The best informed on the island know that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Executive Director and owner of the Washington Post Newspaper, had a stepfather born in Santiago de Cuba. Ryan Lochte’s mother is from Havana. Alberto Salazar, Mo Farah’s trainer, was born August 7, 1958 in Havana.
Or that Isabel Toledo, the designer of the dress that Michelle Obama wore in January 2009 at her husband’s first presidential inauguration, is from Las Villas where she was born in 1961. And that the first lady has wore models from Narciso Rodriguez, son of Cuban immigrants that arrived in New Jersey in the 1950’s. Narciso was raised in a family very attached to their roots.
Due to the lack of access to the internet, magazines or foreign newspapers, many in the island would be surprised to discover that Dudley, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s grandfather was a Barbado’s native and that in 1936 je traveled to the island and there fell in love and married a Cuban. After her passing, Dudley wanted to remember his love’s homeland naming their son Cuba, who at the same time continued the tradition naming his first descendant Cuba.
Another actor, Steven Bauer, Melanie Griffith’s ex-husband, was born in Havana in 1956, and his real name is Esteban Echevarria. Marcia Presman, Miami’s socialite, is the mother of Brett Ratner, movie director and musical producer. She was born in Cuba, in the center of a Jewish family which in 1960 immigrated to the United States. The famous blogger Perez Hilton (Mario Armando Lavandeira) also has Cuban roots.
Baseball fans follow the news related to Cuban baseball players who decided to compete and earn seven figure salaries in the MLB (Major League Baseball), like Yasiel Puig, Kendrys Morales, Yoennis Cespedes or Aroldis Chapman
But not all know that the Puerto Rican Jorge Posada, ex player with the Yankees is son of a Cuban father and a Dominican mother. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez is son to two Cuban fans. Jon Jay, center field for the St Louis Cardinals was born in Miami; his father was from Santiago de Cuba and his mother from Matanzas. Since his first and last names tend to offer confusion he has said: “Yes, I am Cuban. Of rice and black beans, palomilla steak and cafe con leche”. Perhaps Justo Jay, Jon’s father, might be related to Ruperto Jay Matamoros (Santiago de Cuba 1912-Havana 2008) the largest exponent of naif painting in Cuba.
Of course, Cubans know about the saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpet player Arturo Sandoval, both American citizens today; they were born on the island. That Andy Garcia came into this world in Bejucal, a town 26 km south of Havana. That Eva Mendez (Miami, 1975) is the youngest of four siblings, all children to Cuban immigrants. And that Cameron Diaz (California, 1972) is the daughter of the American Billy Early and Emilio Diaz, now dead, famous entrepreneur whose parents settled in Tampa.
Also Carlos Leon, the father of Lourdes Maria, Madonna’s daughter, was born in Cuba in 1966. Armando Christian Perez, alias Pitbull, son of Cubans who immigrated to Florida, is heard among toques de santo parties, with white rum and marijuana in the poorest and largely black neighborhoods in the capital.
Willy Chirino (Pinar del Rio, 1947) is almost an “asere” from the neighborhood. His hit, “New Day is Coming” has become a hymn in Cuba. People rent gossip magazines to read about the model and actor William Levy, born in Havana in 1980. Or about Gloria Estefan (Havana, 1957) and her husband Emilio (Santiago de Cuba, 1953).
On the island there are some people who believe that the Cuban-American composer Jorge Luis Piloto is related to the binomial author Piloto & Vera. Which doesn’t stop people from El Pilar, the neighborhood where he lived in the capital, from knowing the lyrics of his songs sung by Luis Enrique or Chayanne.
The regime, in his campaign to discredit Cubans in the exile and their descendants, hide their triumphs in the United States. When they mention names of the ex-president of The Coca-Cola Company, Roberto Goizuete; the Bacardi family or the Fanjul, among others, they link them to the national bourgeoisie or the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The politicians with Cuban origins that swarm mayor positions or other institutions in Florida or other states or the US Congress, are target of criticism from the regime. Disparagingly they call them the “Miami Mafia”.
