The buildings in Cuba's capital may be crumbling yet there is a great
sense of civic pride
Cuba is full of surprises. On my first morning in a Havana casa
particular (room in a private home), where all the hangers in my
wardrobe were homemade, the young woman who brought breakfast invited me
to accompany her into work.
Her name was Yvette, and as far as I could understand her job was
playing oboe in some kind of band. She flagged down a pre-1959, fixed
route taxi collectivo and 50 cents brought us to the centre of Vedado,
the newest part of Havana.
We hopped out beside the Cuba Libre hotel, opened as a Hilton in 1959
then commandeered a few months later by Fidel as his command centre
during the revolution. Around the corner was Yvette's job, and my next
two hours were spent in a crammed rehearsal room thrilling to the
glorious noise of the 60-piece Cuban State Television Orchestra, with
the highlight of their extensive repertoire being a swinging salsa
version of the old Strauss classic El Danubio Azul.
Afterwards I made my way along 17th Street, admiring the succession of
majestic, crumbling Deco houses, each more beautiful than the last. I
couldn't help but wonder how long it will be before most of them are
snapped up by pimply tech millionaires from Palo Alto now that Cuba has
been opened up for tourism from the US.
There certainly were a large number of tourists from el Norte around,
and when I went to hear some world-class jazz in legendary club La Zorra
y el Cuervo (The Fox and the Crow) it was hard to ignore the bunch of
well-oiled retirees from the Midwest clapping along out of time. They
did settle down after a while, as I imagine Cuba will once it gets over
the shock of a sudden influx of Americans and their money.
The signs are good – there is a great sense of civic pride in Havana,
and the Office of the City Historian, a huge state department of
architects and planners tasked with renovating the many near-derelict
buildings, makes sure that each part of the city remains properly
mixed-use rather than turning it into some kind of Cuban theme park.
Laps of the square
This means that the local equivalent of Grafton Street has a maternity
hospital (on publicly-owned land, naturally) and the Old Town's Plaza
Vieja hosts a primary school, where the pupil's gym class has them
running in between the tourists as they do laps of the square.
I did see another side to the story when I visited Harris Brothers,
reputedly the best supermarket in the city. They had limited stock on
offer; not much more than bottled water, rum, shampoo and jars of
mayonnaise on otherwise empty shelves. Directly opposite, beside an
abandoned van with no wheels, workmen were putting the finishing touches
on a Mont Blanc fountain pen shop.
The plan was to spend a few days in Havana then strike out for the
country, but I quickly discovered that despite the relaxed pace of life,
leaving things to the last minute doesn't really work in Cuba – there
were no bus tickets to be had, and I didn't particularly feel like
spending six hours in the back of a truck.
Accommodation was the same – figuring that all the casas in the
guidebook would be well booked out I tried Airbnb, only to discover it
doesn't take bookings from inside Cuba. Thankfully, the landlady of one
of the booked-out casas was happy to figure out what I was trying to say
in broken Spanish and found me an alternative.
Havana is made up of three distinct cities, more than interesting enough
for a 10- day trip. I started in well-to-do Vedado to the west, before
moving to the Old Town in the east, all the while exploring Centro in
Centro is the barrio, the roughest part of Havana – a dimly lit,
forbidding looking place with lean youths on bikes flitting through the
shadows and wheezing Russian Ladas carefully negotiating gaping
crevasses in the street. This was another surprise – in any other
country no tourist would dream of venturing into this part of town,
especially after dark. But I don't think I've ever felt so safe, even
with a camera.
Friendly and polite
Cubans are so friendly and polite that even the hustlers are easy to
deal with – I was regularly asked if I wanted a chica, cigarro, internet
card or all three, and when I demurred I'd get a big smile and best
wishes for the rest of my evening.
As time passed I was glad that my very basic level of Spanish started to
improve – one night while photographing a gang of youths in Centro, one
of them said "Tu no entiendes Español, coño?" (You don't understand
Spanish, coño?) and I was able to give him a big smile and reply in
Spanish "I understand 'coño'." His friends thought it was hilarious. If
you don't understand the word "coño", a quick viewing of Scarface or any
episode of Narcos will put you right.
