 games.

The season should begin in September. You could have three stages. Six innings in the first 60 games. A round robin with 40 games and 4 teams. And ending with play offs between the top two in a best of seven matches.

The season would end in late January, so as not to overlap with the Caribbean Series or the World Baseball Classic. The few classy players that are left us, such as Alfredo Despaigne, Yulieski Gourriel, Frederick Cepeda, Norge Luis Ruiz, Freddy Asiel Álvarez or Vladimir García, if they are contracted to foreign leagues, it is preferable that they not to take part in the National Series.

The current level of our baseball only serves to stall us. Of course, before reforming the National Series, we should strengthen all of baseball’s development structures. From childhood to youth categories.

If the development categories of cadets and youth are still playing with limited quality balls, poor quality equipment, and bad playing fields, then the jump to premier level will not be achievable.

Cuba’s best trainers must work in the minor levels. All the people qualified to train players must have unlimited internet access to the latest information and game statistics.

Also, we should participate in academic and training camp baseball exchanges with the United States, Japan, South Korea and those Caribbean countries that play baseball. Cuban television should more frequently broadcast Major League games. Without the complex absurdities of broadcasting innings during the time that baseball-playing Cubans have to be on the move.

All that policy reorganisation would have to include selling affordable gloves and balls for children. Similarly, it would require the reconditioning and recuperation of those baseball fields that have been lost in the country.

The task is arduous and expensive. It remains to be seen if the state would find the resources or contemplate an agenda to improve the quality of the current game. If it’s smart, it would be the most practical idea. Then, in the unlikely event that Antonio Castro sits down to negotiate with MLB managers, we would have a greater amount of talent to offer.

Although I see the vision, insight has not been the greatest quality of the olive green autocracy.

Iván García

Photo: During the cold months in the United States, many players moved to the Caribbean to play baseball, including Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), who is pictured signing autographs at a stadium in Havana in 1947. A few weeks later, Robinson made history in his country by breaking the barrier that barred black players playing in the majors, thereby paving the way for other African-American, Caribbean and Latin American players. Taken by AARP Magazine.

Translated by: CIMF

18 March 2014

The Havana That the Castros are Going to Leave Us / Ivan Garcia

March 23, 2014 2 comments
Sixty percent of the buildings cry out for basic repairs

Sixty percent of the buildings cry out for basic repairs

Autocrats always want to transcend their own times. The Roman emperors, Hitler, Mussolini and the communist dictators Stalin, Honecker or Ceaucescu, bequeathed their own styles of architecture.

In Rome they still retain coliseums and palaces. Mussolini left hundreds of works, constructed under the label of fascist rationalist architecture, rolled out in Italy at the end of the 1920s in the last century.

Hitler also put up buildings and spaces in the Nazi cult, with the patronage of Albert Speer, in an original architectural style inspired by neo-classicism and art deco.

Sixty-nine years after the psychopathic Führer shot himself in his Berlin underground bunker, just before the defeat of the Third Reich, the Germans are still driving along the magnificent autobahns built in the Hitler period.

A serial criminal like Stalin left us socialist realism – horrible, certainly – which encompassed all the arts. Nicholas Ceaucescu, another dictator doing it by the book, demolished a fifth of Bucharest and put up new buildings.

His greatest project was the Palace of the People, the second biggest building in the world, after the Pentagon in Washington.

Fidel Castro won’t leave any timeless architectural works. He put up thousands of schools and hospitals, but, apart from the Instituto Superior de Arte, in the Playa Council area of Havana, the rest of his designs disfigure the landscape.

And forget about quality of construction. Most of the buildings put up after the bearded people came to power look older than many built at the beginning of the 20th century.

In Havana, capital of the first communist country in America, the architectural legacy will be irrelevant. You’d have to search with a magnifying glass to spot any high calibre work.

Among them would be the Coppelia ice cream shop, designed by Mario Girona in the centre of Vedado, or Antonio Quintana’s Palacio de Convenciones in the suburb of Cubanacán. You could also make an exception of Camilo Cienfuegos city, in East Havana, and Lenin Park, a green lung provided on the outskirts of the city.

