CARLOS TRUJILLO HERRERA | La Habana | 12 de Junio de 2017 - 10:37 CEST.
"My parents don't know that I'm homosexual. And I don't want them to,
for now, so when I was recruited I didn't say anything," says Ariel, one
of the members of the LGTBI community struggling to survive the machismo
that prevails in the Active Military Service.
"I often get tense because, if someone does something wrong, they ask
him if he's a faggot. They also say that the Army is for real men, and I
wonder what I'm doing here," he adds.
Like the vast majority of Recruits, Ariel would like to be somewhere
else, due to how he is mistreated by the officers. In his case, in
addition to being at the end of the chain of command, there is the extra
pressure of being homosexual.
He has been forced to adapt. The first thing he managed when he entered
the training program was to become an assistant to his company's
lieutenant. Because his family was able to provide some favors (food,
money, clothes, medical shifts) he was spared hours of marching.
He says that he was very afraid of his fellow recruits. The first day
they used the common showers, he remembers, one of the young men got an
erection, for which he was beaten up by the rest. They broke a couple of
his teeth, and an arm.
"When the officer in charge heard about the reason for the attack, he
took care of the matter 'between men' and said: 'You don't have to be
putting up with this faggot stuff.' They transferred the soldier out of
the unit, and that was the end of it."
David thinks he was "pretty lucky". His permanent unit is "very relaxed"
and everyone minds their own business. "Apart from having to put up with
being told to f*** off every time I talk, they leave me alone," he says.
He landed a position in the dining hall and found a partner who shares
his sexual orientation. They get together when they can. "To kill time,"
he says. "I don't think it's going anywhere."
Felipe has to sleep at the end of the barracks and use a mosquito net,
because one of his comrades took the fan he had taken from home.
"I'm afraid to report it because everyone in the unit knows I'm gay," he
explains. "If my mom demands the fan, they will tell her. She's a
Christian and wouldn't accept it."
Felipe has had relations with a couple of soldiers in the unit, "but
they're in the closet. They have girlfriends and hit people, like 'real
men' are supposed to."
Carlos is a lieutenant. Everyone knows he's gay, but no one mentions it
directly. However, "I have to put up with a few things, like extra guard
duty every month."
He says that his companions refuse to stand guard with him, because the
shifts are in an office, late at night. "Most of the time they go to
sleep and I have to stand guard alone."
Although the level of homophobia is high, there exists a curious
phenomenon: homosexuals, once identified, suffer discrimination, but
homosexuality is widely joked about.
Young recruits often say that they are in a prison, and every time a new
one arrives, they touch his butt or pretend to rape him. They also often
hold the new recruit, while they suck his nipples, neck, and ears, and
bite his back. Those who do not go along with the "joke" are harassed
more intensely in the future.
"The best thing is to laugh, say that it was disgusting, and tell them
to all go to hell," says one soldier. "Then they leave you alone."
That is, "macho" men can have fun pretending to be gay, while harshly
discriminating against those who actually are.
Source: How to survive military service as a homosexual | Diario de Cuba
- http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1497256623_31816.html Continue reading
MICHAEL H. MIRANDA | Fayetteville | 8 de Junio de 2017 - 09:33 CEST.
Last week several photos of American students with their professors
appeared on the social networks in Havana. The images would not have
drawn too much attention if it were not due to the fact that the
situation demands some wariness regarding the consumption of the
regime's iconography: the students were seen walking through the halls
of the Museum of the Revolution, in front of photos of Fidel Castro and
grotesque caricatures of American presidents. Their presence was also
noteworthy because in recent months there have been expulsions of
students and professors from Cuban universities, without many members of
American academia voicing any protest.
Considerable controversy has surrounded the idea of academic exchange
travel to countries that are not free. There is already an American
embassy in Havana, but relations are still far from normal, principally
because the Americans' demands for fundamental rights in Cuba continue
to be flouted by Havana. Following the rise of Barack Obama to the
presidency in 2008, it seemed that the possibility of systematic student
travel had finally been established, and several universities even
created a position specifically to manage these exchanges.
The question that many ask is whether public funds should be used to
organize trips whose itineraries, apparently approved at high levels of
the Cuban Government, include visits to sites "of historical and social
interest" (we already know what this means and the particular roadmap to
be followed), a route on which certain points on the strategic horizon
of tropical totalitarianism occupy a privileged place: if there are
museums like that of the Revolution full of photos of a Caribbean
tyrant, why not the family sanctuary in Birán (the Castros birthplace),
Fidel's stone at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, and the Museum of the
Ministry of the Interior, so well portrayed by Antonio José Ponte in La
The Cuban writer and former political prisoner Rafael Saumell, who
serves as a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas,
appreciates the academic freedom that exists in the vast majority of
Western universities, but notes that he would never dedicate himself to
such a job. "Given the political pedigree of a few colleagues, there is
always the risk of using funds for indoctrination. The apologists for
diversity tend to be timorous in their censure of the expulsions of
professors and students who do not follow the Party line," he says.
It turns out that the aims of these trips could easily be questioned.
After all, the students could improve their Spanish and cultural
knowledge with less of an effort and sacrifice in the most
Mexican-influenced neighborhoods of Austin, Phoenix or Los Angeles. What
does the exhibition of a tank of the Rebel Army, a monument to Che
Guevara, or a visit to an independent dairy in Matanzas have to do with
the use of the subjunctive? Or is it a specific type of Spanish, one
that spurns its richest rules and elements, in favor of the impoverished
language found in the likes of Granma? At what point did American
universities, with the magnanimous (and even eager) assent of deans and
professors, decide that a lesson in normalization was in order, but only
while tiptoeing around their counterparts' recurrent breaches of
standards and violations of freedoms?
If American public universities do not know that in Cuba the expulsion
of students and professors who are not sympathetic to the regime is a
common practice, at least it could be said that they are uninformed. But
if they do know it, but still insist on signing collaboration agreements
with these institutions, they should expect revulsion and criticism for
using taxpayer funds to subject students to an agenda so distant from a
legitimate "cultural exchange" and so subservient to the Cuban
Government's political machinations.
Obama is history. Time may be running out on his policy of
normalization, while the regime erected by the Castros still stands, and
is hardly moving in the direction of open societies. We do not yet know
whether the Trump Administration will cancel or restrict these contacts.
What we can be sure of is that, if it does, American universities will
demand, vociferously and through every channel, their right to these
travel programs, and the uproar will only be comparable to their silence
and reticence to aid those subjected to the severe rigors of the other
university... the surveilled one.
Source: The surveilled university | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1496907190_31729.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 February 2017 – The unrationed
distribution of potatoes, a symbol of Raul Castro's government, has
suffered a big setback. During the quarter of February, March and April,
the distribution of potatoes was returned to the ration market
throughout the country, with a limit of 14 pounds per person and
requiring the presentation of a ration book, according to announcements
made by the authorities in local media.
The measure has been taken to "ensure the population greater access to
the purchase of potatoes," says the official statement.
The purchase will be "recorded in the ration book and maintains the
value of one peso"
The user will receive "14 pounds per capita (two in the first month and
six in each of the two remaining months) at state agricultural markets
(MAE) and bodegas." The purchase will be "recorded in the ration book
and maintains the value of one peso."
The areas that do not receive potatoes this month will be able to
acquire the pounds corresponding to February along with the six pounds
The potato was distributed exclusively in the controlled way until 2009
at a price of 0.45 Cuban pesos per pound, less than 2 cents US. After
that, sales were uncontrolled at a price of 1 Cuban peso ($0.04 US), an
amount the state described as subsidized.
Between the years 2014 and 2015, the potato harvest experienced
important growth, going from a little more than 53,000 tonnes, to
123,000 tonnes. But domestic consumption also grew with the greater
number of tourists coming to the country and the expansion of the
private sector, especially those dedicated to food services.
The distribution of the nationally grown potato, with a lower yield than
the imported, started this year in the municipalities of Artemisa, San
Antonio, Guira de Melena and Alquizar, where the potatoes are grown. In
the coming days potatoes will also arrive in the capital, where
consumers are anxiously awaiting them.
"Something had to be done because when the potatoes came, the only ones
who could buy them were the resellers and the hoarders," complains
Samuel, a retired resident of nearby Estancia Street, outside the Youth
Labor Army on Tulipan Street.
For the man, "the measure favors the poorest people," although he still
thinks that "the price is very high" for those who are living on a
pension. "I only get 180 Cuba pesos a month (roughly $7.20 US) and it's
not enough," he says.
"That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot of people here,"
an official told 14ymedio
However, María Victoria, a worker at a foreign exchange store, believes
that "this is a step back, because at this point the ration book doesn't
have them." The state employee is surprised by the return of the potato
to the ration market. "Instead of going forward, I think we're going
backwards," she said.
In the Ministry of Agriculture, all the workers who enter the imposing
building and the drivers who wait outside for some official are talking
about potatoes. "That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot
of people here," one of them tells 14ymedio, preferring to remain anonymous.
Last April, the Communist Party Congress ratified the Guidelines for
Economic and Social Policy, among which it was agreed "to continue the
orderly and gradual elimination of products on the ration
book." However, the decision has not been implemented so far.
Source: Potatoes Return to the Rationed Market / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
– Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/potatoes-return-to-the-rationed-market-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 24 November 2016 — The seller doesn't
even need to advertise his wares. He just stands at a corner with
several strings of onions and buyers crowd around him. Six months after
the imposition of price caps for more than twenty farm products,
shortages and the high cost of food continue to mark Cubans' daily lives.
The measure, approved in May of this year, for state markets and those
managed by cooperatives, regulates the prices of 23 products, to avoid
"the enrichment of intermediaries." In practice, however, this
government decision had not managed to curb rising prices, which are
expected to reach historic highs by the end of the year.
At the intersection of 19th and B Streets, in the Vedado neighborhood,
one market has earned the epithet of "the rich people's market." Some
also call it "the museum," because it's "look but don't touch," due to
its high prices. The place has a variety of products far beyond the
average offered by markets across the island.
The capped process still have not yet reached these kinds of markets,
where private producers sell their merchandise. A pound of boneless pork
has varied between 40 and 50 Cuban pesos for months, two days' salary
for an engineer. "We sell the meat here depending on how it comes to
us," explains Yulian Sanchez, the market's administrator.
Opinions among customers are divided on the government's measure.
"There's no one here who eats beef or even cracklings," an old woman
complained this Tuesday at 19th and B, while looking for oregano to cook
some beans. "These prices are unthinkable for people," she said,
expressing her support for price caps on all the markets of this type.
Other customers fear a possible extension of price regulations. "What
will happen is that the best things will disappear," says Roberto, a
self-employed workers who regularly buys fruit at 19th and B. "The
minute they capped prices, onion disappeared," he said.
Among the foods with regular prices are also beans, taro, cassava,
bananas, yucca, sweet potatoes, lettuce and pumpkin. In markets where
price controls are already in place, products cannot be sold for more
than the prices established in a resolution of the Ministry of Finance
An army of inspectors verifies that the stands display the regulated
prices and apply fines to offenders that can range from 100 to 700 Cuban
A few yards from Havana's Capitol building, the Egido street market
still displays prices based on supply and demand. Four tomatoes can cost
50 Cuban pesos, a third of the monthly pension of Oscar Villanueva, a
retired construction worker looking over the market stalls on Tuesday.
"With Christmas and New Years it is normal to raise prices, but since
these are already quite high, we have to prepare for the worst," he says.
Anxiety in anticipation of these holidays is apparent among the stands
of the central market. The government has informed the sellers that as
of this coming January there will be a system of price regulation for
"This is the only place where you can find a variety of fruit. If they
cap the prices it will be like the others," says Villanueva.
The quality of the products at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market at 17th
and K, run by the Armed Forces, is very different from "the rich
people's market," a distant relative of the Egido Street market.
Many consumers agree that price caps are often at odds with the quality
of products. "The fruits they sell are always green and the root
vegetables are covered with dirt," says a regular customer of the market
in Vedado. The woman recognizes, however, that the prices in other
markets "can't go on like this, because soon we'll need a wheelbarrow
full of money to buy food for a week."
"Now they have one-thousand peso notes to fix that problem," a nearby
vendor jokes with the woman.
The hopes of many are pinned on the reopening of El Trigal market in
January, the only agricultural wholesale market in al of Havana, which
in the middle of this year was closed for "irregularities" in its
operation. But it is still unknown if the government will maintain the
price caps, sustain supplies in the market stalls, and improve the
quality of the offerings.
Source: Food Prices Rise Despite Price Caps / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/food-prices-rise-despite-price-caps-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 19 September 2016 — Contrary to all expectations as
well as to prior agreements, the Cuban government will temporarily
double the number of its health personnel in Venezuela. The sudden
decision, an emergency response, is an effort to halt widespread
discontent among the Venezuelan people and to garner the gratitude of
the rising number of impoverished sectors within the country by sending
in an army of white lab coats to augment the social program Barrio
Adentro (Into the Neighborhood), one of the Venezuelan ruling party's
This very humanitarian social program, whose focus is helping those most
in need, began as a wonderful local initiative with citizen involvement
and grassroots leadership. It has importance today, having evolved into
a political tool for rescuing the Venezuelan government.
A few days ago a meeting took place in Havana at the headquarters of
Chief Medical Cooperation Unit (UCCM), the group which oversees
compliance with the Cuban government's international medical cooperation
commitments. The goal was to plan and implement a government new
strategy. It was one of a string of grueling meetings held behind closed
doors and chaired by Roberto González (Marin), head of Cuba's medical
mission in Venezuela. Government representatives of both nations also
According to the latest agreement, Cuban health care workers will fly to
Venezuela in small groups from Monday, August 19 through August 30.
After landing, their task will be to carry out a "strategic mission" in
areas identified in the signed document and designated on a map as "high
priority." These areas are the states of Miranda, Yaracuy, Aragua,
Capital District, Carabobo, Barinas and Apure.
"Fewer people are leaving for Venezuela every week. These days we are
only sending replacement personnel. Caracas pays daily for this service
and other Cuban exports at fixed price in hard currency based on the
price of a barrel of oil at the time the agreement was signed. But now
there is a big difference between that price and the current price of
oil. In other words, the workforce has been reduced considerably. This
big new group of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers is only
temporary. It's there to support Maduro. It's not part of the agreement.
It's what we call solidarity aid. These people must return to Cuba as
soon as the crisis ends," explains a Havana official from the Ministry
"Look, this could just be a convenient political move during a time of
confusion. But I doubt it will work. What's the point of sending more
colleagues from our CDIs (Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers) when the
equipment there is dilapidated and there is a shortage of drugs?" asks a
Cuban healthcare worker who has been on a medical mission to a rural area.
"What Venezuela needs right now," he adds, "is food. My CDI colleagues
have to hunt iguanas in order to survive. You only have to look at our
Facebook profiles to see. And it is not because we are hunters. It's
because the grocery stores where Cubans shop only have rice, nothing
else from the main course.
As the number of Cuban physicians in Venezuela increases, their diets
are being supplemented with iguana meat, which they hunt.
Source: More Cuban Doctors Going to Venezuela and They Are Eating
Iguanas / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/more-cuban-doctors-going-to-venezuela-and-they-are-eating-iguanas-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 19 July 2016 — "I pledge
that very soon you will have your homes," Carlos Lage Davila, vice
president of the Councils of State and Ministers, said in 2002 to those
who had lost everything and still today have not received what he promised.
Alexander Sanchez Villafranca, 33, was one of those affected by
Hurricane Isidoro. "If I had listened to my mom and had cut down the
mango tree, I would not be in this shelter. I never thought that the
wind could pull it up by the roots," he says. His home, at kilometer 1
in Santa Damiana, was reduced to rubble under the weight of the tree. He
is among the 16 families living in shelters in Portilla in Rio Seco, in
San Juan y Martinez municipality, as a result of Hurricanes Lili and
The place, 19 kilometers from Pinar del Rio, had been a military unit of
the Youth Labor Army (WCY), then in 1994 became a Battalion Task Force
that housed those who came to support tobacco workers, and in 1995 it
became a warehouse for oilcloth.
In 2002, after the hurricanes, they used it to receive the victims from
Santa Damiana, Forteza and Rio Seco, who had no means to rebuild their
own homes. Within a month of being there, they received a visit from
Carlos Lage Davila, accompanied by former first secretary of the Party
in the province, Maria del Carmen Concepcion, and other government and
At first, the mass organizations delivered lunch and dinner to
residents, who were seen by a family doctor daily. Then-delegate Sergio
Carrelegua visited them frequently and at meetings urged them to be
patient and assured them that the promises would be fulfilled. "A few
months later the attentions and promises disappeared," recalls Sanchez,
now married with a daughter of six who has known no other home. "Over
time the roofs began to deteriorate and the solution from the delegate
was to remove the roofs over the bathrooms and use them to replace the
broken tiles over the bedrooms, so the toilets have no roof."
The situation gets worse in the spring because of the rains, and for the
elderly, whose health is delicate, dampness is a greater risk. "In the
rainy season you have to do everything (even the physiological needs) in
your bedroom," says an old woman to illustrate the "hell" she is living in.
"I don't know how many times I've gone to the municipal government to
demand that they help us, but they don't do anything," says Arelys
Rodriguez, Sanchez's wife, while showing off the poor hygienic-sanitary
conditions of the outdoor bathrooms. "I have to carry water from the
neighbors' house, because the raised tanks are uncovered and are filled
with decomposing frogs, bats and even pigeons. I'd die before I drank
that water," she says with disgust.
Sanchez talks about his effort in agriculture, the work he does as a
laborer, hoping that a relative living in the United States will help
get her out of the hostel and he can buy a house. Meanwhile, her little
daughter Thalia flits around her. That little girl, with her innate
curiosity and boundless naiveté, manages to help Sanchez forget for a
moment the neglect and misery that surrounds her.