Surprises around every corner makes the city a photographer's paradise -
it's not just the vivid colours and amazing light but all of the events,
the richness of life being lived in full view. Trying to capture
everything from a girl emerging from a cloud of white smoke to a
policewoman in mid-argument, my camera rarely left my hand.
There's so much to see on the streets, so many pictures to take, that
the whole time I was there I only made it to two museums – the first was
the Museum of Chocolate, which happily turned out to be just a great
chocolate shop with a few glass cases of implements.
The second was the Museo de Revolucion, which I found unexpectedly
moving. From the bullet holes in the marble staircase left when the
rebels stormed the building to the armour-plated tractors in the
courtyard, the museum told the story of a small bunch of young men (and
Raúl Castro, looking about 15 in the pictures from the time) who set out
on a near-certain fight to the death and to their surprise ended up
liberating the country. Pride of place goes to the yacht that carried
them from Mexico, the Granma, now housed inside a giant glass box,
making it look like some kind of revolutionary Damian Hirst installation.
Cuba is pricier than I expected: while accommodation is cheap, getting
around does add up (after a few days I was politely informed by an
American that the taxi collectivos are reserved for Cuban citizens). I
tried one of the bright yellow, egg-shaped tuk-tuks, but one trip was
enough to convince me that walking and official taxis were a far better
option. As it zipped between the hulking 1950s cars at terrifying speed
I took little comfort from the fact that at least the helmeted driver
might survive the spectacular crash that was surely around the next
corner – there wasn't much hope for his bare-headed passenger.
I had also been warned to lower my expectations of the food, and with
good reason; if you want to eat anything much better than a Cuban
pressed sandwich (ham, Swiss cheese, roast pork, pickles and salami)
you'll pay a fair bit for it – such as the small plate of lobster
risotto I treated myself to at the rooftop bar of legendary restaurant
La Guarida, a beacon of fine dining in the middle of Centro.
Splurging like this meant I needed to use ATMs more often than I'd
expected, and I quickly discovered they had their own, particularly
Cuban temperament. "La máquina está loca," grumbled an old woman in the
queue beside me, encouraging me to keep trying – it worked on the fifth
Another price to be paid in Cuba is an inevitable bout of food
poisoning. Whatever it was that didn't agree with me put me in bed for
an uninterrupted 18-hour fever dream, which actually wasn't all that
unpleasant. Coming to the following morning, I looked up and saw I
hadn't hallucinated it – there really was an ace of hearts stuck to the
ceiling above the bed. The landlady explained that this was because I
was staying in the habitación matrimonial or bridal suite.
Aside from the heat, the light, and the colours, the best part of the
entire trip was experiencing the openness and incredible spirit of the
Cuban people. I hope nothing will take it away, and I also hope I can
get back there soon to experience even more of it.
http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/travel/long-haul/havana-a-city-of-colour-and-surprises-1.3100412?localLinksEnabled=false Continue reading
Guantánamo junto a 14 detenidos
mayo 03, 2017
Luis Felipe Rojas
El opositor cubano Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz, detenido al salir de
la embajada de Colombia en La Habana el pasado 21 de abril, permanece en
una celda policial en Guantánamo, provincia a donde fue deportado desde
la capital cubana.
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, de la Alianza Democrática Oriental (ADO),
dijo que Manzanet coordina el Movimiento Juan Pablo II en Baracoa,
ciudad oriental en la que reside.
El disidente estaba invitado a un curso de derechos humanos en Colombia,
pero fue detenido al concluir sus trámites consulares.
Lobaina ofreció sus declaraciones en una entrevista al programa Contacto
Cuba, de Radio Martí.
"Continúa detenido en la Unidad policial Parque 24. Está detenido bajo
un proceso arbitrario después de la deportación. No han querido darles
información a los familiares", indicó Lobaina.
Manzanet Ortiz fue deportado en un bus desde La Habana el pasado viernes
28 de abril, pero fue directamente a los calabozos de la conocida
estación policial, ubicada en el centro de la ciudad guantanamera. A sus
familiares les prometieron que los liberarían, aseguraron ellos mismos,
pasado el desfile del 1ro de mayo, pero no lo han hecho.