But architectural design from 1959 onwards is, to say the least, odd. If you could demolish the dormitory suburbs of Alamar, Mulgoba, San Agustín, Bahía, or the twenty or so horrible apartment blocks built with Yugoslavian technology in Nuevo Vedado, you would partly put right some clumsy construction mistakes.

Havana, a city which is pretty and conceited with its several kilometers of gateways and columns, and a splendid esplanade among its architectural offerings, maintains the greatest variety of styles.

It was designed for 600,000 inhabitants. Today 2.5 million people live there. The regime has neither modernised nor widened its streets or avenues or a site as important as the Albear aqueduct.

They have only patched and asphalted the principal arteries. They have not improved the roads of Las calzadas de Monte, Diez de Octubre, Luyanó, Cerro, Infanta, Avenida 51 or Puentes Grandes to deal with the increase in vehicular traffic.

Some 70% of the side streets are full of potholes and water leaks. 60% of the buildings are crying out for fundamental repairs.

Let me give you a fact. According to an official of Physical Planning in Havana, 83% of works carried out are done privately. The urgent need for homes to be built has resulted in constructions all over the length and breadth of Havana without benefit of professional advice.

Thousands of home-made cast-iron windows with hideous grills make the capital look even uglier. The impression you get is of a large prison. Without any order or harmony, desperate families refurbish buildings and houses of great architectural value, trying to improve their lives a little.

The once cosmopolitan Havana, at the forefront of new technologies like the telephone, radio, or long distance TV transmissions, has now turned its back on globalisation.

The internet is a science fiction dream for many of its citizens. And what was once a beautiful colonnaded city, which would inspire Alejo Carpentier, is, in the 21st century, a heap of ruined buildings and ancient automobiles.

The Castro brothers haven’t even been able to leave any legacy in the city where they have been governing for years.

Iván García

Photo:  Taken from Juan Valdés César’s blog where you can see more images showing the current state of Havana.

Translate by GH
23 March 2014

A Conversation with the Consul General of the United States in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

March 20, 2014 1 comment
Timothy P Roche, U.S. Consul General in Cuba

Timothy P Roche, U.S. Consul General in Cuba

The old United States embassy in Havana, today the headquarters of the United States Interest Section (USIS, also known as SINA for its Spanish acronym), is a seven-story building with a surfeit of glass windows located a stone’s throw from the Malecon. Built in 1953 and designed by the architect Wallace K. Harrison, it is similar in style to New York City highrises.

In spite of not having had diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1960, the United States has the second largest diplomatic headquarters on the island, surpassed only by the monumental edifice of the Russian delegation.

The U.S. Consul General in Cuba, Timothy P. Roche, has served since August 2012. This reporter’s primary reason for requesting an interview with him was to solicit his views on granting visas applications for family reunification and tourism.

Before arriving at the consul general’s rather sober office, one must go through the usual searches and electronic checkpoints typical of embassies almost anywhere in the world. In hostile countries, U.S. embassies are targets of attack by Islamic terrorists, but not in Cuba.

There are other risks. Without high fences, heavy doors with electronic locks, patrols by Cuban security agents and a squad of stern Marines, thousands of people eager to emigrate to the United States — pursuant to the current Cuban Adjustment Act — might be tempted to break into the building.

Lynn Roche, a public affairs officer and wife of the consul general graciously guided this reporter to Mr. Roche’s office, which was flanked by map of the island and the Stars and Stripes.

Since 1994, following the emigration agreements signed by Cuba and the United States during the Clinton administration, at least 20,000 Cubans each year have left the country permanently in a legal, orderly and safe manner to be reunited with their families.

The impact has been dramatic. In the last two decades, nearly 450,000 Cubans have left their homeland, including a high percentage of educated young people. “In fiscal 2013, we issued over 24,000 visas for permanent emigrants to the United States,” says Roche.

The length of time to process a visa varies. Oscar Rojas, for example, spent five years trying to get to Florida to reunite with his mother. Others, like Susana Mateo, were luckier. After just a year and a half she received a visa to settle with relatives in Hialeah.

The consul general acknowledges that granting a permanent visa request takes time. “There is a very high demand from applicants and we have a limited number of U.S. consular officials in Havana who can interview them. It is true that the interview process takes more time for some types of visas, but we are working to reduce the wait time.”

