Is There a Cuban Model of Wellbeing / Fernando Damaso Posted on May 14, 2013
A careful read of the extensive article, “A look at the Cuban model of wellbeing,” published in the daily Granma on 13 May 2013, raised,… Continue reading
A Brief History of Cuba’s Public Restrooms May 6, 2013 Daisy Valera
HAVANA TIMES— In 2011, when I skimmed through the list of 178 trades which the Cuban State had authorized its citizens to practice on a freelance basis, I… Continue reading
Santiago de Cuba Six Months after Hurricane Sandy April 30, 2013 By Dariela Aquique
HAVANA TIMES — Many people have taken an active interest in seeking out information about the real situation that the inhabitants of Santiago de Cuba have… Continue reading
Changes In Cuba, I’ll Believe It When I See It / Juan Juan Almeida Posted on April 19, 2013
Many of you remember what happened in our country in the summer of 1989*. I’m referring to those trials that popular… Continue reading
Cuba: a cyclist’s dream The roads are well-paved and uncrowded, and the people are welcoming and generous, which helps when you get lost on the first day of a weeklong bike vacation By DAVID YATES, Special to THE GAZETTE April… Continue reading
Posted on April 16, 2013
The dual currency system in Cuba is one of the major economic and social
problems of the country. Don't take my word for it, on several occasions
the president of the country, Raul Castro himself (and I have no
intention of calling him a dissident) has recognized this. We Cubans
have already become accustomed to the existence of the two currencies,
and the government has become so entangled in an economic and payment
system that it would be very difficult to disentangle it without
enormous economic and social — and, of course, political — cost.
Lately I've dedicated myself to making several comparisons on Twitter
about the prices of things in Cuba and their equivalent in months'
wages. To someone who isn't Cuban and doesn't live in Cuba, it's very
difficult to understand the Cuban monetary system; which is why I would
like to give a brief introduction to it.
Historically, Cuba's currency has been the Cuban peso. This is the only
one that has always existed. In the '90s, with the opening to tourism on
the island, dollars began to come in. At first the use of dollars by
Cubans was prohibited and severely punished. I knew people who went to
prison for seven years for having one dollar in their wallet.
The threatening force that American money on the island represented to
the Cuban peso, forced the government to legalize its use by ordinary
Cubans and it became the currency that ruled the Cuban market.
All the stores, hotels, snack bars, restaurants and general services had
their prices in dollars, displacing the Cuban peso. I remember that at
the end of the '90s my parents rented out a room and I could watch many
dollars passing before my eyes.
This of course brought a political cost to the Cuban government. The
simple fact of devaluing the national currency versus the dollar didn't
bring much satisfaction to Comrade Fidel. From that moment the
two-currency system started. Now, how did the Cuban Convertible Peso
(CUC) come about. At that time, in 2004, using the excuse that "Bush has
prohibited the use of dollars in Cuba," they decided to withdraw all
existing dollars from the population and change them for convertible
pesos (CUC). The exchange was 1 for 1.
Fidel Castro set a deadline for the exchange and after that date started
to charge a 20% tax on exchanging dollars for CUCs. Fidel was very
clever, he was left with all the dollars and gave the people CUCs, which
are nothing more than pieces of paper printed with the "supposed"
backing of the USD. This supposed backing was spent on the Commander's
fabulous idea of buying "rice cookers" to sell to the people. Thus was
born the CUC, which up to today has accompanied the Cuban peso in an
apparently eternal rivalry.
Cubans are paid their wages in Cuban pesos. This is the official
currency of Cuba, the "socialist" money. With this money Cubans can pay
for some services such as water, light, gas, staple foods, bus fares, a
part of the phone bill (because the caller ID and international calls
are charged in CUC), their dues to the Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution (CDR), and a few other things.
The rest, such as the food in supermarkets, hotels, services, state
restaurants, getting a passport, the departure tax, paperwork, cell
phone services, car rental, entry to clubs and discos, drinks, taxis,
home appliances, buying school supplies like pencils and erasers, in
short, everything that is not "subsidized" is paid for in CUCs (the
"capitalist" currency) — and this is 99.2% of everyday things.
The Government is fully aware that some Cubans receive remittances from
relatives abroad; some get money from tourists in pay for prostitution;
some engage in the "disappearance" of goods, corruption…; and the
government disregards it on a huge scale to promote the development of
the national economy.
A convertible peso (CUC) = 25 Cuban pesos (CUP) today. The monthly wages
of an ordinary worker are around 375 Cuban pesos, which, applying basic
math, gives us a total of 15 CUC a month. Below I show a list of set
prices at a supermarket in Cuba.