"Se sabe además que permanece en una celda con capacidad para seis, pero
donde están recluidas catorce personas", aseguró Lobaina.
Desde la misma ciudad, Isael Poveda Silva, coordinador de la ADO,
confirmó que Manzanet pudo llamarlo desde la estación policial y le
ofreció detalles de la detención. "Dice que no han levantado cargos
contra él, pero no le dan información de su situación legal", indicó.
El activista de derechos humanos Manzanet Ortiz ha sido detenido en
decenas de ocasiones, y semanas atrás ha sido acosado por las
autoridades locales, pues su proyecto humanitario está enfocado en
ayudar a los damnificados del Huracán Matews, que arrasó con la ciudad
el pasado mes de septiembre de 2016.
"Hay una situación delicada en Baracoa y Manzanet ha mantenido su
proyecto de ayuda a niños y a personas limitadas en la zona oriental",
concluyó Rodríguez Lobaina.
Siga a Luis Felipe Rojas en @alambradas
Source: Activista del Movimiento Juan Pablo II, encerrado en una celda
en Guantánamo junto a 14 detenidos -
http://www.martinoticias.com/a/opositor-movimiento-juan-pablo-ii-encerrado-celda-guantanamo-junto-a-14-detenidos/144155.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Bertha Guillen, Candelaria, 11 April 2017 — The milk boils on
the rustic stove while on the table the cream is churned to make
butter. The whole family revolves around the modest production of
artisan cheese, a product targeted by the police and appealing to customers.
Roberto leaves the house every day very early and stands for hours at
the edge of the national highway, displaying one or two cheeses to all
passing travelers. He hides the rest of the merchandise in the grass to
avoid large quantities of that soft and fresh food that they make at
home being confiscated.
The patrols that monitor the area are mainly focused on trafficking in
shrimp, fish, cheese and beef. From time to time a passenger bus is
stopped in the middle of the road and the troops proceed to check each
passenger's luggage. The police are well able to detect that particular
smell that emanates from dairy products.
"I get up at three in the morning for the milking in the dairy," says
Senén, Roberto's father and a resident of Artemisa province. "When we
have the milk that fulfills what we have to give to comply with the
state plan, then my wife makes the cheese with what remains."
Each farmer is obliged to sell most of their meat and milk production to
companies and state centers. In 2015 the price paid to the farmers for
this fresh milk rose from 2.40 Cuban pesos (CUP) per liter to 4.50, less
than half of the 10 CUPs (about 40 cents US) that it sells for in the
Private producers are prohibited from selling milk or any dairy product
they produce to other private individuals on their own. However, many
homes and private restaurants throughout the island are nourished by
this artisanal food, made and transported under absolute discretion.
"My family has been making cheese for years," Senén explains at
midday. They started making it during the Special Period when all the
clandestine pizzas were made with the so-called guajiro cheese. Now some
private restaurants buy pieces of gouda or Parmesan in state stores or
on the black market, but artisanal production remains the most
affordable for domestic customers.
A few miles from the house of Roberto and Senén, in the dairies of
Cayajabos, Olga begins to cut the milk with a serum made from pork lungs
and lemon. This technique ensures a consistent and good tasting cheese.
She adds some boiling water "to kill the bacteria" and to achieve a
firm, "gummy" texture.
Today Olga wants to make a piece of about two pounds with ten liters of
milk. "At the moment we are making few cheeses because the cows are
giving very little milk and we have to fulfill the plan," she says while
straining the fermented milk and recycling the serum to use it again.
Cuba is experiencing the worst drought of the last half century and the
country's reservoirs are below 39% of their capacity. More than 81% of
the agricultural area is affected by low water levels in irrigation and
the effect on livestock production is especially negative.
Rain is not the only problem. Along with the 120 liters of water a day a
cow drinks, it also consumes 10% of its weight in pasture grass, fodder
and food concentrate, according to experts consulted by this newspaper.
Grasslands are currently dry and the feed supply is unstable. Farmers
juggle feeding their cows with mixtures that also include derivatives
from the sugar industry. The deficit directly influences the amount of
meat and milk that is produced.
According to Rogelio González, a farmer from Cayajabos, 30 years ago a
dairy was capable of producing up to 2,160 liters of milk daily, while
now among the 10 dairy farms in the area, they barely reach the 1,080
liters needed to comply with the state plan.
