Archive for the ‘Translator: Tomás A.’ Category

The Mass and Repression in Revolution Square / Ivan Garcia

September 22, 2015 1 comment

Papa-en-Cuba-Misa-y-represión-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 21 September 2015 — Almost everyone in Cuba remembers what they were doing on January 21, 1998. Stephen, who works in a steel factory southeast of the capital, recalls that he walked more than nine miles to attend the Mass of Pope Wojtyla in Revolution Square, the sacred precinct of the olive-green regime.

“I come from a Catholic family, but when Fidel came to power they stopped going to church out of fear. John Paul II was a kind of personal liberation, the reunion with my church, God, and Jesus. Afterward, travel to the island has become fashionable for the Vatican. The visit of Benedict XVI, like that of Francis I, seemed quite bland to me. More media hype than anything else,” says Stephen, as he goes to Mass with a portrait of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba.

After midnight on September 19th, public transport service in Havana was interrupted. Sandy and his fiancee Agnes, regular salsa-dancers in a Vedado nightclub, had to change their plans.

“It’s become routine that when the government decides to stage a march or a mass event, the buses stop running. People with money should go by taxi or hired cars that charge hard currency. It’s an arbitrary imposition. We have to stay home or walk to where we want to go,” says Sandy angrily.

Although the visit of Pope Francis was a significant event, the omnipresent social control exerted by the state toward its citizens irritates quite a few Cubans.

“They treat us like we’re first graders or mentally challenged. Good or bad, what we can do depends on the government. And a lot of us are already tired of obeying rules and regulations,” said Marcial, sitting on the porch of his home in Ayestarán, within walking distance of Revolution Square.

When the sacred choral music began on the makeshift stage in front of the National Theatre, flanked by the marble statue of Jose Marti and the 3-D image of Che on the Interior Ministry, Yordanka and several friends, with pictures of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and yellow-and-white Vatican flags, began to quietly recite The Liturgy of the Word. They were reading a handout distributed by enthusiastic volunteers from the Catholic Church.

“Of course I believe in God. Also in the Afro-Cuban deities, like almost everybody in Cuba does. My companions and I didn’t come out of devotion as much as out of compliance with ETECSA, our company. Those who attended were given a snack and a soda, which some later sold for 40 pesos,” admits Yordanka.

The presence of police officers dressed in plain clothes was evident, betrayed by walkie-talkies in hand, nervous surveillance, muscles forged in gyms, and hands deformed by the practice of martial arts. Also assembled were hundreds of members of combat associations, paramilitary organizations usually involved in acts of repudiation and beatings of dissidents.

Hours before the homily was to start, dozens of opponents of the regime and the Ladies in White were arrested or barred from attending the ceremony. Berta Soler said that on Saturday the 19th, “Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva and I were invited to the Apostolic Nunciature, where many people went to greet the Pope. Neither Martha nor Miriam could get there. In my case, when I was on my way an unnecessarily large State Security detail detained me along with my husband Angel Moya.”

Once the greeting time had ended, the three were released. Around five in the morning on September 20, some twenty women of the Ladies in White organization, including Berta, were taken to different police stations to prevent their attendance at the Havana Mass.

“I wonder how the Pope and the Vatican will react. The dictatorial regime violated their right to grant permission to those citizens who could attend His Holiness’s events. It’s a sign, another one, of the government’s intolerance. I hope that public opinion will take note,” said Angel Moya, a member of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms.

It has become routine for the Castro autocracy to hijack religious, sporting, or musical events for their own benefit, whether it be a papal Mass or a concert by Juanes.

Designing an artificial landscape has its cost. Religious commitment is nonexistent when the people attend almost under compulsion, in order not to be “marked down” and to look good at their workplace, especially if they are guaranteed a good snack and are given credit for having worked that day.

Before Pope Francis finished his brief homily, hundreds of people began to leave to go home. And if the purpose is for all to remain well with God and with Castro, the average Cuban feels like a bit player in this story.

So the response from citizens is apathy, facades, and double standards. Pope Francisco probably saw some of that.

Iván García

Exclusive video of the arrest of 3 people before the Papal Mass in Cuba

Univision Video shows the moment when two dissidents are able to approach the Pope and talk with him, are then separated from the Popemobile, and while they are subjected to being controlled, they shout anti-government slogans. It also shows three dissidents being subdued, including a woman, and finally shows the five detainees being arrested. At the time of this writing their whereabouts were unknown.