The message is understood. Since 1959, when Fidel Castro gained power and started piecing together the most successful autocracy of the continent, the immigrants are considered enemies. Those that choose to leave the ideological madhouse had to endure humiliations, delays in their immigration dealings, go to work in agriculture, or withstand insults and eggs at barbaric acts of repudiation.
Fifty-four years later, the Castro government attempts to masks their treatment of the exiles, wielding an inclusive and moderate speech. They need it. That’s an important source of their economic support.
1,785,547 Cubans or 0.6% of the United State’s population, per the 2010 census, generates ten times more riches than Cuba’s GDP, one of extreme poverty, with a population of eleven million. It’s an incontrovertible statistic.
Translated by LYD
11 November 2013
There are, however, a lot of Bouazizis around. Their way of rebelling is different. Cubans do not take to the streets to express their discontent. Nor do they organize massive demonstrations with signs or set up protest camps.
They protest at a snail’s pace or with sit-down strikes. Or they steal what they can from their workplaces. Or they behave inappropriately in public or they fail to pay their taxes.
During this month of October the tension within one segment of the population has been palpable. Private taxi drivers are furious. Many have received a notice from the tax office telling them of new levies they must pay.
“I have to pay $15,000 pesos ($740 US). And I know of cases in which taxi drivers have to pay $30,000 pesos ($1,300 US). There is one thing you can be sure of: Just like the rest of them I will not pay one cent,” says one Havana taxi driver, the veins in his neck bulging.
It’s obvious that the regime wants everyone to pay their taxes. They explain that is not an invention by Raul Castro. And like fearful parrots, the official media repeats that “our citizens should learn to have a tax-paying culture, those tax revenues become social benefits”.
The arguments fall on deaf ears. The resentment that prevails among the self-employed workers sees that the States sees them as the enemy.
I’ll give a little bit of history. Throughout the years, the regime harassed the self-employed. One night in 1968 all small businesses were closed. From grocery stores and hamburger vendors to Chinese restaurants and shoe repairers.
When in 1994 Fidel Castro opened the faucet to certain private initiatives he didn’t do it to slowly introduce liberal methods or a market economy. No. It was a matter of political survival.
The public accounts were in red. The State had to deflate if it wanted to be profitable. Then it loosened its grip and permitted minor trades like umbrella repairers, peanut sellers or raw material collectors.
You could also sell coffee, rent a room or set up a restaurant with twelve chairs. Always with the imposing high taxes to slow the capital accumulation.
At the end of 1999 Hugo Chavez came to the Miraflores Palace in Venezuela. A Santa Claus with petro-dollars. Castro took a step back and self-employed work was marginalized. Between 1995 and 2003, the number of self-employed dropped from 170,000 to 150,000.
But in the national landscape there was news. Fidel departed from power in July 2006 due to illness. The natural heir, his brother Raul, is almost the same although with different strategies.
He eliminated absurd prohibitions that classified Cubans as fourth class citizens. He allowed the rent of land, made it legal for Cubans to frequent tourist facilities, and legalized cell phones, the purchase and sell of homes and cars, and as of January, travel abroad.
Currently there are more than 436,000 self-employed workers. According to the government, self-employment “has come to stay”. But ordinary Cubans seem to be distrustful.
Other economic openings were cut off at the root with legal penalties and scorn in the public media. Naturally, people think that the story could repeat itself. Even more when they know that the government allows self-employment as long as they don’t make too much in profits.
Small businesses are controlled by an army of inspectors and harassed by high taxes. Therefore, the escape door of many self-employed workers is tax evasion.
In the island, citizens’ dissatisfaction is not a synonymous of strikes, indignant marches or street protests. The Cuban Bouazizi prefers the passive disobedience, either by stealing at work or not paying taxes.
Photo: Under the rain, people wait in front of the Saratoga Hotel to get a glance of Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay-Z during their April 2013 visit in Havana to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Taken by NY Daily News.
Translated by LYD
2 November 2013
“A week before the news was published in the newspaper Granma, a fellow classmate and me, we thought about purchasing the math final exam for $12 CUC. It was an open secret that the exam was already circulating around Havana. The tests and grades is normal”, says the student from Havana.