1 liter of milk = 2.50 CUC
1 kg of rice = 3.15 CUC
1 liter of sunflower oil = 1.50 CUC
12 eggs = 1.80 CUC
1 kg beef = 17.00 CUC
The prices of some services are:
An ordinary passport = 100.00 CUC
A certified birth certificate = 20.00 CUC (expedited = 120.00 CUC)
1 night in the Habana Libre Hotel = 275.00 CUC
1 taxi from Vedado to Habana Vieja = 10.00 CUC
Airport Tax = 25.00 CUC
1 minute phone call = 0.35 CUC
One international text message = 1.00 CUC
1 1-minute phone call to Germany = 1.80 CUC
Shoes, low end = 30.00 CUC
So now you can see how little 15.00 CUC, the salary of an ordinary
Now let's continue by looking at the comparison to understand what it
means for a Cuban to pay prices in CUC. Consider a staple like milk and
the 375 Cuban peso salary of an ordinary Cuban.
1 liter of milk = 2.50 CUC = 62.50 Cuban pesos = 16.7% of the monthly
salary of a worker
Let's take Switzerland as a random reference, where the minimum wage is
about 3,000 USD. If we apply the same percentages that a Cuban pays for
a liter of milk, it would be the equivalent of a Swiss paying 501.00 USD
for that same liter of milk in his country.
To calculate what it means for a Cuban to buy 1 liter of milk relative
to your salary, you can do the following calculation: Take 16.7% of your
Imagine that the above result is what you would pay in your country for
one liter of milk. A horrible truth? Well the equivalent of this result
is what a Cuban in Cuba pays because of the dual currency.
Even though Fidel seized all the dollars in 2004, dollars still
circulates among us, and the government is subtly giving signs that it
needs U.S. surrency again. Why do you think that every month the phone
company ETECSA holds a 2-for1 promotion for recharges over the internet?
Because it's a very simple way to get "fresh" dollars for the government.
In fact, in the days when ETECSA is running the 2-for-1 promotion, a
Cuban who goes into the local ETECSA office with 20 CUC will not be
offered the promotion; because it can only be paid for with VISA or
MASTERCARD, and what ordinary Cuban has one of those?
Unquestionably the suppression of the second currency (the CUC) would
have a political cost which in my opinion would be unbearable.
Supposedly the CUC is the currency that tourists use (previously having
exchanged euros, dollars, Swiss francs, Mexican pesos for it…). Now, if
they suppress the CUC, then tourists would change their currencies into
Cuban pesos, and then they would see the abysmal economic inequality
without the "slavish" intermediary CUC. This same comparison can be
drawn today, but without the second currency it would be much sadder.
For example, if we eliminate the CUC, one night in a standard room at
Habana Libre Hotel would cost 6,875 Cuban pesos, or 18 months salary of
an ordinary worker. The reality is that mathematically it wouldn't
change anything relative to where we are now, but for millions of Cuban
who have spent more than half a century of continuous brainwashing, to
digest that it would take 18 months — without spending a single peso on
anything else — to be able to sleep one night in this hotel, would be a
serious blow to the government.
Raul has supposedly been working for years on a project to eliminate the
dual currency, but so far without success. To do it, he would have to
raise Cuban salaries 3500% (using as a reference point the costs of an
average family of four), for Cubans to be able to minimally survive with
the real prices that exist in Cuba today, without creating an internal
crisis. And the country does not have now, nor will it have in the
distant future, the conditions for such a change, such that, if such a
reform happened, I highly doubt that the majority of Cubans could meet
the minimum requirements for survival.
Today, we Cuban face an ongoing struggle with money. They pay us with a
money worth very little and with which we have to acquire many things
including food. Our work is devalued to the level of slaves when we have
to change Cuban pesos into convertible pesos. If, in theory, the
convertible peso is a currency "designed" for foreign tourists… Why do
they charge us in convertible pesos to get a passport? Or to buy ham? Or
chicken? And I can continue naming countless examples of things that the
government makes it very difficult and costly for us to access.
But, dear readers, I'm not talking about changing the peas for coffee.*
What I have outlined above was not a "mistake" by the government. No! It
has been a carefully calculated strategy of domination. Economic power
is political power.
By leaving the overwhelming majority of Cubans with meager wages and
depriving us of basic things like eggs and meat, they put us in a state
of despair. Cubans live every day just trying to get — to "resolve" as
we say — the food for that night. A teacher who is a mother with two
children, who after working 8 hours at the school has to tramp all over
the place to get food for her children's dinner, hardly has time to
think about "democracy."