Translated by Tomás A.

U.S. Government Snubs the Independent Cuban Press

August 29, 2015 1 comment
Obama responding to the news media at the White House. Taken from Zoom News.

Obama at a White House press conference

Iván García, Havana, 10 August 2015 — The U.S. Embassy in Havana, the State Department, and the administration of Barack Obama, have intentionally mapped out a strategy to prevent independent Cuban journalists from covering the visit of John Kerry and the official reopening of the diplomatic headquarters on Friday, August 14.

For the the four-day historic event, no independent journalist, dissident, or human rights activist has been invited to participate in the ceremony, or the press conference by Kerry.

Since July 22nd I have made a dozen calls to the U.S. Public Affairs Office in Havana to request a press pass that would allow me to cover the event for Diario las Americas, El Periodico de Catalunya, and Webstringers LCC, a Washington-based media communications company, and I have not received a response from any official.

According to a diplomatic source, effective July 20th, the process changed for obtaining a credential to cover events or press conferences of politicians, business organizations, or Americans visiting the island.

Before that date, when Lynn W. Roche was head of the Public Affairs Section, I could get credentials in record time. I was able to cover the visit of Roberta Jacobson, congressmen, senators, businessmen, and officials from the State Department, among others.

Now, according to this source, accreditation must be obtained at the International Press Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located at 23rd and O, in Vedado. A rather crude strategy designed to get rid of independent journalists.

The worst part is not the disrespect or indifference. The U.S. government has the sovereign right to invite to its events those people it deems appropriate.

But out of respect, at least have the courtesy to speak face-to-face with independent journalists and inform them of the new policy. Don’t beat around the bush.

The U.S. government, which is not stupid, knows that for 54 years Cuba has been ruled by a military autocracy that prohibits political opposition and independent journalism.

Leaving press accreditation to the Cuban regime for events that the United States puts on in Cuba is like putting a child molester in charge of a Boy Scout camp.

Armed with a letter from Maria Gomez Torres, director of content for Webstringers, I personally went to the International Press Center. The official who vetted me, after reading the letter, looked through her papers and said with mock surprise, “Mr. García, you do not appear as an accredited journalist in Cuba.”

“And how can I be accredited?” I asked her.

“You must have an operating license and a permit from the Center,” she replied.

“Fine. Can you handle that for me?”

“No, because you do not qualify,” she replied with a tone of mystery.

“Why don’t I qualify, since I’ve collaborated with newspapers in Spain and the United States since 2009?” I inquired.

“Our Center reserves the right to give permission to reporters as we see fit,” snapped the bureaucrat.

After the unsuccessful attempt, I again called on the U.S. Embassy to request an appointment with an official who could tell me why an independent journalist cannot be accredited to the August 14 event.

But no one would take my call. December 17 marked a new era between Cuba and the United States. That noon, Barack Obama promised to empower the Cuban people and to promote respect for human rights on the island.

Pure demagoguery. The government that claims to promote democratic values, shamelessly tramples the spirit and letter of its Constitution, where the right to inform is sacred.

The U.S. government is trying not to tarnish its August 14 gala, knowing that if it accredits independent journalists and invites dissidents, then officials of the regime will not attend.

The olive-green autocracy has a rule that it will not take part in any event with Cuban dissidents, whom it considers “mercenaries and employees of the U.S. government.”

This time, the Obama administration is going to pander to them.

Translated by Tomás A.

Yulieski Gourriel, the Internet, and Other Cuban Demons / Ivan Garcia

August 4, 2015 Leave a comment

February 2006. Fidel Castro congratulates a very young Yulieski Gourriel (Sancti Spiritus 1984) for his performance in the Second World Baseball Classic held in Japan, where the Cuban team finished second. Taken from

Iván García, 7 July 2105 —  In the Cuba of the Castros one thing is certain: the role of the people is to applaud, accept, and await the executive edicts. So long as the boring newspaper Granma does not confirm a news item, then reports about it are false.

The secretive handling of the press by the autocracy has far exceeded the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its official news agency TASS. If in Moscow it took three days after Brezhnev’s death to announce it to the people, in Cuba some news can take a month to be acknowledged.