On June 27, the Granma newspaper, Communist Party organ, acknowledged the existence of a massive fraud. A person who works at the printer where the 11th grade exams were reproduced, along with two teachers from the Arroyo Naranjo town, were accused of “removing an exam with lucrative intent”.
According to some students, the tests were being sold for between $10 and $15 CUC. Although the news was highlighted in the official newspaper, school fraud in Cuba is symptomatic. It’s a national epidemic.
Let’s examine the cause of school fraud and its variants. Between 1970-1990, fraud was never a lucrative business. It was a procedure to consolidate and showcase the image that Fidel Castro liked to sell of the Cuban Revolution.
For Castro, success was a question of statistics and numbers. At the beginning of his political discourses, without pause and from memory, he would recite a long list of numbers, attempting to demonstrate that the Revolution was superior to any other government that existed prior to 1959. From the low infant death rate, to the thousands of doctors graduated annually, to the millions of professionals formed “thanks to the Revolution”.
Education was one of the jewels in Castro’s crown. With the objective of maintaining the enchantment of the statistics which were going up, education at all levels lost many integers. The teachers were not judged by the quality of their classes. They were “measured” — a jargon used in those years to indicate the number of students who moved up to the next grade.
It was when the education fell into “passing”. Every year, 100% of the students, perhaps some with serious limitations would move up to the next level. It was then, that the fraud was almost consensual.It was disguised in many ways.
Money was not the reason. The teacher who would police the classroom while the students took the exam would leave them alone for fifteen minutes. Enough time for the students to check their answers with the rest of their classmates.
Sometimes fraud was brazen. A teacher would calmly copy with white chalk the answers on the blackboard. Another way: the day before the exam, a review, the teacher would expose the whole exam to the students.
It was a time in which we were useful numbers to keep Castro’s propaganda afloat. These waters have now been muddied. Cyclically, the official press has denounced notorious cases of fraud, which freely occur in middle and high schools.
With the advent of the “Special Period”, the country got hit with a stagnation economic crisis that has now lasted 22 years. Salaries are now jokes in bad taste. With the loss of value of the Cuban peso, the quality of teaching has fallen even lower. Thousands of teacher left for exile or deserted to better paid trades.
It’s common to see a former teacher selling ice cream or cleaning floors in a five-star hotel. Poverty — with too many teachers without vocation or knowledge — into which public education has now sunk, has caused teachers to use tests in lucrative ways.
This happens from elementary to high school. “For 100 Cuban pesos weekly, the deputy director of a school, reviewed material with the kids before the final exams. On that exam, was all the material she reviewed”, said the father of a student.
But if you want to see fraud in a larger scale, visit the night schools or trade schools. “At the school where I go to get my high school degree, for 5 CUC they sell the final exams. It’s barefaced. If you don’t have money, they accept gifts like a perfume or a Lebron James shirt”, said a young man.
About the gaps in grammar or simple arithmetic of the students who start college, a college professor said: “They come with notable deficiencies. They do not have the basic mathematics knowledge and show major orthographic blunders. Geography or History, before taking the exams, they learn the lessons punctually”.
Those blunders in school education, are one of the signs of thousands of mediocre teachers and professionals. 90% of Cuban doctors that attempt to revalidate their degrees outside the island fail. The same happens with civil or telecommunications engineers.
Cuba is a nation of high educational indices; to talk about quality that’s another thing.
It’s rare for a student born after the Castro Revolution not to have engaged in fraud. If you never did it, raise your hand.
Picture – Taken from Marti News
Translated by – LYD
28 September 2013
While in Sao Paulo and other cities in Brazil the outraged people flooded the streets to protest the increase in transportation prices, rampant corruption and the millions in public expenditures for the World Cup and the Olympic Games, in Cuba the men garbed in olive-green govern at their pleasure, supported by a hard autocratic staff and a Constitution that prohibits strikes and anti-government marches.
Because of a twenty cents increase in public transportation, the Brazilian people took the streets. The Castros’ ability to perform ideological somersaults is indisputable. And they are masters in selling a discourse of effort, honest and sacrifice, while living like millionaire capitalists.
