Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas In Cuba ”Paradise” With Many Slaves

Christmas In Cuba "Paradise" With Many Slaves / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on December 28, 2013

Enslaved prisoners

December 25th: The inmates of Cuban prisons have worked in the condition
of slaves which they find themselves.

For them there is no Christmas or New Year. All they will have is to
exercise their muscles to fulfill the tough work which the regime
obliges them to do.

At a recent meeting, a chief of prisons, publicly stated that he
preferred working with prisoners versus civilians, because the latter
left when they finished their 8-hour working day, while the prisoners
could go many days with no rights, not even to protest, infinitesimal
pay, and cheap food. Compare that to what the Cuban officials say in
Geneva, that Cuban prisoners are respected with regards to salaries and
hours, when from dawn to dusk the sweat runs down their poorly paid and
badly fed backs.

After several days with a menu of rice, soup and eggs alternating with
hash, they offer them for Christmas dinner, rice, peas and eggs. They
don't protest because the blackmail is constant. If they don't go along
they're sent to closed prisons, lose their passes and the annual two
months credit, and even the possibility of getting out on parole when
they've served half their sentence.

The only thing that remains is ability to work, bite your tongue, and
every time you have the opportunity to take revenge, do your work badly.

After every sunrise they look at the horizon, and all they see is
permanent darkness.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison settlement. December 2013

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy

27 December 2013

Source: Christmas In Cuba "Paradise" With Many Slaves / Angel
Santiesteban | Translating Cuba -

How They Banned Christmas in Cuba

How They Banned Christmas in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on December 28, 2013

With a cloudy sky and rough seas which were dangerous for small craft,
last Wednesday the 18th the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba
approved, as if by chance, the import of new and used cars into the country.

Dear God, they arranged the same media distraction when, in 1997, just
before the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Havana, without
any explanation, the revolutionary government, pen in hand, decreed, or
re-decided, that 25th December should be a public holiday.

Since then, without fear, our grandparents dust and polish their
traditions and, in spite of adversities, disguise the island with odours
because, some more and many less, on Christmas Eve they brighten up
their homes with some pork, chicken, rice, beans, and food, preferably
yuccas, seasoned with a delicious mojo sauce based on bitter orange and
lots of garlic. You can come across the same thing in the Christmas
specials in restaurants.

A complete national calorie binge, uniting sad people, proud people,
happy ones, peaceful ones, Catholics, non-Catholics, agnostics,
protestants, devotees of the saints, masons, atheists, all of them, to
celebrate the festivities and await the coming of a child who was born
over 2,000 years ago.

They made use of all sorts of reasons to erase Christmas: The death of
Ernesto Guevara, the sugar harvest period, revolutionary priorities, in
the end, everything you all know perfectly well; but it was a Christmas
message which paradoxically fell from the sky on December 24, 1968,
which aroused the fury of the ex-commander-in-chief and after some mad
cursing put an end to the celebration.

It turned out to be the Man, I am of course referring to the one dressed
in olive green, seated to the right of a short wave radio tuned to VOA.
Suddenly he heard the voice of astronaut Bill Anders approaching the
moon's dawn, and, instead of an announcement of war, read the opening
verses of Genesis, expressing his admiration for the wonders of the
cosmos and the greatness of its creator.

Fidel Castro went mad, he felt diminished, nevertheless he carried on
listening, awaiting the sound of cannon fire, and received a bolt of
lightning in the vein.

The transmission from the sky ended with: "And on behalf of the crew of
Apollo 8 we will end by saying Goodnight, Good luck, Happy Christmas and
may God bless you all on the good earth."

His pride overwhelms him. He gets up, scowling, waves his arm in an arc
and – like a Spanish dancer – stamps his heels as if the ground were
Tablado de Corazones [Ed. note: quote from a poem by José Martí, El alma
trémula y sola]. After a moment, they heard "………(a swear word), that's
the end of Christmas."

That wasn't all he suspended, from then on all religious events were
victim to a bout of amnesia imposed by the triumphant young government
of 1959. After about 30 years of exaggerated prohibition, it is making a
comeback like a new opportunity. Our family-eclectic-religious cultural
heritage and our traditions which were wounded by the Spanish conquest,
cannot be erased by decree, they endure, this is the proof. HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Translated by GH

24 December 2013

Source: How They Banned Christmas in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida |
Translating Cuba -

Cuba is changing

Vail Daily column: Cuba is changing

An apparently polite and perfunctory presidential encounter at Nelson
Mandela's memorial became more than a mere handshake. Not only did
President Barack Obama shake Raul Castro's hand, but he also shook the
Beltway and blogosphere, ironically and metaphorically giving pause to
those with sanitary concerns about casual and calculated handshakes.
This one did indeed go viral. The handshake grabbed the synoptic
attention spans that comprise the Internet, inciting gobs of Google
returns and emotional comments.

While some pundits and politicians consider President Obama's
acknowledgement of Cuba's leader either a pragmatic grasp of diplomacy
or merely a funereal formality, others lambasted the palming as
insouciance, if not actually a tacit high five, to tyranny and thuggery.
While the presidential handshake may have meant nothing more than a
spontaneous greeting without forethought or consequence, the possibility
exists that the gesture subtly acknowledged that our Cuban policy,
codified through ostracism and various legislative measures through the
years, has likely delayed rather than hastened Cuban democracy.

One thing is certain. Cuba is changing.

Last month, I traveled to Cuba on the Chamber of the Americas Cuban
Cultural/Educational mission trip. Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban native and
doctoral candidate at the University of Denver's Korbel School of
International Studies, guided the mission, introducing us to Cuban
artists, musicians, academics, students, bloggers, activists, religious
leaders and budding entrepreneurs. The introductions were more than an
exchange of handshakes and pleasantries. We engaged in spirited and
freewheeling discussions about socioeconomic and political challenges
that would've been impossible even a decade ago. Actually, finding a
budding entrepreneur in Cuba a decade ago would've been impossible. A
recent New York Times article explored the Cuban government's gradual
and limited shifts and allowances, quoting our tour organizer,
Lopez-Levy, on the intricacies the Cuban government and reformists
navigate on the delicate dance to a destination even remotely considered
a full-fledged free democracy. Cuba's limited freedoms and private
proprietorships appear more of an amateur dress rehearsal than the world
premiere of a polished production on any stage of the global economy.

Chamber of the Americas' Cuban mission exposed both the holdouts and the
passing of Castro's communist Cuba. While the government's economic
reforms and expanded freedoms and allowances appear slow, even
begrudging, the newfound permissiveness appears everywhere every day.
The Cuban government's long-awaited surrender won't come courtesy of
military strikes or economic embargos, but through pragmatism and
compromise. Democratic and economic reform will occur through evolution
rather than revolution.

The broad American perception of Cuba is that of an anachronistic
government and country; exiled to a bygone time and discarded ideology.
The forbidden fruit allure and film noir romanticism retain a potent
pull on the American imagination through bohemian bromides and celluloid
visages of Hemingway and fedoras, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and berets, and
vintage automobiles last seen with regularity in the Eisenhower era.
Remnants of those perceptions remain throughout Cuba, but the island
nation has progressed past America's stereotypical imagination of
Fulgencio Batista's decadence and Fidel Castro's severity. These days,
Castro's sweeping and soaring sermons under the monumental pillar in
Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion are seen and heard only on historical
video and audio recordings; the state no longer has monolithic business
and communication exchanges. Indeed, the general population eagerly
trades words, goods and services with foreigners.

New face of Cuba

Harold Cardenas Lema, a professor and blogger at La Joven Cuba, is one
of those Cuban citizens eager to express opinions without restraint or
limitations. He represents the new face of Cuba, an academic with
limited means, opportunities and freedoms, but agitating for change and
opportunities in ways that are more meaningful and effective than our
isolation of the Cuban government and, by extension, its citizens. The
setting of our meeting with Cardenas Lema also represented a shift in
the Cuban socioeconomic and political topography. We met at a paladar, a
privately owned restaurant. Actually, the establishment was more of a
movie-centric watering hole reminiscent of Hemingway's and Hollywood's
ideated and idyllic Havana, replete with sketches and murals of
Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe that would fit in SoHo or LoDo. The
location and setting represented Cuba's gradual transition, situated on
the cusp of Havana and Hollywood; communism and capitalism.

If the ambiance, location and nature of the paladar herald an evolution
rather than a revolution in Cuba, Cardenas Lema personifies it. His
words, written and spoken with insistent passion, push past the eroding
strictures and limitations of Cuban discourse. Cardenas Lema will win
his war with words rather than weapons. He displays frustration,
impatience and hope in equal measures. Like other Cubans I met, the
possibility of relations with America excites him, including the
prospect of collaboration between the Chamber of the Americas and La
Joven Cuba.

Whatever the motivations and implications of the controversial handshake
at the Mandela memorial, a generous interpretation foretells increased
American relations with a Cuban democracy led by people such as Cardenas
Lema and influenced by his passion and persistence.