In other cases, the people never find out. Cubans know little or nothing about the transfer of weapons to North Korea, or that Antonio Castro, Fidel’s son and playboy of the olive-green bourgeoisie, won a golf tournament in Varadero. As far as the state media is concerned, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Paris Hilton did not visit the island.

Researchers charged with collecting information about the Special Period, a static economic crisis that lasted for 25 years, can gather nothing by reviewing the official press: the news of the time overflowed with optimism; it did not report on shortages, but only highlighted popular support for the Revolution.

In the field of information, Cuba is stuck in a third dimension. The rumor mill has become a science. On the street, the average Cuban can expect to learn of the arrest of a minister, that another baseball player jumped over the wall, and that the general has a journalist girlfriend. They learn these things by other means.

This summer’s drama is the case Yulieski Gourriel, probably the last great star of Cuban baseball. By numbers, Gourriel is the best player on the Island. A five-tool player.

In 2014 he was hired by the Japan Professional League where he performed remarkably. But this season he breached his contract by not reporting in to the organization, claiming injury.

Officials of the Yokohama DeNa BayStar nine asked Gourriel to travel to Japan to be evaluated by team doctors. Yulieski did not show up, simply preferring to recuperate at home.

They imposed a heavy fine and canceled the contract. Yulieski himself started feeding rumors when on April 5 he posted on his Facebook wall a cryptic note that said “Things happen for a reason. What is coming could be better. “

Because everything in Cuba is covered by a shroud of mystery, little can learned about Gourriel’s intentions. According to ball players in Havana, Yulieski married a granddaughter of Raul Castro.

For reasons unknown, Yulieski withdrew from participating in the selection of the national team for the upcoming international events. Something unprecedented. And that could result in his being sanctioned by the Cuban Baseball Federation.

On the Panorama Sports program of Radio Rebelde, reporters of the caliber of Ramon Rivera and Luis Alberto Izquierdo received emails and phone calls from fans asking about Gourriel.

The state journalists belong to the ideological sector and are considered “soldiers of the Revolution.” Rivera and Izquierdo did some semantic juggling to try to please their listeners. They called Yulieski’s house and the phone is out of service.

Clearly, the State, its ministers, spokespeople, and leaders disparage the official press. They hide information, don’t offer interviews, and cavalierly ignore them.

This is silly, because if the partisan press is unable to meet the people’s expectations of the news, the people will seek information through other channels. And that’s been happening for a long time.

Gourriel’s case serves to connect to another issue that leaves the official press dangling. On Friday June 19, the national television news announced with great fanfare the opening, on the 23rd, of 35 new Wi-Fi access points in several localities.

On the appointed day I went to La Rampa, where according to the news report there would be a wireless zone from the Yara Theater to the Malecon. It was all a hoax. Zero connections.

I went to the ETECSA commercial office in the basement of the Focsa Building on M Street between 17th and 19th in Vedado, to investigate the matter. Most of the employees were unaware of the information.

An engineer told me that the service would began on July 1. So why did the news announce its start on June 23? “Those people are clueless. They say what the uninformed officials say. Because of technical problems, the network still isn’t up,” he replied.

They are still selling internet-browsing cards at 4.50 CUC an hour, although it was announced that as of June 23 they would be reduced to 2 convertible pesos. “No one has told us about this reduction. Until it’s printed in the Gazette it’s not official,” said an employee.

The regime leaves the press that it sponsors in a very bad way.

Yulieski, the State, and Raul Castro should learn that public information is not a private preserve. It is a civil right.

Translated by Tomás A.

Havana Hustling / Ivan Garcia

February 25, 2014 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iván García

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

Translated by Tomás A.

17 February 2014

Cuba Professionalizes Sports / Ivan Garcia

October 4, 2013 Leave a comment

deporte-cuba-620x330Now we know why the national baseball season didn’t start in October. The delay was not due to the rains, as reported by the sports authorities.

The plot was different. Technocrats and political mandarins put the finishing touches on a project that would allow better wages for athletes. The new rules will apply starting November 3rd, when the winter baseball season begins.

It was imperative to change the concepts governing sports in Cuba. After Fidel Castro abolished professional sports in 1961, a pyramid of schools and training centers was created to fashion high-performance athletes.