The power of the autocracy cannot be quantified. Or can it? A magnate like Bill Gates could be a ruthless monopolist and evade taxes, but he does not control the strings of foreign policy making or with just a simple phone call send a dissident to jail.
The Cuban autocrats do have real power. They control the State in an absolute manner thanks to a network of special services, informers, neighborhood organizations that with a simple order can start an act of repudiation or provoke the beating of any opponent.
Even in former communist countries like East Germany, Czechoslovakia or Hungary, there were workers striking and mass demonstrations, crushed by the treads of Russian tanks and bursts from Kalashnikovs. In 54 years of the Cuban regime there has never been a general strike in the island.
One of the few exceptions was the rebellion of August 5, 1994 in the largely poor and majority black neighborhoods of Cayo Hueso and San Leopoldo in Central Havana. The detonator for the protest — known as “el Maleconazo” — was the desire of people to leave the country. They weren’t asking for political changes, better wages nor demanding that the government hold free elections.
Due to the scientific repression, many Cubans are devious pretenders. If the gate of an embassy opens, as with the Peruvian embassy in April 1980, those same people would leave their red Party card at the door.
Or they would play the game of mirrors learned over decades. They take cover behind political speeches, revolutionary jingles, raise their hands in unanimous consent at a union meeting or respond to a call from the intelligence services and shout vulgarities at the Ladies in White.
The majority of the Cuban population is peaceful. Too much so. Some prefer to take a rubber raft and risk their life crossing the dangerous Florida Straits rather than to become affiliated with a dissident group. With harsh words they criticize the government in public buses or private taxis or maybe while drinking the cheapest rum with their friends or in living rooms in their homes; but that’s it.
If we compare ourselves with Brazil, Cuban could have seen several strikes and lots of massive protests of the outrages. The minimum salary in Brazil is $678 reales or $326 dollars. In Cuba it is $20 dollars.
If you need to buy a home appliance, you have to have access to convertible currency or CUC, a currency in which workers or retired people do not get paid. The products sold in stores for that currency and are taxed between 240% and 300%.
A jar of mayonnaise, made in Cuba, is one-third of the median salary. A bag of frozen potatoes is pretty much the same. From 2003 to date many items sold in hard currency have increased between 40% to 90%.
One hundred dollars in 2003 represents forty-five dollars in 2013, due to the 13% tax levied on the US dollar, decreed by Fidel Castro in 2005, along with the silent price increases for staple products.
In contrast, wages have barely grown in the last twenty years. The sending of remittances by family members from the “other side of the pond” is what supports the basic needs of their family in the island.
It is predicted that in 2013 the regime will receive more than $2.6 million dollars from these remittances. At the same time, the registers at the stores are happily chirping and the subsidies from the State are decreasing. The message from the rulers is loud and clear. Make ends meet however you can, establish a small place to refill lighters or fix old shoes.
The bus fare in Cuba, the genesis of the riots in Brazil, have risen from five cents in 1989 to forty cents in 2013. However, due to the tremendous scarcity of twenty-cent coins, people are paying one peso. To travel in an overflowing bus and with a horrific service.
Nobody has taken the streets to protest. The mute revenge of Cuban workers is to work little and poorly and to steak what they can from the jobs. Fidel Castro never liked democracies. The strikes, protests and free elections give him allergies.
One afternoon during the 1990’s, it is said that someone whispered in the Nicaraguan politician Daniel Ortega’s ear, after his loss in the referendum: you don’t hold elections to lose. Ortega and the compatriots of the PSUV in Venezuela took note.
Cuba, which economically speaking is a failure, has shown that only an autocracy can keep popular discontent in the dark.
If anyone wants some advice as to how to run a country without disturbances, please come by Havana.
Picture from Primavera Digital
Translated by: LYD
18 September 2013
In the 1950’s there were two hotels out of their league: the Hotel National in Havana and the Hotel International in Varadero. The first one is still standing in the heart of Vedado, the second one will be demolished.