"We had here the trays loaded with feed and purge honey, there were
areas of fodder, urea, salt and the milking system was mechanized, all
this helped to a improve production," evokes Gonzalez. "But
then everything got destroyed, the grazing fields are surrounded by the
invasive marabou weed and the milking systems are pitiful."
During the years of the Soviet subsidy, Cuba managed to produce up to
200 types of cheese, but the fall of the Socialist Camp ruined
production and paralyzed the most important industries in the
sector. The authorities are trying to revitalize some of the dairy
processing plants, but without foreign investment the project becomes
While state production tries to pick up the pace, Senén continues to
make progress in artisanal cheese production. All around are small
wooden molds made with bits of planks of different sizes to give shape
to the cheese. The press that extracts the liquid is used before the
work of turning.
Under the structure, a white bucket collects the liquid that is
draining. "This is to feed the piglet I have back there," adds the dairy
farmer. "You have to take advantage of everything."
When the process of pressing is finished "you have to refrigerate the
cheese for a few hours so the crown has a nice yellow color and a better
texture," according to Senén.
"Right now, we are making only two kinds of cheese, not only because of
the lack of milk but also because there's not a great cheese culture
here, so they eat the artisanal cheeses and the so-called processed
cheese, which is sold in the little market for Cuban pesos, and in the
store there is only gouda and it's very expensive," he says. A pound of
the latter cost between 9 and 10 times more than the product made by
Senén and his family.
Among the handcrafted products is the so-called guajiro cheese, which is
sold on the highway. Normally it is made from skimmed milk boiled and
cut with piña de ratón, a wild seed. The result is a product that is
white and more grainy.
To supply the private restaurants specializing in Italian food the
process becomes longer and complex, in order to cure the cheese
better. There are customers who prefer it with salt and others without
salt, details the farmer. It should be avoided at all costs that the
milk gets smoky during the cooking.
"We have to take the risk of selling it in Havana, because there they
pay better." A pound trades in the informal networks for between 25 and
35 CUP depending on the curing of the product. "We are making contacts
and fixed points where they buy from us," says Roberto, who fears fines
and arrests on the highway.
"Every day the police get more strict and if they catch me, they remove
the merchandise and take me to the station", says the young man. More
than once he has had to run and abandon the product. "It's hard work,
sometimes I only sell a little and most of the time is in the sun." For
him, the best days are those when some foreigner arrives.
For travelers passing by in their tourist cars the scene always looks
nice and with an air of tradition: a man on the side of the road holds a
cheese in his hands, as a trophy, while ensuring that it is
"home-made." Few realize the difficulties associated with trying to sell
this delicious food in Cuba.
Source: It Is Forbidden To Sell Cheese In The Cuban Countryside –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/it-is-forbidden-to-sell-cheese-in-the-cuban-countryside/ Continue reading
March 7, 2017
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Every Sunday, there is the "Los Chinos" agro-market fair
in the city of Holguin in eastern Cuba. Trucks loaded with produce come
from all over the country, mainly from its central provinces. As there
is competition and since the sellers can bulk buy on the farms, there
are lower prices than normal, which doesn't exactly mean that it's cheap.
Of course, the trucks have been rented out, the real owners of this
produce are the merchants known as "intermediaries". These trade
operators play an essential role in the development of agriculture
because they stimulate production by creating confidence in
commercialization. They logically make nice profits, maybe more than
what would be fair; but the problem here doesn't lie in their existence
as such, but in the many knots in the Cuban system which make balanced
regulation almost impossible.
In the 1980s, the government experimented with the so-called Farmers'
Free Markets (MLC) and then it was shut down by Fidel himself, who
couldn't stand the idea that some Cubans were "getting rich". In order
to cure his headache, he destroyed the emerging semi-free market.
In the '90s, a Party leader from Pinar del Rio spoke about reviving the
MLC in a televised Congress session (perhaps the IV Plenary session of
the Cuban Communist Party in 1991), where the idea alone unleashed
Fidel's rage on the spot and on live TV (I watched this) and then rumors
went round from Pinar that the person who dared share his opinion had
been dismissed of his responsibilities.