Funded by a deposit of rubles, material resources, and coaches from the now-vanished USSR and other Eastern European nations, the sports movement in Cuba experienced a spectacular increase in quality.

The island was always a pool of talent in baseball and boxing. But after 1959, sports that were exotic to Cuban fans, such as water polo, handball, Greco-Roman wrestling, or judo – thanks to coaches who arrived from the cold or from the thug state of North Korea – made it possible for Cuba to win Olympic, PanAmerican, and World medals in those disciplines.

Others like basketball or volleyball, greatly accepted in the university and school setting, took off dramatically. Like the litter of communist countries with the USSR at the head, Cuba used sport as a showcase trying to prove the superiority of the Marxist-Leninist system over modern Western capitalism.

There were plenty of champions. They came in series, like sausages, from the sports schools. Beef was missing and misery was socialized, but the average Cuban was proud of their achievements in sports.

They labeled the entire feat with the term “amateurs.” Something that was false. By amateurs only they had a salary. They played, trained, and competed throughout the year just as their professional counterparts.

But they earned workers’ wages. With the arrival in 1990 of the “special period,” a static economic crisis lasting 23 years, sports took a nose dive. The propaganda bubble burst, in which Fidel Castro saw the athletes as warriors and the competitions as battlefields.

Low wages – an athlete earned a salary according to his or her profession – was the key to nearly a thousand athletes leaving their homeland, from 1991 to now.

To this was added the stupid policies that prohibited athletes from playing on professional teams and managing their finances without official authorization. The six-figure salaries that some Cuban ball players earn in the Major Leagues was and remains an incentive for young talents who want to try their luck in the best baseball in the world.

The bleeding had to be stopped. The new regulations can certainly reduce the desertions in sports like volleyball and others, where the main circuits are in Europe and are not affected by the laws of the U.S. embargo, and the athletes don’t have to defect from Cuba in order to compete.

But it remains to be seen whether the signing of athletes will be handled by a representative designated by the player or by the state enterprise Cubadeportes, charging very high fees.

Either way, it is a leap forward. A first step. A positive one, if we see that 70% of elite athletes live in poverty.

It is good that a player earns a salary in line with the cost of living in Cuba. They contribute to the major national entertainment for five months of the year. Doctors, teachers, and other professionals, should be similarly compensated, but that’s another story.

The new regulations do not say how training conditions will be improved, stadiums will be repaired, or athletes will be provided with a balanced diet.

Neither do they explain how the whole new salary framework of the National Series will be funded. Will they create companies that see the sport as a business or will the state continue to subsidize the sport?

It is already a fact that the regime of General Raul Castro has buried a hundred meters underground the “amateur sports” falsehood. It was logical. It constituted a burden on the impoverished local economy.

These new measures also send a message to the magnates of the Major Leagues in the United States: Cuba wants to participate in the Big Show. They have now opened the gate.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Martí Noticias

Translated by Tomás A.

1 October 2013

Cuban Sport Fades Away / Ivan Garcia

September 23, 2013 1 comment

The defection of Cuban athletes is no longer news. And gone are the front-page headlines announcing epic victories and world championships.

The state coffers are empty. The sports schools no longer turn out strings of champions like sausages. In the last Olympic Games in London 2012, we finished in 16th place.

Underline that result. It is likely that from now on the performance will get worse. The problem is not that the population has become sedentary or obese. Or that Cubans have given up their love of sports.

No. What has happened is a quiet revolution within the sports movement in Cuba. Athletes have become tired of being handled like puppets for the regime’s propaganda.

They also want to earn lavish salaries like their peers in the world, to be free to sign with any major team, and to manage their earnings without state interference.

So they leave Cuba. And will continue leaving: baseball players, boxers, volleyballers, track and field athletes, and competitors from other disciplines.

The government of General Raúl Castro does not want to open the gate. From now on, it is the State that designates who will compete in a foreign league, and how much money they should be paid.

The olive green mandarins have again miscalculated. They are trying to design a structure similar to that of Cuban contractors abroad — to manage contracts and pocket the lion’s share. Like doctors and civilian advisers, athletes will be a commodity. A way to bring dollars into the government’s deflated accounts.

They have forgotten Fidel Castro’s once fierce speech against professionalism. Rent-an-athlete is now welcome, as long as the athlete is as meek as a sheep.