Source: Hurricane Isidoro's Victims Are Still Waiting / 14ymedio,
Ricardo Fernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/hurricane-isidoros-victims-are-still-waiting-14ymedio-ricardo-fernandez/ Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 30 June 2016 — "Beyoncé" — that's what she likes to be
called — prostitutes herself for less than two dollars on the outskirts
of the old bus stop of Víbora, 30 minutes by car from the center of Havana.
By day she's an "emerging teacher" in a secondary school, that is one of
a class of teachers created due to the shortage of experienced teachers
who begin training in the 11th grade at age 16 and take over a classroom
while they're still teenagers themselves. By night she goes out to hunt
clients on the Diez de Octubre [Tenth of October] roadway, dressed as a
woman. She wears a blond wig, a clinging dress, high-heeled shoes, too
much makeup and a cheap, penetrating perfume that she combines with an
imitation-Gucci handbag and some false eyelashes imported from Miami.
Beyoncé remembers that three years ago they summoned her to the
municipal recruitment committee to take a medical exam that endorsed her
admission to General Military Service.
"When I arrived dressed as a woman, an official sent me home. With an
angry tone, he told me: 'You have to be dressed appropriately when you
come before State institutions.' Among other things I told the
Cro-Magnon: 'Boy, and perhaps I'll show up nude.' Then I asked him: 'We
gays don't have the right to defend the homeland?' The soldier turned
around and left," says the Havanan transvestite.
According to Beyoncé, the recruitment office didn't even bother to
summon her. "I don't like military life, but it would be an interesting
experience to be surrounded by so many males. You can imagine the number
of men I could sleep with. They would call me 'Beyoncé the canteen',"
she says, smiling.
Serguey's story was different. He always suspected that he was
imprisoned in the wrong body. "From secondary school on I liked men. But
I led a double life in order to not disgust my parents. I played
basketball, I talked like a tough guy, but no woman interested me. I
kept my homosexual relations hidden. When I finished pre-university,
they called me for military service."
Serguey continues remembering: "That was at the beginning of the '90s.
When the time came for the physical exam, I had to get naked and open my
cheeks. Then the doctor who was there called me aside. It was like a
police interrogation. I told him that yes, I was gay, but I didn't want
my family to know. They told me they wouldn't tell, but an official told
my father anyway. It's not that I was interested in being a recruit, but
I always wondered why a homosexual couldn't be a soldier."
Yosvany, a captain in the armed forces, points out that "according to
the military regulation, gays, ex-convicts and counterrevolutionaries
aren't permitted to join the institution."
When they ask him for the reasons, he explains: "Let's speak clearly.
Just because they tolerate homosexuals now doesn't mean that we have to
accept them everywhere. In the army as in the police, you need virility
and responsible behavior. A criminal isn't going to respect a police
officer wearing feathers. And in the armed forces a gay could be more
patriotic than anyone, but he's a hindrance because of his inappropriate
conduct. That's the norm not only in Cuba. I believe there's no army in
the world that accepts gays in their ranks."
Argelio, a former Major in the armed forces, recognizes that among the
officers and recruits, "from time to time a fag slips through. It
happens. I've been in units where there were cases of homosexual
relations. But when it happens, ipso facto, the solider or officer gets
a dishonorable discharge."
Osvaldo, a historian, considers "that military institutions tend to be
very retrograde. Although in the history of Cuba there are examples of
revolutionary leaders with homosexual conduct or moral standards, it
doesn't agree with society. There is credible proof that José Martí, our
national hero, the fruit of an extra-marital relationship with Carmen
Miyares, fathered María Mantilla. Also, among some mambises (guerrilla
Cuban soldiers who fought against Spain in the wars for independence)
there was homosexuality. The most rumored was the supposed loving
relationship of Antonio Maceo with Panchito Gómez Toro, his aide and the
son of Máximo Gómez. Whether true or false, they are never going to stop
being heroes of the fatherland.
Fidel Castro, a bulletproof homophobe, since his university years was
the friend of the deceased Alfredo Guevara, an explicit homosexual.
Carlos, a sociologist, recognizes that "the Cuban Government has taken a
huge leap in recognizing the LGBT community. But it's taking only
half-measures to legalize homosexual marriage, accept gays in the army
or promote government ministers who are openly homosexual."
Norge, a retired doctor, remembers "that in the middle of the '60s,
research commissions were created to study the causes of homosexual
behavior and their possible cures with hormonal medication. In the UMAP
forced labor camps, many gays served as guinea pigs."
Mariela Castro, the daughter of the autocrat Raúl Castro, who has
undertaken a national and international crusade in favor of the LGBT
community — if and only if they don't dissent from the regime — hasn't
managed to get the Council of State and the one-note National Parliament
to authorize homosexuals as members of the armed forces.
The intransigence toward accepting people with a different sexuality
doesn't affect only military institutions. Inside the dissidence in
Cuba, explicit homosexuality is also taboo.
In a macho and homophobic society like Cuba's, where the Government
prohibits political differences, gay and lesbian opponents don't openly
reveal their homosexuality. And they bet on staying in the closet.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: Cuban Homosexuals: Excluded From The Army And Taboo In The
Dissidence / Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-homosexuals-excluded-from-the-army-and-taboo-in-the-dissidence-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Posted on February 19, 2016
In the 1960s, close to 30,000 young men were detained in forced-labor
camps. The mistreatments that took place in these camps, known as
Military Units to Aid Production UMAP, in the name of "social hygiene,"
testify to the homophobic component of the Cuban Revolution.
Abel Sierra Madero, From Letras Libras, January 2016 — Between 1965 and
1968, the Cuban government established, in the central region of the
country, dozens of forced-labor camps known as Military Units to Aid
Production (UMAP), where about 30,000 men were sent under the pretext of
the Obligatory Military Service Law (SMO). The hybrid structure of work
camps cum military units served to camouflage the true objectives of the
recruitment effort and to distance the UMAPs from the legacy of forced
labor. Thus the military-style organization and discipline to which the
detainees were subjected could be justified. November 2015 marked 50
years since the regime implemented this experiment.
Historians have generally avoided research into state social-control
policies based on forced labor, concentration and isolation of thousands
of Cuban citizens at rural locations set up during the 1960s. Likewise,
they have rejected the usage of such terminology, as if it did not apply
to the case of Cuban socialism, or its use was not "politically
incorrect." By the same token, testimonies and narratives produced by
former UMAP detainees have almost always been held suspect. A
fascination with beards and uniforms on the part of the mainstream press
in Europe and the US, along with powerful images constructed by
revolutionary propaganda, have up to now overshadowed the testimonies of
Cuban exiles regarding their terrible experiences in these camps.
These accounts became part of an anti-communist narrative to which,
supposedly, the exiles had to conform in order to survive outside Cuba.
At least, that was what Ambrosio Fornet, one of the most recognized
intellectuals on the Island, thought in 1984 while giving an interview
to Gay Community News. Although he recognized that the UMAPs were a sort
of "academy to produce macho-men," Fornet criticized the perspectives on
the repression offered by exiled Cuban writers and artists in the
documentary film, Improper Conduct (1984), by Néstor Almendros and
Orlando Jiménez Leal. According to Fornet, the majority of the witnesses
who appeared in the film lied about UMAP; the writers were saying "what
they should say because they're making a living off of anti-communism."
He added, "The idea of a repressive police state that persecutes
individuals is totally absurd and stupid."
UMAP cannot be understood as an isolated institution, but rather as part
of a project of "social engineering" geared toward social and political
control. That is, a technology that involved the judicial, military,
educational, medical and psychiatric apparatuses. For the establishment
of these camps, complex methodologies were employed to identify specific
subjects and purge them from mass institutions and organizations, up to
and including their recruitment and internment.
Masculinization and Militarization
There were several criteria that the authorities took into account to
recruit and intern thousands of subjects in the forced-labor camps. One
of them was homosexuality, and it is estimated that around 800
homosexuals were shut away in the camps. Nevertheless, there were other,
In the mid-1960s, Cuba was involved in a transnational process of
constructing socialism along with the Soviet Union, the Eastern
socialist bloc, and China. These regimes invested many symbolic
resources in the creation of national stereotypes that were almost
always associated with complex processes of masculinization. In this
sense, the concept of the "New Man" was one of the most powerful ideals
within these systems, although it had also been used by German Nazism
and Italian Fascism.
In the Cuban case, this concept was associated with a broader
ideological strain of social homogenization in which fashion, urban
sociability practices, religious creeds and work-related behavior were
key elements to bring in line with the official normative vision. Thus
it is not strange that—besides homosexuals—delinquents, religious
believers, intellectuals or simply young men of bourgeois background,
were also sent to UMAP.
Although the establishment of the forced-labor camps was accomplished
towards the end of 1965, these camps were created under the pretext of
Law 1129 of 26 November 1963, which established Obligatory Military
Service (SMO) for a period of three years, for men between the ages of
16 and 45. The law exempted those who were the only source of economic
support for their parents, spouse and children. At least in theory, the
law allowed for a deferral of the recruitment of young men who were
finishing their final year of secondary school, pre-university, or
Nonetheless, the authorities applied those sections with discretion,
employing political criteria regarding UMAP. Some young men who
constituted the only support for their families were recruited without
regard for the consequences for those domestic economies. Many students
of diverse educational levels who were at the point of graduating became
eligible for recruitment to the SMO when they were expelled as part of a
"purification" process. This process, which began around 1965—a few
months before the first call to UMAP—had the character of a "purge," a
social crusade, headed by the Union of Young Communists (UJC) against
those who were not perceived as "revolutionaries."
In a communication published in Mella magazine on 31 May 1965, the UJC
admonished high school students to expel "counterrevolutionary and
homosexual elements" from their groups in the final year of study, so as
to impede their university admissions. Also mentioned are those who
display "deviances," or "some kind of petit-bourgeois softness and
apathy towards the revolutionary activities being performed by the
student body." They should be sent to the SMO so that they may "gain the
right" to be admitted to university. "You know who they are, you have
had to fight them many times […] apply the strength of worker and
peasant power, the strength of the masses, the right of the masses
against their enemies […] Away with the homosexuals and
counterrevolutionaries from our schools!" Thus concluded the communication.
A few days later, Alma Mater magazine—the official organ of the
Federation of University Students (FEU)—went along with this policy,
assuring readers that the purification was the result of the historical
moment, and a "necessity for the future development of the Revolution."
The assertion was that the purges of counterrevolutionaries and
homosexuals should not be understood as two isolated processes, but
rather as one, because "so noxious are the influence and activity of
both of them to the formation of the professional revolutionary of the
Once the purges were finalized, those young men were left exposed and at
the mercy of the State. Their entry into UMAP was a matter of time. No
sooner were the purifications concluded, via the Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution (CDR)—one of the most effective surveillance
institutions created for social and political control in Cuba—than
censuses were conducted to identify those youths who were not working
nor going to school. This information was provided to the Ministry of
the Interior and the Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR),
the entities charged with recruitment for the UMAPs.
By 1964, Fidel Castro was boasting of the impact the SMO was having on
Cuban youth, and emphasizing the failure of institutions such as the
family and school in the education of young people. "All right, then,
what they could not teach them at home," he would declare, "what they
could not teach them in school, what they could not teach them at the
institute, they learned in the army, they learned in a military unit."
For his part, his brother Raúl Castro Ruz, at that time minister of the
FAR, gave assurances in a speech delivered on 17 April 1965, that the
objectives of the Revolution could only be achieved with a "youth of
tempered character," possessing a "firm character" that was "forged in
sacrifice," far from "softnesses." A youth that would be inspired "not
by dancers of the Twist and Rock and Roll, nor by a display of
pseudo-intellectualism," a youth that would stay away from "all that
would weaken the character of men."
The economic utilization of the body
By way of these processes of militarization and masculinization, the
intent was not only to correct gestures and postures, but to reorient
and reintegrate those forces and bodies to an economic apparatus. The
rhetoric of war, employed repeatedly by the leaders of the Revolution,
was incorporated into the ideological and economic discourse in the form
of military-type campaigns, and the workers were seen as heroes and
soldiers—not just to insert them into a political rituality, but to
utilize them as a workforce without having to compensate them
financially. In a 1969 article, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago analyed the
types of non-paid work during the 1960s in Cuba, and among those models
mentioned UMAP. According to Mesa-Lago, the government achieved savings
of around $300-million Cuban pesos through non-paid labor between 1962
Around the 1960s, the Cuban economy was dependent on sugar, but the
mechanization of cane-cutting was not widespread, therefore the success
of the harvests depended on manual cutting. During this period, the
sugar harvests began to form part of a great ideological leap that Fidel
Castro had planned for 1970. The Maximum Leader was trying to take the
Island to a higher degree in the construction of socialism by way of a
harvest of ten-million tons of sugar. To achieve the desired effect,
Castro needed to mobilize and deploy a major workforce to the areas
where large sugar plantations were located. Camagüey province, with
considerable expanses of land and scarce labor, was strategically
selected for the establishment of the UMAPs in the final months of 1965.
Thus, the camps were inserted into the planned socialist economy, as had
occurred in the Soviet Union with the gulag (General Directorate of
Labor Camps). Vladimir V. Tchernavin, who managed to escape from a
Soviet gulag, describes how, at the start of 1930, that institution
became a great forced-labor enterprise, appearing to be a correctional
entity, which allowed for the establishment of development plans in
places where such an endeavor would have been very difficult without the
available forced labor. According to Tchernavin, the gulag provided a
structure and functions similar to those of a state enterprise, it was
organized like military units, and the detainees received a miserable
wage for their work.
A similar thing occurred with UMAP. The inmates of these camps, as well
as others recruited by the SMO, received a salary of seven pesos per
month, and they were compelled to participate in what is known as
"socialist emulation," a type of competition to incentivize production
in which the "vanguards" did not receive financial compensation, but
rather diplomas or recognition during political and mass events.
"Social hygiene is what this is called"
It could be said that at the start of 1959, moral panic was the
ideological framework on which the campaign for national regeneration
was based, which called the entire nation to liquidate the "vices" of
the past and consolidate revolutionary power. But very soon, this
religious sort of schema was complemented with speeches about hygiene
and the notion of "social sickness."
On 15 April 1965, some months before the first recruitment drive for the
UMAPs, the writer Samuel Feijóo, in El Mundo newspaper, published
"Revolution and Vices," an account of the tensions that caused the
merging of the religious, political and hygienic discourses. Among the
vices that still needed to be eradicated, the writer pointed to
alcoholism, and "rampant and provocative homosexuality." He assured
readers that the matter was "not about persecuting homosexuals, but
rather about destroying their positions, their procedures, their
influence. Social hygiene is what this is called."
In this manner, the discourses on hygiene and those that came out of the
field of psychology were adapted to justify the UMAPs. The camps became
a quarantine area, a laboratory that provided not only for the isolation
of inmates, but also for the opportunity to study them. In May of 1966,
a few months after the UMAPs had been established, María Elena Solé put
together a team of psychologists and physicians that made up a secret
operation organized by the political arm of MINFAR, to design and work
on rehabilitation and reeducation programs for homosexuals in UMAP.
According to Solé's testimony to me in March 2012, the team's work
consisted in "evaluating these persons from a psychological
perspective." But the evaluation and classification was not based
exclusively on aspects related to the generic-sexual configuration of
the individuals, but rather incorporated also an ideological criterion.
The team of psychologists drew upon the notion of "afocancia," a
cubanism not recognized by the dictionary, which has been employed to
negatively describe those persons who stand out publicly because of
certain physical or moral characteristics. Thus, a Template A (for
"afocante") was designed, to distribute homosexuals across four scales:
A1, A2, A3 and A4. Type-1 "afocantes" were considered to be those "who
did not make a public show of their problem, and were revolutionaries—in
the sense that they did not wish to leave the country—comported
themselves in a normal fashion, and were more or less integrated into
society." Conversely, "one who let his feathers fly and who, besides,
was not integrated into the Revolution nor had any interest in it," and
had expressed a desire to leave the country, was considered a Type-4
"afocante." As María Elena Solé explained, "there were revolutionaries
in this group, but if someone made a display of his problem, we would
not classify him as A-1, but as A-4."
Some of the former UMAP inmates assure me that the team of psychologists
conducted various experiments and tests of a behaviorist and
reflexologist nature, which included the application of electroshock.
However, Dr. Solé asserts that the tests that were done were solely
designed to "measure intelligence." In contrast, Héctor Santiago — a
theater person connected to one of the most controversial cultural
projects of the 1960s in Cuba, Ediciones El Puente, and who was sent to
a UMAP — assured me that the team's examinations were, at least in their
totality, of another character. According to Santiago, the psychologists
and psychiatrists utilized behaviorist techniques in the UMAPs such as
shocks produced by electrodes, and insulin-produced comas. These
experiments consisted in the application of alternating-current shocks
"while showing us photographs of nude men, so that we would
subconsciously reject them, turning us by-force into heterosexuals."
This description concurs with various articles that detailed this
procedure and that circulated in specialized Cuban journals of
psychology and psychiatry during the 1960s. This therapy, which had been
developed in Prague by K. Freund, consisted in creating conditioned
reflexes. In Cuba it was Dr. Edmundo Gutiérrez Agramonte who
incorporated this practice.
Felipe Guerra Matos, the official in charge of the dismantling UMAP,
remarked to me during an interview in June 2015, that the idea of
placing teams of psychologists in the UMAPs had been his, and that up to
30,000 subjects were confined in them, including approximately 850
homosexuals. At one point in the conversation, Guerra Matos stated, "We
committed grave errors, imposing punishments on the little faggots, a
lot of things were done there […] They were made to stare into the sun,
to count ants […] 'Go ahead, stare into the sun, you'll see.' Any
abomination that occurred to some harebrained guard. I am at fault,
because I signed off on recruitments."