When hunger took its hold of Cuba, he sent brother Raul Castro to
announce "the same dog but with a different collar": the Agro-Market. I
remember that this was announced in an interview granted to Luis Baez
and was published in Granma and then repeated across the media. The
government journalist began his article by saying that he had been
looking for that interview with Raul for some time and that Raul had
finally taken some time out for him: it was pure theater! Both of them
knew what the objective was. Fidel never spoke about the subject.
Today, criminalizing the private sector because of its high prices
continues to be a subject of debate in Parliament, especially against
the famous Intermediaries; who are restricted or prohibited at times and
have their merchandise seized resulting in great losses. However, the
truth is that they don't dare to ban them because without them
completely because there wouldn't be commerce or stable farming production.
However, these are the larger merchants, who, even though they pay for
the same license as smaller ones, have completely different functions.
Small traders who sell at a higher price are the ones who mainly
purchase their products from the larger Intermediaries. Here in the
Holguin province, hundreds of small traders (push cart or bike sellers)
travel on Sundays to the capital city and they buy their produce from
the trucks at the Los Chinos market.
Every one of them with two or three sacks also provide work for horse
drawn cart drivers and bici-taxis operators who transport them to bus
and train stations paying for every sack. A lot of people benefit from
this trade, especially the government which charges them for the
license, taking 10% of gross sales, social security payments and fines
for any silly mistakes. All of this translates into the product's final
price, which reaches customers in urban neighborhoods where it often
costs double or triple the initial price.
However, the private sector in Cuba isn't only sentenced to having these
restrictions on growth which our laws impose on them; they are also
treated like a necessary evil, harassed by whimsical regulations. They
don't have a transparent and secure supply chain, nor do they have the
legal freedom to seek it out. They do this but they take risks.
On Sunday February 5th, at the Los Chinos market, dozens of
self-employed resellers had their sacks filled with produce bought from
equally legal intermediaries. A group of inspectors approached them and
they wanted to confiscate their purchases for having violated the
"anti-hoarding law". It seems outrageous but it's true. A great
discussion broke out and the police in charge of keeping order at the
market, intervened. In the face of the resistance that had been created
by those accused and others who were doubtful in helping the inspectors,
the police called for the Head of the Unit, a Major, who turned up on
There were several people from my town of Mayari among the traders who
had their purchases taken away. One of them, Jose Ramon, usually sells
on my street and he told me the whole story. Then I confirmed what he
told me with another seller, not without first asking several others,
among the many who pass by here every day offering their garlic,
peppers, onions or bijol under the scorching sun.
The story goes that the Major arrived arrogantly and ordered those who
wouldn't stop protesting to shut up. He was met with: "You like getting
your hands on ham a lot. Ham is what the inspectors get, who make a
living by fining us for no reason; we work really hard to earn our
pesos," one of the boldest protestors said.
After a lot of wasted time (held for over three hours under the risk of
having their things confiscated and bad times), the police finally
guided the inspectors in their conversation with them to release the
purchases. Common sense won out, but this was just one more example of
government resistance to how the private sector runs in Cuba, even at
these incipient times.
Tradesmen didn't have so few rights even in medieval hamlets!" They had
unions and brotherhoods which united and protected them, Cuban
self-employed merchants don't.
There are many forms of repression, not just political repression. This
budding private sector, which has appeared with the self-employed, is
the seed to opening up our economy more, which is fundamental so that we
can reach economic and social progress. Repressing them and prohibiting
their development with laws and individual actions is just another way
to delay this essential path: it's another form of repression in Cuba.
Source: Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124021 Continue reading
An HBO documentary about transgender persecution raises more questions
than it answers.
By JOHN ANDERSON
Nov. 24, 2016 5:19 p.m. ET
"Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution,"
Monday, 9 p.m., HBO.
As a venue for high-quality nonfiction films, HBO Documentaries has few
peers. So it's with some dismay that one drinks in "Mariela Castro's
March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution," which is, at best, weak filmmaking and,
at worst, pure propaganda. Like courtroom lawyers, documentary makers
should never raise questions they can't really answer, and there's no
trace of an answer to the question at the heart of the film: What do Ms.