This was just confirmed by Jorge Alvarez, Director of Center of Inspection and Environmental Control. This institution is in charge of controlling, supervising and regulating the protection of the environment and the rational use of natural resources. The cause? The alarming coastal erosion discovered by the scientists and specialists who were given the task to visit and analyze almost six thousand kilometers of Cuban coast.
Although the authorities have chosen prudence and remaining silent, the conclusions are alarming. “The government realized that the protection of the coasts for an island like Cuba, long and narrow is a matter of national security”, said Alvarez recently.
The study showed that the rising ocean level could damage or wipe off the map around 122 small coastal towns, many beaches would be under water, drinking water sources would be lost and cultivated parcels unutilized. It is possible that by the year 2050 the sea level will rise around 27 centimeters and some 85 centimeters by 2100. It sounds small, but experts explain that this represents a penetration of salt water of up to two kilometers around low laying areas.
In October 2010, they were already talking about the probable demolition of the Hotel International. A wave of rumors and conflicts were set off, inside and outside of the island. Luanys Morales, spokesperson for Gran Caribe, the administrative group of the hotel said: “Is a shame that a rumor can influence the decision of many tourists who have called, alarmed by the news. The Hotel will not be demolished and it is all part of a fallacy invented to grab headlines by people who don’t want what’s good for our island and their time spewing venom in their informal blogs.”
One month later this was corrected, supposedly officially, by a statement made by the Cuban Section of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, signed by their president, the architect Jose E. Fornes, corroborating the rumors about the intentions to demolish the Hotel International in Varadero and the Cabins of the Sun (Cabañas del Sol), both places considered “part of the Cuban and Caribbean modern patrimony,” which marked a milestone in Cuban architecture, due to their advanced design and visual integration between the landscape and the sea.
In an internet forum, Armando Fernandez said “Yes, they will demolish it. And not only the International which is an emblematic hotel of Varadero, but the cabins as well, which in their time represented a national prize of architecture. They made the decision without consulting anyone. I agree that there are important investments that must be made, but not at the expense of a symbol of national identity.”
Around the same time, Teresa, retired, confessed, “I felt a mixture of sadness and indignation when I heard that they were going to demolish the International. I was born in Matanzas and before the revolution, when summer came, my parents would rent a house in Varadero. They loved going to the hotel cabaret and the kids would eat ice cream in the cafeteria. Back then a working family like mine could do those luxury things.”
International Hotel in Varadero was inaugurated on December 24, 1950 in the city of Cardenas, Matanzas. Because of its architectural style it was considered the “brother” of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, opened in 1954. Until the mid-80’s, when Fidel Castro decided to develop tourism as one of the most important sources of hard currency, the International Hotel was the tourists’ favorite.
Designed by the Cuban architect Ricardo Galbis, 300 workers took part in its construction. Ninety percent of the materials used were imported from the United States. Its cost was over three and half million pesos, which at that time was valued the same as the dollar. It consisted of 163 rooms and a penthouse. In the lobby, there was mural with an ocean theme, a work by the Spanish painter Hipolito Hidalgo de Caviedes, who in 1937 exiled himself to Cuba. Hidaldo returned to Spain in 1961 and passed away in 1994 in Madrid, the same city where he was born in 1902.
When the Hotel International was inaugurated Varadero already had 17 hotels, among them the Kawama, Miramar, Torres, Playa Azul and Varadero, the oldest of all dating back to 1915. But the hotel boom really started around 1990 with the construction of Melia Varadero, Sol Club Las Sirenas, Sol Palmeras, Brisas del Caribe and Meliá Las Américas.
In 1887, the year of the official founding of Varadero, if a Havana native wanted to swim in its blue and translucent waters he had to have time, patience and energy. To travel to Varadero, he would have to take a train to Cardenas and then from cross to the beach on foot, in a horse-drawn carriage or “carreton” or in a schooner.
Today, the trip of 130 kilometers between Havana and the famous beach resort is along a wide highway which by car or bus takes a little more than an hour. Varadero is still the most popular tourist destination of sun and beach in Cuba. It currently receives more than a million tourist visitors annually and it contributes around 30% of the tourist sector earnings.