But times are different. Olympic champion Dayron Robles has gotten tired of being manipulated by remote control. Robles has charted a new course: that of the independent athlete. He has the intransigent national sports directors against the ropes.

Taking advantage of loopholes in the January 13 immigration reform, Dayron intends to compete freely in the Diamond League, without having to defect from his homeland or give up competing in future international tournaments under the Cuban flag.

The Cuban authorities are unwilling to accept his decision or negotiate a way out. Dayron Robles will mark a turning point in the Cuban sports movement.

The authorities are at a crossroads. If they yield to him, they could set a bad precedent, and in the short-term lose control of the salaries of athletes allowed to compete in foreign leagues.

That’s the key. The regime knows that it can bring in several hundred million dollars annually by hiring out athletes. The ideal would be to levy a reasonable tax on wages for athletes competing on foreign clubs. And allow athletes to manage as they see fit the money they earn with their sweat and talent.

It would be good for both sides. No one would be forced to leave Cuba. But in an autocracy, reasonableness is a bad word. The government’s intransigent position led to this quagmire.

Due to wrong policies, about a thousand athletes have been forced to defect. Athletes on the island are not unaware of the success of Yasser Puig, Yoennis Céspedes and Osmany Juantorena, among many others.

They also want to compete with the best and earn wages commensurate with their athletic caliber. In their country they earn the salaries of laborers. Few can start a restaurant when they retire, like Mireya Luis, Raúl Diago, or Javier Sotomayor.

They only have two choices: become coaches or political commissioners in the style of the sinister Alberto Juantorena. The downward spiral of Cuban sport is attributable to the stubbornness of the regime, which seeks to control sports contracts from a desk and only with its consent.

Already in the last Olympics Cuba was not represented in team sports. The performance of the men’s volleyball team in the World League, with one win and seven defeats, is the price paid for this intolerance.

Every year sports stars leave. The fans cheer. But there are other avenues to explore. The country does not belong to the Castros. It is everyone’s. Each of us born on this island must reclaim what we consider our inalienable rights.

It is a hard choice. The scribes of the official press defame those athletes who freely decide to separate from the Cuban sports movement. The IOC and the international federations can and should mediate the dispute.

Athletes like Robles are entitled not to be slaves. Congratulations to Dayron.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Últimas Noticias, Venezuela.

Translated by Tomás A.

12 September 2013

The Day After Fidel Castro / Ivan Garcia

August 15, 2013 1 comment

Libro-Fidel-Castro-620x330Never has the life or death of one man awakened such dissimilar expectations. Fidel Castro, who turns 87 on August 13, has been given up for dead so many times that when death does come for him, many will believe it’s a joke.

Castro, aware of the countless times he has cheated death, has woven a legend around himself. After the 1953 assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, several newspapers of the time published the news of his demise.

The military escapade of trying to take a military fortress with a troop of inexperienced amateur soldiers armed with dove-hunting rifles ended, of course, in a complete rout.

Most of the young assailants were killed in battle or executed by the repressive forces of the Fulgencio Batista regime. In those days, the life of Fidel Castro wasn’t worth much.

But the 26-year-old lawyer, born 500 miles east of Havana on a farm in the Birán region of Holguin, managed to avoid being executed by a bullet to the head thanks to Lieutenant Sarria, a Republican Army officer who saved his life.

Then in prison, according to the official history, they tried to poison him.

When on December 2, 1956 he landed with an army of 82 men on the beach at Las Coloradas, a rugged area infested by swamps, Batista’s Air Force, which was aware of the landing site in advance, made target practice of the bewildered guerrillas.

Everyone gave Fidel Castro up for dead. They were so sure of his death that the troops shut down their actions against the guerrilla. Once again the “subversive one” had escaped death.

You already know the story. He regrouped with the survivors of his band, and with the help of peasant farmers, the inefficiency of the army, and collections of money and weapons from political parties opposed to Batista, he managed to seize power in January 1959.

Two years earlier, in the Sierra Maestra, he escaped by a complete miracle. His right-hand man, who slept 15 feet from his hammock, was an Army plant. But the guy lacked the guts to kill him, as had been planned. The “traitor” was caught by the guerrillas and executed.

Once in power, he was left unscathed by various attempts conceived by former comrades-in-arms, a German lover, the CIA, and anti-Castro exiles. He exaggerates this. He says the U.S. special services tried to kill him more than 600 times.