The punishments in the UMAPs could range from verbal insults to physical
mistreatment and torture. Several of my interviewees assured me that one
of the methods of punishment employed by some guards consisted in
burying the detainee in a hole in the ground and leaving him with his
head exposed for several hours. Some were dunked in a tank of water
until they lost consciousness; others were tied to a stake or a fence
and left for the night, exposed to the elements, so that they would be
food for mosquitos. According to Héctor Santiago, this method of
punishment was called "the stake." The torment and mortification of the
body had a purpose of intimidation and formed part of a narrative in
which the punishments were given names such as the "trapeze," the
"brick," the "rope," the "hole," among others.
On the other hand, many of the camps were surrounded by barbed-wire
fences, used repeatedly in jails and concentration camps. According to
the singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, who was sent to UMAP in 1966, these
fences were composed of 14 wire strands, arranged so that they reached
up to six meters in height. A brief song is dedicated to this wire fence
and the enclosure, entitled, "Fourteen Strands and One Day." Milanés
explained to me that the song was not recorded in those years, but
rather later, in the studios of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic
Art and Industry, in the 1970s.
Fourteen strands and one day separate me from my beloved,
Fourteen strands and one day separate me from my mother,
And now I know whom I will love
When the strands and the day
I am able to leave.
The history of this sad experiment has remained buried on the Island. Up
to today, the Cuban government has constantly denied the character of
the UMAPs, and has sought to erase from the collective imagination
anything related to this subject. At the same time, the international
Left has preferred to view UMAP as an error inherent to revolutionary
movements. This ideological exercise has been influenced by the manner
in which the figure of Fidel Castro became one of the most powerful
representations of the Revolution. Therefore, once the critiques and
international campaigns calling for the dismantling of the camps began,
it became indispensable to disassociate the Maximum Leader from these
processes, so that UMAP could be justified as an exception that should
not be identified with the Revolution. This is how, for example, Ernesto
Cardenal did it. In his book, En Cuba (1972), the Nicaraguan poet and
theologian told of how he was visited by two young men who were
interested in complementing his official view of the Island. One of them
had been a "jailer" for UMAP, and assured Cardenal that it was Fidel
Castro who eliminated those "concentration camps," invoking at times the
law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The picturesque account
that Cardenal narrates in his book constitutes the only source that
makes this type of reference. In 2010, during an interview granted to
the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Fidel Castro himself finally "assumed"
his responsibility in the establishment of those work camps.
UMAP was officially dissolved via Law 058 of October 1968. Although
these camps disappeared as an institution, other, more sophisticated
devices and institutions replaced them, keeping intact the spirit and
motivations that created them. The decade of the 1970s was still to come.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Academies To Produce Macho-Men In Cuba / Abel Sierra Madero |
Translating Cuba -
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Posted on January 22, 2016
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 January 2016 – The imposition of
price controls in some markets in Havana has provoked contradictory
reactions in the population. Although it has been a relief to consumers'
pockets in the midst of the rising cost of living, the measure has been
accompanied by an unwelcome raid on the cart vendors who sell
agricultural products in the capital's neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market on Tulipan Street in the
Nuevo Vedado neighborhood dawned with a singular hustle. After more than
two weeks of empty stalls and worried consumers, a dozen products went
on sale with controlled prices.
The measure was expected after an experiment that started earlier this
month in Artemisa province, with the sale of agricultural products at "a
maximum fixed value" by the Provincial Administrative Council.
In Havana, the controlled prices have not been extended to the majority
of markets managed by the state farms and cooperatives. "This market has
been one of the first to test the experiment," said a vendor at the
market administered by officials of the EJT.
The young man, whose stall was selling pineapples, yucca and other
products, seemed apologetic at having to charge a customer 2.80 Cuban
pesos (CUP) for a pound of guavas. The same quantity of product hadn't
dropped below 20 CUP at the end of last year. "This can't last long,
because eight guavas for six pesos can't be maintained," the employee
A very different picture was developing in the central market of Egido,
managed by private sellers and intermediaries. Since the beginning of
the week a pound of red beans has held steady at 16 CUP and pork hasn't
fallen below 50 CUP for months. Despite the high prices, the quality of
the merchandise attracted dozens of buyers on Tuesday.
"We'll see how long they keep it up," comments Gerardo, a truckdriver
who brings goods from private farms in Alquizar to the well-known
market. "Since the beginning of the year they're making our lives hell
on the highway," he says, referring to the escalation of police controls
on all the trucks carrying farm products and trying to enter the capital.
"Now we even have to show proof that we bought the fuel legally,"
complains Gerardo, who says "with these decisions prices are going to
Next to him, a customer was shocked by taro at 15 CUP a pound,
threatening to leave "for the EJT" but ending up buying it there. "A
ride from Boyeros and Tulipan costs me 10 CUP. What I'll save on one
thing I'll spend on another. Anyway, the quality isn't the same, here it
is always better because 'the master's eye fattens the horse'," she
Television has accompanied the price controls with reports blaming
intermediaries for the rise in prices. An appeal recently published by
the National Union of Agricultural and Forestry Workers called for the
total elimination of intermediaries saying that this would "contribute
to a lowering of prices."
Havana residents are in the midst of a silent price war between the
State and private vendors which has almost completely eliminated from
the urban landscape an element they has already become common: vendors
with rolling carts. These improvised "kiosks with wheels" bring access
to agricultural markets to distant places and offer their goods
Julia, who lives at Espada and San Lazaro Streets, says she is willing
to pay "when I see a cart in the street." With a bedriddem mother, she
comments that she doesn't have "the time or money to go a long way to
Tato, one of the cart vendors who for years has sold near the park at
Infanta and San Lazaro, was sitting on a wall this Tuesday with his
legendary cart. "The inspectors they send take everything, the police
won't let us live anymore," he says. He says the suppliers have had
their goods confiscated on the roads entering the city.
The old man is convinced that what is happening now has been ordered by
Raul Castro. "But let's see how long the joke of controlled prices
lasts," he says.
Meanwhile, a young employee at the EJT market cajoled a girl looking
undecidedly at pineapples. "Buy them now, my girl, you don't know when
they'll run out. It's the right gift for Epiphany, just a little late."
Source: Price War in Havana / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara | Translating Cuba
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Posted on December 31, 2015
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 31 December 2015 – Tiny and
tasty, they seem to look at us from the plate and mock the work it takes
to get them. Beans are not only a part of our traditional cuisine, they
constitute an effective indicator to calculate the cost of living in
Cuba. The price increases these delicious little bits have experienced
in the past year is proof of the disastrous economic policy promoted by
When, in February of 2008, the former Minister of the Armed Forces
assumed the presidency of the country, many were betting on the
pragmatic character of his mandate. His sympathizers never stopped
reminding us of the phrase in which he asserted, "Beans are more
important than canons." They predicted that our national agriculture
would work like certain farms managed by the Ministry of the Armed
Forces and the Youth Labor Army.
Hopes that overlooked José Martí's accurate maxim, "A nation is not
founded like a military camp is commanded." The behavior of a soldier in
the trenches can never be equated with a farmer's day, and an officer's
command to bend one's back over the earth has nothing in common with the
efforts of a peasant to hire someone to bring in his harvest.
The harangues against the invasive marabou weed, launched by Raul Castro
in his first years as president, fueled expectations, as did his call to
put a glass of milk on every Cuban's breakfast table. The Raulistas
discerned in those statements the soaring of food production and the
bringing down to earth of prices, to be consistent with wages. But
Instead, in recent months consumers have suffered a significant increase
in the cost of agricultural products. If the year started with a pound
of black beans costing between 12 and 15 Cuban pesos, at the close of
December the price varied between 15 and 20 pesos – the wages of an
entire working day – reaching the staggering price of 30 pesos in the
case of garbanzo beans.
Meanwhile, the average monthly wages in the country only grew from 581
to 640 Cuban pesos (roughly $25 US), a symbolic increase which,
expressed in a worker's purchasing power, equals about three more pounds
of beans a month. The results Raul Castro has achieved with his
much-vaunted methods are not far removed from the little his brother
Fidel Castro achieved with his grandiose agricultural and livestock
The usufruct leasing of land to farmers ran up against the bureaucracy,
excessive controls and the poor state of the leased land. El Trigal, the
experimental wholesale market, is a sequence of empty stalls, petulant
bananas and high prices. In reality, it is easier to find an apple
brought from thousands of miles away than an orange or chiromoya planted
in our own fields. For the coming year, the country will spend 1.94
billion dollars on food imports, and nobody even talks about the battle
against the invasive marabou weed any more.
"I have to earn my beans," says a teacher, as he justifies dedicating
his workday to cooking pork, along with a portion of"Moors and
Christians"– as we call black beans and rice – that he sells illegally
to the workers at a hospital. Because yes, our lives revolve, rise and
fall around those delicious little bits that we long to put on our
plates. Expensive and tasty, they are the best indicator of the
Source: Beans, ah, the beans! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez | Translating
Cuba - http://translatingcuba.com/beans-ah-the-beans-14ymedio-yoani-sanchez/ Continue reading
By Taylor Wofford 12/2/15 at 1:53 PM
Every time Gator ejaculated, Dan Marvel grossed 10 grand. At the time of
his death last year, the bull was a ton and a half of genetic
perfection—or as close to it as has ever been recorded for his breed
(Red Brangus, a dewlapped, humpbacked strain, three-eighths Brahman,
five-eighths Angus and usually russet in hue, hence the name). And he
was prolific: Marvel, his owner, says with pride that Gator once
produced more than 400 "straws"—a half-cubic-centimeter swizzle stick of
bull semen being the standard measure—from a single ejaculation.
Gator's semen was white gold because, drop for drop, the seed of a
prize-winning bull is worth more than gasoline, penicillin and human
blood combined. It's not the most valuable liquid in existence (that
distinction goes to scorpion venom, which has medicinal properties), but
Five years ago, Marvel received an intriguing phone call from John Parke
Wright, a wealthy investor from Naples, Florida. Wright knew someone who
wanted to create a beef cattle herd, and his client needed a hefty
amount of Gator's semen: thousands of straws. The deal would earn Marvel
and his wife, Sandra, $50,000, a huge haul for them. The only catch:
They had to make it happen in one of the least business-friendly places
on earth: the communist island of Cuba.
Six months after that chat, the Marvels were in Havana. They met Wright
at a nondescript office building in Miramar, the city's diplomatic
quarter, which serves as the headquarters of the National Enterprise for
the Protection of Flora and Fauna, the Cuban equivalent of the
Environmental Protection Agency. A receptionist led them to a small
conference room with a dark wood table and chairs, the walls lined with
portraits of the Castros and other Cuban leaders. As they sipped
espresso and bottled water, an elderly Cuban official walked into the
room and greeted them. He kissed both of Sandra's cheeks—"the Latin kind
of kiss," as she describes it. His name was Guillermo García Frías, a
comandante in the Cuban army who fought alongside the Castros during the
revolution, a former vice president and current head of the
García, who reportedly saved Fidel Castro's life during the revolution,
is Cuba's canniest cattleman, Wright says. He had a new ranch called El
Macho, he told the Marvels, and he wanted to turn it into the first
large-scale, high-quality beef production operation on the island in
more than five decades. He had the land: 150,000 acres in Camagüey. What
he didn't have: cows or capital.
There are two ways to increase the size of a herd. Go the natural route
(put bulls and heifers together and wait), which can take years, or
import a large number of heifers (20,000 would suffice, Wright ventures)
and artificially inseminate them—but that method can take a lot of cash.
"We're talking about a serious investment," he says.
Still, García chose the latter option. A couple of weeks after meeting
with the comandante, the Marvels received in the mail a check for about
$50,000. What García got in exchange was more than just spunk; it could
be the seeds of a capitalist revolution.
¿Dónde Está la Carne?
In Cuba, shortages—from toothpaste to toilet paper—are a fact of life.
Food is no exception. Beef, once a staple of the Cuban diet, can be next
to impossible to find on the island. Sometimes, it will disappear from
markets without warning for months, says Alexis Naranjo, whose
restaurant, Los Naranjos, recently debuted in Havana's tony Vedado
neighborhood. "I can't sell it," he says, because "there isn't any place
to buy it." When you can find it, it's exorbitantly expensive, which
means tourists are among the few people in Cuba who consume it.
Like most restaurant owners here, Naranjo sometimes turns to the
thriving black market to meet his needs. But he won't buy beef there.
"If you get meat and the police find out, they will close the
restaurant," he says. It's not that the government is concerned about
the health ramifications of eating black market beef, which is mostly
pilfered from state-run butcher shops. It's because beef is so scarce,
the government controls who gets carne and who doesn't. To protect its
monopoly, the state even passed legislation making slaughtering cattle
without explicit government permission a crime carrying a sentence of up
to five years in prison—even if you own the cow.
The shortage is worse outside the major cities. And the contrast between
meat served at Havana's privately owned restaurants and what rural
Cubans eat is "shocking," says Parr Rosson, head of the Department of
Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University and an expert on
U.S.-Cuba trade. "There are cuts of chicken you can't identify," he
says. "I don't know what they are."
Cubans would like less mystery in their meat, but change happens slowly
on the island. Un poco, un poco, "a little, a little," as people here
like to say. But it's happening, especially with respect to the United
States: In April 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama took the tentative
first steps to ease the tension between the two countries. The
administration lifted restrictions barring Cuban-Americans from
traveling to the island and uncapped the amount of money they could send
to relatives back home. Havana later implemented reforms designed to
encourage small pockets of capitalism. In 2010, the government began
allowing more Cubans to work for themselves and to hire others. Since
then, the number of small-business owners and entrepreneurs has more
than tripled, according to one recent paper.
Now, six years after Obama's first announcement—the Cuban government's
arrest and imprisonment of the American aid worker (and alleged spy)
Alan Gross in 2009 slowed things down—the relationship between the two
Cold War adversaries is finally starting to thaw. Most Cubans welcome
this development, but few want things to go back to how they were before
the revolution, when Cuba was a de facto colony of Washington and Havana
was a decadent playground for wealthy gringos.
Doing business with Americans presents Cuba with not only an opportunity
but also a threat. To improve the lives of their people, Cuban officials
are dabbling with capitalism across the economy, including the beef
industry. In need of everything from new tractors to plow their fields
to wind turbines to upgrade the island's turn-of-the-century electrical
grid, they have begun to bargain with businessmen such as Wright and
Marvel. But they're afraid of giving away too much in the
process—especially to their neighbors up north. So as Cuba transforms
and opens to free enterprise, the Communist Party is proceeding
cautiously, trying to make sure nothing endangers its monopoly on power.
As Fidel Castro explained in a 1966 speech, "Revolutions are not
undertaken to leave things as they were."
Soviet Sugar High
Cuba hasn't always been a nation with empty shelves, and its beef
shortage is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 1958, one year before
Castro ousted the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, there was
nearly one cow for each of the island's approximately 6.5 million
inhabitants. More than 50 years later, there are almost twice as many
Cubans, but the country's herds are 30 percent smaller than they were in
1958, according to Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Cuban-born economist at the
University of Pittsburgh.
Most Cubans point to the embargo to explain the state of the beef
industry, and many economists agree that it's at least partly
responsible. But some analysts say Cuba's socialist system deserves a
big part of the blame for the country's economic misery. "You've got a
central planner sitting in a high-rise Ministry of Agriculture building
in Havana, trying to tell growers in the eastern provinces what to do
with their pastures," says William Messina, an agricultural economist at
the University of Florida's Food and Resource Economics Department.
"What the hell does a person in Havana know? Maybe it's been a rainy
summer. Maybe there's been a drought…. Pretty poor decisions get made."
At the root of all Cuba's food woes is its greatest resource: sugar. The
island had been almost entirely dependent on the crop since it was
introduced hundreds of years ago, allegedly by Christopher Columbus. As
Castro put it in a 1959 televised address, "One of our greatest causes
of economic dependence on the United States is sugar, and it is
imperative that we diversify our production and our markets." Following
the revolution, the Castro government announced plans to do just that,
but two years later, Havana changed its tack; the Soviet Union offered
to pay above-market prices for Cuban sugar in exchange for access to the
island. Despite its earlier ideas about diversification, the Castro
government again poured most of the nation's resources into sugar. By
the 1980s, Cuba was the world's third-largest sugar producer, behind
Brazil and India.
Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and took Cuba's economy with
it. By that time, Cuba's agricultural sector was heavily mechanized, and
Moscow was the source of most of what was needed to sustain the
industry—from fertilizers to new tractors. Lacking the infrastructure to
grow much beyond sugar and unable to command the inflated prices it had
enjoyed for 30 years, Cuba had no way to feed itself. This era of Cuban
history—euphemistically called the Special Period—saw the average Cuban
shed about 12 pounds, according to a 2013 paper published in the British
Medical Journal. Cubans ate domestic cats, and peacocks and buffalo
mysteriously vanished from the Havana zoo, according to The Economist.
With some of the best farmland and pastures in the Western Hemisphere,
Cubans don't need to eat pets. "Cuba should increase its beef
production, without any question," says Pedro Sanchez, the Cuban-born
director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia
University. In four to five years, Cuba could be importing 40 percent of
its food, instead of 80 percent. "We have to make a proper plan, but all
the elements are there," he adds.
One of those elements arrived by private plane in Havana last year.
Inside, supercooled with liquid nitrogen, was a gallon of Gator's goo.
Can You Make a Buck in Cuba?
Earlier this year, Wright invited me to El Macho to witness what's
become of Gator's seed. To reach the ranch, his chartered Chinese
minibus passes through the Sierra del Chorrillo nature preserve, one of
48 protected areas managed by García's agency. The preserve is 10,000
acres of pristine wilderness where unshod ponies caper beneath a canopy
of piñon pines and fossilized tree stumps jut from the earth.
As Wright steps off the minibus, he introduces me to Barbaro Casa López,
the ranch's foreman, an intense-looking man with a blue-black mustache
and straw cowboy hat. Casa López is already putting Gator's semen to
use, he says, and offers to show us. He leads Wright and me down a muddy
lane between rows of enormous, empty pens. In one, about 20 bulls are
corralled. These are Gator's offspring, Barbaro tells me. Wright claims
they're the first cross between an American bull and Cuban heifers in
more than 50 years. They're a year old and fattening up nicely, gaining
nearly 2 pounds per day, Barbaro says. They'll keep gaining until they
weigh about 1,400 pounds. Then they'll be sent to slaughter.