Three years ago it was speculated that behind the Hotel International demolition was perhaps the discovery of oil reserves in the area or the construction of new golf resorts. However, the grave damage done to the environment was the reason. I hope there is time to save the eroded Cuban coasts.
Picture Taken from Cubazul.
Translated by LYD
People with short fuses are abundant in Cuba. Guys who use body language and verbal speech as guns. Jose Carlos, 41 years old, thinks that the smallest thing can trigger a battlefield.
“If you are going to the store you have to be careful with your words and have patience. The store clerks are always in a bad mood. They look like jail keepers. The most scary ones are the receptionists. If they are not painting their nails, they are gossiping on the phone; they tell you to come back the next day because is lunch time. We are living in an epidemic of bad manners. Bad manners have nothing to do with the economic crisis or poverty, I think they are a consequence of the revolution; and now flourish like a bad weed,” says Jose Carlos.
Verbal and physical abuse usually start as young as the day care centers and progresses from elementary through high school; at least that is what Hilda, a 72-year-old retired school teacher thinks.
“In the four decades that I worked as a teacher, I realized that the verbal and physical abuse at the schools had increased during the last twenty years. Upon the beginning of the “Special Period” around the early 90’s the loss of values, bullying among students, the usage of dirty words and vulgarities is present in ages as early as 5 to 6 years old. I saw children whose parents had to transfer them from the schools because of the bullying and the violence from other children. Usually kids duplicate the attitudes that they see at home and on occasions parents can behave worse than the kids. They can act as irrational human beings. If their kid got punished an earthquake could be unleashed; that coupled with low salaries are two of the reasons why young people elect not to be teachers. Nobody wants to work in a place where aside from making little money it can bring you other issues”, says the experienced teacher.
The smallest touch in a public transportation vehicle can trigger an exchange of loud insults; and in the heat of the moment a physical altercation can occur. Some managers, Arnaldo comments, behave with their subordinates as feudals bosses. “I work in an food preparation plant for the tourism business. The superiors treat us as if we are dogs. When we try to defend our rights they show you the front door. It is the majority of them who behave as if they are God’s chosen or belong to a different social casts.”
A sociologist from Havana made it very clear, “The increase of verbal and physical abuse is part of a rude language filled with testosterone which Fidel Castro’s government started implementing. Vulgarity became the watchword. From insults used at public political speeches up to the jingles massively created around 1962 after the October Crisis. For example: “Nikita, faggot, what you give you can’t take back,” or “Ae, Ae, Ae the lollipop, Nixon doesn’t have a mother because a monkey gave birth to him.” Another example was the unethical note published in Granma the day that Ronald Reagan past away, it said “Today died one who should have never have been born.” This antisocial and aggressive conduct from the Cuban social leadership, who often have converted the landscape of diplomacy into a cock fight ring, has been reproduced among the people for the last 54 years. You can not expect good manners when the ones in charge do not have them,” said the sociologist.
In some families, eating an egg or a piece of bread that does not belong to the person can start a small war. In Cuba is not unusual to find three generations living together. In a home, is not unusual to find family members that do not talk to each other or cook and maintain their domestic life separately. The children have as common occurrence the fights and verbal insults among family members.
Reggaeton music is another source of dirty language and incitement to violence. A musician from Havana is convinced of that. “The lyrics of that music style and the bands who play them are “chabacanas” which means low class and in poor taste. Young people attempt to copy the way those artists dress; they attempt to copy their “macho” message which usually propagates violence, frivolity and drugs.”
After musical gatherings, either reggaeton or other types of music and regardless of the police presence, it has become the norm for those activities to end with fights using knives. At the Red Plaza at La Vibora, in Diez de Octubre town, at certain Revolutionary marked dates, they often offer dances and parties.
They erect portable bathrooms made of wood in each corner and until 2 in the morning the music is blasting with those dirty lyrics that do not let the neighbors sleep.
At the end of the concerts is when the party really begins. The fights among the marginal individuals, the stairs and halls are converted into public bathrooms or people smoking marijuana. Sex is practiced in any small and dark space; all a spectacle of violence and disrespect.
Picture – Taken from Cubanet
Translated by LYD
15 September 2013