Wayne Trujillo, director of communications for the Chamber of the
Americas, is a Minturn native and Battle Mountain High School graduate.
His family moved to Eagle County nearly a century ago. His uncle, Oscar
Meyer, was the Eagle County sheriff gunned down by James Sherbondy on
Tennessee Pass in 1937, and his Aunt Ollie Meyer was Eagle County
superintendent of schools. His grandparents, Irene and Ralph Meyer,
moved to Minturn in the 1940s and owned and operated Meyer's Garage. He
currently lives in Denver.

Source: Vail Daily column: Cuba is changing | -

Cuba will allow athletes to play overseas—but Major League Baseball is still off limits

Cuba will allow athletes to play overseas—but Major League Baseball is
still off limits
By Mike Jakeman December 28, 2013
Mike Jakeman is an editor with the Economist Intelligence Unit where he
focuses on Australia and Indonesia. He's also a sports writer and author
of a book on the future of cricket called "Saving the Test."

Until recently, it was impossible to make any real money as a baseball
player—or any other professional athlete—in Cuba. Under Fidel Castro,
sporting salaries and the reward they represent for individual
excellence were regarded as anti-socialist. Athletes, thus, were
regarded as state employees, just like teachers or agricultural
laborers, and were paid accordingly. Taking your skills abroad was off
limits and illegal. (Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez famously left on a
sailboat in 1998 with a group of ballplayers and docked in the Bahamas.)
But the wage disparity between Cuba and the rest of the baseball world
has forced reform. Official data on athletes' wages in Cuba is
undisclosed, but they are quoted in the media at around $10-$20 a month.
In In Major League Baseball (MLB) in the US, the average monthly salary
at the worst-paying club, the Houston Astros, was $68,000.
And so the defections from the Cuban National Series to the MLB
continue. Most notably, Aroldis Chapman received residency in the tiny
European country of Andorra en route to a $30 million contract with the
Cincinnati Reds in 2010, and Yasiel Puig received $42 million from the
Los Angeles Dodgers via a residency from Mexico. The final straw for the
Cuban authorities was Jose Abreu's signing with the Chicago White Sox
for $68 million in October. In the history of sporting transfers, these
are among the most politically charged. Footballer Luis Figo might have
had a pig's head thrown at him when he transferred from Barcelona to
Real Madrid, but he did not have to seek residency elsewhere.
Faced with a player exodus, the Cuban Baseball Federation has recognized
baseball as a profession, doubled the basic wage and provided financial
incentives for award-winners. It now also permits players to sign
contracts with foreign teams without defecting, provided that they
remain available for the domestic season, which runs between November
and April. The authorities hope that Cuban players will not head en
masse for leagues in Japan and Mexico, but that the liberalizing
measures will give them reason enough to stay and slow the talent drain
from in the National Series. Similar concessions were granted to Cuban
boxers, whose access to international fights and wages have been loosened.
The MLB, however, is still out of bounds. The Cuban authorities require
athletes to pay taxes on overseas earnings, while the US trade embargo
on Cuba prevents money exiting the US for that country. There is heavy
irony at play here. The major sports leagues in the US are more
egalitarian than their equivalents elsewhere in the West. Although
salaries at the very top of the MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL are huge—the
average annual New York Yankees salary is north of $7 million
annually—the leagues have all taken steps to maintain their competitive
balance, in a way that Castro might approve. The NHL has a fixed salary
cap whereby each team can only spend a proportion of the total revenue
of the league in the previous season. The NFL has the same system, but
also includes a minimum spend, too. The NBA also has a cap, but it is a
more permeable one: teams are allowed to exceed it in order to keep hold
of players that they had under contract before the agreement was signed.
The rules governing the burgeoning Major League Soccer are tighter
still, especially when compared with the liberalism of top football
leagues in Europe. The MLS proscribes a set squad size, a cap on the
total wage of the team, and also on remuneration of individual players,
with the exception of one "designated" player, a loophole that permitted
David Beckham to play for LA Galaxy, despite his exorbitant wage
demands. In the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga,
teams operate without any of these restrictions.
There is little consensus on whether salary caps work, partly because
there is also disagreement about what constitutes competitive balance.
How many different teams need to win a competition in a decade in order
for it to be considered exciting? Is the identity of the winner even
reflective of the strength of a tournament? In Cuba, these are questions
for the future. The first concern is keeping hold of the players that
draw the fans to the ballparks. The irony is that the model for the
Cuban authorities—the league in which all top baseball players want to
play but which keeps tight control over its team activities—the
MLB—remains a hostage to political fortune.
Follow Mike Jakeman on Twitter @mikejakeman. We welcome your comments at

Source: Cuba will allow athletes to play overseas—but Major League
Baseball is still off limits - Quartz -

Cuba’s unhappy birthday

Cuba's unhappy birthday
By Jeff Jacoby | GLOBE COLUMNIST DECEMBER 29, 2013

NEW YEAR'S Day marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba's communist
revolution. It is the only full-blown dictatorship in the Western
Hemisphere. As Human Rights Watch noted in April, no other country in
Latin America is ruled by a regime that "represses virtually all forms
of political dissent." More than half a century after Fidel Castro
seized power with the promise that "all rights and freedoms will be
reinstituted" — and more than seven years since Raul Castro succeeded
his brother as tyrant-in-chief — Cuba is consistently rated "Not Free"
in Freedom House's annual index of political and civil liberties worldwide.

All this is borne out by the US State Department's most recent report on
Cuba's human-rights practices. Although written in mostly dry
bureaucratese, the document confirms that the island is no Caribbean
paradise for Cubans who have the temerity to oppose the regime. Skim
just the opening paragraphs and phrase after phrase stands out, evoking
the reasons why Cubans remain so desperate for freedom that even now
many will gamble their lives at sea to escape the Castro brothers'

"Authoritarian state" . . . "Communist Party the only legal party" . . .
"elections were neither free nor fair" . . . "government threats,
intimidation, mobs, harassment" . . . "record number of politically
motivated [and] violent short-term detentions."

So when dissidents and pro-democracy activists held peaceful gatherings
across the island to commemorate International Human Rights Day on Dec.
10, they knew what to expect. Security agents were deployed to threaten,
beat, and arrest the protesters; meetings were violently broken up; as
many as 300 people were detained. Among the victims were dozens of
members of Ladies in White, a dissident movement comprising the wives
and mothers of Cuban prisoners of conscience. At least one woman was so
severely beaten that she was taken to the hospital in Santiago for
emergency surgery.

It would be heartening to report that the world erupted in outrage at
this latest illustration of the Castro government's brutality, which was
all the more vile given Cuba's recent election to the UN Human Rights
Council. Alas, no. While Raul Castro's thugs were attacking and
arresting nonviolent dissidents, Castro himself was at Nelson Mandela's
funeral in Soweto, where Barack Obama greeted the dictator with a
friendly handshake. That got plenty of attention. It certainly got more
than any gesture Obama has ever made to show solidarity with Cuba's
beleaguered human-rights heroes.

When he was running for president, Obama told voters in Florida that he
would "never, ever compromise the cause of liberty" and that his policy
toward Cuba would "be guided by one word: libertad." In reality his
policy has amounted to little more than dialing back US restrictions on
travel and business with Cuba. That has proven an ideal way to further
enrich the Castros and the Cuban military. It has done nothing to
mitigate human rights atrocities in the hemisphere's most unfree country.

If the president wishes to send a powerful message of support and
encouragement to the champions of Cuban libertad, he need only share
their stories with the world. Men and women are still being persecuted,
tortured, and murdered in the Castros' hellhole. Dissidents still
disappear. Or die in suspicious road accidents. Or are drowned while
trying to flee the country.

Perhaps the president could spare a few minutes to look at a new report
from the Cuba Archive, a US-based research project that seeks to
meticulously chronicle every political killing or disappearance
committed by Cuban rulers dating back to the Batista regime in 1952. For
all the speculation that Raul's accession to power would finally usher
Cuba into a new era of pragmatism and reform, the toll in human lives
keeps climbing higher and higher.

A president who has sworn to "never, ever, compromise the cause of
liberty" might speak out, for example, about the fate of Roberto Amelia
Franco Alfaro, who was warned by the police to stop opposing the
government — and then disappeared when he wouldn't. He might call
attention to the death of Sergio Diaz Larrastegui, a blind human-rights
activist who was threatened with revenge if he wouldn't turn informer —
then fell abruptly, fatally ill. There have been scores of such cases in
recent years, tens of thousands in the last few decades.

There is only one dictatorship in the Americas. On New Year's Day it
turns another year older. Cry, the beloved island.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

Source: The Castro tyranny turns another year older - Opinion - The
Boston Globe -

The Cuban State - Protecting the Youth or Protecting its Interests?

The Cuban State: Protecting the Youth or Protecting its Interests?
December 26, 2013
Kabir Vega Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — Some time ago, the Cuban media announced that all
video-game and 3D home theatre locales were being shut down.

The main argument used was that the licenses which had been granted the
owners of private establishments did not afford them the right to
operate the locales for such purposes and that said places (videogame
centers in particular) led to an atmosphere of frivolity and bad habits.