He adds, “It depends on the category but in some cases involving permanent relocation, such as for a bride or groom, the waiting period is four or five months. For spouses, minors and parents of U.S. citizens, there is no waiting period at all. Once your casework is complete in the United States, you receive the next available appointment. Before the Cuban Family Reunification Program it could take up to eleven years for an adult. Now it takes just over three. And in the case of tourist visas, we managed to substantially reduce the wait. It used to take almost 5 years. We are now granting permission within six months and we are working to further reduce this time.”

With regards to the new multiple entry visas, valid for five years, which they begin to offer as of 1 August 2013, the official clarifies, “This visa is not to stay and live in the United States for five years. Nor is it to work or study in the United States. And it’s given at the discretion of the consular official.”

Cubans older than 45 who have traveled to the United States up to four times and recently had their visas denied, qualify as “inconsistent with the policies of the United States Interest Section” when asking for a tourist visa.

With regards to this, the diplomat said, “Every case is different. It’s difficult to explain a case without knowing the specific characteristics of each one. Now, for us it’s better to offer a multiple-entry visa to cases made up of people who travel and return to Cuba, because it’s a better service for the client and more efficient for us.”

Mr. Roche didn’t have at hand the number of multiple-entry visas awarded from 1 August 2013 to date. In any event, on the issue of tourist visas — which are also good for cultural and academic exchanges — the number is huge: from 8,745 to more than 33,000 in 2013.

For Cubans who complete the procedures to travel to the United States, the high prices in hard currency charged by the Cuban government for routine procedures or simple medical check ups are a problem. This is the case with Roiniel Vega, who started the procedures to travel to Miami to visit his son seven months ago, and doesn’t understand why USIS doesn’t have printed forms with the procedures for asking for a non-immigrant visa.

“To the more than 500 convertible pesos (CUC) you have to pay to the government for a passport, medical check up, and other paperwork for those who want to travel to the United States, you have to add 20 CUC to pay for filling out the forms electronically in areas around the Interests Section. I wonder why USIS doesn’t have printed forms, to lower the costs of the paperwork,” says Roiniel.

The U.S. Counsul says that, “There are three steps to asking for a tourist visa. And the first step is filling in form DS-160 on our web page. We know that the majority of Cubans don’t have access to the Internet, but we’ve seen that many people arrange to get access to the web in various ways. We don’t have the capacity and resources to do it any other way.”

Iván García

8 February 2014

Cuba: Internet in Your Home from September / Ivan Garcia

March 15, 2014 4 comments

cuba_internet_0-620x330According to a spokesman for ETECSA, the only telecoms company in Cuba, they are going to start marketing internet in peoples’ homes, with ADSL included, from the first half of September.

We don’t yet know what the price of the installation will be. What has come to light in a document which we have seen are the different tariffs for national and international internet surfing.

The document, put out by Ibis Díaz Silva, commercial executive of ETECSA’s Oficina de Pequeños y Medianos Usuarios (Office of Small and Medium Users ), indicates that the 20 hour internet package will cost 10 convertible pesos a month, 50 hours 15 cuc (Cuban convertible currency), 100 hours 30 cuc, 180 hours 50 cuc, and 220 hours 60 cuc. There will be a 90 hour package, usable between 8 pm and 7 am which will be offered at 20 cuc. They will sell additional hours at 30 convertible pesos.

Additionally, starting from September, they will market the local intranet network at a lower price, where you can find official media. The connection speed will be between 2 and 4 megabytes.

Gradually, Raúl Castro’s government has taken some steps forward to provide internet access for Cubans. On 4th June 2013, ETECSA opened 116 navigation rooms in 15 provinces of the country.

Up to this month, according the ETECSA spokesman, about 600,000 customers have connected to the network. Last February 25th, the Gaceta Oficial de la República (Official Gazette of the Republic) announced new cellphone internet tariffs. And from 2013, ETECSA workmen have been busy putting in place wireless networks in different parts of Havana.

The prices of these new services have generated a lot of controversy. The point is that the Cuban man in the street, with an average salary of $20 a month, can’t afford the luxury of connecting to the internet while he has no chicken, fish or meat in his pantry.

