Archive for May, 2015

Occupations (?) You Can Find in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

May 29, 2015 Leave a comment

recoge-todo-lo-que-se-encuentra-en-la-calle-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 4 May 2015 — In a wide, dusty, half-paved alleyway very near an old slaughterhouse with a faded sign that reads “Socialism or Death,” lives Reinerio, a gentleman who, in addition to repairing zippers and umbrellas, also sells earthworms.

In the corner of a dark room, with a piano in need of tuning and a molting parrot who reluctantly drinks water from a soda can cut in half, sits a mountain of umbrellas, pants and handbags, all thrown into a pile, waiting to be repaired. Wearing crudely made eyeglasses, Reinerio expertly unlocks the zipper of a purse.

“Professions like mine are typical in poor countries where people have to recycle things out of necessity and extend their use beyond what would normally be possible. It seems foolish but many handbags, umbrellas and pants cannot be used once the zipper is broken or the parasol’s spring clip splits,” he explains.

He is a man who knows a little about everything. Reinerio makes a living solving people’s problems. “A few pesos here, a few there, but I take pride in repairing things that would normally be tossed in the trash,” he says while handing over half a kilogram of earthworms to some neighborhood kids.

On the streets of Republican Cuba, a legion of vendors — among them knife and scissor grinders, tamale makers, ice-cream sellers — hawked their wares with inventive sounds and cries.

In 1968 Fidel Castro outlawed informal small businesses by decree. No longer to be heard were the cries of street vendors and cobblers, who were forced to go underground.

With the collapse of communism in Russia, however, the island saw the return of old-fashioned professions which extended the lives of cigarette lighters and disposable razors.

Havana has more in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ fictional Macondo than with a modern metropolis. Daniel, who repairs cigarette lighters in the city’s Tenth of October neighborhood, explains, “A friend who lives in Costa Rica sends me compressed natural gas and flints. When a disposable lighter is empty, I make a tiny, microscopic hole in the bottom and refill it. Then it’s as good as new.”

Remberto restores plastic disposable razors. “With a special file I sharpen the edges of the razor blades. People thank me, remember that a package of these little razors costs up to 11 CUC.”

Wherever you look in the national geography, you find people whose “business” is the purchase of empty glass containers, plastic bottles, used clothing or gold jewelry, be it a piece of a chain or a single earring. Also, mattresses repairers, sellers of saints and plaster figures, or of ice cream scoops.

Jose sells bags of ice for five pesos apiece. “Almost everyone has a refrigerator and a lot of people like to buy ice to make milkshakes, fix drinks or treat an inflammation,” he notes.

Teresa, a half-blind hunched-backed old woman, supplements her meager monthly pension of $8 selling fruit popsicles for two Cuban pesos. “The children buy an incredible amount from me. In this frightful heat a popsicle is always welcome.”

Rosa, a former seamstress, collects old towels and sheets. After cutting out the most worn parts, she takes the best pieces remaining and with her old Singer machine constructs a towel or blanket. “I try to combine fabrics and colors. I don’t throw away what’s left over, I sell it to a mattress repairer who uses it as padding “.

For a while, Luisa cleaned rice at home. “She charged two Cuban pesos for every pound of rice. Now I devote myself to washing and trimming dogs, the price ranges between 50 and 100 Cuban pesos.”

But none are as popular as Magalis. Though her face was not shown, she became famous on January 9, 2009 when the online edition of Cubaencuentro published a photo of  a window in her home with a sign that read, “Fleas and ticks removed. Magalis.”

It is likely there are “lice removal experts” in all the captial’s neighborhoods if not in the rest of the country. Keep in mind that in Cuba high temperatures, a shortage of water and shampoo, and poor scalp hygiene have led to the proliferation of these insects.

Havana looks like a giant bazaar of bizarre trades. In the corners, there are carts with avocados, sweet potatoes and bananas. And everywhere, old men are selling roasted peanuts and single cigarettes.

An interest in the occult has led to an explosion in the number of Cubans adopting Santeria. Dunier quit his first year of university studies to sell animals that babaloas, or priests, use in their rituals.