This story is repeated every day for millions of Cubans, who over 50
years have become accustomed to subsisting, forgetting the decency of
the right to a fair life, and living with the hypocrisy of two
currencies: one socialist and the other capitalist.
*Translator's note: A reference to the fact that the "coffee" sold to
Cubans is greatly extended with peas.
2 April 2013
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-and-the-enslaving-system-of-two-currencies-yusnaby-perez/ Continue reading
Posted on April 15, 2013
This past Tuesday, the Cuban authorities finally acknowledged Calixto R.
Martinez Arias's right to go free, after he had served more than six
months in prison, initially for the crime of "insulting the leadership
figures of the Revolution." He had no trial.
Martinez Arias twice engaged in what is known in the post-1959 history
of Cuban political prisoners as "taking a stand" (literally, "planting
oneself"): he declared a hunger strike. In the first, he went 33 days
without eating, the second, 22. Until, after the second strike, it was
reported by state security that his case had been reviewed and they had
"understood" his demand for freedom.
"I started the first hunger strike to protest my stay in the Combinado
del Este prison," Martinez Arias said. "I also refused to wear prison
garb. When an inmate declares a hunger strike, the guards use many
methods to make them quit. The first thing they say is that you are
committing a disciplinary infraction, which hurts your eiligibility for
rights such as conditional parole, and for family and conjugal visits.
And ultimately they take you to the infirmary where the doctor will take
your vital signs and issue you a "suitable cell" notice, which means
just that: you are fit to be taken to the punishment cells."
"The punishment cell measures about 6 by 8 feet. It has no light. It has
a "Turkish" toilet, and a water basin you can access twice a day, when
the guards allow. There were days when they refused me water because a
captain who claimed to be the second-in-command of Building 3, where I
was detained, said that I could not drink water and took it away from me.
"By day you have to lie on the floor or stand. To that end, they remove
the mattress. They left me my clothes, but took away anything with which
I might cover myself. I spent very cold days, especially during the
first strike. The cells are very wet and very cold, deliberately
prepared to be that way. There were times when I had to sleep sitting on
the floor, up against the wall, because the guards would come very late
to give me the mattress. Lying on the floor you can contract a lung
disease from the cold and moisture. The floor is very dirty because the
cells are not cleaned. There are many insects: enormous rats, droves of
cockroaches. It is a sacrifice that you have to make, convinced that it
is all designed to psychologically torture you.
"During the second hunger strike, of 16 days, they took me to what they
call 'the increased' area, which is more severe. Then they took me out
of there after one day to an even harsher cell. There the conditions
were more brutal. They kept a surveillance camera on me at all times;
they never turned off the light."
In the second hunger strike, Martinez Arias started bleeding profusely
from his gums and his teeth began to fall out. He lost 45 pounds. But he
says: "I became a lot stronger."
The "Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba," the newspaper
Granma, on Wednesday April 10, published an account of the "good
conditions" in which prisoners live in Cuban jails. Regarding this,
Martinez Arias said:
"This is an absurdity. I can assure you that they began preparing this
article in December. In the month of December they informed us that
journalists from the national and foreign press accredited in Cuba were
going to visit the Combinado del Este prison. Major Rodolfo, who is in
charge of the building where I was, a building for 'pendings,' explained
to us that the visitors would not be given access to our building
because of the appalling conditions. Prisoners there live in a state of
overcrowding, because every day many 'pending' prisoners enter.
"It also has many leaks, and the bathrooms are in an extremely
unsanitary condition. The building should be declared uninhabitable.
Rodolfo explained that he was not going to take visitors there, because
of these conditions, and that this was not a bad decision because, and I
can almost quote him verbatim, 'when a visitor comes to your house, you
want to show him the best, not the worst parts.' For that reason, he
said, they were going to repair a wing of building No.1. The foreign
media should not be allowed to have access to the punishment cells. In
fact, in none of the pictures they showed are these cells seen."
In Cuba, the exercise of the right that everyone has to seek, receive,
and distribute information, by any means of expression, without
limitation by borders—as stated in Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights—may be considered a crime. But on occasion,
to put an independent journalist in prison, as in the case of Martinez
Arias, the authorities bring charges of common crimes against him, to
deflect the political nature of the arrest.
On September 16, 2012, Martinez Arias had been inquiring of some
terminal-workers near Jose Marti International Airport about a batch of
medical aid provided by international humanitarian organizations to
address the outbreak of cholera and dengue and that, because of official
mismanagement, had spoiled.