One way or another, nearly everybody is complaining. Whether they are unknown citizens, like the private shoemaker Alfonso Ayala, who has never surfed the net, or official journalists like Elaine Díaz or Alejandro Rodríguez, who have criticised the excessive prices in their blogs.

“One hour at 4.50 cuc (Cuban convertible currency) is equivalent to 112 Cuban pesos. Repairing shoes, I make between 80 and 100 Cuban pesos a day. All my income is for buying food and supporting my wife and kids. As far as I can see the internet continues to be out of my reach,” says Ayala.

As far as the regime is concerned, the internet is an invention of the US special services with the aim of colonising information and culture. Only the inescapable necessity of not continually putting the brakes on Cuban professional development has forced the government to authorise access to the internet.

It all started in 1998, when the island was connected up, via satellite, more slowly and with a narrower band than a public university in New York. The official press blamed the technological backwardness on the trade embargo imposed by Washington, which forbids connection to the underwater cables owned by US companies, which surround the green Cayman Islands. And we know that Cuba and the USA are continuing with the Cold War. And truth is the first casualty of any war.

According to the ETECSA spokesman, in 2010, some gringo companies located in Florida were authorised by the Obama government to negotiate with Cuba to recommission an old unused underwater cable.

“The project was viable. It cost $18m with a bandwidth right for our requirements. But the government preferred to bet on the so-called digital self-government and designed a project jointly with Venezuela called ALBA1, stated the source.

At a cost of $70m, the submerged cable connected the twin cities of La Guiara and Siboney in the east, in Santiago de Cuba. There is a spur off it which goes off to Kingston, Jamaica.

There is a structure of corruption around the cable in the upper echelons of the Ministry of Communications and Information, which led to the desertion of a high-up manager of ETECSA in Panama in 2012.

There was no news about ALBA1 until 4 June 2013, following the government decision to open new navigation rooms. There is no doubt that the famous cable clearly improved the connection speed.

Before that, in a five-star hotel like the Saratoga, where Beyoncé stayed last year with her husband JayZ, the connection speed was slow and expensive. At best it didn’t get past 100Kb. And 2 hours of internet cost a bit over $15.

From September 2014 on, things are going to change, according to specialists I have spoken to. It could be that not many Cubans will be enthusiastic about the new provision, on account of its irrational pricing. But the ETECSA functionary referred to is optimistic and considers that the opening up of cyberspace will bring more positives than negatives.

Iván García

Photo: A Cuban surfs the net in one of the cyber cafes opened by ETECSA all over the island in June 2013. Taken by El Universal.

Translated by GH

9 March 2014

Cuban Dissidents Prepare for the Future / Ivan Garcia

March 12, 2014 Leave a comment
Carlos Millares, Frank Abel García y Tamara Rodriguez

Carlos Millares, Frank Abel García y Tamara Rodriguez

While 17 young Cuban dissidents attend advanced courses to master the tools of leadership and business at a university center in Miami, in Havana, the newly formed Fundación Sucesores, imparts courses to the civil society in Havana. Run by sociologist Carlos Millares, 65, Fundación Sucesores has been giving classes to the nascent civil society since December of 2013.

“We told students the location at the last minute, so that the State Security wouldn’t put any obstacles in our way, preventing classes,” said Millares. The group has a collegiate direction. Besides Millares, the group is integrated by Frank Abel García, Daniel Palacios, Tamara Rodríguez, William Cácer, and Luis Alberto Diéguez. With the exception of Millares, everyone is between 26 and 40 years old.

“Since the second half of January, we’ve been teaching two courses: one for the formation of leaders, and another one for journalists and photo journalists. Each course has 10 students,” said Frank Abel.

Most of the participants are young people that recently became involved with political activism or independent journalism. The classes are ambulatory and secret.  One week, they can be at a room in ruins at the old part of the city and outside the capital limits the following week.

The leadership course lasts six months and among other subjects teaches history, law, social media, and public speaking. Intellectual dissidents such as Manuel Cuesta Morúa, lawyer René López, Julio Negrín, Arturo Torrecillas, Daniel Palacios and Carlos Millares, teach the classes.