In a multi-colored dress Eulalia has made a living through tarot cards. She uses them to consult with passers-by on busy Obispo Street in the old section of the city.

“People want to hear good news, that they will come into some money, that they will travel overseas or hook up with a yuma (foreigner). A glimpse into the future costs twenty pesos, or two CUC (fifty pesos) for tourists.” And with the agility of a professional poker player, she then lays out a deck of cards.

It has also become common in the capital to see middlemen known as buquenques, referred to as “travel managers” by government bureaucrats. These are guys who organize lines of people waiting for privately owned taxis. Reinaldo earns 200 pesos a day on Acosta Avenue, hawking and soliciting customers for the Viper-Vedado route.

A water shortage in many Havana neighborhoods has led to the proliferation of aguateros or water vendors. Niosber is one of them. He came to Havana six years ago, fleeing from rural poverty and a bleak future in a mountain hamlet in Santiago de Cuba.

“It’s a job I inherited. My father worked as a waterboy on the sugar plantations and now my oldest son and I are in the business of selling water,” he explains while seated  outside a convenience store.

Niosber’s tool is a primitive contraption with ball bearing wheels and two blue plastic tanks that were originally cooking oil containers but which have been recycled to carry water.

“At five in the morning I get to an old sports complex in La Vibora and hook my machine up to a spigot on the side of the building. I walk three or four kilometers every day from the building where I live. I can’t keep up with the demand,” he says.

It would be a stretch to describe those who survive by working in informal occupations, whether secretly or legally, as small business people.

It would be a stretch to describe those who survive by working in informal occupations, whether secretly or legally, as small business people.

Throughout Havana there are swarms of street musicians serenading tourists having dinner. Or guys like Reinerio who fix zippers and umbrellas. Or those who treat lice like Magalis.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: In Cuba many people live off what they find in the trash and on the street, including plastic bottles, empty soda and beer cans, or old clothing and underwear, such as this man, photographed by Juan Suarez for an article on the collection of raw materials published in Havana Times.

Cuba: May Downpours Arrive Ahead of Schedule in Havana / Ivan Garcia

May 19, 2015 Leave a comment

One of many streets and avenues inundated when torrential rains fell on Havana on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. From El Heraldo de Honduras.

Until Wednesday, April 29, when intense rains fell on Havana, Agustin — a private-sector farmer who grows chard, lettuce and peppers on a patch of parched land on the outskirts of the capital — was looking skyward to see if he could discern storm clouds on the horizon.

“My yields are low because of the water shortage. I have had to throw out hundreds of kilograms of vegetables because they were too small and their color was bad. It hasn’t rained for months,” says Augustin, who is now worried because too much water is falling on his crops.

National meteorologist Jose Rubiera had declared that the island was experiencing record heat levels in the month of April. It seemed that the rains would have to wait.

May’s traditional downpours occurred over the course of a few days in western and central Cuba but in the eastern part of the country the widespread drought has continued to raise alarms at the Institute of Hydraulic Resources. Various dams and springs are dry or at very low levels.

In the poor neighborhoods of Santiago de Cuba, Mayari and Guantanamo, water from an aqueduct arrives every nine days. Tomas, a resident of Granma province, 800 kilometers east of Havana, reports that water is delivered there by truck.

“No one goes out onto the street at noon. The city is like a desert. The ground is as hard as stone. If it does not start raining in Oriente by May, the government will have to declare a state of emergency,” he says by phone.

Countless homes in Cuba are without tap water twenty-four hours a day. Typically, families must buy it in order to drink, cook, wash dishes, do laundry and bathe.

“It is often stored in plastic containers that previously held industrial products. As a result potable drinking water can become contaminated. When storage facilities are not maintained properly, they can become breeding grounds for Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit Dengue fever, chikungunya infections and diarrheal diseases,” says an epidemiology official.

Like Augustin, Leticia, a Havana shopkeeper, was also gazing at the sky, hoping it would finally bring the blessed rain. Sitting on a wooden bench, surrounded by bags of Vietnamese rice and Cuban brown sugar, she tries to relieve the summer heat by fanning herself with a piece of cardboard.