Castro and the official media aggrandize everything, from production statistics to attacks on his life. What is documented is that at least twelve times the CIA and opposition groups planned to kill him.

On a visit to Chile in 1973, an anti-Castro commando was about to execute him. A gun fastened to a television camera was pointed at his head. But without a safe path of escape, the organizers decided to abort the attempt.

On Monday, July 31, 2006, when Carlos Valenciaga, his personal secretary, announced that due to serious health problems Fidel had delegated power to his brother Raul, the government began to prepare his funeral ceremony, and on a massive mountain in the Sierra Maestra they urgently built a monumental tomb.

From that date, the international press has had his obituaries at the ready. A foreign reporter told me that his agency had sent him to Havana for the sole purpose of reporting the day of death of the leader of the revolution.

Until then, he was asked to maintain a low profile while waiting for the big news. He has now lost count of the number of times Castro has been “killed” in Florida.

Seven years after Fidel Castro’s retirement for health reasons, Cubans barely speak of the former president. No one on the street takes seriously what he says or writes. He’s like a grandfather with dementia who in his lucid moments likes to tell tales of his epic exploits.

After arriving in “death’s waiting room,” as he confided to a journalist from the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, he has dedicated himself to: prophesying the end of the world after a nuclear war; alerting the world to an alleged conspiracy by the Bilderberg Club; and investigating the moringa, a plant that, in his opinion, “could save the starving Third World.”

To this day, on television roundtables and news reports, any crazy pronouncement by the Commander-in-Chief is read in a serious tone. Today, more than ever, you can see in the state media his cult of personality.

In celebration of his birthday, songfests, sports marathons, and book releases are anticipated. But due to the daily grind of hardship without letup, a broad segment of the public does not have pleasant feelings toward its former top leader.

They blame him for the delays, the shortages, and the precarious standard of living in the country today. They see him as a distant ship sailing toward the horizon. Few ask anymore what it will be like the day after his death.

And the direction taken by the General suggests that the legacy of his brother will endure after his physical disappearance. Predictions about the future of Cuba are bleak.

For many on the island, at a time when the developed world remains embroiled in a financial and political crisis with no end in sight, the desired democratic change seems unlikely.

All they can see in the picture is more Castroism. Without Fidel Castro.

Iván García

Photo: Fidel Castro during the presentation of the book Warrior of Time, by Cuban journalist Katiuska Blanco, in February 2012. Taken from El Nuevo Diario de Nicaragua.

Translated by Tomás A.

13 August 2013

Agent 007 Is Running Out of Time

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Chilean businessman Joel Max Marambio Rodríguez faces a deadline of August 23rd to appear before the Inspector from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Miguel Estrada Portales. If he does not appear before the time runs, the criminal proceedings initiated against him could proceed to a final judgment of guilt.

How does an intimate friend and protegé of the elder Castro reach this point, managing the business of a holding company that moves more than 100 million dollars a year? Why would a friend of the revolution for more than 40 years become its adversary?

There are still many unanswered questions, some of which will be answered in the course of the trial, where the Chilean businessman will apparently be tried in absentia and evidently he holds the key to the box of secrets. Marambio, age 63, a former bodyguard of ousted President Salvador Allende and former friend of Fidel Castro, is accused by the Cuban government of the crimes of bribery, acts detrimental to economic activity or employment, embezzlement, falsification of banking and commerce documents, and fraud.

The businessman, owner of International Network Group (ING), was a partner of the Cuban state in the joint venture “Río Zaza Foods,” specializing in the production of juices, dairy products, and alcoholic beverages for the Cuban market and abroad. In late 2009, the Auditor General, a state body subordinate to the State Council, chaired by Army General Raul Castro, began investigating the leftist entrepreneur’s businesses on the island.

Unofficially, he was linked to a corruption scandal involving the deposed director of the Institute of Civil Aeronautics of Cuba (IACC) and Major General Rogelio Acevedo.. Max Marambio and his brother Marcel, were also partners of the IACC in the Sol y Son tourist agency. Several directors of the company were arrested, accused of paying kickbacks, misappropriating funds, and diverting resources abroad. Lucy Leal, executive director of ING, was arrested and is being investigated.