Desks consist of seats at a dinner table or a bed. The students copy the content of the classes in flash drives. Professors only have one laptop. “We don’t have all the necessary resources, but the lack of resources cannot be an impediment to create and prepare people within the incipient society in Cuba,” said Millares.

The course of journalism lasts four months and includes 20 topics. Four of the six members from the board of directors from Successors Foundation became dissidents after they worked in State institutions.

Millares has the most experience of all. He has been part of different dissident organizations for the last 25 years. He was a curious and polemic general secretary for the Union of Young Communists in the faculty of medical science in the University of Havana.

His journey to the pacific opposition was a slow and painful process, like surgery without anesthesia. Frank Abel worked as chief of staff in Radio Rebelde, a radio station symbolic of the revolution. Abel became a provincial delegate at the radio station. He was involved in a case orchestrated by the cultural authorities against young intellectuals from OMNI Free Zone. His sense of justice made him break from the regime.

For eight years, Daniel Palacios was a sports chronicler from the official newspapers Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde. He had a spot in the capital radio station COCO, in which along with other reporters, he tried to break with the government censorship. Palacios gave out the results from the games of the Major Leagues during his time on air in radio, and remembered that before the Castro dictatorship from 1962, there was a glorious past in baseball, Cuba’s national hobby.

“One afternoon, I received a call from Pelayo Terry’s office, who was then director of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde. Two men from the State Security threatened me and showed me mail that I had exchanged with Wilfredo Cancio Isla, a Cuban reporter from Miami. After my expulsion from my position as a journalist, they have continued to harass me,” Palacios said.

His exit from official journalism had repercussions for his family life. He lives away from his wife and daughter because he doesn’t have a place of his own. Most of his colleagues from within the state journalism have turned their backs on him.

“It has been hard but I feel good about myself, which is the most important thing,” Palacios said. Now, besides teaching journalism classes, he writes for Café Fuerte and Diario de Cuba.

Tamara Rodríguez was a commercial specialist at CIMEX, a military corporation that collects convertible pesos for the government. They tried to embroil her in a corruption case after she started to make friends with women from the Ladies in White.

After she broke ranks with the government, she became part of the group. Since the beginning of 2013, Frank Abel went to the home of sociologist Carlos Millares and told him about his interest in turning young dissidents into leaders.

Through different paths, opposition organizations in Cuba or in the United States decide to take dissidence as an option. Perhaps, today’s dissidence is uncomfortable for many exiled people from Cuba, due to their distinct pacifism and inability to create a powerful lobby group in the neighborhoods of the island.

Havana is far from being Kiev or Táchira. In Cuba, the opposition from the barricades suffers the worst. But the future could be different.

When new times arrive, nongovernmental organizations would have materialized the initiatives toward young Cuban dissidents, who have had trouble accessing a college education because of their political views. Some of these organizations are the Human Rights Foundation from Florida, in collaboration with Miami Dade College, which work with funding from private donations and the United States government.

From this side of the world, some people do not sit back. They start initiatives to promote values of democratic leadership and the use of journalistic tools among young activists.

The Fundación Sucesores is one of those initiatives. According to its members, this initiative is about a new Cuba, who above all, needs people qualified in the art of politics, democracy, and modern journalism

And that future is around the corner.

Iván García

Photo : Frank Abel García, Carlos Millares and Tamara Rodríguez talking to Iván García. Fundación Sucesores is also the name of the blog they have created.

3 March 2014

Havana: A Guide for Tourists / Ivan Garcia

March 11, 2014 2 comments
Useful advice for tourists who visit the last bastion of the Cold War in the Caribbean

Useful advice for tourists who visit the last Communist barricade of the Cold War in the Caribbean

If you speak Spanish, it’s advisable to get to know Havana by taking private taxis. In a rented car, air-conditioned and with a map of the capital, it’s more pleasurable, but also more expensive, and you wouldn’t be able to chat with the habaneros.

If you know the city only through the guided visits to museums or cigar factories, organized by tourist agencies, you will have good photos when you return to your country, but you will only have seen a postcard of Havana.