In connection with 3D theatres, people on the street even spoke of
rumors that pornographic materials or films critical of the government
were being exhibited there.

This last rumor strikes me as unlikely. Those locales were open to the
public and, among the minors or adults who frequented them, a State
inspector could have easily gone in.

Anyone who's made an investment will try and protect it. This is why
those who sell weekly show packages downloaded from the Internet make a
point of including a note in their promotional flyers which reads: "No
pornographic or subversive materials included."

A few weeks after these events, which proved traumatic for investors and
customers alike, the Cuban press ran an article promoting a "national
DOTA (strategy game) tournament" which was to be held at computer clubs
in the country.

This was a rather surprising bit of news. I have never seen a State
locale with more than six computers connected to a Local Area Network.
Computers at these clubs aren't well maintained and I've seen that the
Microsoft Power Point courses offered there use extremely old software.
I doubt DOTA 2 will run in any of these computers, not even with the
graphics set to the minimum resolution.

The news is even more surprising if we recall that the police have been
known to cut the cables that many people use to set up a neighborhood
network (having no wireless network they can use) in order to play this
same game.

Curiously enough, some weeks later, a news article showered 3D cinema
with praise, calling the experience it affords "intense." The article
commented on each and every one of the magnificent features of this
virtual world while trying to avoid sounding like capitalist advertising.

As way of a conclusion, it announced that 3D theaters managed by the
Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC) were already operational.

They shut down game and 3D theatre locales to protect young people from
vice and then organized a national DOTA tournament. Are they saying that
the same game, when played with State authorization, doesn't lead to
frivolity and addiction?

Are 3D films harmful when shown by the self-employed and intense and
beneficial when screened by the State?

It's clear they don't want Cubans to be financially independent, but, at
the very least, they should use less ridiculous arguments.

Source: The Cuban State: Protecting the Youth or Protecting its
Interests? - Havana -

Reparing a TV Antenna in Cuba

Reparing a TV Antenna in Cuba
December 28, 2013
Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — Imagine you don't have a broad range of recreational
options for the evenings that came after long days of work, that your
one alternative is TV programing and that this is the one means of
warding off boredom in the time spanning dinner and bedtime. Now,
imagine your television set doesn't have very good reception.

Naturally, you'll try to find out the reason for this. You'll probably
agree with the conclusion that your area is a kind of "dead zone" in
terms of TV reception and try and raise your antenna, thinking a 3 to
4-meter long piece of piping, some wires to keep it upright and a longer
piece of TV cable (yours isn't long enough) will do the trick.

Imagine you buy the TV cable from a self-employed vender. You pay for
fifteen meters of cable but, as is to be expected, you only get 13 and a
half. You've been had, but you don't let it get to you (you don't lose
it, at least), for it's something that is almost predictable. Then,
however, you discover the cable isn't thick enough and that you can't do
anything with it.

You've been had twice, so your anger goes up a notch (as your
frustration also begins to rise). You, however, failed to check the
product you bought, trusting in the good intentions of the vender, and
such mistakes are paid dearly.

Now, replace the self-employed fellow in the story with a saleswoman at
a State, Cuban-peso store and go through the following steps:
- Do not blame the saleswoman for scamming you out of a meter and a half
of cable, nor the truck drivers or warehouse people, who most likely had
nothing to do with it. Don't even blame the person who purchased the
product abroad, who accepted a bribe in exchange for buying something
worthless. Don't blame yourself.
- Feel proud of your frustration, which is a normal reaction to such
situations. Don't be ashamed, don't feel naive.
- Don't dwell on the fact you wasted your money and, what's worse,
didn't manage to solve the problem. Breathe deeply. Try to feel love
towards others. Don't hold a grudge.
- Finally, sit in front of the TV, even if the reception isn't that
great and, if you've got the energy, turn off the set and pick up a
book. Then, you'll see that the feeling of having been conned stings a
little less.

Source: Reparing a TV Antenna in Cuba - Havana -

Cuba eases rules for small business lending

Posted on Saturday, 12.28.13

Cuba eases rules for small business lending

HAVANA -- Cuba says it's easing the terms of lending to private business
owners in an attempt to boost the country's new small business sector.

The new rules were published in the country's Official Gazette this week
and publicized by state media Saturday. They let private businesspeople
take out loans for as little as 1,000 pesos, or $41, a third less than
the previous minimum.

The terms of repayment can now extend up to 10 years, with bank
presidents authorized to extend them even longer in certain cases.

Earlier this year, Cubans were allowed to use personal property such as
real estate and jewelry as collateral for loans.

The number of islanders working for themselves has stalled for the past
two years at about 444,000 — or 9 percent of the workforce.

Source: HAVANA: Cuba eases rules for small business lending - Latest
News - -

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Correct interpretation of the law, a problem for us all

Correct interpretation of the law, a problem for us all / Cuban Law
Association, Yureisy Ceballos Pendones
Posted on December 27, 2013

Recently I was consulted about a case in an action which seems to form
part of the working style of those who are, one way or another, employed
in the law. I am referring specifically to the office of the Port of Cuba.

A young man decided to leave the country illegally, he was repairing a
boat on the north coast of Camagüey when he was surprised by the
authorities of the said organisation and went through the administrative
process with a fine of 3000.00 Cuban pesos (CUP).

The kid immediately admitted his intention, affirmed to the
functionaries his intention to put in good order the boat which they
found on the ground in order to set out to sea once his work was done.
Nevertheless they applied Art.1 Point g of the Decree 194, which
establishes, and I quote,"to enter or leave or navigate through
territorial waters, without the corresponding dispatch note or
authorisation from the port office or disobeying a person duly accredited."

As you can appreciate, what he was accused of did not occur in any of
the actions described and checked, to apply correctly the regulation
covering such conduct they should have referred to Art. 1 Point b, which
basically refers to, "to repair vessels without due authorisation from
the port office," an offence which only carries a fine of up to 1500.00
CUP, on the basis of which I am now representing this citizen, on the
basis of the considerations I have mentioned.

Following these comments, all we need to do now is consider on what does
the office base its action, if roughly speaking they are aware of the
injustice which results from interpreting the regulation in the way they
have clearly set out.

Translated by GH

13 December 2013

Source: Correct interpretation of the law, a problem for us all / Cuban
Law Association, Yureisy Ceballos Pendones | Translating Cuba -

Cuba - A classic car buyer's paradise in 2014?

Cuba: A classic car buyer's paradise in 2014?
Rules are easing on buying and selling the old American cars that still
line Havana's streets.
Fri, Dec 27 2013 at 1:47 PM

This '57 Chevy looks pristine, but the economic embargo means that many
parts are improvised--or replaced with Russian alternatives. (Flickr/LA
It's no surprise that Cuba, aside from having free state health care, is
a haven for old American cars. The streets are lined with classics of
the fin era ending in 1959, an estimated 60,000 of them, and you're more
likely to see a '58 Eldorado or a '56 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer than a
modern Russian car. But the rules that kept those old Yank tanks on the
road—often, due to the economic embargo, with Soviet-era engines and
hand-made parts — are changing, and the big beneficiary could be the
American classic car buyer.

Since 1959, new cars — hugely expensive — were sold only at
state-approved dealerships, and you needed a permit to buy a car, with
preference going to those with connections. People waited many years for
those permits. That, combined with a 100 percent import duty, meant that
even modest newer cars were worth a fortune—how does $65,000 for a 2005
Honda Civic with 60,000 miles sound? Or $40,000 for a seven-year-old
Hyundai Accent?

The artificial barriers also inflated the value of the pre-revolution
American iron — until 2011, the only cars that people could legally buy
and sell without a permit. Even patched-together jalopies from the Big
Three sold for tens of thousands of dollars. For the last two years
Cubans have been able to trade in newer used cars, but the new reform
just announced by the Council of Ministers does away with the permit
process, though the state retailers will remain in place.

There are two possible outcomes of this. The first: business as usual.
People in Cuba don't have a lot of disposable income, so there's not
going to be a big rush of new car buying. And the American cars — still
the cheapest option — will keep their place as treasured family

The second option is that there's so much pent-up demand for new cars
(as there was in the U.S. after World War II) that Cuban consumers will
tighten the belt elsewhere to buy something modern. And that will
dramatically lower the value of the hardly original but rust-free
classics that have largely disappeared elsewhere

Most of the old American cars in Cuba have stayed there for various
reasons, but the government is now making foreign exchange a priority. A
provision of the new law appears to encourage "a marketing entity
foreign or domestic" to buy cars and export them.

How about an exchange — we give them slightly used Civics and Corollas,
and they give us '58 Impalas and '49 Ford Woodys? Let's just say that,
given all the shade-tree repairs, these cars will be challenging
restorations — despite the rust-free sheet metal. But what a story you
could tell! It's almost as cool as smoking a Cuban cigar smuggled out
via pigeon.