On leaving the airport, as he and others took shelter from the rain,
perched on the benches of a bus stop to avoid the puddles, a patrol car
arrived and gave them all tickets; but Martinez Arias was transferred to
the police unit of Santiago de las Vegas on the charge of being
"illegally" in Havana, having an address of the province of Camagüey.
Martinez Arias claimed in his defense that "the brothers Fidel and Raul
Castro are natives of the province of Oriente."
"Immediately" said the self-described activist "the police handcuffed
me, took me to a dark hallway, and beat me hard."
The police who detained and beat him then accused him of "insulting the
figures of the leaders of the revolution." He was automatically moved to
the Valle Grande prison, and from there, as punishment for continually
denouncing through his colleagues the human rights abuses of the prison
population, he was taken to the maximum-security Combinado del Este prison.
During the first hunger strike, State Security informed Martinez Arias
that the prosecutor's petition stated that he had been "insulting" and
"resistant", for having offended a policeman.
"If I had reacted during the beating they gave me by dodging a blow, or
by landing a defensive blow to the policeman who was giving me the
beating, I would have been accused of 'attacking,'" Calixto said. Police
in Cuba can feel "offended" and "attacked" if you don't react with
absolute passivity to their arbitrariness and brutality, and then they
fabricate the charges of "insult" and "attack", respectively, resulting
in the person's imprisonment.
Martinez Arias believes that the visibility conferred by having been
declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, together
with the solidarity of human-rights activists, independent journalists
in Cuba, and many foreign media with the participation of Cubans living
abroad, managed to send a message to the government of Raul Castro that
a person imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression
is not alone, and you cannot keep them in prison subjected to cruel,
inhumane, and degrading treatment without paying a high political cost
that limits your room to maneuver with impunity.
*Translator's note: Literally "the planted one"
Translated by: Tomás A.
This post appeared originally in Cubanet.org
12 April 2013
http://translatingcuba.com/calixto-the-resolute-lilianne-ruiz/ Continue reading
As a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, Carlo Bruno spent time in Cuba
during WW II. After 69 years, Bruno returned to the island as part of a
cultural exchange program.
by Dennis Hannon
April 05, 2013
The brothers Raul and Fidel Castro, notorious as keepers of political
prisons, might not make many lists of the world's most gracious
hoteliers. But, in the sixth decade of their iron rule over the island
nation of Cuba, the brothers seem to be extending their somewhat creaky,
octogenarian fingers in a gesture of "come hither" to American tourists.
Beneficiaries of this sea change in international diplomacy were Carlo
and Betty Bruno, two frequent travelers from Des Peres who jumped at the
opportunity recently when they saw an advertisement for a packaged tour
of sunny Havana.
The tour, arranged by the Road Scholar program, included hotel
accommodations, all food, door-to-door transportation to and from every
venue, and even bottled drinking water. Guests, therefore, were assured
of enjoying some of the world's most genial winter weather (average
January temperature, 70 degrees) with complete immunity to the
discomforts that beset ordinary Cubans - bad (or no) water, monotonous
diet, unreliable transportation and squalid housing. The Brunos were
wise enough to understand that this was a bargain too good to pass up.
And that's the way it turned out. The Brunos, along with Betty's sister
Irene, found themselves in the equivalent of a modern four-star hotel,
ferried about in a well-equipped Chinese-made bus and served
well-prepared meals in elegant restaurants featuring very good live music.
"Almost everywhere we went for lunch or dinner, there was music,"
recalled Carlo. "On the streets, the sound was beautiful."
In short, their hosts barred no hold and unturned no stone, and the
weather was as advertised.
Havana is a marvel, Betty said, but not because it is a bustling
metropolis - it is, in fact, a depressed "Sad Sack" of a city.
But "I have to give Castro credit," she said. "Anytime you can keep a
city going well without cars - without traffic - with two million people
in it, you've got to be doing something right."
But, interjected Carlo, "not very much, though. Not very much right."
Public transportation consists of "strange buses," he said. "They have a
tractor-like affair that hooks onto three cars - like railcars on rubber
tires - and people stack in there so tightly you can't believe it."
These caravans are the only motorized transport, other than
privately-owned cars that must be maintained by their owners without
benefit to a market for parts or repair service.
"Street mechanics is all they have," said Carlo. "If you can keep your
car running, you're lucky. Most of them don't have their identity any
more. They been modified so much you can't really tell. But some of them
are really well maintained. Most of those are used as cabs."
Tires must be imported from the U.S., however, as they cannot be
bootlegged. The trade is conducted by agents who hand carry tires four
at a time from Miami back to Havana, under the careful watch of both the
Cuban and American governments.