You can decide to drink mojitos, stroll on the Malecon, flirt with prostitutes in a cafe where you need hard currency to listen to a duo singing Compay Segundo’s Chan Chan at your table. Or you can discover the other face of Havana, ignored by the official press. Then, first hand, you will know the priorities of ordinary Cubans.

The capital of Cuba has in its favor the fact that it still is not as dangerous as Caracas, Medellin or Michoacan. You can walk through rough and poor neighborhoods without fear of being assaulted (I advise you to go during the day).

Better than reserving a hotel is renting a room in some private home. For your trips around the city, the ideal thing is to move around in the old U.S. cars known as almendrones.

And talk to the passengers. There is no platform more authentic and liberal in Cuba than the private taxis. As in any capital of the world, the Havana taxi drivers possess a culture of speech and an acceptable level of information.

You will find out that many of the Cuban taxi drivers are doctors, engineers, retired military men or professionals who, after their work day, sit at the steering wheel, trying to earn some extra pesos that will permit them to complement their poor salaries.

The Havana taxi drivers seem to be dissidents when they speak, but they’re not. They, like numerous people you find in the lines or in the streets, openly criticize the government.

The list of complaints about the state of things on the island is extensive. Traveling in a 1954 Ford, with a South Korean motor and a Japanese gear box, you will know first-hand that people aren’t applauding Raul Castro’s reforms with much enthusiasm now.

Be prepared to listen to a dissertation on the daily hardships. One suggestion: before your trip around the city, in your backpack carry deodorants, tubes of toothpaste or soap to offer to the people you talk to. Right now, these articles are scarce in Cuba (see the Note at the end).

Havana taxis are a microphone open to different political opinions. And in their interior there is more democracy than in the monotone national parliament. In the almendrones there are usually people who think differently. Each reveals his opinion. Loudly and gesticulating with his hands, typical of Cubans.

Upon arriving at his destination, the passenger who supports the Regime says goodbye amicably to the one who wants profound changes in his country. Two details: the old Havana taxis don’t have air conditioning and the drivers listen to reggaeton or salsa music at exaggerated volume.

If you get into a jeep, which can fit up to 10 people, the trip is uncomfortable. But there is no better way to make people-to-people contact than to travel in private taxis. And they are very cheap. For 50 cents or a dollar on longer journeys, you can get to know the other face of Havana. It’s not recommended to take the urban omnibus: owing to the bad service and overcrowding, what should be an exploration of the city and a motive to make contact with its people can become a torture.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Panoramix.

Note. In Cuba something is always lacking. Sometimes the scarcity is most visible in the capital, but usually where you find a lack of most products, food or hygiene, is in the interior of the country. After writing this piece, independent journalists were reporting that “eggs were missing.” I don’t know if eggs have reappeared, but now salt is missing.

On March 5, Ernesto García Díaz wrote in Cubanet that salt was hard to find in the grocery stores, markets and hard currency markets (TRD), where a kilo nylon bag of Cuban salt with the stamp “Caribeña” cost 45 cents (10.80 Cuban pesos). In the Ultra TRD [the government-run “Hard Currency Collection Store”], an employee told the journalist that “it’s been some time since we’ve had Caribeña salt. We are selling a fine Andalusian salt of the brand “Aucha” at the price of 1.65 CUC ($US 1.58) a kilo.”

In Cuba there are five saltworks that supposedly should guarantee the distribution of salt for the ration book, at the rate of one kilo for a nuclear family of up to 3 people, every three months. But because they haven’t managed to extract more than 400 million tons annually, the government has had to import salt, as occurred in 2008, when they bought 30 million tons of salt at a cost of 9 million dollars (Tania Quintero).

Translated by Regina Anavy

8 March 2014

What Is Happening in Venezuela Worries Cuba / Ivan Garcia

March 10, 2014 1 comment
"If the media stops talking, let the streets talk"

“If the media stops talking, let the streets talk”

In one way or another, Cuba is taking note of the street protests occurring these days in Venezuela. The most nervous are the olive-green autocrats.

According to a low-level party official, since the death of Hugo Chávez on 5 March 2013, the regime has had various contingency plans filed away in case the situation in Venezuela did not turn out to be favourable to the interests of the island.