“When there is no rain, the heat is unbearable. The worst thing is when you get home, want to take a shower and the building’s water pump is broken or there is no water in the tank. The fan just gives off a stream of hot, dry air. I really envy those who have air conditioning,” she said on April 28, one day before it rained heavily in Havana.

Moraima, a retiree, no longer has to sit on her porch to listen to soap operas on the radio to see if the air is blowing. “I was thinking it would never cool off. This heat takes away your appetite. You want to eat fruits and drink milkshakes. Two large mangoes cost me 25 pesos. People wonder if it is because of the damned blockade (embargo) that there are no cheap fruits like we always used to have in Cuba,” she notes angrily.

The heat, rain and hurricanes cannot be blamed on Yankee imperialism, although in some of his periodic rantings Fidel Castro still accuses modern capitalism of altering the environment by releasing disproportionate amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Air conditioning is still a luxury in Cuba. Only the cars of ministers, generals and tourists are climate controlled. It takes a strong disposition to travel by bus or public taxi, no matter the time or day. State inspectors who could pass for Luca Brasi (a character from The Godfather) ply the streets looking to see what money they can make from bribes and kickbacks.

“These people (inspectors and police) are really corrupt. They’re always walking by my stall, trying to “hustle” a few pesos off me. There’s nothing to stop them,” says Arnaldo, the owner of a produce stand in the La Vibora neighborhood.

In a country where good news is hard to come by, the newspaper Granma announced on April 20 that 80,000 induction ranges would be made available to families on public assistance. Made in China, they will cost 500 pesos and can purchased in installments.

“These stoves reduce energy consumption because of the efficiency of the electric burners,” claimed a bureaucrat of the Ministry of Domestic Trade. In 2006 Fidel Castro led his final campaign, which he called the Energy Revolution. It included the nationwide distribution of refrigerators, rice cookers and Russian air conditioners.

At the time the state offered payment plans. Nine years later, the number of people in default is in the thousands. “They break down just by looking at them. Not only that, but the state has been robbing us for fifty-six years, so my revenge is to not pay them one penny for the trinkets they’ve given me,” says Raudel, who still owes the bank for the credit it extended him.

The farmer Augustin and many Havana residents were eagerly awaiting the arrival of May, typically the rainy month in Cuba. But the weather was ahead of schedule and on Wednesday, April 29, a terrifying downpour fell, which led to three deaths, floods, landslides and the evacuation of more than two thousand people, among other damages.

“We wanted the rain to give us a break from the heat but not like this,” says Leticia, the shopkeeper. “I guess you can’t control nature.”

Ivan Garcia

1 May 2015

Cuban Baseball: Ciego de Avila, 2015 Champion / Ivan Garcia

May 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Ciego de Ávila Team. Taken from the blog, Playersofbeisbolcubano.

Ivan Garcia, 18 April, 2015 — 2015 is another Year of the Tiger.  The avileño* team, headed by former receiver Roger Machado, scored twice, then in the 2012 season they won their first title in the local league to unseat Industriales in five games.

Cuban baseball right now is very even.  For years it was dominated by the usual suspects: Industriales, Pinar del Río, Santiago, or Villa Clara.

It is necessary to go back to 1979, when Sancti Spiritus surprised more distinguished rivals. Or to 2001, when in a dramatic play-off to the best of seven against those Sancti Spiritus roosters when Yulieski Gourriel and Frederick Cepada, the Holguin bloodhounds, clouded the sky with the all the bottle rockets that went up after their unexpected victory.

Baseball on the Island is played shirtless. Some matches seem like jungle games, what with torn gloves, pitchers that throw more balls than strikes, and strategies that leave the experts with their mouths agape in wonderment.

For the last five years, the 9-man teams that would look down their noses at others have been diminishing, due the constant draining-away of their talented players.

Industriales, the Havana team, has suffered the most from the exodus of players. They could assemble three clubs from the members who have opted to play professionally, and easily manage their finances.

But Santiago, Villa Clara and Pinar del Río have also diminished their playing power as a result of the emigration of various budding stars from a league where they play all year, yet earn only worker’s salaries.