El Macho turns a small profit, but its earnings are limited because it
can sell only to the state, and the state, not the market, dictates
prices. In June, Barbaro says, the government increased the price for
steers to 2,000 Cuban pesos a head—roughly $80. The result is that
cowboys and ranch owners both earn less than bartenders and taxi drivers
The only way to make real money in the cattle business in Cuba is to
scale the operation massively. And the only way to do that quickly is
with foreign direct investment. That's why Wright is helping García find
partners and investors stateside. "It's very simple," he says. García
can offer American investors a stake in El Macho—"sa y $200 million for
50 percent." That $200 million will be used to increase the breeding
stock and ramp up production of meat.
But many Americans are wary of investing in Cuba because the state
almost always insists on having a majority stake in partnerships with
foreign companies. And the island doesn't have a sterling reputation in
the minds of investors—expropriating billions in assets from U.S.
corporations doesn't scream "open for business." Wright insists American
companies shouldn't be afraid. It's a myth that you can't make a buck in
Cuba, he says, and he intends to prove it with El Macho. If Americans
discover a business-friendly climate here, Wright believes Congress will
be inclined to lift the embargo. "We're going to use these cows to break
the blockade," he crows.
"Sí," Barbaro says. "It all depends on the blockade."
It's not so simple. As part of the thaw, Washington is rolling out
incremental reforms, like allowing ferry service to Havana and lifting
export restrictions on telecommunications equipment. But Cubans have
been hesitant to embrace American investment. "We haven't gotten Cuba to
green-light a single deal," says James Williams, president of the
lobbying group Engage Cuba. "Part of it is they're just overwhelmed.
People from all over the world are coming here like they've never come
There are other hurdles too. For the Cubans, the end of the embargo is
the next step in the negotiations. But the U.S. sees the end of the
embargo as the last step, a reward for progress on human rights,
property claims and law enforcement, among other things. "We think
Congress would look very favorably on those [changes]," says a State
Department official with knowledge of the negotiations, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity because the talks are sensitive. "Support would
be more attainable if they could make progress."
Maybe, but Congress seems reluctant to let Americans deal directly with
the Cuban government, preferring to encourage investment in small
businesses. Of course, in Cuba the difference between privately owned
and government-owned is rarely clear-cut, says Paul Johnson, co-chair of
the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba. "I don't know if you'll ever be
able to draw a distinction," he says. "It's a one-party system, and the
government has a lot of control in business decisions." Johnson says
U.S. investors should flock to Cuba, even if it means getting into
business with the Communist Party, because that's the way Cubans want
it. "We need to respect their sovereignty," he says. "It's in the U.S.'s
best interests in the long run. Otherwise, you're just laying the seeds
of future revolution."
Williams agrees. Most Americans, he says, don't know how to do business
in Cuba. The Cubans "have a process," he says, "and companies have been
ignorant or naive of that process."
John Parke Wright is not most Americans. He has been doing business in
Cuba since the mid-2000s, shipping beef and dairy cattle from Texas,
Florida and elsewhere (the embargo on agricultural commodities to Cuba
was lifted in 2000). Until Washington and Havana hammer out their
differences, Wright is comfortable conducting his business the Cuban
way. And for Wright, beef is more than just business. Beef is personal.
Yankees, Worms and Trash
"This was my family's land," Wright says, stepping off his minibus and
waving his hand at 15,000 acres of Cuban wilderness. He plucks a Romeo y
Julieta cigar from the breast pocket of his guayabera, lights it and
inhales the smoke. Wright always wears a guayabera when he's in Cuba,
but there's no mistaking him for a local. His 10-gallon Stetson, navy
Brooks Brothers blazer and ruddy complexion give him away. Americans are
a rare sight in Havana, and they are virtually unknown on this stretch
of rural highway in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, some 450 miles
southeast of the capital. Except for Wright, who for the past 17 years
has been a frequent and quizzical sight here.
Through his mother, Wright is a member of the Lykes clan, the
12th-largest landowner in the U.S., according to The Land Report. With a
net worth of $1.2 billion, the Lykes are the 193rd wealthiest family in
the country, according to Forbes. Before the Cuban revolution, his
family owned two cattle ranches in Cuba, plus various properties in
Havana, including the city's largest meat-packing plant. Like many
Americans who lost wealth during the revolution—or, as many Cubans see
it, whose property was returned to its rightful owners—Wright thought
his family's riches were gone. Then, in the late 1990s, he says, he met
a diplomat named Carlos Lechuga, who was Havana's ambassador to the
United Nations during the Cuban missile crisis. "Señor Lechuga suggested
I show more interest in my mother's land," Wright says. Before long,
Lechuga introduced him to Ramón Castro, Fidel's older brother. The two
became "dear friends" and traveled the country together, Wright says.
After Ramón became too old to leave Havana, his son, Ángel, took his
place on Wright's rural sojourns.
On the afternoon that I join Wright on his trip to the countryside,
Ángel comes too. A portly, amiable man in his mid-50s, Angel has short,
gray hair and coke-bottle glasses. Unlike his father and his uncles
Fidel and Raúl, he's clean-shaven. As Wright and I survey the land,
Ángel takes a siesta in the back of the bus.
Outside, butterflies bob in the tall, sun-blanched grass. The flatbed
trucks and horse carts that pass for buses and taxis in this part of the
country intermittently trundle back and forth from nearby towns. Wild
turkeys loiter near a dusty dirt track leading to La Candelaria, one of
the two cattle ranches that used to belong to Wright's family. Once,
seven royal palms grew here, one for each of Wright's
great-great-uncles, who earned the family's fortunes in Cuba. They're
gone now. A tumbledown portcullis, 10 or 12 feet of orange brick, is all
that remains to mark the entrance. "It's a little sad," he says with a
half-smile. "I'm glad they've kept the gate, at least."
A few miles down the road, a suntanned farmer in yellow sweats pulls
aside a razor-wire fence to let us inside. Wright leads me down the dirt
road to the interior of the ranch, seemingly impervious to the heat, the
mud sticking to his shoes or the fat sow that waddles away resentfully
at his approach. Soon we arrive at the old ranch house. There are holes
in the roof. Inside, the floor is a jumble of broken cobblestones.
Shadowed hollows suggest where doors and windows used to hang.
In the 1950s, La Candelaria, which is slightly larger than Manhattan,
was one of Cuba's best ranches, Wright says. It employed a dozen or so
cowboys who tended 7,500 head of cattle, according to an article from
Fortune in 1954. Today, its only permanent tenants are a timorous
herdsman and a few dozen rangy crossbreeds. "For 10 years, I've been
asking the Castros about why these ranches that were so well-run up to
1959 are idle today," Wright says. "The answer's been, 'It's the
blockade. The embargo.' That's a good excuse, but it doesn't cut it."
Wright wants to come back, to restore La Candelaria. But the Cubans have
so far responded tepidly to his requests. While they may need people
like him—people familiar with the culture who have a vested interest in
seeing Cuba return to prosperity—they are also wary of returning
expropriated property. To do so would set a dangerous precedent, one
that might see a flood of Cuban exiles and their descendants returning
to the island, demanding their land back, or, failing that, compensation
for it, which the Cubans can't afford to pay. And fear of the exiles'
homecoming is pervasive on the island, says Michael Kelly, a Cuba policy
expert and associate dean at the Creighton University School of Law.
"That's what the Castro government has been feeding them," he says. The
government cannot be seen to be doing business with the exiles, a group
it has spent decades denouncing as gusanos (worms) and escoria (trash).
Wright is adamant about returning to his family's former plot, even
though it's illegal in the U.S. for citizens to negotiate with the Cuban
government. "If Congress tries to stand in my way, I'll go around them,"
he growls. "If they think they can stop me from living on land that
belongs to me, and they want to throw me in jail, let them try."
And while Wright stands to profit from having his family's land returned
to him, he says money isn't his only—or even primary—motive for wanting
to return to Cuba. His main motivation, he says, is restoring an
industry that can feed the island's 11 million people. That may sound
self-serving, but Wright is already rich, and if he wanted to become
wealthier, there are easier ways to do so than negotiating with
Communist Cuba. "It's criminal," he says. "They're using food as a
weapon of mass destruction."
A Castle of Cuban Capitalism
Whether or not Wright succeeds, there is one place in Cuba, at least,
where beef is not so rare. A morning's drive from La Candelaria is one
of the best cattle ranches in the Western Hemisphere. It is called El
Alcázar, which means "the castle" or "the fortress." It sits cloistered
in the rising limestone foothills of the Sierra Maestra in the country's
southeast. El Alcázar is one of the few cattle ranches not nationalized
during the revolution. While other ranchers saw their land confiscated,
Maria Antonia Puyol Bravo held on to hers. Wright describes her as
Cuba's only card-carrying capitalist.
A diminutive 88-year-old with a crooked smile and mischievous, watchful
eyes, Puyol has run the ranch for most of her life. She never married
and has no children. Wright, Castro and I join her on a warm evening in
June. Her white curls are cropped short and her chestnut skin is creased
after years working in the sun. She wears old Nikes, pearl earrings and
a wooden cross around her neck.
Puyol is wealthy by Cuban standards and makes no effort to hide it. Her
home, a Spanish colonial villa, is ringed with manicured gardens where a
fountain of clay pots feeds a bubbling pool. Flamboyán trees form a
canopy overhead. In the afternoon sunlight, their fallen leaves look
like shriveled tongues of fire.
Dinner that night is plain by American standards but plentiful—platters
of roasted potatoes, corn fritters, plantains, rice and beans, all grown
on Puyol's land. Piles of food arrive on sterling silver trays. As we
eat, the cattle baroness reminisces about the revolution. In 1959, the
Cuban government seized and nationalized estates larger than about 1,000
acres. El Alcázar is about 1,500 acres, yet it survived the revolution
These agrarian reforms were supposed to eliminate the sprawling
plantations that enriched wealthy landowners but left their workers,
mostly seasonal laborers, impoverished. The law succeeded in its goal,
but it had unintended consequences. After their ranches were taken from
them, Cuba's cattle kings mostly chose life in exile. Those tasked with
managing the confiscated estates had neither the experience nor the
Perhaps, as Puyol suggests, the ranch survived because of her: She cites
an exemption to Cuba's agrarian reform laws, which left especially
productive ranches immune to expropriation, but that didn't stop cadres
of government enforcers from confiscating many of them anyway. Puyol
says she fought hard with the authorities to keep El Alcázar. Her close
ties to the Castros probably didn't hurt either.
Puyol grew up in Birán, the Castros' hometown. With fondness, she
recalls a youth spent riding horses and fishing alongside Ramón, Fidel
and Raúl Castro. Even then, she remembers, they seemed preordained to
rule. "Today, they run all of Cuba like they used to run Birán," she
whispers with a smile. Puyol's dogs were gifts from Raúl, she says, as
were her two televisions. She owns four cars, gifts from Fidel, and a
signed copy of The Strategic Counteroffensive in the Sierra Maestra to
Santiago de Cuba, one of his many books. When the revolution came, Fidel
came looking for supplies, Puyol says. She provided them: gasoline,
food, equipment and whatever else they wanted. Even so, not even the
Puyols were left alone entirely. "Many, many ranches were ruined after
the revolution," Puyol says between sips of chilled tamarind juice.
Among them, a 20,000-acre estate seized from her father.
"What happened to it?" I ask.
With a knowing look, she draws her thumb across her throat.
"A shoemaker," she says, "can't run a ranch."
Today, it's 20,000 acres of dirt.
But not El Alcázar. Her land is pristine, quite unlike any I have seen
in Cuba. Her pastures are green, her cattle are healthy and well-fed,
and her workers get to eat beef. Small farms and ranches similar to
Puyol's have sprouted up all over the country since Raúl Castro's wave
of agrarian reforms beginning in 2007. According to one recent paper by
researchers at the University of Havana and the City University of New
York's Lehman College, about 70 percent of the country's arable land is
now in private hands. If Puyol's ranch is any indication, that's a good
trend. And it's a good opportunity for American businesspeople such as
Wright, who are permitted to sell the Cubans agricultural commodities.
Before we leave, she invites us to see her land on horseback. Wright,
Ángel Castro and I follow a cadre of Cuban cowboys and a herd of Puyol's
mares as they bolt out of their corral and up-country. The horses wade
through the Rio Contramaestre, where a pair of young women cavort in the
muddy water. We follow the herd until we reach a hill the Cubans call la
vista. Wright lights another cigar, and we watch the sunset. "Maria
Antonia's ranch is the model," he says, "for the future of Cuban
I hope he's right. It would be a shame to let Gator's seed go to waste.
With Hannah Berkeley Cohen in Havana.
Source: Cows, Capitalism and the Future of Cuba -
http://europe.newsweek.com/cuba-beefing-capitalism-practices-400027 Continue reading
Architectural look at the ongoing work
Seat of government to return to El Capitolio after renovations
Massive renovations to also include Waterfront Promenade
BY MARK TREVOR BURRELL
Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, Havana's city historian, is leading an
architectural renaissance in this former capital of the Western Hemisphere.
Architects and engineers working with Spengler's office and graduates
from Cuba's technical schools have restored hundreds of historic
structures, designed and built new projects, and are now involved with
the largest renovation projects in the island's history: adapting the
waterfront district and restoring monuments and buildings — public and
private — throughout the city.
Their largest project: renovating Cuba's "El Capitolio," once the seat
of the former Congress. The building was abandoned as the symbol of
power after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. While the government
offices have been housed at Revolution Plaza across town since 1960, the
Capitolio remained open to tourists and housed a science library and
Internet café. When the renovation is completed in about two years, the
building will again be the seat of government, according to the project
Gladys Rodriguez Ferrero, who served as director of the national museums
when the immense Capitolio project was announced three years ago, has
been impressed with the renovations.
"What they are doing is magic, and it is real, not virtual magic," she
said recently as she looked down from the cupola or small lantern atop
Performing that magic has been aided by the creation of trade schools
that have graduated a small army of skilled workers. On a recent visit,
carpenters with hand planes, chisels and "old-fashioned" braces and bits
worked on solid wood doors, trim and windows in one large house.
Plasterers were working with fresh, wet plaster and screeds to create
crown moldings and ceiling medallions by hand; masons replaced damaged
travertine edging at a doorway by cutting new travertine to match.
The massive renovations also involve a new Waterfront Promenade. It will
develop several blocks to the east from the Customs Building at the
docks. Because functions that were handled at the old docks have moved
to the new container port in Mariel, the street level walls of the old
Customs house will be open, as they were in 1910, to provide a sea view
and space for office and retail activity. Beyond the Customs house, an
existing structure is being renovated for passenger ferries. Further
down, a craft beer hall is open in a renovated warehouse.
Also renovated has been a prominent house on Fifth Avenue, conspicuous
for its green glazed tile roof. It's now an architecture museum. Plaza
Vieja, a once desolate area of the old city where the buildings were
mostly vacant in the 90s, has also gotten a facelift. The plaza and its
buildings are fully restored. With restaurants and shops, such as a
Benetton store, the plaza is now a major draw for visitors to the old city.
The Capitolio, however, remains the centerpiece of the renovations. It
was constructed between 1926 and 1929 and designed by Cuban architects
Raúl Otero and Eugenio Rayneri Piedra. Sources published in Cuba credit
design influences for the dome to the Pantheon in Paris and to Rome's
St. Peter's for size and form. Although the building's appearance is
similar, but slightly smaller, than the U.S. Capitol, the top of the
Cuban dome is slightly higher.
The Capellanias limestone ashlars on the building's walls were quarried
in Cuba. Sixty different types of marble for flooring, steps and trim
were sourced from Italy and Germany, with some Cuban marble. The
Capitolio houses three large bronze statues by Italian sculptor Angelo
Zanelli of Brescia.
Flanking the entry are the statues "Work" and "Guardian Virtue." The
"Statue of the Republic" inside the building was shipped from Italy in
three pieces. The Republic, a stylized figure inspired by the legend of
Athena, was realized with the help of Cuban model Lily Valty.
Zanelli designed bronze and marble friezes on the building. Three
immense bronze entry doors depicting Cuba's history are the work of
Cuban artist Enrique Garcia Cabrera. The plazas and gardens were
designed by French landscape architect J.C.N. Forestier, designer of the
vast Champ de Mars park beneath the Eiffel Tower.
Most of the Capitolio renovation involves polishing and repair of the
bronze statues, lamps, elevators and doors, utility work, sandblasting
the exterior, interior painting and structural repairs to the cupola.
Work is being done to install new piping for utilities and computer,
security, fire alarm lines, fiber optic lines, new electrical wiring
throughout and air conditioning to office areas.
The government has not released the cost of the project but Spain,
Italy, Germany and Mexico have provided material. Project funding is
The level of authenticity demanded by the City Historian's architects
means that there will be no shortcuts. For example: there will be
air-conditioned office areas in the finished Capitolio, but no window
units. Instead, new air handlers will be concealed in custom cabinets to
match the wood wainscot. Original door locks will be rekeyed by
rebuilding the inner mechanisms of the locks instead of replacing the
original faceplates, a costly and time-consuming process.
The building also serves as a shrine to the poet, freedom fighter, and
national hero, José Martí. There is not a school, major building or a
park in Cuba without a statue or bust of José Marti. In the entry foyer,
his bust appears to await the return of the current government to the
Source: Capitol facelift: Restoring a Cuban landmark | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article39634383.html Continue reading
BY TIM JOHNSON
McClatchy Foreign Staff
Years ago, an extraordinary cow lived in Cuba, and her name was White
Udder. She produced milk like no cow before.
One day in January 1981, farmers coaxed White Udder to the milking stand
three times. By the end of the day, she'd produced 29 gallons of milk.