Source: Cuba: A classic car buyer's paradise in 2014? | MNN - Mother
Nature Network -

Friday, December 27, 2013

Currency Unification - Causes and Limits

Currency Unification: Causes and Limits / Dimas Castellano
Posted on December 27, 2013

The road to exit the crisis is clear; what is lacking is the political
will to travel it. Among the partial reforms the government of Raul
Castro announced was the enforcement of a timeframe for measures to
eliminate the dual currency, implemented following the loss of Soviet
subsidies. A look back at the topic helps to identify some of the causes
and limitations of the announced timeframe.

In the period between the two great wars of independence that took place
in the second half of the Cuban 19th century, the Island became the
first country to exceed a million tons of sugar, of which more than 90%
was exported to the United States. That permitted the neighboring
country to impose on Spain the reciprocal trade agreement known as the
McKinley Bill, through which was established the free entry of Cuban
sugar into that nation.

At the same time there was a high concentration of land ownership,
especially in American companies. In that condition of economic
dependence, at the end of Spanish domination, the occupation government
introduced the dollar as the basic monetary standard, which was imposed
until the disappearance of the other currencies (French, Spanish,
Mexican), which explains the presence of the dollar in the first years
of the Republic born in 1902.

In that context, with the nationalist purpose of diminishing the
dependence with respect to the American dollar, the government of
General Mario Garcia Menocal dictated in 1914 the Law of Economic
Defense, which gave birth to the national currency. That law established
a gold standard as the monetary unit with the same weight and purity as
the dollar. So, from a nationalist decision emerged the first version of
dual currency in Cuba, which lasted until the '50's of the last century.

In a different way, in 1991, the disappearance of the Soviet Union
provoked the loss of the enormous subsidies based on ideological
relations, which overlapped decades of inefficiency of the Cuban model.
That fact, united with the depression in sugar prices, drove the country
to a profound structural crisis baptized with the euphemism Special
Period in Times of Peace. In answer to the crisis, the Cuban government,
instead of undertaking a profound reform aimed at achieving a proper and
efficient economy, defined a strategy aimed at saving the model and
maintaining power. With that goal it introduced several contingency

In 1993 the Basic Units of Cooperative Production were created, by which
a beneficial interest in idle state land was given to workers; farmers
markets and self employment were authorized; tourism and foreign
investment were introduced; family remittances from abroad were
admitted; possession of the dollar was decriminalized, and, in 1994, its
free circulation was authorized, giving rise to the current dual currency.

As one might appreciate, the dual currency introduced in 1914 was
motivated by reasons diametrically opposed to what happened in 1994. The
first created the introduction of a national currency parallel to the
dollar, the second legalized the dollar as a parallel to the national

The road and political will

The causes that led to the dollarization in 1994 have their roots in the
first revolutionary measures, whose declared goal was the disappearance
of all commercial relations and, with them, the disappearance of money.
In 1960, all domestic and foreign banking entities that existed in Cuba
were nationalized, in 1961 they were centralized in the hands of the
State, while the direction of those activities was placed in the hands
of the revolutionaries from the armed struggle.

The same thing happened with figures whose conception of the economy
differed from those of the leader of the revolution, as happened with
the economist Felipe Pazos Roque, founder and first president of the
National Bank of Cuba since its foundation in 1948, who in spite of
abandoning that responsibility because of his position against the Coup
of 1952 and being named again as head of that institution in 1959 was
replaced some months later by commander Ernesto Guevara.

The course of the process was more or less the following: the dollar was
introduced in 1994; the convertible peso (CUC), a second national
currency as an alternative to the dollar and the same value as the
dollar, was created; in 2004 the circulation of the dollar was
eliminated; then a tax of 10% was imposed on the dollar, and the CUC was
re-valued relative to the dollar by 8%; in March of 2011 the original
one-to-one value was resumed but the 10% tax remained. In summary, the
duality was maintained thanks to which Cuba is the only country in the
world with two national currencies, neither of which is really convertible.

The dollarization and the dual currency, besides magnifying social
differentiation, increased the loss of value that the Cuban peso already
had, one of whose manifestations was the expressed inflation in prices
on the black market, the drop of wages and the discouragement of production.

Cuban currency, a representation of money, lost or reduced its functions
as a means of value, an instrument for acquisition of goods, a means of
accumulation of wealth, an instrument of liberation from debt and a
means of payment. That's why monetary unification, even if it
constitutes an essential step for the current or for any other
Government, will not resolve the current structural crisis, due to the
fact that Cuban currency is not backed by the Gross National Product,
that is to say, by the sum of goods and services that permit it to
resume its functions and to be compared with foreign currencies.

The way out is in prioritizing productive efficiency, for which domestic
and foreign investment is required, which would provide the country with
capital, technology and markets, which in turn demands a new Law of
Investments and the elevation of current salaries, which do not manage
to cover more than one-third of basic necessities. But as one can only
distribute what is produced, the Government faces a complex
contradiction: without increases in salaries, Cubans are not ready to
produce, and without production, it is impossible to raise salaries,
which will make monetary unification by itself futile.

In short, a comprehensive project that includes the decentralization of
the economy, permits the formation of a middle class, removes the
obstacles that stop production and restores citizens' rights and
liberties is missing. The road is clear, what is lacking is the
political will to travel it.

Translated by mlk.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba
17 December 2013

Source: "Currency Unification: Causes and Limits / Dimas Castellano |
Translating Cuba" -

Unification of Dual Currency, but the Economic Future Remains Uncertain

Unification of Dual Currency, but the Economic Future Remains Uncertain
/ Miriam Leiva
Posted on December 27, 2013

HAVANA, Cuba , December, – Monetary and exchange rate
unification was addressed by Raúl Castro in his speech at the closing
session of the National Assembly and by Vice President Marino Murillo
Jorge, on December 21, according to the Cuban media. The interest of
calming the population can be seen in the president's assertion that
there will be no affects on those who legally earn income in hard
currency and in Cuban pesos, nor on the cash in hand of the population,
or on deposits in the national banking system.

He also added that "it will not be a magic solution to our problems, but
it will contribute decisively to improving the workings of the economy
and the building of a prosperous and sustainable socialism, less
egalitarian and more fair, which will ultimately benefit all Cubans." It
will begin with legal entities (agencies and state enterprises and
cooperatives) and will continue with natural persons, but currently
plans for its implementation are still be developed.

Meanwhile, Murilla said that in the coming two years the more technical
and complex tasks of updating the economic model will be undertaken. He
confirmed that the CUP (Cuban pesos) will be the only currency in the
country and that in no case would there by any impact on people's
purchasing power, as the financial capacity of the CUC (convertible
peso) will be respected.

He reiterated that the measure will not by itself resolve all problems,
but that it should be undertaken within the "guidelines" (the adopted
measures for updating the economic model), to continue promoting the
development of the state socialist enterprise, unleashing the productive
forces and creating an export mentality.

Undoubtedly, the tasks are immense, as it is almost impossible to
achieve efficiency in a socialist enterprise. First there must be an
effort to overcome all the characteristic deficiencies of the Cuban
system, such as reliability in accounting and respect for contracts,
eliminated in the 1960s as "capitalist malformations." The value of work
must be recovered, through conscious and creative participation of the
workers, which is not resolved by the Labor Code adopted at the National
Assembly session on 21 December.

Increases in production and productivity will be required in order to be
able to adequately reward employees whose salaries don't cover their
basic needs and who feel no incentive to work hard and, therefore, to
consider work as a social honor. The diversion of state resources as
compensation for the poverty level wages or to increase one's economic
level — enrichment Cuban-style — must be eliminated; in short, the
corruption generated by the system must be eradicated.

Unleashing productive forces is an imperative, but how? The straitjacket
of central planning and socialist enterprises, the rejection of market
forces, the restrictions on farmers and the self-employes, and other
problems, prevent it. To day, the measures implemented under the adopted
"guidelines" to update the system have not resulted in increases in the
food supply, which in many components has declined. Manufacturing
production is also falling and the private activities permitted do not
complement the straitened macroeconomics of the country.

We can see that in developed countries and in those that have overcome
poverty, small and medium enterprises (PYMES) carry important weight in
the national economy. The vicious circle of scarcity of products for the
national and international market, and the situation of nothing to
export and the importing of what could be produced in Cuba, continues.
An export mentality could be created, but will it happen? Will there be
solutions in the "more technical and complex tasks" as predicted by the

Miriam Leiva

25 December 2013, Cubanet

Spanish post
25 December 2013

Source: "Unification of Dual Currency, but the Economic Future Remains
Uncertain / Miriam Leiva | Translating Cuba" -

The Times Call For A United Dissent

The Times Call For A United Dissent / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on December 27, 2013

The 10th of December 2013 was the most striking example of how alone the
Cuban opposition is. But I do not mean that external solitude, but the
internal one, the separation that exists within the dissidence itself.
We are our own worst enemies, and I recognize it with infinite pain.

As we walk separated we make the work of the dictatorship's henchmen, to
beat and isolate us, easier. The day we decide to put aside personal
aims and, instead, focus on the roads together, channeling our energy in
unity, then our cry for freedom will be more international in scope.