The official states, “If Maduro falls, we have a plan B. In the different groups, at least at the level where I work, it was taken for granted that Maduro would be a short-lived president. Although the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) controls most of the strings of power, there are divergent opinions among Chávez’s own followers about Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba. This type of socialism, with a democratic streak, is not to be trusted. Maduro can lose power both due to a plebiscite repeal or in six years. In our group meetings, it has been said that Maduro’s mandate only serves to gain time”.

The onslaught of opposition marches, barricades, and protests is shaking up different regions of Venezuela, but this force is also reaching the branches of power in Havana.

The Castro brothers still have much at stake in Venezuela. But just in case, Raúl Castro has opened a new window with Brazil in constructing the new port of Mariel and a Special Development Zone with a different jurisdiction.

And they almost begged the United States, enemy number one, to sit down to negotiate. Meanwhile, the Castro regime diplomacy crosses over to Florida, trying to seduce wealthy businessmen of Cuban origin. But the sensible businessmen continue to think about it.

When they look at the recent past, they only see shady management and a mysterious associate who changes the rules of the game at the first opportunity. Therefore, the Caribbean autocracy is going to fight mercilessly and to the teeth in order to keep its strategic position in Venezuela.

The key, as everyone knows, is petroleum. 100 thousand barrels a day acquired at sale prices keep Cubans from suffering 12-hour daily blackouts. When the skydiver from Barinas moved into Miraflores in 1998, Fidel Castro understood that after 9 years travelling through the desert, with finances in the red and exotic sicknesses devastating the country, the hour of his resurrection had arrived.

Cuba entered in a “light” Special Period. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the island had experienced a deep-rooted economic crisis, but the faithful Bolivarian shared his chest of treasure. And this was an important part of the anti-imperialist project that so deluded the Commander.

The death of Chávez was the beginning of the end of the honeymoon. Maduro is faithful and he is allowed to lead. But he has no charisma. And after 14 years of economic insanity aimed at winning support among the most disadvantaged, all of the doubts, violence, and inflation have now exploded in the face of the PSUV.

Instead of letting go of the uncomfortable and parasitic burden that is Cuba, governing for all and looking after Lula and Dilma more than the Castros, Maduro, clumsy and stubborn, moved his tokens badly.

He professed to follow the Joropo and Pachanga of comrade Chávez. He designed a simple strategy: he shouldered his friend’s coffin and tries to govern Venezuela in his name.

And he is failing. In Cuba, either because of egoism or short-term mentality, the people on their feet, tired after 55 years of disaster, are crossing their fingers that the Venezuelan crisis does not shut off the petroleum faucet opened by the PDVSA (Petroleum of Venezuela, S.A.).

In a park in the Víbora district in Havana, a 70-year-old retiree expresses his opinion about the situation in Venezuela. “If that guy screws up, the effects on us will be tremendous. The power outages will continue, paralyzing the industries again and we will return to a situation equal to or worse than the beginning of the Special Period in 1990.”

Others are more optimistic. “It’s true, it will be hard. Since the Revolution, we have gotten used to living at the cost of someone else’s sweat. Before it was the USSR, now it’s Venezuela. If the worst happens there, we will have to accelerate the reforms here. Although this is already capitalism, but with low salaries”, states a lady identifying herself as a housewife.

A university student adds to the conversation. “Seeing the marches or strikes on the TV is something I envy. That freedom to protest before governmental institutions, such as in Ukraine or Venezuela… we need it here in Cuba.” And he added that “in FEU (University Student Federation) meetings, the situation in Venezuela is a primary theme, but I have heard rumors that there is more alarm in some Party groups.”

In this hot February, in spite of the news arriving from Caracas, the people on the street continue with their lives. Waiting in long lines to buy potatoes, which were lost in the battle. Going to the markets in search of food, vegetables, and fruit. Or sitting on the corner in the neighborhood to talk about films, fashion, football, or baseball.

And this is because for many on the Island, Venezuela is not in their agenda.

Iván García

Photograph: “If the media stops talking, let the streets talk”, says this banner painted by students marching on 13 February in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, some 172 km (107 mi) west of Caracas. Photo by Luis Turinese, taken from Global Voices Online.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

24 February 2014