Comandante Fidel Castro was very, very happy.
The feat earned White Udder a place in the Guinness Book of World
Records for daily milk production. Castro brought a stream of foreign
dignitaries to visit the cow, received daily reports on her condition,
ordered a bovine security detail and demanded that veterinarians look
into cloning her. For Castro, White Udder made manifest the success of
his revolution in Cuban milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream.
Today, an unblinking White Udder dwells in a glass case at the National
Center for Animal and Plant Health, stuffed by the lead taxidermist from
the National Zoo after she was put to sleep in 1985, suffering from skin
Cuba's dairy industry is moribund as well. Dairy cows today on average
produce less than a gallon a day, a fraction of the seven to eight
gallons U.S. dairy cows issue daily, not to mention White Udder's
voluminous service to socialism.
It turns out that the dairy industry is emblematic of Cuba's economic
system – just not in the way Castro so dearly hoped. White Udder, rather
than a harbinger of an ever more productive socialist dairy industry,
was more of a freak of nature, pampered in an air-conditioned enclosure
on the Isle of Pines, music piped into her stall, nourishing a radical
"It wasn't genetic," said Leopoldo Hidalgo Diaz, an official at the
animal and plant health center. "It was an anomaly. It's never been
From the rural cow pasture to an iconic two-story ice cream stand in
central Havana, the subject of dairy is likely to elicit resigned shrugs
Fidel Castro "wanted to have better cheese than the French, better milk
than the Dutch and better chocolate than the Swiss," said Regina Coyula,
a historian. "He said Cuba would make better ice cream than Howard
Johnson's," the now-defunct U.S. chain.
At the Coppelia ice cream parlor, where honored guests would watch in
astonishment decades ago as Fidel Castro occasionally indulged in 18 or
20 scoops of ice cream, or more, only two flavors of ice cream are
available to Cubans now. On a recent day, they were strawberry and
choco-vanilla swirl. A booth for foreigners paying hard currency had two
other flavors, vanilla and plain chocolate.
Only one variety of bland processed cheese is routinely available at
state-run stores or dispensaries.
The son of a dairyman, farmer Brígida Valle Acosta has spent most of his
68 years tending to cows outside of San José de las Lajas in Mayabeque
province southeast of the capital. His only break was to fight with a
Cuban army unit engaged in Angola's civil war in the mid-1970s.
Valle and his son have 15 cows, and each produces about a gallon a day.
Production is low because his cows eat only what they find at pasture.
The state no longer provides balanced fodder or soy feed.
Valle acknowledged that some mornings he wakes up with one thought in
his mind: "This isn't worth the trouble."
"We used to give them soy, wheat and processed corn with additives,"
Valle recalled. The cows would reciprocate with plenty of thick, creamy
Now the inspectors who come around to test his milk say it is low in
density and with substandard fat, giving him barely a third of a Cuban
peso for each of the two liters that by law he must turn over to a state
distributor for each cow he oversees.
The area around his farm is suffering.
"If you went 20 square kilometers around here in the 1980s, each of the
state dairy enterprises was producing a thousand liters a day," Valle
said. "Now, they are producing 100, 200 liters a day."
At the Valle del Peru state farm in another area of Mayabeque, dairyman
Omar Cubero Ferron said a combination of a lack of nourishing feed along
with poor incentives for individual milk producers have brought
At his farm, managers obtain about two pounds of processed feed per cow
per day, he said, meaning that production per cow is nearly two gallons
of milk, still low.
"It all comes down to the feed," he said.
For decades in Cuba, providing fresh milk was a paternalistic pledge of
the state. It wasn't so hard when the Soviet Union subsidized the Cuban
economy, providing raw material, including animal feed. At its height in
1984, the Cuban dairy industry produced an annual peak of 1.1 billion
liters of milk.
But with the 1989 collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe and
the subsequent fall of the Soviet Empire, milk production collapsed. At
its low point in 2004, Cuba produced only 340 million liters of milk.
The island's cattle herd fell from 7 million to 4 million head.
Raúl Castro took the reins from his older brother in 2006, and a year
later he lashed out at the dairy industry for low production, issuing a
promise that each Cuban child under age 7 would receive a glass of fresh
It has been a hard promise to keep. Cuba imports quantities of powdered
milk. By 2014, according to the National Statistics Office, dairy farms
had edged annual production up to 497 million liters.
There's been no other like White Udder, though, and her passing in 1985
was nearly an affair of state. Granma, the party newspaper, ran a full
obituary. A statue was erected at the entrance to the La Victoria farm
in Nuevo Gerona, her hometown on the Isle of Pines.
Last year, Cuban filmmaker Enrique Colina produced a documentary called
"La Vaca del Marmol," or the Marble Cow, in which the story of White
Udder serves as a metaphor for Cuba's failed economic strategies. The
film shows ordinary Cubans recounting their belief that milk production
would rise and rise.
Lines still form every morning outside the retro Coppelia ice cream
parlor, which sits in the center of a block in the Vedado area of the
In one line, Cubans grew visibly uncomfortable when a visitor asked
about the dwindling available flavors. One woman, declining to give her
name, said, "They used to have mango and guava flavors, but I'm talking
about 20 years ago."
"The strawberry ice cream no longer has bits of strawberry in it," she said.
Havana, a city of 3 million, has a burgeoning scene of private
restaurants, part of Cuba's economic opening. Some of the restaurants
offer goat cheeses, parmesan and other artisanal dairy products, all
made on the island. Some of it is quite tasty.
The provenance of the high-quality cheese is both secretive and legally
murky. Word is that some dairymen have started off-the-books production.
That, too, would be consistent with Cuba's economy.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @timjohnson4
Source: Cuba's dairy industry, once touted as a success, is struggling |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article21397392.html Continue reading
Posted on March 22, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 15 March 2015 — The dirty, dilapidated produce market — its
floor covered with red dirt and its shelving rusty — in Cerro's crowded
El Pilar neighborhood is ten minutes by car from the center of Havana.
Sandra, a housewife, has spent two nights in line here waiting for potatoes.
"At three in the afternoon the truck arrived. It took an hour to unload
them and, when they went on sale, the line was a block long. The
commotion was incredible. The police had to come to restore order. There
was a ton of people in line and I ended up not being able to buy
potatoes. The manager and his employees kept a lot of bags for
themselves to sell on the side," Sandra says, who was able to buy twenty
pounds of potatoes two days later after spending another night in line.
Neither American comedian Conan O'Brien's show in Havana nor the selfies
of Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell with the local playboys nor the
predicaments of President Nicolas Maduro have kept the average Cuban
from attending to her pressing daily needs.
Especially when it comes to finding food. With spring upon us, the
potato has returned to the Cuban kitchen. It is a food that has acquired
special status since 1959.
Marta, a retired teacher, has been waiting in line for four hours under
a scorching sun to buy potatoes. "The Cuban diet is very poor so it
helps round things out. You've got rice, sometimes soup, chicken from
time to time, a lot of egg and — most commonly when it comes to meat —
pork. The potato is the perfect filler," she points out. "It stretches
your meals. If you make meat and potatoes or add it to chicken
fricassee, you can feed more people. It adds substance to omelettes. And
if you run out of rice before the end of the month, you can make mashed
potatoes to fill you up," she points out.
Until 2009 potatoes were sold through the ration book, but Fidel Castro
came up with a plan that was supposed to keep produce markets stocked
with potatoes all year long.
Castro ordered the construction of dozens of hub markets with
refrigerators for preservation. He said everyone would be able to buy a
certain quantity of potatoes every month through the ration book.
On November 1, 2009, potatoes and peas went on sale through the book
throughout the island. The potato, a peso a pound. Within three years,
the tuber had become an exotic product.
"You have to wait for the winter and spring harvests to buy potatoes,
which leads to long lines. Or you have to buy them on the black market,
where a three to five pound bag of potatoes costs 25 pesos,"
say Agustín, a laborer.
"I get there, dead tired from work, and have to wait in line all
afternoon in the hot sun or at dawn. I prefer fries but, when I have
potatoes, I don't have the oil to fry them," he laments.
Those who receive remittances or who own private businesses do not have
to wait in line. "For 70 pesos a guy delivers potatoes to my doorstep.
If I had to wait in line, I wouldn't eat them. Luckily, I have a
daughter overseas who sends me money every month. When potatoes
disappear from store shelves, I buy a package of ready-cut frozen
fries," explains Samuel.
Osmelio, the owner of a café offering food and sandwiches in Havana's La
Víbora neighborhood, bought twenty sacks of potatoes at 50 pesos each.
"I'm selling a plate of fries for 15 pesos. After going so long without
potatoes, " he says, "people with the means buy them at any price."
After fifty-six years of military dictatorship, traditional Cuban dishes
have increasingly become distant memories. Beef, shrimp, snapper and
fruits such as anón (sugar-apple) and guanábana (soursop) are now luxury
items in the national diet. The potato is on the waiting list.
Photo: The police monitoring the line to buy potatoes at El Milagro, a
market owned by the Youth Work Army (EJT), located in the Tenth of
October district. Photo by Manuel Guerra Pérez, Cubanet.
Note: In response to the perennial shortage of agricultural products on
an island with good soil and a tropical climate, a friend told me,
"People in Cuba complain about shortages, but it doesn't occur to them
to solve the problem by planting tomatoes or other vegetables, even if
it's in pots and small beds. Or bananas, potatoes and garlic in plastic
buckets like we used to do at home in Havana. I will never forget how a
neighbor mocked my mother, telling her she didn't do this because she
wasn't a peasant. She was not one to stand up to the dictatorship, so
gardening would have helped her to eat."
And he's right. In many countries, some more developed than others,
people yearn for a piece of land to grow vegetables and flowers. Monday
through Friday, I watch a BBC program called Escape to the Country in
which they show three houses in the countryside to city residents of the
UK. In the end, the guests settle on one based upon what they can
afford. Not all of their guests are retirees or people about to retire.
There are young couples who are not only looking for the peace and
beauty of the country, but also want the chance to have a garden,
orchard and even a chicken coop. All this love of nature is being lost
in Cuba, along with jobs for seamstresses, tailors and shoemakers among
others. —Tania Quintero
Translated by W
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Posted on July 6, 2014
The "National Defense Council" is, in exceptional situations, the
highest institution of power. Whenever it meets, it is charged with
internal order, security, foreign policy, military forces, plus all the
economic, legal and social activity of the country.
So it is logical to understand why the luggage of the Cuban leaders are
filled with reserves of Imodium, Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismal and all the
anti-diarrheals in existence, before leaving for the Extraordinary
Summit of the Group of 77 plus China, held in Bolivia, the Army General
Castro Ruz called for a Defense Council his First Vice President and his
Vice Presidents and a select representation of civilian and military.
The topic was the illegal slaughter of cattle that — as argued — is
aggravated in the current socioeconomic circumstances:
recording-breaking in southern Cienfuegos. The Pearl of the South, as
this beautiful city is known, is the province where the highest rate of
cattle theft and slaughter.
The pandemic of killers — as revealed in this important meeting — is
seriously affecting the national economy; it further reduces the almost
non-existent cattle herd and affects the animal heritage of the State
companies, cooperatives and individual producers.
This fact, and other administrative issues that of course are ignored,
were responsible for the insufficient availability of beef cattle for
people's consumption (as if citizens even received beef), with effects
on the food industry, tourism and even light industry because of the
lack of skins for the making of shoes and other leather goods for
export. The words fly, we know that during the important meeting there
was talk about creating rules and measures intended to exercise more
control over the livestock industry, and making new regulations aimed at
exorcising the evil of illegal slaughter.
The Revolution dictates, and the revolutionaries comply with the need to
confront the problem by creating a joint integrated commission for
officials from the Ministries of Justice, Agriculture and the National
Police, with special participation in the issue by the forces and
measures of State Security.
For the first time, to anyone's knowledge, in a government meeting no
one mentions "the Blockade"; I imagine that it's pretty convoluted to
blame the United States for the Cuban amateurs. But the prize for the
day's hero, or the fool of the moment, depending on your point of view,
was won by Gustavo Rodriguez, agricultural engineer and Minister of
The comment is heard among the most select gossip of the Cuban political
They say that in the full meeting, where the job is to obey, the man,
armed with the courage that comes from ingenuity, and not rebellion,
criticized the inefficient of the State and its legal mechanisms. He
said that, "Increasingly severe criminal penalties haven't been able to
stop the crime; we should recognize the farmers' ownership of their
animals and implement other alternatives to address the problem, such as
legalizing and regulating the controlled slaughter of cattle, and
gradually implement it, in an experimental way and with a tax policy and
prices capable of governing the trade in beef."
"El Chino*" got upset and let out a shout that was heard in China;
leaving the only alternative and unanimous proposal to increase
repression, sanctions and the prison population. Oh! And to keep under
observation the opinion offered by the comrade minister.
*Translator's note: "El Chino" (the Chinese man) is reference to Raul
25 June 2014
Source: Cuba: National Security and Defense of Cattle / Juan Juan
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'15 History major
Abstract: The UMAP, las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción,
were forced-work agricultural labor camps operated by the Cuban
government during the mid-1960s in the east-central province of
Camagüey. The current academic literature on the UMAP camps has
exclusively taken into account homosexual internees' experiences and has
characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing. This
paper will argue:
1) the UMAP was an integral component of the Cuban Revolution's larger
economic, social, and political goals,
2) the experiences of the diverse gamut of UMAP internees cannot be
generalized into a single, concentration-camp narrative, and
3) although gay men certainly endured horrific treatment at the camps,
Jehovah's Witnesses were the victims of the worst brutality at the UMAP.
Keywords: Cuba, UMAP, forced labor, gender, race, homosexuality,
The only third-party testimony of the UMAP camps comes from Canadian
journalist Paul Kidd, who was expelled from Cuba on September 8, 1966.1
The Cuban Foreign Ministry alleged that Kidd had written articles
critical of the Cuban Revolution and had taken photos of anti-aircraft
guns visible from his Havana hotel room window.2 Paul Kidd had just
returned from an unauthorized trip to Camagüey, where he "had the unique
experience … of tracking down a forced-labor camp hidden in the lush
sugar fields of central Cuba" (Kidd 1969, 24). What Paul Kidd chanced
upon were the "camps … known simply as UMAP" (24).
For nearly half a century, historians have almost entirely omitted the
UMAP camps from Cuban history while Cuban exiles have denounced the UMAP
as concentration camps.3 The current, scarce literature on the UMAP
camps has exclusively incorporated homosexual internees' experiences and
has characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing.4
This article argues that the UMAP was not a fringe of revolutionary
policy aimed at a sliver of the population, but an integral and
multifaceted component of the Cuban Revolution's economic, social, and
political aspirations. Firstly, the UMAP was a means of repressing
insufficiently revolucionario5 elements of civil society, such as
religious groups and secret societies. Secondly, the UMAP constituted
the extreme fringe of a nuanced spectrum of coerced, unpaid labor that
was central to the Revolution's economic goals. Thirdly, the UMAP sought
to "correct" those who exhibited a revolutionarily improper masculinity
and discriminated against not only homosexuals, but also Afro-Cubans.
Finally, while gay men certainly endured horrific treatment at the
camps, history ought to remember Jehovah's Witnesses as the victims of
the worst brutality at the UMAP camps. At the same time, however, the
experiences of the diverse gamut of UMAP internees – ranging from
Catholic priests to los hippies, as well as artists and intellectuals –
cannot be generalized into a single, concentration-camp narrative.
Instead, the UMAP camps performed many different functions and held many
different meanings. Because a topic of this nature is nearly impossible
to study in Cuba, the arguments put forth in this article draw upon
sources such as Cuban newspapers, memoirs of the camps, and interviews
with former internees.
The UMAP, las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, were
agricultural forced-work camps operated by the Cuban government between
November 1965 and July 1968 in the east-central province of Camagüey.6
Two years before the first internees were sent to UMAP camps, the Cuban
government published Law 1129, which established a three-year SMO –
Servicio Militar Obligatorio (Obligatory Military Service).7 Under the
pretense of the SMO, those considered unfit for the regular military
service were sent to the UMAP camps. Two former Cuban intelligence
agents have both estimated that of approximately 35,000 UMAP internees,8
about 500 ended up in psychiatric wards, 70 died from torture, and 180
committed suicide (Fuentes 300–3; Vivés 238). The persons most
frequently interned at the camps were religiosos (religious zealots) and
gay men.9 The large swath of internees included Jehovah's Witnesses (Ros
191), Seventh Day Adventists (Blanco 73), Catholics (Cardenal 293),
Baptists (Muñoz; Blanco 73), Methodists (Yglesias 295), Pentecostals
(Blanco 87), Episcopalians (Blanco 73), practitioners of Santería
(Santiago), Abakuá members (Santiago; Izquierdo; Llovio 151; Cabrera
164), Gideon members ("Unidades," 8), those suspected of intending to
flee the country (Cabrera 12; Blanco 34, 67; Ros 47), priests (Ros 62),
artists (Guerra 2010, 268), intellectuals (Guerra 2010, 268),
ideologically nonconforming university students (Blanco 66; Ros 122),
lesbians (Guerra 2012, 254), los hippies (Improper Conduct; Cabrera 55),
marihuaneros (potheads) (Muñoz), drug addicts (Yglesias 299), political
prisoners (Santiago), government officials accused of corruption (Llovio
160), criminals (Ros 152; Former), prostitutes (Guerra 2012, 254;
Garinger 7; Martínez 70–71), pimps (Yglesias 299), farmers who refused
collectivization (Fuentes 300–3), persons who worked for themselves
illegally (Fuentes 300–3), vagos (deadbeats) (Blanco 2013), and anyone
else considered "anti-social" or "counter-revolutionary." With no single
group forming the majority, the term "UMAP internee" represents a
decidedly plural collective.