Shamefully we must recognize that personal ambition, the need to be
recognized as individuals, and even the posture of those who are behind
the economic aid sent by different routes to the opposition, through
which they try to trip up one side, are guilty of the structural
earthquake in the revolutionary block that seeks a democratic opening
and impedes a broader reach for the cause of freedom.

There is a case of a prisoner before he entered prison whom Amnesty
International recognized by phone who was part of the list of political
prisoners whom they monitor in different countries; someone inside Cuba
felt ignored and torpedoed this recognition and managed to get his name
off the list. This is the extreme zeal shown by the opposition.

Another case is that of someone imprisoned for political activities who
was linked to a dissidence group who was cut off by adverse opinions of
another group in charge of legal matters which was representing him
legally and before international Human Rights groups; he was thrown
overboard. They felt he was no longer their problem. And in the midst of
the crossfire, without any of the parties even asking him what he
thought about it all. The truth is that they forgot their words of
solidarity and promises to stand by his side in bad times to come for
this prisoner.

These leaders and groups of the dissidence itself are saving State
Security a lot of work as they busy themselves torpedoing the
initiatives that didn't come from them. Differences of opinions cause
them to become alienated when, on the contrary, it's healthy to think
differently about how to achieve the same ends.

While these differences occur, we don't need the repressors to do the
work of rejection, to weaken the forces and ideas, as if all we all not
all working toward the same ideal. We ourselves are doing that work.
Hopefully we will manage to repress our impulses for personal
recognition and understand that the truth and the way to achieve freedom
is shared among all; and understand that it is more difficult, if not
impossible, to achieve it separately.

When we are capable of working through these human miseries that hinder
unity and clearly alienate and make the road to democracy rougher, then
we will be capable of forcing the government to sit down to talk, and
the world will see is and accept us as the political force we long to
be. The nation's founding fathers, with José Martí in mind, demand this
concession. When we achieve this, we will then feel ourselves to be
better human beings and better Cubans.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. December 2013

Source: "The Times Call For A United Dissent / Angel Santiesteban |
Translating Cuba" -

Top-selling automaker planning assembly in Cuba

Top-selling automaker planning assembly in Cuba

CUBA STANDARD — As the Cuban government is gradually freeing new-car
sales for individuals, Chinese automaker Geely, already the No. 1 auto
seller on the island, is positioning itself for growth in Cuba and the
wider region.

The company is planning to establish a semi-knock down (SKD) assembly
plant in Cuba, Shanghai Geely International Corporation, Geely's
international arm, announced in a press release republished by Global
Times. The company didn't provide any specifics.

In an ambitious global expansion plan, Geely set a target of opening 15
assembly plants overseas by 2015, according to an article by Automotive
Logistics magazine.

In semi-knock down assembly, a manufacturer typically exports a kit with
complete car body, usually coated or already painted, to then add engine
and transmission, tires, wheels, seats, headlights, glass, batteries,
interior plastics, or other components in final assembly, some of them
locally sourced.

"At the request of several ministries in Cuba, including the Ministry of
Foreign Trade and Investment, the Ministry of Communications, and the
Ministry of Metallurgy Industry, Geely International is now preparing to
launch the SKD project in a local place," the company said in the press

The announcement comes as the Cuban government is seeking manufacturers
to open shop at its new Mariel Special Development Zone, an
export-oriented zone around a deepwater port 30 miles west of Havana.

Cuba is the company's largest market in the Caribbean, Central America
and northern part of South America. Geely sold at least 3,200 vehicles
to Cuba in 2013, in two batches; the Geely CK has held the spot of
most-sold new car model in Cuba since 2009. The company is also selling
vehicles in Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela.

In 2012, the company opened a contract assembly plant in Uruguay in a
joint venture with a local partner, making it Geely's first in the
Western hemisphere. The plant, with a capacity of 20,000 cars per year,
is supplying primarily Mercosur markets Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay,
as well as Chile. Forty percent of the components in Uruguay are locally
sourced, with a goal of reaching 60 percent by the third year.

All Geely vehicles sold to Cuba in 2013 were made at the Uruguayan plant.

"Geely International actively takes measures in relevant areas and has
achieved essential progress," the company said in a recent statement
about the Cuban market.

On Dec. 19, official media announced that for the first time since 1959,
individuals will be allowed to purchase new cars without a permit. The
state will retain its monopoly over new-car sales.

"Geely is continuously improving the storage structure of its bonded
warehouse and is adopting multi-channel supply methods" for spare parts,
the company said. Geely's warehouse in Cuba now is at 80 percent of
capacity, up from 34 percent last year. The company has also signed
agreements with SASA, a local auto service provider operated by the
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, to jointly open standard
service stations and spare-part sales stores.

Nearly 10,000 Geely-brand cars and trucks are already circulating on
Cuban roads, the company said. Government agencies, such as the
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Ministry of the
Interior, and the Ministry of Tourism, have been the only buyers of new
cars until now. Geely's CK models are used as senior government
officials' cars; most police cars in Havana are Geely CK models as well.
At present, 80 percent of rental cars in Cuba are Geely CK, EC7 and EC8
models; all rental agencies are state-owned.

Source: Top-selling automaker planning assembly in Cuba « Cuba Standard,
your best source for Cuban business news -

Cuba Liberalizes the Motorcycle Market

Cuba Liberalizes the Motorcycle Market

It's the wind of change blowing again in Cuba, as the Cuban lawmakers
have abolished the 1959 law which forbade citizens to freely buy
motorcycles or cars. The law required that the potential buyers first
got a permit for state authorities and only then could go for whatever
was available.

That is, bikes registered on the island in the 50's before the
revolution, the very rare imports from the USSR or the even harder to
find Batista-era Harley-Davidson bikes.

2014 will see more normal commercial regulations which allow the import
for both motorcycles and cars, as the ban had worked for cars, too.
However, due to the poor Cuban population, it is expected that the
"boom" will not be as spectacular as some might believe.

Most likely it's going to be cheap Asian-made small-displacement
motorcycles and scooters which will dominate the sales. The low
purchasing power of the Cuban customers will make the development of
this new market quite slow, marketing experts say.

However, things are moving the right way, and this is good news for 2014.

Source: Cuba Liberalizes the Motorcycle Market -

Lack of customers dooms many Cuban businesses

Posted on Friday, 12.27.13

Lack of customers dooms many Cuban businesses

HAVANA -- The dented metal pizza trays are packed away, so too the old
blender that never worked when it was needed. Gone is the sweet smell of
rising dough that infused Julio Cesar Hidalgo's Havana apartment when he
and his girlfriend were in business for themselves, churning out cheesy
pies for hungry costumers.

Two years on the front lines of Cuba's experiment with limited free
market capitalism has left Hidalgo broke, out of work and facing a
possible crushing fine. But the 33-year-old known for his wide smile and
sunny disposition says the biggest loss is harder to define.

"I feel frustrated and let down," Hidalgo said, slumped in a rocking
chair one recent December afternoon, shrugging his shoulders as he
described the pizzeria's collapse. "The business didn't turn out as I
had hoped."

The Associated Press recently checked in with nine small business owners
whose fortunes it first reported on in 2011 as they set up shop amid the
excitement of President Raul Castro's surprising embrace of some free

Among them were restaurant and cafeteria owners, a seamstress and
taekwondo instructor, a vendor of bootleg DVDs and a woman renting her
rooms out to well-heeled tourists.

Their fates tell a story of divided fortunes.

Of the six ventures that relied on revenue from cash-strapped islanders,
four are now out of business, their owners in more dire financial
straits than when they started. But the three enterprises that cater to
well-heeled foreigners, and to the minority of well-paid Cubans who work
for foreign businesses, are still going and in some cases thriving.

While the sample size is small, the numbers point to a basic problem
that economists who follow Cuba have noted from the start: There simply
isn't enough money to support a thriving private sector on an island
where salaries average $20 a month.

"Clearly, there is a macroeconomic environment that does not favor the
private sector or the expansion of demand that the private sector
requires," said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban Central Bank economist.

Vidal has long called on Communist authorities to adopt a huge stimulus
package or more aggressively seek capital from foreign investors. Now a
professor at Colombia's Javeriana University, he says one has only to
look at the trends since 2011 to see the private sector economy is
nearly tapped out. After a surge of enthusiasm, the number of islanders
working for themselves has stalled for the past two years at about
444,000 — or 9 percent of the workforce.

Even in developed countries where entrepreneurs have access to capital,
loans and a wide pool of paying customers, startups are risky ventures.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about half of all
new establishments in America close within five years, and two-thirds
are gone within a decade. The failure rate of Cuban entrepreneurs
followed by AP was 44 percent in less than two years, and worse if one
considers only those that relied primarily on Cuban customers.

"There's not enough money circulating in the economy in the hands of
everyday people," said Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies
at Baruch College in New York and author of an upcoming book on private
enterprise in Cuba. "You're all competing for the same customers, most
of whom are poor and have very limited disposable income."

Economists have criticized the Cuban government for a series of measures
to crack down on what it sees as illegal activities — including banning
private movie cinemas, taxing the import of hard-to-get products in
travelers' luggage, and banning the sale of imported clothing. But on
Saturday, Castro came down firmly in favor of increased regulation,
sternly warning entrepreneurs that "those pressuring us to move faster
are moving us toward failure."