This is exploited by other, formerly minor, teams. Although it cannot be said that Ciego de Ávila is a team without substance. In the 90s it enjoyed a golden age with players who were brimming with talent and could never earn anything.

Two years ago they lost their coveted middle outfielder, Rusney Castillo, who went on to make the highest salary of a Cuban baseball player in Major League Baseball. A young prospect like Yozzen Cuesto climbed over the wall, and veterans such as Mario Vega and Yorelvis Charles made their exits.

As of today, the Tigers of Ciego are the best team in the playing field in Cuba. In a baseball league where the defense averages 974, the avileños come out to about 980. Their shortstop Yorbis Borroto is no great shakes moving in either direction, but very sure in those plays that are “out.”

Probably their most talented player is the wildcard Raúl González — good at defense and a thoroughbred batter. Behind the plate they have, in Osvaldo Vázquez, a consistent slugger and a clutch hitter.

If forced to choose, I would pick the right fielder José Adolis García, brother of Adonis, who plays in the Venezuelan professional league, and who at 22 has definitively exploited local baseball.

García has a cannon for a right arm and forcefully bats the ball towards all parts of the field. As the first at-bat, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 59 runs. On the bench awaiting his turn is an 18-year-old player who will make history. Make note of his name: Robert Luis Moiran.

Roger knew to request his reinforcements very tactfully. The Tigers’ bullpen, along with that of the tobacco farmers*** from Pinar del Río before being dismantled, is among the most reliable in Cuba. Three quality openers such as Yander Guevara, Vladimir García (who because of an injury did not have a good season), and the reinforcement from Villa Clara, Alain Sánchez.

Coming up on the rear, to slaughter the games, Machado showed up with a novice such as Yunier Cano, who can launch a two-seamer up to 96 mph. At zero hour, Ariel Borrero and Yoelvis Fizz produced a lot.

Ciego de Ávila was a perfect team, the team with the best performance in the second round. It was the favorite to win the title. But on the other shore, they had the Pirates of the Isle of Youth.

A team without a history and prominent names, but gutsy to no end. The isleños** were lacking pitching talent. Their openers, except for the reinforcement Yoalkis Cruz, did not make it past the third inning.

If the promising southpaw from Las Tunas, Darién Núñez, who throws a powerful fastball at 93 mph and a straight curveball, could have taken baseball seriously, the outcome for the Isle would have been different.

All of the games won by the Pirates in the playoff were thanks to their bullpen. The duo of Danny Aguilera and Héctor Mendoza was the sure one.

Their regular lineup connects almost 10 hits per game, but they lack power. In modern baseball it is very difficult to connect three hits off one pitcher of caliber. Their ability to throw sinkers justifies their fabulous salaries, for their innate capacity to change, with the flick of a wrist, the final score of a game.

But the Pirates knew how to play with commitment, timely batting, and a manager who was skilled at managing his pieces in the small game. They boast a 20-year-old shortstop with hands of silk.

His name is Alfredo Rodríguez, native of the Havana municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, and still today many Industriales fans ask themselves what Manager Lázaro Vargas’ reason was for getting rid of this player.

After Cienfuegos native Erisbel Arruebarrena (now in the Major Leagues), Alfredo is the best in the glove in Cuban baseball: spectacular at fielding, excellent throw, and a powerful arm.

At any rate, Isle of Youth faced the consequences. They lost against Ciego in a game that was going downhill from the first. With the game at three runs for two in favor of Ciego, at then end of the seventh inning, García’s error in an easy play let in two runs that cost a ton.

With the Tigers finally let loose, the rest was a walk in the park. In the final inning, Yunier Cano appeared, throwing fireballs, and the isleños put down their arms. The Pirates play an entertaining game and they go to have fun in the field. The Isle contributed color to the proceedings, and Ciego the mastery.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, and Others

Translator’s Notes:

* “Avileño” denotes someone from the city of Ciego de Ávila in central Cuba.

** Similarly, “isleño” is someone from an island; in the context of this article, the island is the Isle of Youth, the second-largest Cuban island, located south of Havana.