The UMAP was no state secret. In a roaring March 1966 speech delivered
on the escalinata (large stairway) of the University of Havana, Fidel
Castro remarked "some have to go to the SMO; some have to go to la UMAP,
Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción" (Castro 1966). In 1966 and
1967, at least a dozen different articles in the Cuban press referenced
the UMAP camps, complete with photos of lush sugarcane fields and
interviews with cheerful internees.10
The two main recogidas (round-ups) of UMAP internees occurred in
November 1965 and June 1966 (Ros 146, 151). The Comités de Defensa de la
Revolución (CDR) – a nationwide government organization located on every
block – was mainly responsible for informing the military who were
destined for the UMAP camps (Yglesias 27, 275; Blanco 72; Lumsden 67;
Santiago). Most individuals were taken to the camps through a false
notice to appear for military service (Santiago; Ros 52, 79, 94, 101,
141). Individuals would receive a telegram with a notice to appear for
SMO at locations such as sports stadiums (Ros 37, 73; Cabrera 37).
Instead of being transferred to an SMO military camp, these individuals
were transported by train, truck, or bus to UMAP agricultural
forced-work camps in Camagüey (Ros 15). Conditions on the eight-hour
trip across the island were often very poor, with many internees
deprived of clean water and food (Cabrera 45; Ros 72–75). Often provided
no stops and no facilities on the ride, they had to relieve themselves
within the passenger compartment of the train or bus (Cabrera 45;
Santiago; Ros 72–75; Improper Conduct). Alternatively, instead of
receiving a false SMO notice, many individuals were directly rounded up
off the streets into buses and shipped to UMAP camps (Improper Conduct;
Martínez 66; Llovio 156). This selection method was reserved for gay men
and antisociales (anti-socials) such as los hippies. Former UMAP
internee and Ministerio del Interior (MININT) informer José Luis
Llovio-Menéndez wrote in his memoir that "MININT officers would patrol
known homosexual gathering places … they rounded up anyone who looked
like a homosexual and shipped these people off to UMAP" (156). According
to Cuban propaganda at the time, homosexuality looked like tight pants,
dark sunglasses, and sandals.11
Each UMAP camp typically held 120 men12 split into three compañías
(companies) of 40 internees further divided into squads of 10 (Ros
34).The number of internees could vary considerably, however, and some
camps held several hundred internees (Cabrera 245; Former). A typical
camp was a few hundred meters long and about one hundred fifty meters
wide and had three barracks, two for internees and one for military
personnel (Former; Sanger; Muñoz). The camps were surrounded by a 10
feet tall barbed-wire fence and had no running water or electricity
(Cardenal 294; Cabrera 54; Blanco 47; Ros 10; Muñoz; Sanger). Camp
brigades were given revolucionario names such as "Vietnam Heroico,"
"Mártires de Girón," and "Héroes del Granma."13 Most camps had bunk beds
with jute sacks slung between wooden beams for mattresses (Kidd 1969,
25; Cabrera 50; Former). Some camps had hammocks (Cabrera 53) or no beds
at all (Ros 84) and a few provided actual mattresses (Cabrera 167). The
UMAP uniform consisted of verde olivo (olive green) or dark blue pants,
a long-sleeve light blue denim shirt, and military boots (Ros 95;
Yglesias 278; Cabrera 53; Blanco 47; Llovio 147; Muñoz). As each camp
held roughly one hundred individuals and there were tens of thousands of
internees, hundreds of UMAP camps were scattered throughout Camagüey
(Kidd 1969, 24).
The internees were often divided by category (Jehovah's Witnesses, gay
men, Catholics, etc.) en route to the camps (Ros 24, 55). Each internee
was called by a number which was assigned to them upon arriving at the
camps (Santiago; Cabrera 61; Muñoz). In general, there were two types of
camps: camps only for gay men and camps for everyone else (Ros 55, 87;
Former; Llovio 156). Even while gay men were temporarily stationed at
the camps for general internees, they were sometimes assigned to a
separate platoon for homosexuals (Cabrera 58; Viera). To transfer
internees to camps for homosexuals, the guards would call the entire
camp to assemble and publicly select those who would be transferred (Ros
176). That the military actively segregated gay men not only from
society but also from within the camps demonstrates just how preoccupied
the government was with curbing the "diffusion" of homosexuality.
Internees performed a variety of agricultural tasks, ranging from
picking boniato (sweet potato), yucca, and fruit to tearing down
marabú,14 applying fertilizer, and weeding. Nonetheless, internees were
primarily engaged in planting and harvesting sugar cane (Ros 131–32;
Blanco 100; Bejel 100). Both SMO recruits and UMAP internees received an
equally meager salary: seven pesos a month – exactly one-tenth of the
state's monthly minimum wage in agriculture at the time (Ros 31;
Mesa-Lago 1981, 147; Kidd 1969, 24). Internees worked Monday through
Saturday and sometimes had to perform what was called trabajo voluntario
(volunteer work) on Sundays, which consisted of more agricultural labor,
but without any production quotas (Former; Blanco 100–101). Otherwise,
Sundays were spent resting and doing activities such as washing clothes
and writing letters to family members (Blanco 100, 104). The camp
político15 gave internees daily talks about current events and communist
ideology, with longer sessions on Sundays (Kidd 1969, 24; Blanco 53;
Former). Certain internees were released early in 1967 while others
stayed longer, but in general they were held at the camps for about
two-and-a-half years, i.e., until the dissolution of the camps in 1968
(Llovio 172–3; Yglesias 294; Former; Ronet 55).
The most vital function of the UMAP camps was not killing or torturing
civilians, but exploiting the labor of Cuba's supposed degenerates. The
experiences and conditions in the UMAP varied widely, but the one
constant among all the testimony is the inhumane number of hours these
internees were forced to work. One internee recalled that each worker's
daily quota for cutting sugar cane ranged between 18 and 24 cordeles
lineales, which is between 366 meters and 488 meters of cane.16 On
average, internees worked about 60 hours a week, but some internees have
reported working even more, at 12 hours a day, six days a week (Blanco
100; Cardenal 294; Kidd 1969, 24): "during the zafra [sugar harvest], we
would get up earlier, sometimes at four … we worked nonstop until lunch
… a few minutes of rest and we returned to cutting sugar cane until
dusk" (Muñoz). Llovio-Menéndez wrote that the work schedule at one camp
during the zafra began at 4:30 AM and ended at 7:00 PM with one 15
minute break at 10:00 AM and two hours allotted for lunch (147). Working
hours were longest during the zafra, which typically lasted from January
to April, but due to labor shortages in the 1960s was lengthened from
November to June (Pérez 236). For essentially half of the year, UMAP
internees were forced to cut sugar cane from sunrise to sunset six days
Certain internees were granted passes to leave the camps for lengths of
time ranging from one afternoon up to ten days (Cabrera 153–55, 176,
179, 203; Muñoz; Viera). Typically, they were only permitted to visit a
neighboring town or village, but sometimes they could go as far as
Havana. Internees were also given a week to spend with their families
for Christmas vacation and the New Year (Cabrera 228; Blanco 123;
"Vacaciones," 1966). For all of these trips, internees had to pay for
their own transportation (Blanco 124). Internees could also write and
receive letters and even receive packages, but all correspondence was
censored (Santiago; Cabrera 87–88). After three to six months in the
camps, internees were usually allowed to receive visits by family
members on one designated Sunday out of the month (Sanger; Blanco 91,
108; Former; Kidd 1969, 24). Family visits were supervised and internees
could not exchange uninspected documents with family members, but they
were allowed to bring internees items such as cigarettes or food (Kidd
1969, 24; Cabrera 112). Family visits were held at an off-site location
where family members were allowed to take photos with the internees
(Blanco 109; Muñoz). To maintain the illusion that the UMAP camps were
part of the standard SMO, the recruits wore a special uniform and
marched in unison for family visits (Cabrera 109; Muñoz). Besides family
visits, Catholic priests and Catholic youth occasionally visited
internees and even administered the Eucharist (Cabrera 136–37; Ros 185).
These visitation privileges demonstrate how the conditions at the UMAP
differed in some measure from what one would typically expect at
Many internees have reported that the quality and quantity of food in
the camps was very poor. One internee, who claimed to have gone from 170
to 120 pounds by his first family visit, remembered that at his camp
they ate stray cats, hens, and snakes they captured while working in the
fields (Blanco 108, 134). To the contrary, one former UMAP internee
claimed that "there was enough food … we ate lots of canned meat,
sardines, condensed milk; there was milk, rice, beans, there was plenty"
(Former). Although internees generally were not starved, internees did
not receive food if they had not completed their production quota for
the day (Former; Blanco 57). One reason for the scarcity of food was
that military officials would hoard foodstuffs for their personal use or
sell them to guajiros (people from the countryside) (Ros 166–68; Blanco
83). Water deprivation was another form of mistreatment (Blanco 55).
Former internee René Cabrera wrote in his memoir that at one camp they
were allotted just three glasses of water a day while they spent all day
outside in the sun cutting sugar cane (138). As a result, internees had
to drink contaminated water they found accumulated in the fields
(Cabrera 144; Blanco 55). Internees were granted access to medical
treatment and when necessary were transferred to military hospitals for
illness. Still, the denial of treatment by arbitrary camp guards
resulted in the deaths of some internees (Blanco 70–72, 115–22; Ros 179–84).
There are many reports of physical abuse at the camps, especially
directed towards testigos de Jehová (Jehovah's Witnesses). Former
internees have reported Jehovah's Witnesses being beaten, threatened
with execution, stuffed with dirt in their mouths, buried in the ground
up to their necks, deprived of food or water, forced to stand in
latrines with waste water, and tied up naked outside in barbed wire
without food or water until fainting (Ros 80, 101, 112, 193; Cabrera 63,
71, 197; Former). Llovio, who was sent to the UMAP camps for over a year
from early 1966 to June 1967 for accusations of corruption and later
became a camp doctor, witnessed first-hand the physical abuse some
internees received (Llovio 159, 160, 167). At one camp, Llovio saw a
young Jehovah's Witness hung by his hands from the top of a flagpole.
Llovio lowered the man and treated his hands, which he described as "raw
and bloody … numb and purplish" (153–54). For one afternoon, Llovio was
sent to provide medical care to the Malesar unit, a camp for
homosexuals. There, Llovio described the physical condition of the
internees as "deplorable" (157). As a doctor, he treated patients whose
bodies were covered with insect bites and others who had bruises left
over from beatings. The internees Llovio treated at the homosexual camp
told him that many of their privileges, such as receiving visitors and
mail, would be arbitrarily suspended. In addition, the camp guards
practiced a wide range of abuses: forcing internees to work past sunset,
sending ill internees to work, regularly beating internees while
working, forcing internees to stand at attention all day in the sun, and
making internees stand naked in ditches of camp sewage (Llovio 157,
158). Many camps even had designated punishment cells (Improper Conduct;
Viera; Santiago). For a respite from the camps, many internees mutilated
themselves so they could be transferred to a hospital (Ros 205–8;
Cabrera 192; Blanco 57–58). There also exist accounts of suicide at the
camps. A Catholic internee reported that he saw a gay man hang himself
in the UMAP camps (Cardenal 293). Former internee José Blanco, who was
transferred from the regular SMO to the UMAP for admitting that he
considered the possibility of emigrating from Cuba, also recalled cases
of internees committing suicide in camps not for homosexuals (34, 139).
Former internees have generally described the camp guards as arbitrary,
abusive, and incompetent, but there were exceptions (Former; Blanco 52;
Cabrera 141, 157). One former internee recalled Lieutenant Falcón, who
had been transferred to the UMAP camps after a dispute with a superior,
as a man who was "competent" and "respected everyone and was respected
by everyone" (Ros 88). René Cabrera developed a friendship with one
guard, who asked Cabrera to teach him how to read and even confessed
that he was ashamed of the abuses at the camps (Cabrera 185, 210). As
former internee Alberto Muñoz explained:
Of the officials … there were all types of persons. Some treated us with
respect and consideration. Others certainly admired us and did not fail
to show it. With many of them, we gained friendship. In many
circumstances we had officials who helped us and avoided committing
injustices … but there were also others who acted without the least bit
of sensitivity, making it difficult for us to find any human feelings in
With hundreds of different camps scattered throughout Camagüey,
conditions could range significantly in terms of the quality of food,
beds, and the abusiveness of the guards (Cabrera 167, 169). Conditions
in the camps also changed over time. Several internees have reported
that the quality of the camp food improved and the height of the
barbed-wire fences was substantially reduced after mid-1966 (Cabrera
167, 169; Viera; Blanco 2013; Muñoz).
If former Cuban intelligence agents' statistics are correct,
approximately 0.75 percent of internees died as a result of the
conditions they endured in the camps. This would mean that there was
roughly one death or suicide at each UMAP camp during a course of
two-and-a-half years. Although the conditions at the UMAP were brutally
inhumane, these figures also reveal that life-threatening torture was
not systematically practiced at the camps. The UMAP camps were a huge
tragedy, but they were not quite "Cuba's concentration camps." Sadly,
Cuba already experienced this phenomenon during the Cuban War of
Independence in 1896 when the Spanish government gathered about half a
million civilians into camps called reconcentrados. As a result of the
insurgents and counterinsurgents' mutual strategies of pillage and
destruction, approximately 10 percent of Cuba's entire population
perished in the makeshift reconcentrados (Tone 192–224). Unlike their
nineteenth-century forebears, however, UMAP internees were not literally
left to die. The most vital function of the UMAP camps was not to kill
civilians, but to exploit the labor of Cuba's lacra social (scum of
society) – without any concern for what the human cost might be.
Labor, Economics, and Sugar
In revolutionary 1960s Cuba, there existed a wide spectrum of unpaid
labor funneled toward the state ranging from trabajo voluntario to
coerced labor by political prisoners. Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago
divides state-sponsored unpaid labor in Cuba into five categories:
overtime in the workplace, work through the Federación de Mujeres
Cubanas (FMC), socialist education in the escuelas de campo17 and the
university, SMO, and "rehabilitative work" performed by political
prisoners (Mesa-Lago 1969, 340). The UMAP camps lie somewhere on the
extreme fringe of this spectrum of coerced, unpaid labor.
The UMAP camps were indeed forced-work camps, but to properly
contextualize the UMAP camps it must be emphasized that state-sponsored
unpaid labor was not the exception but the norm in 1960s Cuba. In 1967,
state-sponsored unpaid labor constituted between 8 to 12 percent of the
labor force and between 1962 and 1967 totaled approximately 1.4 percent
of the national income (Mesa-Lago 1969, 354–55). During these years,
approximately one-third of state-sponsored unpaid labor in Cuba was
coordinated through the workplace, 45 percent through the military, 10
percent through students, 10 percent through the penitentiary system,
and about 2 percent through the FMC (340, 354–55). As early as 1960, the
government "reeducated" un-revolutionary Cubans at a work camp in
Guanahacabibes.18 Revolutionary theory, meanwhile, both elevated the
value of labor and laid down the ideological justifications for Cuba's
new labor regime.19
During the years of the UMAP, trabajo voluntario was widely employed in
the sugar harvests. According to government publications, over 57,000
unpaid workers participated in the 1965 zafra and over 71,000 in the
1966 zafra (Mesa-Lago 1969, 346). The source does not specify whether
this figure included UMAP internees, but since internees received a
monthly salary the figure most likely only referred to "volunteers." For
the 1967 zafra, a third of these "volunteers" were recruited from the
services sector and another third from the construction sector, two
industries which at the time were overemploying migrants from el
interior (inland Cuba) (346). The use of trabajo voluntario to offset
economic imbalances in the labor market reveals how revolutionary
economic policies had both ushered in new opportunities for campesinos
(people from the countryside) and resulted in acute agricultural labor
shortages. For the 1963 zafra, the Comisión Nacional Azucarera estimated
that 352,000 cane cutters were needed, but only 260,000 were available
(Pérez 59). The number of professional sugarcane cutters declined from
370,000 in 1958 to just 160,000 in 1964 – a decline of over 60 percent
(59). "How should this problem be solved?" asked one UMAP article from
the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR) publication Verde Olivo in
reference to Camagüey's acute zafra labor shortages ("¿Qué es la UMAP?"
1967). The government's answer to this daunting economic challenge was
A range of structural changes in the Cuban economy contributed to Cuba's
severe agricultural labor shortage. During the 1960s, the labor force
participation rate actually declined because of the emigration of
working-age Cubans, higher school enrollment rates, and liberalized
retirement laws (Mesa-Lago 1981, 188). In addition, Cuba was witnessing
an internal migration from el interior to urban centers. Havana's
population grew 4.4 percent annually in 1960 and 1961, and 2.1 percent
in 1964 (128). Migrants from el interior found jobs in the army, state
security, police, mass state organizations, and bureaucracy (125). These
new urban residents filled the some 400,000 jobs which were added in the
services sector – mostly in the army and social-services administration
– between 1958 and 1964 (114). Agricultural workers who previously faced
seasonal unemployment due to the economic swings of the zafra now found
stable, yearlong employment through state farms and a guaranteed minimum
wage (125). Seasonal unemployment in agriculture had been virtually
eliminated by rural migration, guaranteed jobs, and overstaffing in
state farms (189). Accompanying these sweeping economic reforms was
lower productivity. A survey of 136 state farms in 1963 found that
employees worked 4.5 to 5 hours a day on average, but still received pay
for 8 hours (125). Lower productivity meant that yet more people had to
be hired to achieve production goals, thereby worsening the labor
shortage even more in a vicious, compounding cycle. Mesa-Lago estimates
that the overall productivity of the agricultural sector in 1965 was
just 78 percent of 1962 productivity levels. By 1965, the productivity
of the industrial sector had declined almost 10 percent since 1962
(134). To make matters worse, Cuba was also witnessing alarming rates of
worker absenteeism (47–49, 157).