Henken and Vidal said Cuba must find a way to raise state salaries,
expand state-funded microcredits and create a functional wholesale
market to service the new businesses. They also noted that for a
relatively well-educated society like Cuba's, there are remarkably few
white collar jobs on the list of nearly 200 activities that have been

Still, not every entrepreneur is struggling.

High-end bars and glamorous new restaurants have become common in
Havana, with shiny state tour buses disgorging photo-snapping travelers
to sample lobster tail and filet mignon at upward of $20 a plate.
Private rooms and homes that rent to foreigners can go for $25-$100 a
night, less than most tourist hotels. Cubans with the means, and the
business sense, to tap into the gravy train can do very well.

Chef-owner Javier Acosta sank more than $30,000 into Parthenon, a
private restaurant catering to tourists and diplomats. He struggled at
first, telling the AP back in 2011 that there were nights when nobody
came in and he and his four waiters just sat around.

But the restaurant slowly gained a reputation, in part because Acosta
makes a potent Cuban mojito and offers a special suckling pig that can
feed up to five people for $50.

These days, Acosta is expanding. He recently added tables in a new room
decked out with mosaic tiles and faux Greek pillars, and plans to build
a roof deck. He even has started advertising, paying $300 a year to have
his establishment included in a tourist magazine.

"I haven't yet managed to recover my initial investment and the other
money we've put into the place," the 40-year-old said. "But in two or
three more years maybe I can."

Even more humble operations can do well, as long as they have some
access to foreign money. One woman who rents an apartment to foreigners
for $25 a night in the upscale Vedado neighborhood says her business
provides a stable income that supports her and allows her to help her
son and granddaughter.

Two women who sell $1.25 box lunches to Cubans and foreigners in a
building in Old Havana with many international firms and consular
offices have managed to stay afloat despite a sharp drop in customers
following the departure of several companies, and what they say has been
a steady rise in prices of key ingredients like black beans, rice,
cooking oil and pork.

"This has become difficult," said Odalis Lozano, 48. "But we're still
here, because we can always make some money."

For those without access to that foreign cash line, the results have
been grim. Besides, the failed pizzeria, a DVD salesman, seamstress and
street-side cafe owner who allowed the AP to tell their stories shut
down after less than a year in business, citing high monthly taxes, a
lack of customers and limited resources and business sense.

The only two operations that rely on everyday Cubans for revenue which
remain in business are gymnasiums. One is run by Maria Regla Zaldivar,
who in 2011 was giving taekwondo classes to children in Nuevo Vedado and
dreamed of converting a ruined dry cleaning factory into a proper
gymnasium. The factory remains a crumbling shell, but Zaldivar said her
business continues. She declined to grant a formal interview, but said
in a brief phone call that she had rented a small space near her
apartment and continued to give classes.

The other success story belongs to Neysi Hernandez, the mother of Julio
Cesar Hidalgo's girlfriend. Hernandez opened a simple gymnasium for
women in the courtyard and garage of her home in Havana's La Lisa
neighborhood, charging the equivalent of $5 a month for membership. Two
years later, she has 25 paying clients and ekes out a small profit.

Hernandez says her customers are loyal, despite the fact the gymnasium
lacks basic amenities like a shower room, lockers and towels. Unable to
afford imported equipment, Hernandez uses sand-filled plastic water
bottles for weights. Her three exercise bicycles and mechanical
treadmill are creaky and aging.

"My gymnasium is modest, but they like it," Hernandez said, adding she
has dreams of one day installing a small massage room and sauna. "A
little bit at a time."

For the pizza man Hidalgo, however, the experience with private
enterprise has been a bitter one. He says he lost between $800 and
$1,000 on the pizzeria. He is appealing a $520 fine levied by tax
authorities who accuse him of understating his profits, even though the
business failed.

He has had bouts with illness, and has been unemployed since the
pizzeria closed in April.

Hidalgo says he has not given up on the idea of opening a new business
one day. But he is also setting his sights beyond Cuba's shores.

"What I wanted was to work and make money so that I could live a normal
life, have money to buy myself shoes, eat, and go out with my
girlfriend," Hidalgo said, punctuating each modest desire with a flip of
his hand and a rueful smile. "I hope that kind of work materializes in
my country, but if the opportunity presents itself to work somewhere
else, I won't turn it down."

Recently, Hidalgo's girlfriend, Gisselle de la Noval, 25, took out a
license to operate a nail salon in the space once occupied by the
pizzeria. The salon has been open a matter of weeks and it is too soon
to know if it will do well. But she says she is content, charging about
40 cents for a manicure and slightly more for a pedicure.

"I don't miss the pizzeria, but I am sad it wasn't a success," she says
with a shrug. "But I am young, so whatever. Now I'm dedicated to this."

Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein in Havana and Paul Haven
in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Source: HAVANA: Lack of customers dooms many Cuban businesses - Business
Wires - -

Man who shouted “Down with communism!” during pope’s visit to Cuba is now in Chattanooga

Posted on Thursday, 12.26.13

Man who shouted "Down with communism!" during pope's visit to Cuba is
now in Chattanooga

Andrés Carrión Alvarez says he knew it would be up to him to shatter the
image of peace and order clamped on Cuba by government security agents
when then Pope Benedict XVI said Mass last year in Santiago de Cuba.

"I could not allow the international news media there to think
everything was OK," said Carrión, the man seen in a memorable video
shouting "Down with communism!" before the Mass and then being pummeled
and hauled away by plainclothes agents.

Carrión, 41, and his wife, physician Ariuska Galán, 38, received U.S.
refugee visas and arrived Nov. 21 in Chattanooga, Tenn., where they have
been filling out papers for work permits, Social Security numbers and
medical checkups.

They had some initial concerns about the crime-ridden and racist
capitalist society that Cuba's official news media always portrays, but
found the city to be safe. Americans smile a lot, Carrión said, and even
say "Excuse me" when they bump into people.

"You are even treated very well in the shops, not at all like in Cuba,"
he said. His Facebook page shows him in gloves and hat pulled way down
over his ears, hugging a store Santa Claus and pointing at a reindeer in
a shop window.

"But most of all I am breathing freedom, an incredible sense of
freedom," Carrion told El Nuevo Herald in his first interview since
leaving Cuba.

That was not what he was breathing in Cuba after his notorious outburst
minutes before Benedict began the Mass in Santiago on March 26, 2012, on
the first leg of a three-day visit to Cuba, the first papal tour of the
communist-ruled nation since John Paul II visited in 1998.

Government officials threatened to kill him, fired his wife from a
public clinic and evicted them from their apartment above the clinic.
Two State Security infiltrators tried to get close to him. And an
Interior Ministry car seemed to try to run him over, he said.

Carrión said he was not active in dissident groups before his outburst.
A physical therapist who lived with his wife quietly in Santiago, Cuba's
second-largest city, he had been dismissed from his job as part of a
government belt-tightening, and was unemployed.

"I was a normal person, with some political worries, but then little by
little came an increase in my political consciousness," he said in a
telephone interview.

He realized he would have the perfect opportunity to attack the
government publicly when it was announced that Benedict would say Mass
in Santiago — an event sure to be attended by the international news
media and Cuba's ruling elites, but not by dissidents.

Carrión was right. Following past procedures, police detained hundreds
of dissidents and blocked their phones during Benedict's visit to make
sure they could not get anywhere near the pope in Santiago and Havana.

"I took advantage of that moment because I was a person unknown in the
political world," he said. "If not, I could not have reached that spot."

Carrión said he got cold feet on the morning of March 26 and almost
abandoned his plan. But he got to the Antonio Maceo Revolution Plaza at
11 a.m. and found a spot by the innermost security railing long before
Benedict's late-afternoon Mass.

Security was tight but not overwhelming. Maybe the guards "did not
believe that someone would have the audacity to do something so
dangerous," he said. On a previous visit to the plaza, he said, he saw
snipers posted on nearby buildings.

The pope had not arrived at the plaza when someone on the altar asked
for a minute of silence for something — Carrión was so nervous he cannot
remember what — so he slipped past the security railing and ran toward
the altar shouting at the top of his lungs.

Carrión recalled shouting "Down with communism" and "Down with the
Castro dictatorship," as well as "Cubans are not free. Don't be fooled.
We are slaves."

Television videos shows him being pummeled by several government
sympathizers, including a man wearing a Cuban Red Cross vest and
carrying a folded stretcher, before plainclothes security agents carried
him out of the cameras' view.

One security officer then cuffed him tightly, threw him into an Interior
Ministry car and told him the outburst "was going to cost me my life,"
Carrión said. "He told me, 'I myself will shoot you in the head' . . . I
did not think I was going to get out alive."

But his captors' demeanor changed abruptly after he was taken to
Versailles, a notorious State Security interrogation center in Santiago,
and a senior official arrived to take over his case.

Guards offered him food, got him a chair and asked whether he was in
good general health, he said. They ran alcohol and drug tests. They
called in a psychiatrist and told him "the revolution was benevolent."