Authorities have not officially said anything about the scandal. In April, however, they acknowledged that Marambio’s companies were under investigation, when one of the managers of Rio Zaza Foods, the Chilean Roberto Baudrand, age 59, under house arrest and being subjected to interrogation, was found dead in his apartment. The Cuban autopsy, accepted by the family of the deceased, said the cause of death was respiratory failure combined with the consumption of drugs and alcohol.

Marambio, known in Cuba as “The Guaton” (the fat man) was summoned and questioned by Inspector Estrada Portales, in late April and early August. The officer is in charge of the investigation. The summonses were published by means of two MININT notices in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba, the agency that discloses the laws and governmental acts on the island. To date, he has not appeared.

The Summons was issued on July 19. In it, the MININT inspector summoned the Chilean businessman to appear before him on the 29th, warning him that if he did not appear on the date indicated, an indictment would be issued on August 3. Officer Estrada Portales ordered the police agencies and State Security to search for, apprehend, and present Marambio within 20 days.

The summons expires on August 23rd. If the deadline passes without his appearance or presentation, he will be declared in default. In the case of crimes against the fundamental political or economic interests of the nation, the Cuban judicial system provides that proceedings against a defendant declared in default can proceed to a final decision.

The judicial system in Cuba offers few safeguards for defendants. The criminal case against him is in the preparatory phase, when pretrial proceedings are conducted. If Marambio returns to the island he is most likely to end up in jail, as a precautionary measure to secure his appearance. Until then, he cannot appoint a legal representative for his defense.

Everything seems to indicate that the legal route will be the means of settling accounts. The publication of the summons and indictment in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba is a formal requirement. The island’s government does not intend to pursue the businessman internationally.

The aim is to declare him in default and try him in absentia. In that case, he could appoint a lawyer. He could also appear at any time and revoke the declaration. He could even void the final judgment against him and be heard in a new trial. Marambio could be a time bomb for the Castro brothers. For what he knows and for what he has been quiet about. We suspect he will not return.

Iván García y Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

While Waiting for Raúl Castro’s Speech . . .

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment

San Rafael Boulevard was swarming with pedestrians on Wednesday, July 7. Braving insufferable heat and humidity, an old newspaper vendor, his face unshaven, his clothes patched, loudly announced the news of the moment.

“Learn about the release of the political prisoners,” the old man shouted, while a line of fifteen or sixteen people bought the official newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde.

“That day I set a personal sales record.  I sold 340 newspapers; usually I don’t sell more than 80,” recalled the sidewalk news hawker. Two weeks later, news of the release of the dissidents is still being discussed.

Although the official media reported only a brief note, the ordinary people in those places of regular dialogue between Cubans – neighborhood corners, parks, workplaces, and taxicabs – continue to make comments, guesses and predictions about what might happen after the release of the political prisoners.

The best informed are those who pay 10 convertible pesos for an illegal cable antenna. And as is the norm in Cuba, they then activate “Radio Bemba,” a peculiar way of transmitting news by word of mouth, which usually functions best in closed societies.

In an antiquated jeep with eight seats, converted into a private taxi, a young man who identifies himself as Alberto, confesses to being connected to the cable channels. “Yes, I am informed,” he says, and starts telling about the freed dissidents. The passengers listen attentively. Alberto relates how the 11 political opponents who had arrived in Madrid spent their first few hours of freedom.

“They were going to be spread throughout different cities in Spain, some in Valencia, others in Málaga. One of them, named Normando, is not satisfied with the treatment received from the Spanish authorities, and believes that they are being treated like African immigrants. These Spaniards are for shit. When they emigrated to Cuba at the beginning of the last century, here we treated them like royalty,” said Alberto, unleashing a wave of opinions.

A middle-aged woman thinks that the dissidents went wrong. “I am a state official and I have traveled the world. The life of emigrants is difficult in any country. They’ll have to work hard if they are to thrive, because Spain also is in deep economic crisis. If they were such patriots they should have stayed in their country.”

Some respond in raised voices. Passions run high. On the island, these freed dissidents were completely unknown. The average Cuban, who has only coffee for breakfast and a hot meal once a day, often admires the Damas de Blanco and the value of the dissidents. “They say out loud what we don’t have the courage to say,” says one student.

But so much bad propaganda by the regime has had an impact in a certain sector of the population, which sees dissenters as part of the street-wise who have turned their differences with the regime into a cottage industry.