Internal migration, overemployment in the urban job market, newfound
economic security for farmers, lower productivity and worker absenteeism
– all of these interlocking factors compounded into a severe shortage of
labor in agriculture. Absent the societal structures of slavery or
capitalism harnessing and exploiting individuals, apparently no one
wanted to cut sugar cane. In turn, the state took on the role of
coercing its citizens to perform labor through the mobilization of
"volunteers," soldiers, and political prisoners. The astounding
inefficiency of trabajo voluntario, however, meant that it could not
resolve Cuba's economic woes. For the 1964 coffee harvest, university
student volunteers picked coffee one-fifth as efficiently as salaried
workers (Mesa-Lago 1969, 351). In the 1962–1965 sugar harvests, unpaid
workers cut less than one ton of sugar cane per day while skilled
workers chopped down two to three times that amount (351). Consequently,
the production efficiency of the 1967 sugar harvest was a staggering 22
percent below that of the 1957 harvest (351).
As a result, the Revolution's economic policies were taking a serious
hit on the island's most lucrative resource: sugar. Paramount to Cuba's
entire history, sugar also played a leading role in the history of the
UMAP. When the Revolution's lavish industrialization plans and efforts
to diversify agriculture failed to materialize, Cuba's leaders turned to
sugar to move the country forward (Pérez 12–13). In 1963, the Cuban
government developed the Prospective Sugar Industry Plan, which between
1965 and 1970 would implement a series of aggressive development
policies: increasing land dedicated to sugarcane cultivation by 50
percent, planting higher-yield varieties of sugar cane, and setting a
production target of 10 million tons of sugar by 1970 (12–13). The
increased income from sugar sales would help Cuba pay off debts to the
Soviet Union and buy the capital goods needed for industrialization
(12–13). Essential to the success of this plan was economic cooperation
with the Soviet Union. In January 1964, Fidel Castro traveled to Moscow,
where he signed a sugar trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Cuba was
to deliver 24 million tons of sugar between 1965 and 1970 at a price of
6.114 cents per pound – well above world market prices during the late
1960s (Pérez 140, 143; Brunner 55). The income gained from record sugar
harvests and guaranteed prices would finance massive, state-sponsored
industrialization that would fuel the economic growth which would
finally land Cuba into communist paradise (Pérez 12–13). The only thing
standing between Cuba's ambitions and the Prospective Sugar Industry
Plan was a labor force to actually cut the cane. The UMAP was that key
stepping stone to the prosperous communist future which Cuba's leaders
Throughout the early 1960s, the Cuban Revolution had been fighting to
secure its existence, dealing with the threat of a US invasion and
suppressing thousands of armed counterrevolutionaries in rural Cuba
(Domínguez 1978, 345–46). By 1965, after having finally secured the
Revolution and holding well over 20,000 political prisoners, the state
now proceeded to neutralize those considered potential long-term threats
(253–54). Although technically part of the military, the UMAP was not
designed to tranquilize external, violent enemies but internal, latent
threats: namely, homosexuals and members of civil society whose
loyalties were not wholly dedicated to the Revolution. Unique in that it
targeted not Cubans actively against the regime but Cubans deemed
insufficiently revolucionario, the UMAP camps were the pinnacle of
revolutionary Cuba's repressive, authoritarian policies.
Internees were not sent to the UMAP only because they were religiosos or
homosexuals. There existed gay Cuban men whose sexuality was an open
secret but were never sent to the camps.20 A Cuban was interned at the
UMAP because they were not adequately integrated into the Revolution and
their membership in a particular social category was enough to render
them contrarrevolucionario (counter-revolutionary) and thereby justify
their internment. The UMAP was as much about political repression as it
was about bigotry.
Achieving security, however, meant paying for a massive, costly
military. In 1963, there were 300,000 soldiers in the military – 10
times as many as in 1958 – and military expenditures accounted for 6.5
percent of the national income (Domínguez 1976, 322). After the
campesino uprisings were finally extinguished in 1965, the military
sought to find economic relevance and professionalize its forces, many
of which were inexperienced or not formally trained (324). There was no
role for the many uneducated or illiterate veterans in the plans for a
modern army. Instead, many of these officers were transferred to the
UMAP camps as a sort of demotion (Llovio 143). As a result, many of the
military personnel assigned to the UMAP camps were illiterate or
functionally illiterate veterans of the 1959 Revolution (Ros 45–46;
Domínguez 1976, 324; Yglesias 280). As a March 1966 article from Verde
Olivo entitled "¿Qué es la UMAP?" explained, the personnel at the camps
were "old members of the Rebel Army" of "intermediate level" and "almost
all of peasant background," which prepared them for "the difficulties
and characteristics of agricultural work." The labor harvested through
the SMO would also reduce the economic burden of the military. Promoting
the three-year SMO, Raúl Castro elaborated on the military's economic
mission in a 1963 government meeting, "If we only want an army, we can
have [the draftees] for two years … [but] because the armed forces
should help in the nation's economy … [we intend to make] the burden of
military expenditures on our people a bit lighter … we must work as part
of our service, especially in the sugar harvest" (Domínguez 1976, 324).
By neutralizing perceived potential contrarrevolucionarios, creating a
dumping ground for FAR personnel who did not meet the standards of the
modernizing military, and contributing to agricultural production and
thereby reducing the economic costs of the ballooning military, the UMAP
camps simultaneously helped accomplish three distinct goals all
essential to the military's transition to a professionalized, newly
relevant institution. In this respect, the UMAP was a highly strategic
move by the Cuban military.
Testigos de Jehová
Those interned on grounds of their religious activity probably made up
the largest proportion of UMAP internees, and of them, Jehovah's
Witnesses were the most severely abused.21 Young, active Catholics were
frequently sent to the UMAP camps and their experiences are very well
represented in the body of published testimony. However, Catholics
comprised just a small fraction of UMAP internees. One Catholic former
internee estimated that just 2,000 Catholics were interned out of a
total of 35,000 internees – just over 5 percent (Cardenal 293).
Protestant religions and sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses22 were viewed
as especially counter-revolutionary because of their historical and
allegedly treasonous connections with the norteamericanos (North
Americans, esp. from the United States). On March 13, 1963, in front of
the University of Havana, Fidel Castro gave a speech where he condemned
the "pseudo-religiosos" whom he called batiblancos: "there are three
principal sects, which are instruments of today's imperialism, they are:
Jehovah's Witnesses, Gideons International, and Pentecostals."23 Later
in the speech, he claimed that "these sects … are directly headed by the
United States … and they are used as agents of the CIA, State
Department, and Yankee policy" (Castro 1963). Since many Protestant
religions in Cuba originated from the United States and many still had
ties with the US, these sects were perceived as un-Cuban and potentially
contrarrevolucionario (Rosado 88, 93, 95, 134–35, 145). In addition, the
resolutely apolitical stance of Jehovah's Witnesses, which motivates
their resistance to practices ranging from saluting the flag to
fulfilling draft requirements, rendered them the pariah of the
boisterously patriotic and authoritarian Cuban Revolution (Yero 24).
When resistance met resistance at the camps, some of the very worst
In 1938, there were only about one hundred Jehovah's Witnesses in Cuba.
By 1947, that number had grown to 4,000 and by 1965 there were nearly
20,000 – making them one of the largest organized religions on the
island (Aguirre and Alston 171; Rosado 194). In 1962, the Ministry of
Communication banned the import of Jehovah's Witness religious
literature and prohibited Jehovah's Witnesses from using mail for
distributing religious materials (Aguirre and Alston 190). In 1963,
foreign Jehovah's Witnesses were expelled from Cuba, just one year after
over one hundred Catholic priests had been banished from the island
(Aguirre and Alston 190; Treto 45). That same year, hundreds of
Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested for assembling without having obtained
a permit from their CDR and hundreds more on account of their
proselytizing activities (Calzon 14; Aguirre and Alston 191). In Pinar
del Río, nearly every Kingdom Hall was shut down and its property
confiscated (Aguirre and Alston 191). In the late 1960s, when there were
incidents of Kingdom Halls and other meeting places being attacked by
mobs with stone, brick, and iron, the government refused to prosecute
the perpetrators (Calzon 14). Numerous propaganda pieces produced by
Granma (Cuba's state newspaper) and Verde Olivo between 1965 and 1968
stressed the presence of Jehovah's Witnesses at the UMAP camps, complete
with photos and personal interviews.24 Conversely, of the 11 Verde Olivo
and Granma articles which reference the UMAP camps, not a single one
mentions homosexuals. Since the purpose of the propaganda was to combat
the camps' poor reputation, representations of gays had to be excluded.
There does not exist any testimony from testigos in the UMAP camps; all
information about their experiences comes from the eyewitness testimony
of other internees. This is not because these former testigo internees
are unknown or have all passed away. Rather, testigos de Jehová have
been extremely hesitant to share their experiences with those who will
publish their testimony. The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly,
upon religious principles Jehovah's Witnesses tend to shy away from
anything that even remotely relates to government or politics. Secondly,
because conditions for Jehovah's Witnesses in Cuba have begun to improve
over the past two decades, testigos in the Cuban-exile community do not
wish to publicize any criticisms of the Cuban government which may put
these meager religious liberties at risk.25 Finally, the highly
traumatic experiences of many testigos make it emotionally challenging
for these former internees to open up to outsiders. Jehovah's Witnesses
were by far the most abused at the camps (Viera). As former internee
Héctor Santiago, who was sent to camps for gay men, emphasized:
With us, they were terrible, but let me tell you the truth, they treat
you like a lady compared to the testigos de Jehová. Oh my god, they
really, really were terrible with them, terrible. The things that they
did to them … horrible, horrible.
Former internee René Cabrera, who was interned for his Catholic
activities, corroborated in his memoir, "The Jehovah's Witnesses, as
always, were the principal victims of the government's intention of
those crimes" (97).
Testigos de Jehová were not permitted to receive family visits, were not
granted passes to leave the camps, and did not receive packages or
letters (Cabrera 88, 113; Muñoz). In one instance, a camp guard did not
allow a testigo to see his mother who had come to visit him because he
refused to put on the verde olivo pants which had to be worn for family
visits (Muñoz). When first transferred to the camps, many Jehovah's
Witnesses refused to participate in any camp activities and many refused
to even wear the camp uniform (Former; Cabrera 59; Muñoz; Blanco 86).
Testigos faced severe punishments for their non-participation, such as
beatings, being buried in the ground up to their necks, or being forced
to stand outside for hours until fainting (Blanco 86; Ros 101, 112, 194;
Cabrera 59–60). However, most Jehovah's Witnesses began to participate
in camp activities and work after the great deal of coercion they faced
(Cabrera 74). Less strict guards did not force testigos to wear the UMAP
Jehovah's Witnesses experienced a variety of tortures in the UMAP camps.
In addition to the practices explained earlier, at some camps a guard
would take individual Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to wear the UMAP
uniform out into the fields and fire a pistol, pretending to shoot them
while the others were still in earshot. After faking this execution, the
guard would return to the camp and select another Jehovah's Witness who
refused to put on the uniform. Former internee José Blanco wrote in his
memoir that he did not see even one testigo concede to wear the uniform
in the face of these simulated executions (87). Another common
punishment was forcing testigos to stand in latrines filled with
excrement up to the waist or chest (Blanco 86; Former). At some camps,
guards forced Jehovah's Witnesses to scoop the sewage from camp ditches
with their bare hands (Blanco 86).
The Cuban government justifies its persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses by
claiming that the sect was part of a scheme orchestrated by the CIA. For
example, in January 1963, the Cuban government released a statement
announcing that it had sabotaged a CIA spy network based in Oriente
province, where they claimed to have found "a large quantity of buried
weapons … 36,000 Cuban pesos and some Jehovah's Witnesses' prayer books"
("Broke CIA Spy Ring," 1963). In a 1985 interview, Fidel Castro remarked
that "Jehovah's Witnesses cause problems everywhere … we were highly
sensitive. Threatened by the United States, we needed to apply a strong
defense policy – and we found ourselves faced with a doctrine that
opposed conscription. We didn't have any trouble over beliefs; rather,
all our problems were over ideas – and you don't know whether they're
religious or political" (Borge 186–87).
Seventh Day Adventists
Seventh Day Adventists had a unique relationship with the Revolution and
represent a very different relationship with the UMAP than other
religious minorities. In 1956, there were nearly 5,000 Seventh Day
Adventists in Cuba, with more than half located on the more rural,
eastern end of the island. Oriente, the province where Castro began his
uprising, was also the province with the most Seventh Day Adventists
(Rosado 169). In Oriente, one family of Adventists gave food and shelter
to a band of revolutionaries who were fighting dictator Fulgencio
Batista. Seeing that one of the men had no shirt because he had used it
as a bandage to protect a wound, the father of the household, Argelio
Rosabal, gave the revolutionary his only shirt. That wounded
revolutionary – Ernesto "Che" Guevara – was so moved by the man's
generosity that Che promised them the construction of a chapel in the
future (which was indeed constructed) (172–74).
In December of 1958, Antillian College, a school ran by Seventh Day
Adventists, fed and took care of wounded soldiers who were fighting in
the Sierra Maestra (172–74). When the first draft for the SMO was
enacted, 70 of the 110 eligible students at Antillian College were
drafted. After asking the government to release some of their students
so that the school could function, the majority of the recruited
Adventists returned to school. Still, the SMO was problematic for
Seventh Day Adventists because it did not make a distinction between
combatants and non-combatants (203). In response, the Seventh Day
Adventist Church created a commission to write a memorandum asking the
government to exempt the remaining 12 Adventists who had been called for
SMO. The memorandum explained the distinction between serving combatant
vs. non-combatant roles, Adventists' unique Sabbath observance, and
their loyalty to the government. The commission chose four pastors to
deliver the memorandum along with one lay member, Argelio Rosabal – the
same man who had sacrificed his only shirt to Che Guevara in the Sierra
Maestra. Rosabal personally delivered the memorandum to Che, who on
October 28, 1963, sent a letter enclosed with said memorandum to the
head of the Agrarian Reform program, Carlos Rodríguez. In the letter,
Che wrote, "[Argelio Rosabal] is the Adventist I spoke to you about …
you will know how to evade the law, or how to divert my attention"
(203–5). Che Guevara interceded on behalf of his Adventist friend,
Rosabal, for an exception to be created in the SMO for this sect.
Later, it ended up that Adventists would be sent to the UMAP camps, but
sociologist Caleb Rosado stresses that they were sent to the UMAP
"simply … because [they] refused to bear arms [and] there was no other
place to locate them" and not because they were considered lacra social,
as the government regarded other UMAP internees (205–6). Indeed, former
internees have not stressed abuses against Seventh Day Adventists, but
have mentioned the fairer treatment Adventists received in comparison
with Jehovah's Witnesses. Former internee José Blanco wrote in his
memoir that at one camp there were two Adventists who refused to work on
Saturday but compensated for their quota during the rest of the week.
The lieutenant at the camp did not bother them and allowed them to
fulfill their quota in this manner (Blanco 89). However, Blanco has also
stressed that Adventists received fairer treatment only because they
were the hardest working internees (Blanco 2013). Adventists were
apparently not the only sect granted the right to rest on their
respective Sabbath. In Granma, a member of Gideons International said,
"They allow me to rest on Saturday and work on Sunday" ("Unidades," 8).
However, like so many other aspects of the UMAP, the relatively better
treatment that Adventists received cannot be generalized for all camps.
At least one former internee recalled seeing Adventists forced to work
on the Sabbath and receive terrible abuse similar to that endured by
Jehovah's Witnesses (Ros 112).
Through the relationship that some Seventh Day Adventists forged with
revolutionary leaders in the Sierra Maestra, Adventists had a privileged
relationship with the revolutionary government which granted them more
flexibility in their religious activities than most sects. As a result,
Adventists were able to give their direct input to revolutionary leaders
regarding the SMO and thus helped inform what would eventually become
the UMAP policy. Even after the UMAP was closed, Adventists were given
accommodations to allow them to serve in the SMO whereas Jehovah's
Witnesses were imprisoned (Rosado 206). Crucially, this history
demonstrates that not all sects were sent to the UMAP camps because they
were perceived as contrarrevolucionarios. For Adventists, the UMAP camps
were a way to fulfill the SMO and provide more labor to the state.
Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, were sent to the UMAP camps
because in the eyes of the state they were contrarrevolucionarios and,
consequently, suffered terrible mistreatment. Seventh Day Adventists,
however, were not associated with the same contrarrevolucionario stigma
and thus were not the target of abuse in the camps.
Outside the camps, Adventists also faced a relatively hospitable
environment. Whereas the number of clergy in most Protestant churches
dropped drastically between 1960 and 1963, the number of Adventist
clergy actually grew over 20 percent (Rosado 193). Between 1960 and
1984, the membership of Seventh Day Adventists grew over 50 percent to
nearly 9,000 members – whereas the number of Catholics, Jews,
Presbyterians and Methodists all faced drastic losses due to emigration,
the expulsion of foreign clerics, and discrimination toward religiously
active citizens (194). Evidence of regular abuse of religious groups
other than testigos is scant. In the memoir Dios No Entra en mi Oficina,
former internee Alberto Muñoz, who was sent to the UMAP as a young
Baptist seminarian, asserted that Christians were treated better in the
camps because "we had earned prestige and we had better relations with
Although all former inmates have recalled their experiences in the UMAP
as highly negative, not all internees turned against the Revolution as a
result of the abuses in the UMAP – as was the case for a few religiosos.
Nicaraguan Catholic priest and liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal
met one Catholic who affirmed, "there [in the UMAP camps] I became a
revolutionary" because "in the concentration camp I realized that I
ought not to leave. That to fight to make the Revolution better you have
to be a revolutionary" (Cardenal 292–94). This particular Catholic was
not the only religioso who came out of the UMAP camps wishing to stay on
the island and improve the Revolution. One high-profile former internee
is Jaime Lucas Ortega, who was sent to the UMAP camps as a young
Catholic priest and is currently the archbishop of Havana (Ros 62).