They clearly did not want to give him reason to complain about his
treatment after he was released, Carrión said.

He was charged with public disorder but never tried, and was freed after
18 days at Versailles and after signing a promise not to give media
interviews and not to utter "hurtful words" about Cuban leaders. He
promptly violated all the promises.

When he told the taxi driver that took him home from Versailles why he
had been at the State Security center, he was told the ride was free.
His neighbors were clearly scared of being seen with him, Carrión said,
but offered secret support.

"They sent me little notes at night, or they visited me at home at
night," he said. They asked him to let them know if he ever needed
anything like money or food, he added, "but always through another
person, someone trusted, not in person."

Cuba's security services, meanwhile, continued to breathe heavily down
his neck.

Carrión said that while he was in Versailles, Santiago lawyer and
"dissident" Ernesto Vera urged Galán to appoint him as Carrión's
exclusive representative and leave all public comments to him. She
refused, and the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) later said it
had solid proof that Vera is a State Security collaborator. Vera denies
the allegation.

As Carrión crossed a Santiago street with a friend, a car from the
Ministry of Interior, in charge of State Security, seemed to go out of
its way to run them down, he said. His wife was followed. State Security
agents asked neighbors for the name of his dentist.

Soon enough, a government-organized mob of about 500 people turned up
outside their apartment for an "act of repudiation" against the couple.
Galán was fired the next day, and the couple was ordered to vacate the
government-owned apartment.

Carrión and Galán, who have no children, moved to her parents' home in
Palma Soriano, 18 miles northwest of Santiago. The local State Security
agents tried to poison the well there as well.

"On the very day that we arrived, the State Security told [Palma
residents] that one of the worst terrorists had arrived there," Carrión
said. At first, the residents "would not even say hello to me, but
little by little they realized that I was not a monster."

He joined UNPACU and traveled to Havana several times to tell his story
to the U.S., Canadian, Spanish and other diplomatic missions in meetings
arranged by Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation.

But Carrión's life was growing increasingly difficult.

An UNPACU member suspected of being a State Security collaborator kept
turning up at his house and asking about any planned protests. Galán
sensed she was watched almost everywhere she went.

Both were unemployed, but were leery of engaging in the semi-legal
schemes most Cubans regularly use to make ends meet, knowing that State
Security could throw them in prison for a "common crime" with the
slightest excuse.

"My family was experiencing hunger," Carrión said.

The couple decided to apply for political asylum in the United States,
and got it in two months. U.S. authorities resettled them in Chattanooga.

Living in exile is tough, and so is learning English, Carrión said. He
and his wife have yet to decide what they will do or where they will
settle eventually, but have been in touch with some of the anti-Castro
groups in Miami to figure out where he fits in.

"The only thing I know," he said, "is that I will not stop working for
the freedom of my country.

Source: Man who shouted "Down with communism!" during pope's visit to
Cuba is now in Chattanooga - Cuba - -

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Downpours Emphasize the Chaos

Downpours Emphasize the Chaos / Martha Beatriz Roque
Posted on December 26, 2013

HAVANA, Cuba, December 2013, . It's frightening the
number of housing collapses that have occurred in Havana, up to the end
of November and in the first days of December. Officially, there have
been 227 collapses, including 26 which were total and the rest partial.
627 individual families have been affected. They haven't listed the
localities where they occurred, to enable one to check the accuracy of
the figures, and whether those identified by human rights organisations
are included in the official government report.

In most of the neighbourhoods of the capital, including Miramar, which
is crossed by 5th Avenue, the sewage system doesn't work. When there is
a downpour, the streets flood and the traffic is affected. But the
drains appear so clogged as if they were cemented up, and some houses at
a higher level also flood, because the gutters in the roofs have no way
to run out onto the streets.

There are streets which remain full of mud and debris. That makes
getting about difficult, including on the pavements, which are already
affected by trees, whose roots break the concrete and form potholes
which make it difficult to pass. In some municipalities like Centro
Habana, Habana Vieja and Diez de Octubre it is dangerous to pass down
the streets because the balconies are at risk of collapse, and the
buildings too.

Given such government apathy, most of the streets have dumpsters crammed
full and overflowing, with great mountains of solid rubbish. The divers,
which is what they calll the people who rummage in the dustbins, spill
the rubbish and the surroundings are converted into focal points for
possible disease. And when it rains, like in recent days, this trash
flows down the streets with the water.

Although you don't see cats in public spaces, because they end up as the
main course on the dining table of the Cuban poor, the dogs are all over
the place, covered in scabies, near food shops. They also enter into
some shops and annoy the customers.

The bicycle taxis go the wrong way along the streets, especially in
Central Havana, endangering the lives of passers-by. The mobile
salespeople also, in accordance with their custom, move their carts
along different streets, and park them on any corner, dumping the waste
from their sales. Both situations produce problems when it rains.

It's very hard to find a public toilet in the city. If there is one,
there is someone there who charges for its use, and because of that many
people have used rubbish bins on the corners, out-of-the way columns,
and other uninhabited places, as toilets. Even worse, those that have
some sort of shelter, because they have walls, have been converted into
accommodation for sexual acts.

The water falling washes away substantial quantities of urine and
excrement from those sites.

The list of problems is endless, but the most unbearable is that there
won't be a solution, not even with the 10 million guidelines of the
Cuban communist party, because solving the problems requires financial
resources and political will, and both things are absent in the
government's programmes.

18 December 2013

Translated by GH

Source: "Downpours Emphasize the Chaos / Martha Beatriz Roque |
Translating Cuba" -

Neither Fresh Milk Nor Diet Milk

Neither Fresh Milk Nor Diet Milk / Osmar Laffita Rojas
Posted on December 26, 2013

Havana, Cuba, December, – Last year 2012, the Ministry
of Agriculture reported the production of fresh milk at a level of
516,246,500 litres nationally. Out of this total, the province of
Camagüey occupied the first position with 96,299,600 litres. Followed,
at a distance, by Villa Clara with 51,794,100 litres; Sancti Spíritus
with 49,923,100 and Matanzas with 44,352,800 litres.

As part of a long list of inefficiencies and unfulfilled commitments,
the state was not able to fulfill its commitment dated July 26th 2007 to
guarantee a daily litre of fresh milk to every child under 7 years.

With a few days to go to the end of 2013, this year's milk production is
not known. That silence is a sign that things aren't going well.

In most of the provinces, they are continuing with the standard sale of
3 kilos a month of powdered milk, at the subsidised price of 10 cents a
kilo. Every 10 days, children under 7 have the right to a kilo of this miik.

Not being able to guarantee the supply of fresh milk and in order to
ensure the children get the diet they need, the state had no choice but
to import thousands of tons of powdered milk whose price in the
international market was over $4,000 dollars a ton.

That imported powdered milk is also for pregnant women and those
diagnosed with chronic illness like diabetes, who get a voucher for a
kilo of powdered milk a month, whose price is similar to that sold for

It seems like the milk production in the past year has not been what was

Last August 5th, the weekly Trabajadores, official publication of the
Cuba Workers Centre (CTC) , announced the construction of a powdered
milk factory in the province of Camagüey with capacity to produce
100,000 litres of milk a day, using milk from the dairies in the
Camagüey area.

Production testing of the factory in question will be started at the end
of September.

They are putting up the new factory in the place where the old factory
was to have been in the 90's, which would have been the first powdered
milk factory in Cuba. Construction was held up for lack of funding.
Since then, the state has kept on importing powdered milk, thousands of
tons, paying tens of millions of dollars.

The powdered milk factory which they are putting up in Camagüey is
fitted with Chinese and Italian technology and its cost has reached
528,000 dollars. It should produced 2,350 tons of powdered whole and
low-fat milk a year and 1,100 tons of butter.

The newspaper Granma, on 31st August, announced that work on the project
was over 70% advanced and that at the end of September they will start
assembly of the machinery and, if there are no holdups, they forecast
completion for the end of December. But, up to now, they haven't given
any more information on this.

At the beginning of December, they announced that pregnant women and the
chronically sick in the provinces of Mayabeque, La Habana, Artemisa and
Santa Clara, who received powdered milk for their diet, by way of an
experiment, will, from January, instead of that, receive a new dairy
formula made up of casein, lacto-whey, water, and animal or vegetable
fat with different levels of protein.

On this point, the Vice Minister of Internal Trade, Bárbara Acosta, said
that this measure was taken because of the over-consumption of powdered
milk and assured the deputies that it would not be extended past the
date indicated

It seems like there was a setback in the production of milk in the
second half of this year.

In the Foreign Currency Recovery Stores* (TRD, from its Spanish
initials) they have not offered butter or condensed and evaporated milk
produced locally for months.

You only find cheese in certain supermarkets, and not always. The price
is about $15 a kilo, which is in fact prohibitive for most Cubans, whose
salary doesn't exceed $20 a month.

The official press keeps completely silent about the crisis in the
production of fresh milk. It seems like the government has ordered that
they don't touch on such a sensitive topic.