*** Pinar del Río province is the center of tobacco farming in Cuba.


Havana Is More Vulnerable Than Ever to Thunderstorms and Downpours / Ivan Garcia

May 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Inundaciones-en-La-Habana1-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, 12 May 2105 — On Campanario Street, in the Havana neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo, where in the fall of 2013 tremendous downpours caused the collapse of a house and the death of its two residents, all that remains is a vacant lot.

Several boys play there, seeing who can throw a piece of stone from the old foundation the farthest. Across the street, a man surveys the scene, sitting silently on a wooden stool, smoking, listening on a battery-powered radio to the Champions League game between Real Madrid and Juventus.

“A year and a half ago my neighbors, Fidel Vega and Pastora Góngora, died when the roof of their house collapsed. There was a tremendous roar in the middle of the night, as if a bomb had gone off. Now, since the April 29th rains, many more houses and apartments in Pueblo Nuevo have suffered damage,” he says quietly.

He is silent for a few seconds. Then he suddenly raises his voice and asserts that the storm caught the Civil Defense and the authorities unprepared. “Nobody showed up here to warn us, like they did before. Any downpour will flood the area and cause building collapses. If a category five hurricane passes through Havana, it would bury the city. The government is focused on other things—on speeches and propaganda,” he says indignantly.

When you walk through densely populated areas of Central and Old Havana, you can see that 70% of the housing is in fair or poor condition.  Recent rains have left their mark. Dozens of houses still show traces of moisture on their walls. On Vives Street, in Jesus Maria, some people lost all their belongings.

“They could only get out with the clothes on their backs. It was thanks to neighborhood solidarity that they were not buried by the rubble. Some people built crude boats with rubber inner tubes and pieces of styrofoam. The firefighters never came. The authorities and the provincial government were involved in preparations for May Day. That bunch of scoundrels doesn’t care what happens to the people in these poor neighborhoods. They live the high life,” says an elderly woman, visibly upset.

The Institute of Meteorology forecast heavy rains for the coming days in the western part of the country. Heavy rains have also caused flooding and landslides in Baracoa, in the eastern end of Cuba.

According to Jose Rubiera, head of the weather forecasting department, a depression that could become a tropical storm is forming in the Straits of Florida.

All of this indicates that May will be a very rainy month on the island. And the Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1. Many Havanans wonder if the city’s infrastructure can withstand rain and winds of greater intensity without collapsing.

“If with four hours of rain, and wind gusts of 98 kilometers per hour, electricity was cut in several municipalities of Havana and the low-lying areas were flooded, I have no doubt that if a hurricane hits, or if it rains for three or four days in a row, the collapses and tragedies will be even greater,” said a capital taxi driver.

Most of the city’s drains stop working with moderate downpours. And the most densely populated neighborhoods, like Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Cerro, or the flat areas of Diez de Octubre, flood immediately with heavy rains.

The Civil Defense noted the lack of foresight for Wednesday April 29. These days, work brigades are clearing sewers and cutting tree branches that could damage power lines.

Families living in houses in danger of collapsing have been advised that during bad weather they should take refuge in sites approved by the municipal government, or in secure dwellings of neighbors or relatives.

While part of Havana Vieja has been renovated with hard-currency cafes, hotels, and shops, so that tourists will spend money and take photos, in the adjacent neighborhoods a large number of properties are held in place by a miracle.

A heavy rain or tropical storm could cause major damage to the city. State neglect is taking a toll on Havana. The only thing left is to pray.

Why Can’t Cubans Have a Civil Discussion? / Ivan Garcia

May 12, 2015 Leave a comment
Second and third from R. are Manuel Cuesta Morua and Laritza Diversent -- see more details at the bottom of the post.

Second and third from R. are Cuban Human Rights Activists Manuel Cuesta Morua and Laritza Diversent — see more details at the bottom of the post.

Ivan Garcia, 7 May 2015 — The harm caused to Cubans by the military dictatorship is anthropological. We have an economy that has tanked, a fourth-world infrastructure and salaries that are a bad joke.

Chances are that we will eventually recover from the economic disaster but it will take two or more generations to overcome the damage done to ethics and civic values. The ideological madhouse Fidel Castro created in January 1959 has polarized society.