Former internee Raúl Suárez, a Baptist who attended Western Cuba Baptist
Theological seminary, went on to become a member of Cuba's parliament
and in 1990 secured the right for Christians to assemble in their homes
for religious purposes (Blanco 98; Esqueda 30; Feinberg). A few UMAP
internees left the camps not dejected, but determined to improve the
plight of their patria.26
By the eve of the Revolution, the Abakuá secret society, founded by
slaves in Regla in 1836, had over 130 branches and controlled employment
at ship docks, tobacco factories, and slaughterhouses (Palmié and Pérez
219; Routon 380–81). This mutual-aid secret society was problematic for
the Cuban Revolution for a number of reasons. As its membership was
predominantly black (white members were accepted as early as 1857 and
later Chinese-Cubans also joined (Routon 380–81; Miller 171)) and
working-class (Palmié and Pérez 219), the class-conscious and
race-conscious organization was inherently an artifact of the
capitalist, racist superstructures that the Revolution intended to
destroy. Further, the organization's significant wield over labor
markets challenged the Revolution's new state-run economic system. Early
in the Revolution, the government manipulated the Abakuá Society by
playing favorites with individual branches to turn them against each
other (Routon 384). In 1968, 458 Abakuá members were in prison in Havana
Abakuá members were amongst the many individuals sent to the UMAP camps
(Santiago; Izquierdo; Llovio 151; Cabrera 164). Accounts of the UMAP
camps frequently describe "common delinquents" among the inmates, but
many of these accounts may be referencing members of the Abakuá Society,
which has long been associated with criminality (Guerra 2012, 262). For
instance, in one memoir a former UMAP internee wrote that "in the camps
there were also common delinquents. The most well-known was Eleguá who
came to the UMAP from a juvenile correctional facility in Jaruco. Eleguá
… was a young black Abakuá which was why he was the protagonist of the
sad episode" (Blanco 67). Clearly, the former internee conflated
Eleguá's criminality and his Abakuá membership. Eleguá is introduced as
serving in the UMAP because he is a "delincuente común" (common
delinquent), but the next sentence says that his Abakuá membership was
the reason he was sent to the UMAP. Although some accounts of the UMAP
camps may have conflated criminality and Abakuá membership, it should be
emphasized that some UMAP recruits actually were criminals who had been
transferred from jails where they had been serving time for serious
crimes such as murder and rape (Llovio 12).
Abakuá were not explicitly labeled contrarrevolucionario, but
revolutionary policies still seriously hindered their activities. The
Revolution's attitude toward the Abakuá initially celebrated the Society
as a unique component of Cuban culture and identity. Early in the
Revolution, the government recognized the Abakuá for their participation
in Cuba's wars of independence by inviting Abakuá members to a
commemoration ceremony (Guerra 2012, 155). Soon, the expression of
traditions with African heritage, including Santería and Abakuá, became
marginalized by the government. The act of wearing necklaces or shaving
one's head as part of Santería practices could risk one's job and the
initiation of children into Santería was banned (Falola 270).
Publications began to portray religions of African heritage as primitive
belief systems at odds with the goals of communism (272).
Representations of African heritage and tradition were not celebrated,
but treated as cultural relics of the past which would eventually
dissolve with the creation of a truly communist society (272).
An article published in the magazine El militante comunista the very
summer that the UMAP camps were closed expressed these same
condescending attitudes toward Abakuá. The majority of the article gives
a thorough history of the Abakuá in a non-politicized manner, but
concludes by urging the end of the Society: "enough with remembering the
leopard-men, who have served as the themes of literature and
sensationalist film" ("La sociedad secreta Abakuá," 36–45). The author
explained that the Abakuá Society is obsolete because "in our socialist
society … mutual-aid societies are not necessary. The revolutionary
state, which is today the people, jealously guards the security and
well-being of all citizens of the country" (44–45). The initiation of
young people into Abakuá is derided as "filling heads with reactionary
obscurantism, teaching customs and traditions, which, sooner or later,
will lead them to a clash with the authorities and with the rest of
society" (44–45). The article ends by forecasting that the Abakuá will
disappear in the "development of the revolutionary process" (44–45).
Representations of African heritage in the early years of the
Revolution, although sometimes giving a voice to Afro-Cubans for the
first time through theater and music, ultimately never treated
African-derived traditions as truly legitimate elements of Cuban
culture, but as relics of the past which would fade in the march for
These condescending attitudes toward Abakuá were reflected in the
government's hindering of their day-to-day practices. In the mid-1960s,
a special permit was required to authorize religious ceremonies (Falola
275). The application process required submitting a list of the
attendees one month in advance and an explanation of why the event
needed to be held. These restrictions caused so much difficulty for some
Abakuá members that during the 1960s some ceremonies ceased for years
(275). The Revolution's attitudes toward Abakuá and the over-regulation
of their activities reveal that race still mattered in revolutionary
Cuba. The patronizing discourse of the Revolution, led almost entirely
by white men, against the African-derived, predominantly black Abakuá
reinforced existing racial hierarchies under the guise of "communist
progress." As the case of the Abakuá demonstrates, traditions of African
heritage were imagined as primitive and incompatible with an advanced,
communist society. As a result, since one's local CDR president helped
determine who was sent to the UMAP camps, the racist prejudices of
individual CDR members probably contributed to many Abakuá members'
placement in the UMAP camps instead of the regular SMO.
A gendered interpretation of the UMAP cannot exclude the presence of
Abakuá at the camps, long notorious for being the site of Cuba's most
extreme gender policing. Masculinity is an essential component of the
Abakuá Society, a brotherhood that aims to foster a correct manliness
amongst its members. Effeminate or homosexual men can never join the
Society (Leiner 22). As the organization's oft-repeated criterion for
the proper member states: "A man is not just one who is not homosexual,
but also one who reflects the purest dignity of a human being through
being hard-working, fraternal, happy, rebellious against injustice, and
a follower of the Moral Code established by the founders of Abakuá"
("Sociedad Secreta Abakuá" 2013).
The Revolution viewed Abakuá as a threat because its brand of
masculinity was considered overly aggressive and degrading to women
(Routon 384). The 1968 article in El militante comunista challenges the
masculinity of the Abakuá in exactly this manner, arguing that they
fostered a machismo detrimental to society:
It is very important the role that 'machismo' plays, mistaken concept,
primitive and twisted of manliness, in the ñañiguismo [another term for
Abakuá]. It considers the woman a beast of burden and an instrument of
pleasure. They cultivate revenge for allegations of real offenses to
manliness or to religion … These acts of vengeance, curious thing if one
thinks about machismo, are always carried out in a treacherous and
cowardly way… It is not necessary to stress the attraction these things
have for lumpen [underclass scum]. Innumerable people have committed
bloody acts in the name of Abakuá, uncountable the unpunished crimes
thanks to their false concept of manliness and companionship. ("La
sociedad secreta Abakuá," 44–45)
Here, the machismo of the Abakuá is portrayed as a violent, misogynist
extreme of the true hombría (manliness) of the Revolution. In this
manner, the Cuban Revolution used the rhetoric of gender policing
against those on either end of the traditional masculinity spectrum,
both those who were insufficiently masculine and those who were
excessively machista (chauvinistic). The article's use of the term
lumpen to describe Abakuá – a term which referred to a web of different
types of individuals including vagos, homosexuals, enfermitos,27 etc. –
further links the Abakuá to the government's global gender policing
goals (Ros 9; Lumsden 71; Castro 1966). On both ends of the spectrum,
the Revolution reinterpreted certain gendered behavior as detrimental to
the goals of a communist society.
During the 1960s the Cuban Revolution severely and systematically
restricted gay citizens' rights. Gay people were not allowed to teach,
go abroad, join the military, attend university, practice the fine arts,
work in the press, or join the communist party (Lumsden 76; Young 28;
Santiago; Salas 160–61). In the university, students were purged for
accusations of homosexuality in public trials attended by hundreds of
students. Trials for accused homosexuals had the same procedures as
those for accused counterrevolutionaries (Improper Conduct; Guerra 2012,
247). Employment of antisociales and homosexuals was regulated through
one's expediente, a government dossier on every citizen which is
reviewed for hiring (Lumsden 76). Government documents such as
expedientes and military IDs contained symbols which marked one as an
antisocial or a homosexual (Young 38; Santiago). Héctor Santiago, for
instance, was barred from returning to his work in theater after leaving
the UMAP because his expediente indicated his antisocial status
(Santiago). Even in the legal system, gays were excluded. Court cases
handled through popular tribunals (a localized legal system for minor
cases implemented in 1963) were all held publicly, except for certain
cases involving a woman's "honor," juvenile delinquents, or homosexuals
(Domínguez 1978, 256). In a communist country aspiring for
classlessness, gays were an underclass.
Historians have characterized the UMAP as the pinnacle of the Cuban
Revolution's gender policing (Guerra 2010, 268). However, the vagueness
of this academic catchphrase lends itself to misinterpretation and fails
to fully describe the event of the UMAP camps. Firstly, not all the gay
men sent to the UMAP exhibited queer or effeminate behavior. Men
interned at camps for homosexuals could be effeminate, masculine, or
whatever (Santiago; Viera). Although classical machismo prioritizes
gender performance, what specifically preoccupied the Cuban Revolution
was its citizens' sexual behavior. As one former internee emphasized,
"What mattered was homosexual sexuality" (Santiago).
Secondly, the Revolution's repressive policies against homosexuals did
not merely police the gender of queers, but of the entire population.
For example, the Revolution's rhetoric of gender policing justified
repression against Abakuá because they projected a deviantly machista
masculinity. In this way, people on either end of the spectrum of
gender-normative behavior were at risk of being sent to the UMAP camps.
Moreover, straight and/or gender-conforming individuals were also
impacted by the state-sponsored campaign against homosexuality because
they now had to fear that an agent of the state – as close as the CDR up
the street or a fellow classmate – may accuse them of homosexuality. As
a young, self-identified heterosexual and revolutionary Cuban explained,
"The persecution of homosexuals … is hateful and unnerving. Not that
we're homosexuals. But there's always the fear that they'll think you
are, because of the long hai Continue reading
By DAMIEN CAVEFEB. 11, 2014
Launch media viewer
With balconies and air-conditioning, the new apartments for Cuba's
middle ranks are a sign of a hybrid economy in which the state must
compete with private enterprise. Todd Heisler/The New York Times
HAVANA — In the splendid neighborhoods of this dilapidated city, old
mansions are being upgraded with imported tile. Businessmen go out for
sushi and drive home in plush Audis. Now, hoping to keep up, the
government is erecting something special for its own: a housing
development called Project Granma, featuring hundreds of comfortable
apartments in a gated complex set to have its own movie theater and schools.
"Twenty years ago, what we earned was a good salary," said Roberto
Rodríguez, 51, a longtime Interior Ministry official among the first to
move in. "But the world has changed."
Cuba is in transition. The economic overhauls of the past few years have
rattled the established order of class and status, enabling Cubans with
small businesses or access to foreign capital to rise above many dutiful
Communists. As these new paths to prestige expand, challenging the old
system of rewards for obedience, President Raúl Castro is redoubling
efforts to elevate the faithful and maintain their loyalty — now and
after the Castros are gone.
Project Granma and similar "military cities" around the country are
Caribbean-color edifices of reassurance, set aside for the most ardent
defenders of Cuba's 1959 revolution: families tied to the military and
the Interior Ministry. With their balconies, air-conditioning and fresh
paint, the new apartments are the government's most public gifts to its
middle ranks and a clear sign of Cuba's new hybrid economy, in which the
state must sometimes compete with private enterprise.
The housing is just one example of the military's expansive role in Mr.
Castro's plan for Cuba, and it illustrates a central conflict in his
attempts to open up the economy without dismantling the power structure
he and his comrades have been building for more than five decades.
In the short term, analysts and former officers say, he is relying on
the military to push through changes and maintain stability as he
experiments with economic liberalization. Yet his abiding dedication as
a lifelong soldier who was defense minister for 49 years threatens to
further entrench an institution that has often undermined changes
challenging its favored status.
"Raúl knows the military answer is not the answer, but he also knows
that at this time he absolutely needs military loyalty," said Hal
Klepak, a Canadian scholar who closely tracks the Cuban military. "They
are the only ones who will follow him if the reform succeeds, or if it
Mr. Castro and his brother, Fidel, given their guerrilla history, have
always turned to the military in times of need. In the 1960s and early
'70s, as Cuba's professional class fled, officers in fatigues ran
government ministries and nationalized industries. Since the 1990s,
after the fall of the Soviet Union, the armed forces have been slashed
to around 55,000, from a peak of more than 200,000, but they have also
been pushed further into the Cuban economy.
As president, Raúl Castro, 82, has accelerated the growth of what some
scholars have described as a military oligarchy. The chairman of the
Economic Policy Commission, Marino Murillo, is a former officer. Cuba's
largest state conglomerate, Cimex, which processes remittances from
Cubans abroad, among other tasks, is run by Col. Héctor Oroza Busutin.
Raúl Castro's son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez, is the top
executive at the military's holding company, known as Gaesa, which is
estimated to control 20 percent to 40 percent of the Cuban economy.
And its role is expanding. In 2011, a financial arm of the company
bought out Telecom Italia's 27 percent stake in Cuba's
telecommunications company for $706 million. Gaesa also has a network of
hundreds of retail stores selling everything from food to appliances. It
is a growing force in tourism, too, controlling fleets of luxury buses,
a small airline and an expanding list of hotels. And one of its
subsidiaries is overseeing the free-trade zone built alongside Cuba's
largest infrastructure project in decades — the new container port in
The military's interests bestow the privileges of business on a chosen
few, especially senior military officials. "They live better than almost
anyone in Cuba," said Brian Latell, a former C.I.A. officer who worked
But in the lower and middle ranks, experts say, esteem and relative
wealth have eroded. Career officers in Cuba are now more likely to have
friends or relatives who live abroad, or who visit Miami and often
return with iPhones or new clothes unavailable at the state's musty stores.
Meanwhile, military members must report all remittances they receive,
and they are not allowed any "unauthorized contact" with foreigners or
Cubans living abroad — limiting access to the money that other Cubans
use not just for purchases, but also to improve their homes and open
"It's producing an exodus of talented people from the state to the
private sector," said Jorge Dámaso, 75, a retired colonel who writes a
blog often critical of the government. "Most people in the military have
seen their quality of life fall compared to a bartender or someone who
has a small business. They can see that they are at a disadvantage."
The new housing, a basic necessity in extremely short supply across the
island, looks to many Cubans like another attempt at favoritism.
According to government figures, the military's construction budget has
more than doubled since 2010. When combined with the Interior Ministry
(often described as a branch of the military), the armed forces are now
Cuba's second-largest construction entity.
Project Granma — named after the boat Fidel Castro took from Mexico to
Cuba to start the revolution — is one of several new military housing
developments around the country. Its equivalent in Santiago de Cuba,
where the Castro revolution began, has come under fire from Cubans
struggling in rickety homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But as an
attempt to match the private sector, or life in other countries, it is
perhaps no accident that the colors and architecture of the Granma, in
the same neighborhood that Raúl Castro calls home, give it the feel of a
Florida condo complex.
At its edge, there is a baseball field. Inside the gates, streetlamps
resembling classic gaslights line the sidewalks, while cars, another
perk, fill lots.
At a building with rounded archways, where a movie theater, market and
health clinic are meant to go, one of the project's engineers said
several thousand people would eventually call Granma home. Sweating in
green army fatigues, he praised the plan, noting its imported,
prefabricated design that allowed walls to be assembled quickly, like
puzzle pieces. He failed to mention what a security guard had pointed
out: Most of the workers painting were prison inmates.
Several residents said they were thrilled to live in what Mario Coyula,
Havana's former director of urbanism and architecture, called "the first
gated community in Cuba since the 1950s." Some said they had been living
in cramped quarters with generations of family.
Support for Raúl Castro's economic changes seemed strong here among
those willing to talk. "It's necessary," Mr. Rodríguez, the official
among the first to arrive at Granma, said as he sat outside with a
cigarette. "If you're cold, you put on a coat; it's just what makes sense."
But in the push and pull that has defined Cuba's economic policies over
the last two years, the government has often struggled with when to let
the market function and when to protect the Communist establishment. The
authorities, for example, recently cracked down on private vendors
selling clothes and other items, widely seen as an effort to help the
state's own retail network.
Mr. Dámaso, who spent 32 years in the military, said that the country's
leaders, while longing for economic improvement, mainly want to preserve
the Cuba they know.
"If you have a business run by military officers, when there's a
transition, you're not going to get rid of all these people," he said.
"This is a way to maintain a space for established powers in a future
Source: Cuba's Reward for the Dutiful: Gated Housing - NYTimes.com -
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/12/world/americas/cubas-reward-for-the-dutiful-gated-housing.html?_r=0 Continue reading
Posted on November 20, 2013
The farm products we consume today in Havana, whether those offered by
the self-employed itinerants — carters — or those sold by the State at
the farmers markets, have a characteristic in common: they are all
shrinking. So I see at different points in the city where I go.
I wonder why, if even two years ago, residents in some areas of the
capital had the alternative to buy in two kinds of farmers markets, now
we are forced to only one option. For example, in Vibora we residents
could buy fruit at the Monoco markets — more expensive — or the one on
Sevillano, where there Youth Labor Army (EJT), conscripts serving their
obligatory military service who work for the State for a salary, and
whose products are cheaper and supposedly smaller and of lower quality.
A few years ago they closed Monoco plaza because they said there were
collateral businesses and irregularities there. They delayed — as always
happens in Cuba – around four or five years before re-opening it,with a
visible reduction in the sale area and a distinctive feature that now
all goods are as famished as praise of the EJT was in the past.
That is, the "fix things" to break them? There is no doubt that the
people always suffer, because for more than fifty years, they've
suffered a permanent blockade put in place by their own government.
19 November 2013
Source: "Shrinking of Farm Products / Rosa Maria Rodriguez | Translating
http://translatingcuba.com/shrinking-of-farm-products-rosa-maria-rodriguez/ Continue reading