Translated by GH

*Translators note: This interesting name makes clear the government's
interest in operating stores that sell products only in hard currency;
their purpose is to "recover" the remittances sent to Cubans from family
and friends abroad. Products in these stores are generally sold at
significant markups.

23 December 2013 / Cubanet

Source: "Neither Fresh Milk Nor Diet Milk / Osmar Laffita Rojas |
Translating Cuba" -

Marina Ochoa’s Messages - POLEMICA - The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Marina Ochoa's Messages / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate
Posted on December 26, 2013

Before anything else, please forgive me for entering so late into the
discussion. My life is very complicated precisely because of the climate
of indifference, incapacity and/or corruption that I see confirmed in
all the applications to the housing "machine". I am appalled! I mention
it because in my opinion what brought an end to socialism in the
countries in the East was the unpunished mixing up of interests on the
part of those who became millionaires during the socialism, opportunism,
corruption and repression. Criminals who went unpunished because of the
absence of opportunity for criticism, debate and for a culture of
criticism of course. Gorbachev and Yeltsin only delivered the coup de
grace ... we should all think about that and those involved should take
appropriate action.

I am not a theorist and am speaking to you on the basis of my principles
and experiences.

I think it's the moment to get to the essence, or rather, to other
essences. First I want to talk about the demoralising effect of
repression. And the confusion and paralysis it produces. That would
partly explain why the response from the culture, on many occasions, did
not display the necessary consistency. I know a lot about that. The
assemblies for purging the School of Architecture (in the second half of
the 60's), in the middle of my adolescence, truly terrified and confused
me. The lack of correspondence between the political debate, full of
high-sounding ideas, and the meanness in practice bewildered me. I
didn't understand anything, I couldn't articulate anything. I tasted the
flavour of impotence. Many of the members of the "purification"
tribunals are in exile. "Purification", for God's sake, seems like
something imported from fascism!

Later, in the 70's, it happened in the School of Journalism. I was a
student of Eduardo Heras [Ed. note: Cuban short story writer] and the
same thing happened again. In both places the devaluing of the human
essence was part of the strategy. Then came a period in which it seemed
we had suffered some kind of collective amnesia, from which we didn't
want to awake to avoid going through the story of our weakness? And
then, a new low hit with Alicia … frustrated because she was responded
to by the film producers and the members of the culture which supported
us with principles, unity, coherence and firmness. We manage to sort out
the differences between us, which exist, as they do everywhere and we
declare a truce in the fighting in order to safeguard our cultural
project, which we are still getting on with.

Now I ask those who cite our intellectuals for not answering forcefully
at the given moment, is it better to march off into exile, which is
anyone's right, which I don't question, rather than collect the
fragments of our beings, feelings, hopes, and also our revolutionary
existence and remain here, fighting in our own way, as best we can, to
rescue a cultural project we believe in? We must respect the way each
one of us fights, because we are all products of traumatic events which
have overwhelmed us. I believe we have to express clearly and coherently
what kind of country we want to have and what kind of culture. Therefore
I propose we take up again the concepts which were current in the
foundation period of the Revolution, later distorted by interpretations
which were circumstantial, obtuse, opportunist and convenient for the
Palabras a los Intelectuales [Ed. note: Words to the Intellectuals -
famous speech of Fidel Castro's in 1961, setting out his views on
freedom of cultural expression] which unfortunately they use because of
the lack of conceptual definitions.

Take up again "the inclination of the avant-guard, the freedom of
expression, the independence of individual evolutions, the search for
the roots of creative feeling and the attempt to make clear the
spiritual values of man", to be found in Origenes [Ed. note: Origins, a
Cuban literary cultural magazine] and what Carlos Rafael Rodriguez (Hey!
called "the prince of Cuban Marxism") expressed on March 23, 1982 on the
30th anniversary of the foundation of the Nuestro Tiempo society [Ed.
note: Cuban cultural institution in the '50's].

I think we have to get the bogeyman of openness away from our cultural
and political life. The permanence of the Cuban Revolution is a symptom
of the fact that our "specificities" are stronger than our
"regularities". We can't delay any longer the culture of exercising
opinion and debate, or we will pay dearly, even more so than up to now.
Our people are the most defenceless in the world against the avalanche
of neoliberal culture. We painstakingly modelled ourselves as passive
recipients. As consumers, in all senses of the word of what they give us.

The battle of ideas should be this: a battle and I think this debate
illustrates how it never should have been.

I hope I have contributed something to this debate. Big hug.

Marina Ochoa

Another message from Marina Ochoa to Gustavo Arcos Fernández-Brito.

Dear Gustavo (Arcos Fernández-Brito):

I've been filming and I am getting prepared to start editing, and
therefore although I have wanted to get in touch I haven't had the time
or the energy, so I end up with dispersed neurons.

The creation of a wailing wall for artists is bad news. They don't
understand anything. We say tweet tweet and they answer quack quack.

The 47 years in which the "vanguard of the proletariat" has been
translated as the right to think for us, deciding for us whatever does
or doesn't suit us as individuals, family, nation, has corroded the
capacity to use our judgement and has put us in the rearguard, while the
thinking of our people has become more complicated, growing, and
overflowing the society "designed" from above, which functions less each
day; (the other, the underground, parallel or floating society which
functions as a diversion, gives the lie to it every minute) but on the
screens of our television, which often seems to be directed by Walt
Disney, it appears as ideal.

The son of one of my nieces, 9-years-old, sighed while he was watching
the national TV news, "I would like to live there!" Childish wisdom …
and I swear to you I didn't make this up.

I was very grateful to receive the intervention of the wonderful Colina
and that of Belkis Vega [Ed. note: Cuban film producer]. Indispensable.
I think that Criterios [Ed. note: Desiderio Navarro's magazine, produced
by the Centro Teorico Cultural] should collect everything they have
expressed and bring out a number of the magazine and include what the 30
will produce. Certainly, knowing professionals of Belkis' stature, in
all senses of the word, professional, moral, humane, revolutionary, I
can't understand how it's possible that her name does not position her
to occupy roles such as the presidency of UNEAC [Cuban Writers and
Artists Union], the presidency of ICAIC [Cuban Film Institute], as they
are looking at the names of possible substitutes, all machos, men,

Colina refers to the responsibilities of Torquesada [Ed. note: Armando
Quesada, member of the Stalinist National Council of Culture in the
70's] in the ICRT [Cuban Institute of Radio & Television].

I also know that they made Torquesada adviser to the programme "Open
Dialogue" following a negative report about the programme put out by
this man, with a recommendation to take it off the air, which shows a
very interesting practice: I put you in as adviser to someone you want
to destroy and explain the drop in the quality of the debate in the said

I won't take any more of your time and congratulate you on your honesty
and integrity

A hug

Marina Ochoa

Translated by GH

Source: "Marina Ochoa's Messages / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual
Debate | Translating Cuba" -

December Again

December Again / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on December 25, 2013

Twelve months and here we are again. Days to weigh our accomplishments
and to postpone to the new year everything we failed to finish. What has
changed in Cuba — and in each one of us — since December 2012 which we
also put on the scales? Very little and so much. In the small space of
my personal live, it seems that everything has moved at an unprecedented
pace; in the life of a nation, however, it is barely a tremor, the blink
of an eye. January started with the Immigration and Travel Reform, and
in the following months there were many times we said goodbye; now
without that sense of no return we had before, of final departure and
exile for life, it's true, but we continue to remove names from the
telephone book at a worrying speed. Our condition of an "island in
flight" grew, this time within a legal framework that allows and
increases it.

Social differences were sharpened. The number of beggars and dumpster
divers grew. However, many modern cars began rolling down our
deteriorated streets and more than one nouveau riche spent their
vacations on the other side of the Atlantic. If anything characterized
2013, it was the polarized stories about it that we hear. Anecdotes of
families who opened luxury restaurants in the heart of Havana and of
others who can no longer drink coffee because they can't afford the
unrationed price. Of some waiting outside a boutique to buy Adidas
sneakers and others waiting outside a dining room to be given the
leftovers to take home. We live in a time of high contrasts, days of
photos discolored by the laboratory of life. A year, also, in which the
ideological discourse distanced itself even further from reality.

Repression, for its part, increased. To the same extent that civil
society grew and began to take certain spaces. The battle for the
monopoly on information was lost by the government in 2013 and won by
clandestine networks of audiovisuals, news and digital libraries. We
were better able to learn what was happening, but, with that as a
starting point, the power to convene ourselves and come together is
still lacking by a long stretch. Life is more expensive for everyone,
privileges and perks are concentrated in an elevated elite and the fight
against corruption reached some but avoided others. Remittances from
family and friends abroad, plus the subsidies from Venezuela, allowed us
to avoid collapse, but the red ink proves that the economic reforms have
failed. At the very least they have been unable to offer Cubans a better
life, a motive for staying here.

The world offered us some lessons, among them the images from Kiev where
so many have lost their fear. Fidel Castro faded a little more in his
long living-death that has already lasted seven years. And freedom?
This, this we are going to see if we win and achieve it in 2014.

24 December 2013

Source: "December Again / Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba" -