The Havana of Yesteryear
Carlo remembers a far busier Havana - the one he visited as a young
soldier in 1944-45. At the time, he was a radar mechanic, not yet 20
years old, stationed in Tampa in the Army Air Corps. When on leave, he
and his buddies could take their Army paychecks, bum a ride on a B-17,
and live lives of luxury in Havana's hotels and casinos, he recalls.
"It was a different city then," he recalled
Betty said Havana was "a Las Vegas kind of place.
"Everything was beautiful," she said. "The Italian mafia was there. They
ran the country with (Cuban dictator Fulgencio) Batista...there was this
Meyer (Lansky, a former kingpin in the New York underworld)."
"Now everything is owned by the government and it is gray and dirty and
deteriorated. The beautiful buildings with hundreds of porches showing
are all awful looking."
During his recent trip, Carlo was surprised at the utter lack of
maintenance of public structures, even residences.
"I didn't expect everything to be so depressed," he said. "It's like a
Though they never were shown the interior of a home, glimpses through
the occasional open door invariably revealed a squalid interior, the
"Everybody owns their apartment in those buildings, but no one owns the
building - except the government," said Betty.
And the economy seems frozen, she said. "You can't buy anything. There
are no stores. In spite of these huge squares, there's not a show window
for any store.
"I don't know where you could buy your clothes or your shoes. You can't
buy anything except little junk," she added. "The stuff we bought was
just little trinkets."
It doesn't matter much anyway, said Carlos. "You can't bring anything back."
Only works of "art" are permitted out of the country. The Brunos
exchanged about $500 for Cuban pesos on entering the country, and
exchanged back nearly as much on leaving.
Remarkably, the Cuban people do not seem downtrodden by their economic
plight, the Brunos said. They saw no sign of depression on the faces of
people walking through the squares, or dejection in their posture or
demeanor, the couple said.
One unique cultural feature: "there were no police and no military"
visible on the streets, Carlo said.
On their visit to China a few years ago, "we saw soldiers on every
street corner, and they stayed in sight of each other," he said. "We
didn't sense the presence of any military, no guns, no cops, nothing
The streets, nevertheless, were quite orderly; "there wasn't even any
begging," said Carlo.
But Cubans are not allowed out of the country. The Brunos were warned to
lock their passports in a safe in their hotel room. And at the airport,
security was heavy, complete with police dogs.
"I talked to one woman who wanted to see her sister who left when she
was a little girl," recalled Betty. "She told me she wasn't allowed to
go because she was too young (and hence might not come back). She was 45.""
http://www.websterkirkwoodtimes.com/Articles-Features-i-2013-04-05-185927.114137-Returning-To-Cuba.html Continue reading
Cuba's Venezuelan Pawn
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
Venezuela's military government will hold what it refers to as a
presidential "election" on April 14, and one of the candidates on the
ballot will be Hugo Chávez's handpicked successor, Nicólas Maduro. The
50-year-old union leader-cum-politician was named Venezuela's acting
president after it was announced on March 5 that Chávez had died. In all
likelihood, Mr. Maduro will win the election, using the dubious methods
perfected by Chávez and with whatever help Havana feels it necessary to
Having started out in bus-driver training, Mr. Maduro is being presented
to the world as almost an accidental president. But as the Cuban-born
writer Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a column in Miami's El Nuevo
Herald last week, Mr. Maduro's rise to power in Venezuela is anything
but coincidental. Cuba has long had its eye on Venezuela's oil, and Mr.
Maduro seems to have been in training to help with that goal for decades.
Venezuela has a constitution but doesn't use it much. Chávez's
"inauguration" as president for a new term in January, despite his
failure to appear at the swearing-in ceremony, is but one example. Mr.
Maduro's appointment last month as interim president is another.
According to the constitution, that job should have gone to the
president of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello.
Mr. Cabello didn't get the nod most probably because Cuba did not
approve. The tropical communist island is an economic wreck after 54
years of Castro leadership and only survives thanks to oil subsidies
from Venezuela. In exchange Cuba controls all the levers of state
security and intelligence that help chavismo keep a lid on dissent. That
means that Cuba has both the means and the motive to ensure that someone
sympathetic to the needs of the Cuban elite follows Chávez.
Mr. Cabello could not be trusted. He is known as a nationalist and,
having come from the military, he maintains close ties to the men in
uniform. Many of them are whispered to resent the enormous influence
that Cuba has in running their country and the largess that Venezuela
gives to Havana while so many Venezuelans are living in dire poverty.
Allowing Mr. Cabello to sit in the presidential chair, no matter how
"temporarily" was likely considered too risky by the Castro brothers.