The regime has divided families and exacerbated differences. It has criminalized political differences while the special services and Communist Party propaganda have turned repression into an art form.

Among its strategies are acts of repudiation. These are basically verbal lynchings designed to suppress the opposition through the use of civilians and paramilitaries disguised as students and workers.

Cuba is a nation governed from the top down. Ordinary people do not have mechanisms that might allow them alter their circumstances. A party membership card and unconditional loyalty have become a kind of passport, allowing a person to climb the state’s ladder of success.

Twenty-five years ago a commitment to the revolution was rewarded with a television, an apartment or a week’s vacation at the beach. However, the ongoing economic crisis that has plagued the island since 1990 has drained the state’s coffers and eliminated material incentives for the most loyal workers and employees.

Now governing is not so easy for the Castros. Their narrative no longer appeals to large  segments of the population. Fifty-six years of continuous rule has led to exhaustion and economic disaster has created a breach in society.

Although people now feel free to express their opinions on the streets without fear, the official strategy is to disparage dissidents and intimidate Afro-Cubans.

The Castro regime has been successful at isolating the opposition in spite of the fact that dissidents’ statements have been in tune with popular opinion. Unfortunately, the opposition has not been able to capitalize on the frustrations of the population.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the most reasonable solution would have been for Fidel Castro to sit down with his opponents and work out a joint solution.

But Fidel is not genetically predisposed to tolerate disagreement. Instead, he chose to dig in. What is despicable is not that he mortgaged Cuba’s future; it is that he has used the intelligentsia and related sectors in his confrontation with Cuba’s dissidents.

Neither potato harvests nor milk production will be increased by isolating our compatriots who hold different political positions. The bureaucracy and criminal cartels imbedded in state institutions will not disappear by intoning stanzas from genocidal anthems extolling the use of machetes.

In the peace of quiet of their own homes these people — transformed into weapons of moral destruction — will try to see that refrigerators remain empty and the future remains a question mark.

Behaving like gangsters will not improve the erratic economic performance of a failed system or put an end to material shortages. The solution to the island’s structural and political problems will only be resolved through dialogue.

The statement by Luis Morlote, a spokesperson for artists and writers, that “we as a civil society are defending what is ours, so we cannot share the same space as dissidents” is at best unfortunate.

What will they do with opponents? Ship them to an outpost on Turquino Peak? And when Castro supporters come to share the opinions of dissidents and independent journalists, what are they going to do? Run away? Ask permission to sit next to us on a bus or in a taxi?

How will the regime resolve disagreements? With imprisonment, exile, beatings and extrajudicial assassinations? There is still time to redesign the current repressive system and replace aggression with a handshake and an exchange of views. 

Irascible activists, like those the Cuban government sent to the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama, could be repulsed by the prospect of sitting down with “mercenaries” who snap photos with Che’s “murderer.” Similarly, there are dissidents who would rather dine with the Borgias than have a chat with representatives of the regime.

Everyone is in his own trench, but the reality is that the problems that affect all Cubans remain unresolved.

Photo: On Friday April 10, 2015, during the celebration of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama, the presidents of the United States, Costa Rica and Uruguay met behind closed doors with a group of human rights activists from several Latin American countries. Among them were two Cubans: the independent attorney Laritza Diversent, and politician and academic Manuel Cuesta Morua, both Afro-Cuban. From La Nación, Venezuela.

Cuba: Hildebrando Chaviano Tried / Ivan Garcia

May 1, 2015 Leave a comment


Iván García, 20 April 2015 — Hildebrando Chaviano could pass for Obama if the US president’s secret service wanted to use him as a double. At his 65 years, Chaviano shines with the ability to lead. He likes to intone with the voice of a radio announcer, and doesn’t hide his affection for politics.

Like father, like son. His father was a member of the People’s Socialist Party, the Marxist party of Republican Cuba, with a vast labor union and influence on the intellectual and cultural environment.

He came to dissent from the bosom of the Revolution. He was a member of the Young Communists and for five years worked in the Ministry of the Interior (MININT).