In a quick survey of 29 people – family members, friends, and neighbors, of both sexes, aged between 19 and 67, and different political affiliations – 26 welcome the release of the political prisoners from incarceration.

“It’s a positive sign, it could be the beginning of a new stage, where finally disagreements are decriminalized,” argues Robert, an engineer.

The news of the releases have had an unexpected competition, with the repeated appearance of Fidel Castro in public life. Since July 31, 2006, when he made his exit and was about to die, Castro I had been forgotten.

Few people read his routine “Reflections” in the press, where he addressed international political issues, and avoided the difficult economic, political, and social situation in the country.

Cubans have followed his appearances carefully. “He keeps on talking nonsense and prophesying misfortune, but he looks good physically,” says Armando, a cook.

His supporters are where he left them. “With the appearance of the Comandante things will get back to normal. The people follow him more than Raúl. Internationally, Fidel is a meaningful spokesman. With him we’ll put the crisis behind us and take a leap forward,” exults Luis, a retired military veteran.

On the street some doubt his mental capacities. “Yes, he looks in good health, but we don’t give a damn about the war in Iran. I think the old man has lost his marbles,” said César, who is unemployed.

In the middle of African heat, summer vacations, and the typical lack of material, either one of these news stories – the release of the political prisoners or the reappearance of the Comandante – would have aroused interest by itself.

Now, most expect that on July 26 in Santa Clara, in commemoration of the assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953, General Raul Castro will launch a series of measures anticipated by the public, including repeal of permits to travel abroad, the possibility of buying cars and houses, and expanded self-employment.

Things do not look good in the lives of Cubans. To clean up the inefficient local economy, hundreds of thousands of workers have begun to be fired. Raul Castro could be the messenger of good tidings. Or bad.

Iván García

Translated by: Tomás A.

Ricardo’s Smile

May 30, 2010 1 comment

It was an ordeal to go from La Vibora, my neighborhood, to Miramar, where Ricardo González Alfonso lived. There were only two options: catch Route 69, which could take two or three hours. Or the 100, with more buses, but with many more passengers, for its extensive run.

The 69 stops near Ricardo’s house. But if you took the 100 you had to get off at the Comodoro hotel stop and walk several blocks, in the sunshine or the rain. When you arrived, Ricardo would greet you with a smile. Even if he had just received a subpoena from State Security.

Once inside his ramshackle home, he would offer you a glass of cold water, from his even more dilapidated refrigerator. And tea from a plastic thermos, because he couldn’t be brewing coffee at all hours in the old coffee maker. Sometimes he served tea in a plastic cup, which he didn’t throw out: he rinsed it and returned it to use. But typically he would offer it to you in a glass jar, from when they sold Russian jam in Cuba, and which are still used as “cups” for tea or coffee in many homes.

Ricardo was one of the first to be hauled in on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 18, 2003. An operation with olive-green uniforms, similar to what was carried out against other dissidents. In the crosshairs of the repression there were more than a hundred dissidents and independent journalists, but in the red dot of the gunsight was Ricardo González Alfonso.

Not because of his good character. And not because, practically by himself, with very little help, he brought to fruition an idea of Raúl Rivero: founding the Márquez Sterling Journalists Society, a purely professional association.

Ricardo was also able to assemble and print two issues of the magazine De Cuba, the only two that State Security allowed to circulate (Claudia Márquez managed to do a third in September 2003, with the help of Vladimiro Roca and Tania Quintero, among a few others who risked it in those dark days).

Ricardo did all that without ceasing to smile. But above all, without ceasing: to issue denunciations and write stories and poems; to serve visitors – from other provinces or other countries; to give interviews to the international media; to organize journalism workshops in his home; and to act as a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders in Cuba .

When Ricardo was arrested, at his home were his two sons, Daniel and David, then just boys, today young men. Two of the things he loves most in this world. Also left behind was Alida Viso Bello, an independent journalist like himself and his partner in life.

Hopefully among those to be released as a result of those negotiations between the government of Raul Castro and the Cuban Catholic Church will be my friend Ricardo González Alfonso, who has turned 60, and his health, as with nearly all political prisoners, is quite impaired. Not so his perennial smile.

Iván García

Translated by: Tomás A.