Mr. Maduro, on the other hand, is a known quantity in Havana, according
to Mr. Montaner. Indeed, as it turns out, Cuba seems to have been
grooming him for just such a post for many years. Mr. Montaner based his
reporting on the testimony of an alleged former Cuban agent who says
that Mr. Maduro attended Cuba's special school for political leadership,
Escuela Ñico López, in the 1980s. "Judging from this information," Mr.
Montaner writes, Mr. Maduro is "an old collaborator of Castro
intelligence. Because of that, Raúl Castro convinced Hugo Chávez that he
was his natural heir." All that's left now is the formality.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323296504578396923385586256.html Continue reading
Posted on April 1, 2013
A beheaded Indian atop his white horse races around Las Tunas, this
faded and drab Eastern balcony what I love so much because there they
have loved me. The Indian is a bad omen, according to the elders of Las
Tunas, perhaps because of the already genetic fear of a population that
in the 19th century was attacked too often and burned too often. There
are those who say, to spread fear at night, that the last apparitions of
the headless one were before an apocalyptic hailstorm and a bloody car
accident many years ago. But it has not come out again.
And I think it's because, decapitated after all, he has no head to see
his surroundings. Because a subtle tragedy, without blood or fury or
visible cataclysms, happens every day. In the schools of Tunas — as its
citizens abbreviate Las Tunas — and in the whole country.
If you travel to the village of Cucalambé — eminent poet of Las Tunas,
whose formal name was Juan Cristóbal Nápoles Fajardo – drop in on
Vicente Garcia park. Look at the statue of the much-discussed gallant
general, walk through the bright new boulevard that stretched from the
little Catholic church, have an ice cream at Las Copas, take a peek at
Jose Marti Plaza, the most inventive Cuban monument to the man from Dos
Rios. All that is very nice. But if you don't want to upset yourself,
don't want any further on the boulevard that Ramon Ortuno Street.
Because a few blocks further on, like someone looking for the bus
station, there's a nursery school, a kindergarten — as the grandparents
call it — that is called "Little Friends of MININT," that is the
Ministry of the Interior. I went through there at the same time as the
parents were picking up their kids under 5, who do not read or write,
but who surely have already received lectures in that place about the
institution in charge of control and exhaustive surveillance over
Cubans, those who spy, interrogate, beat and imprison people. I
discovered that place and, dying of laughter at the excessive
brainwashing, took a a picture of it. Then came the bitterness.
Bitterness is not the name of the place, which is just a detail in the
landscape of Cuban education. The bitterness is because I remembered
that I'm alive and I have a son who lives in a country where all this,
these kindergartens for toddlers, primary and secondary schools for kids
and teens, the high schools and poly-techs, and the universities belong
to the state. And those who control the state — which I insist on
writing in lower case, because that's how I think of them — manage them
without any ethical respect for our children.
On the contrary, they use them to teach and evaluate the discipline of
their own political ideas. And worse: they train them in the arts of
obedience, of saying yes when they think no, of setting aside their
truth, of running away when they can't take it any more. Without the
permission of the parents, who also took the same classes.
Once I asked Dante, my son, who just turned 7,what letter he'd learned
that day. "F for Fidel," he answered. Not F for Family, which is what I
try to teach him, not F for fortunate, which is what he deserves. No,
those were not the most important words he learned that day. That day he
learned F, for Fidel.
They saw education in Cuba is free. I don't know. It's true that in
exchange for so much schooling and education the government doesn't ask
us for money, no. It asks us to give our liberty, which is worth more.
The Indian doesn't go headless any more in Las Tunas. Or there is no
disgrace to say it, or those it happens to are so used to it and silent,
that that rider on a white horse dissolves in the past. But this April
4th there's a party for our children, the students, who, for now,
continue in that only possible — free and compulsory — school. For now.
1 April 2013
http://translatingcuba.com/l-is-for-liberty-henry-constantin/ Continue reading
Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 5:47 by Tom Palmer
I'd been wondering about environmental management in Cuba for several
Recently I had an opportunity to learn more about it first-hand during a
10-day trip organized by Audubon.
Like things here in Florida, it's a mixed picture.
Cuba has set aside quite a bit of land for conservation to protect its
unique wildlife species, though trapping of wild birds for the pet trade
continues with little regulation.
Pollution and waste management regulations appear to have some ways to go.
It's the largest island in the West Indies and many species that breed
in the United States migrate to or through Cuba, making its conservation
management important to the survival of some North American species.
I learned that about 20 percent of Cuba's land has some kind of
conservation protection in a network of preserves that include mountain
and lowland habitats as well as marine ecosystems.