“With my rebellious and liberal attitude I was always a controversial person. I wasn’t guy the government had confidence in. When they threw me out directly, they showed me the door to get out. I always questioned the role of the party, the government and the union,” he says, sitting in the living room of his apartment in theFocsa Building, one of the jewels of Cuban architecture and engineering.

The living room is living and lacks furnishing. Books are piled up on cheap wooden bookcase. From the window there is a panoramic view of the city and if feels like you can reach out and touch the intense blue of the Atlantic Ocean, visible on the horizon.

“From up here, you can’t see the misery and abandonment of the city. When I ran for delegate of the People’s Power, I didn’t present myself as a political opponent. My proposal is social. I think about the growing number of elderly who are forced to beg or rummage through garbage cans. The poverty, the chaotic infrastructure and the bad public transport service that affects everyone, whether or not they support the government. I firmly believe that the dissidence should start to work within the community. We are prepared for this change.”

After Hildebrando asking MININT, he entered the University of Havana and in 1978 graduated in Law. For 15 years he worked in the State-owned Select Fruits company. But in the summer of 1994, for being the kind of guy who is uncomfortable for the regime, he was left unemployed.

“As an option they offered me a place as a stevedore in a warehouse. I declined. I no longer believed in the system. I joined the dissidence in 2006. Leonardo Hernandez, a friend from childhood, introduced me to Jose Idelfonso Velez, who I consider my political manager. I joined an opposition association that worked for racial integration along with Juan Antonio Madrazo, Leonardo Calvo and Manuel Cuesta Morúa.”

The father of three and grandfather of four, Hildebrando feels comfortable in his role as a political activist. On a rainy afternoon in 2014 he joined the proposed Candidates for Change, led by the political scientist and freelance journalist Julio Aleaga Pesant.

“The strategy was to present some possible candidates. We had six, but through legal chicaneries of the regime, or because they gave up, we ended up with only two, Yuniel Lopez and me. Yuniel ran in a hard neighborhood in Arroyo Naranjo, the poorest and bloodiest in Havana,” said Chaviano.

The opposition strategy to infiltrate the few legal loopholes left unprotected by the olive-green regime is longstanding. In the 80s a regime opponent of the Ricardo Bofill group ran in a neighborhood assembly. In 2010, in Punta Brava, a Havana municipality of La Lisa, a platform was created to insert dissident candidates into the institution of the People’s Power. The only opponent who ran got very few votes.

“The elections to choose neighborhood delegates is probably the only democratic opening that exists on the island. It is undeniable that it is very difficult to pass through the sieve created by the political police and state institutions. But with a single narrative for the outside we will never be strong enough to send our message of democratic change to ordinary Cubans,” explains Chaviano.

The Achilles heel of the opposition is its scant power and its lack of a popular base. Its message is directed  more to the other side of the Florida Straits than to its next door neighbors.

Hildebrando regrets the lukewarm support of the dissidence for his run. “Some have told me that it was a betrayal. And have suggested to me that in the future I might use it as a springboard to State institutions. Solidarity has been minimal. Iván Hernández Carrillo, a former political prisoner of the Group of 75, is among the few who have supported me. Others have underestimated me and Yuniel.”

On election night he received 21 votes from his neighbors in the area where he lives in El Vededo. “Unlike the dissidence, neighbors and workers have shown me their support, openly or discreetly. I’ll take that,” said the dissident candidate.

Some hours after the neighborhood elections, Hildebrando is confident. “Several observers will supervise the vote and the counting, which is public. If I don’t win, I’ll propose to the candidate election that I will work with him to solve the innumerable social cases that are  beyond politics.”

Chaviano considers that the dissent must engage the community to play a leading role in the future of Cuba. On a distant night in 2004 on an old Russian radio, he heard a speech at a Democratic convention in the United States by a guy with an unpronounceable name.

His name was Barack Obama, and after reading the books written by the former Senator from Illinois, Hildebrando Chaviano is convinced that to achieve popular support you need to wear out your shoes in your community and listen to the people.

“It is true that in a totalitarian society it is more complex. You run the risk of going to jail and suffer harassment from the political police. But it’s worth a try. ”

Text and photo: Ivan Garcia

Note: Neither of the opposition candidates won the elections.