We were interested in birds primarily. There are more than 20 species of
birds found only on Cuba. They range from the bee hummingbird to
Gundlach's Hawk. Many are hard to find outside of some very local
There are hundreds of other endemic species ranging from snakes and
turtles to butterflies and bats,
One positive thing is that the Cuban government understands the value of
A Cuban biologist accompanied us on our tour and our tour group used
local guides to find species in certain parts of the island.
That provides local people with incentives to study and to preserve
their unique wildlife.
Cuba's national bird is a species called the Cuban trogon, which is a
striking bird species related to species found in the Southwest United
States and the quetzals in Central America.
It was fairly widespread in rural forests.
By the way, our group saw or heard 162 species, including all of the
Cuban endemics except the Zapata rail, which may be extinct.
One troubling aspect of bird protection in Cuba is the long-standing
cultural habit of capturing wild birds and putting them in cages at
homes or in restaurants.
We were in one restaurant that had a mockingbird, a Cuban bullfinch and
a Cuban parakeet in cages.
Students at one school we visited in Havana are collecting data on this
issue, By the way, this is a problem in Miami, too. Wintering painted
buntings are a popular target there, according to Tropical Audubon
Society, the local chapter.
We were told in one of the lectures that was arranged as part of out
tour by tour guides employed by the Cuban government, that the U.S.
trade embargo has helped environmental protection by limiting outside
development pressure on natural areas in Cuba.
However, that's not the whole picture.
When were on the Zapata Peninsula, the only known habitat for some
species, I learned that the only reason we were able to take a bus trip
into parts of it was because of a road built in anticipation of a peat
mining venture that never occurred. That resulted in the protection of
this extensive expanse of sawgrass that looks somewhat likes parts of
Everglades National Park.
There is extensive modern tourist-related development on Cayo Costa, a
barrier island off Cuba's northern coast. We spent the last three days
of the trip at one of several beachfront resorts there that were full of
Canadian and other non-U.S. tourists.
I did learn that before the resort development began, the Cuban
government set up a coastal research center to gather data on the area's
natural resources to guide development projects to mitigate the impact
as much as possible. That's probably the opposite of what would have
Scientists at the center said they continue to do extensive wildlife
surveys and regularly update the area's management plans.
The area reminded me of the Florida Keys in two ways.
There was beautiful clear water and large stands of native habitat,
though I did learn that some of it was second growth forests originally
cleared for charcoal production, a main source of fuel for cooking in
rural areas of Third World countries.
However, despite the work to protect or restore conservation lands
outlined in the planned lectures, I found some problems when I was out
on the land.
I saw extensive dumping of construction debris and other materials on
some side roads near the resorts. I also learned that recycling
programs, which could have diverted this waste, are pretty minimal. I
saw a lot of recyclable trash ranging from cans to scrap iron along the
roadsides, though some it was no worse than what I find in some rural
areas of Polk County.
I did see a couple of guys at one beachfront area collecting aluminum
cans out of trash barrels to turn in for money, but less than they wood
in a private market economy.
Sewer treatment and water pollution regulations appeared to be laxer in
We visited a sewer impoundment to look for birds. While we were there, a
septic tank truck drove up the crew opened the valves and dumped
everything raw into the pond, which had no aerator as is typically
The industrial plants belch black smoke, though there don't appear to
be too many of them.
The numerous older American and Russian-made cars that are a common
sight certainly lack modern pollution control systems, but the good news
is that there aren't that many cars on the road in Cuba.
Even on some of the main highways there were stretches were I saw as
many horse-drawn carts and bicycles as cars and trucks. Mass transit and
ride-sharing seem to be commonplace out of necessity.
The water in many of the rivers I saw was algae green. I didn't see
much in the way of stormwater retention anywhere, though rooftop
cisterns to collect water for household use and larger structures in
farming areas were common.
Cuba's a beautiful island with many still intact ecosystems, but
protecting them will require more work.
http://environment.blogs.theledger.com/13066/cuba-environmental-protection-a-mixed-picture/ Continue reading
Pictures have emerged of Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, apparently
attending a communist training school in Havana, Cuba
by The Commentator on 28 March 2013 17:58
New pictures show the self-appointed successor to Hugo Chavez, Nicolas
Maduro, at what has been described to The Commentator as a "communist
training school" in Cuba.
Maduro, who recently assumed the role of acting president of Venezuela,
is often keen to burnish his socialist credentials, however the new
pictures, if accurate, will cause great concern that Venezuela is due to
tack harder to the left if Maduro is elected on April 14th.
The images were published earlier this month by the Diario del Huila,
Neiva, Colombia and were provided by Israel Guarnizo Silva, who says he
studied with Nicolas Maduro at the 'School of Political Education'
between 1986 and 1987 in Havana, Cuba.
Maduro is often portrayed as a man with a simple background of being a
bus driver, union official and someone who rose through the ranks to
become Chavez's Vice President. The new images will certainly cause
concern that the man is far more than that - a well-trained, hard line,
old school communist from Havana in the 1980s.
The images are somewhat corroborated by a news story from 2011 which
states that Maduro went out of his way on a trip to Havana, to make sure
the importance of the "Escuela de formacion politica" (School of
Maduro emphasised the importance of the new School of Political
Education for the ALBA Armed Forces, calling it a "vanguard experience
not just in Latin America but for the entire world."
Observers have noted, "The School of Political Education for the ALBA
Armed Forces appears to be a communist counterweight to the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC)."
During the Cold War, WHISC was known as the School of the Americas and
gained undue notoriety for being 'responsible' for training groups
linked to anti-Marxist Latin American military regimes. Such accusations
were never proven and the School of Americas, which closed 12 years ago,
was known for teaching professional courses to individuals, not
degree-granting curricula to groups.
Latin America expert Joel Hirst told The Commentator, "It has been 25
years since the fall of the Berlin wall, yet Latin American governments
are only increasing their deference to tiny, totalitarian, and
economically irrelevant communist Cuba. The Cubans, trained by KGB, have
always taken a longer view. It's now paying off."
PICTURES OF MADURO AT THE SCHOOL OF POLITICAL EDUCATION:
http://www.thecommentator.com/article/3088/pictures_chavez_successor_attended_communist_training_school_in_cuba Continue reading
Posted: Mar 29, 2013 12:35 AM RST Updated: Mar 29, 2013 5:11 AM RST
By Mark Davenport
DANIEL ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Soccer is a game of speed, patience and quick
decision making. It's those same skills that also allowed three Cuban
national soccer team players to make a daring escape from a 2012 World
Cup qualifying match in Canada, eventually surfacing in Charleston to
play for the Battery.
"It all started playing on Cuban national team," said Heviel Cordoves,
through a translator. "We went to Toronto to play the Canadian national
Cordoves, Maikel Chang-Rameriz and Odisnel Cooper had been planning a
month prior to the match.
Always in secret, never aloud, the goal was to escape to the United
States just before their World Cup Qualifier in October.
"We were really nervous at first getting out of the hotel," said
Chang-Rameriz. "That was the biggest part because we saw the coaching
staff and any little chance we got when they looked away, we were gone."
The trio got their chance during a lunch break. When the coaches turned
away the three took off running.
"The risk is really big in Cuba if you get caught trying to escape,"
said Cordoves. "I would be taken off national team and pretty much be
put in jail."
Understanding the risk, Chang-Rameriz says they ran through the streets
of Toronto until they met a random man on the sidewalk who let them use
his cell phone and gave them money for a cab.
Cordoves says after a few days the found themselves at the border, feet
away from American soil.
Under the 'Wet foot, dry foot policy,' set in place during the Clinton
Administration, any Cuban who steps on U.S. soil has the right to become
The policy is one they were all familiar with.
The trio marveled at the defection of Battery legend and now top MLS
midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in 2008 under similar circumstances.
Now it was their turn.
After the trio crossed the border they made their way to Jacksonville,
Florida by bus then they scored a tryout in Charleston with the Battery.
"It was nervous at first coming in with the team and trying out," says
The tryout was all the three men needed. Battery Head Coach Michael
Anhaeuser says he knew from the minute they stepped on the pitch they
would play for the squad.
"Everything went great from the soccer side," said Anhaeuser. "There was
the issue with communication but they did a great job."
All three players have work permits and are making progress in getting
their U.S. citizenship.
The goal for all the defectors is the top tier of what soccer can offer,
a spot on an Major League team or a contract overseas in Europe.
Cooper left his wife behind in Cuba, but says she will be able to make
the trip to be with him as soon as he becomes a citizen.
Chang-Rameriz and Cordoves are both sending money home to their families
and girlfriends, trying to help them as make as possible from Charleston.
What they make in the U.S. is much different than what they made in
their home country. Cordoves says the average salary for a Cuban
footballer is roughly eight dollars a month.
The forward says after their recent defection, the count is up to 25
players of the Cuban national team to have escaped to the U.S.
"It's a dream come true," said Cordoves. Cooper and Chang-Ramierz agree.
The Charleston Battery kick off their home schedule on April 20 versus
Antigua Barracuda FC.
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