Castro's father, President Raúl, or her uncle—Fidel—think about her
efforts to normalize relations between their idealized society and the
transgender people who have been persecuted as a matter of policy since
Well, as Ms. Castro says, changing attitudes toward homosexuality in
Cuba is a tough fight, "even if your name is Castro." It's the only time
she alludes to who she is, or the people she knows.
To give director Jon Alpert the benefit of the doubt, he was probably
under considerable constraints in making his film, which portrays Ms.
Castro as La Pasionaria of LGBT Cuba, but fails to address what any
viewer would want to know—namely, what Ms. Castro's mission is all about
and why it doesn't include asking her father to change government
policies. Do her connections shield her from abuse, or even prosecution?
She mentions toward the end of the 45-minute film that she is the only
member of Cuba's Parliament to ever vote "no" on a bill (labor
legislation that failed to include protections for transgender workers).
But this will just aggravate the sense in the audience that it's getting
something less than the full story.
The status of LGBT society in Cuba is a little vague: Same-sex
relationships were decriminalized in 1979, but, of course, stigmas
remain, and as we see in "Mariela Castro's March," attitudes take time
to evolve. What Mr. Alpert gives us are parades, galas and baseball
games, and visits with various members of the LGBT community in Cuba:
Luis Perez, for instance, an older gay man, reflects on his experience
in a forced-labor camp, which excluded him later from education and
employment; Margarita Diaz, a former member of Cuba's national tennis
team, was ousted, she says, for being a lesbian. Brothers Juani and
Santi discuss their fractious relationship as kids, when Juani—Cuba's
first female-to-male beneficiary of sexual-reassignment surgery—was a
girl. "I beg your forgiveness," Santi says, referring to his bullying of
Juani as a child. It's a moment utterly lacking in spontaneity.
"Lots of people support my work," Ms. Castro says. How about Dad? We
know how her husband feels: On a bus trip to a pro-LGBT event, they
hug—everyone, she says, should have their happiness. "Sometimes," she
adds, "couples feel like strangling each other." A few more candid
moments like that would have made for a better movie.
Source: 'Mariela Castro's March' Review: Changing minds in Cuba - WSJ -
http://www.wsj.com/articles/mariela-castros-march-review-changing-minds-in-cuba-1480025954 Continue reading
DDC | Madrid | 14 de Octubre de 2016 - 09:16 CEST.
Journalist Maykel González Vivero, a DIARIO DE CUBA collaborator, was
released Wednesday after spending three days in a cell in Baracoa, where
he had been travelled to report on the ravages of Hurricane Matthew.
"You have to experience that to understand what it is like, and to
really know Cuba. You cannot imagine what one of those cells is like. It
has to be one of the worst things in the world," he told DIARIO DE CUBA
shortly before boarding a bus bound for Guantánamo.
González Vivero's arrest marked the start of a State Security onslaught
against journalists not linked to the official media who were trying to
report on the situation facing the inhabitants of Guantánamo villages
after Matthew's devastating passage.
On Wednesday nine workers for the Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood
Journalism) website, including its director, Elaine Díaz, were arrested
as well in Baracoa and transferred to Guantánamo, confirmed family sources.
"I was just conducting interviews," said González Vivero about his
arrest. "When I was arrested I was interviewing the president of a CDR
(Revolutionary Defense Committee)," he added.
He specified that he was arrested by State Security and taken to a
"There was some delay, as if they were deciding what to do with me, and
they ended up confiscating all my things and putting me in a cell," he
said. "I was isolated, they wouldn't let me talk to my family, and they
denied me access to a lawyer. Poor medical care, when I asked for it.
The support I received was from the other prisoners. From the others,
nothing but mistreatment."
Vivero González explained that at first the regime's agents informed him
that he had been arrested "in the interest of State Security" but "they
later invented a crime: illicit economic activity."
"They took my computer and camera. I'm going to file a complaint with
the Prosecutor's Office in Guantánamo," he said.
The reporter noted that he met two dissidents in jail: Víctor Campa,
from Santiago de Cuba; and Emilio Almaguer, who had received donations
to aid the victims in Baracoa. The rest were common criminals.
"I heard their stories. I learned so many things. It hurt, and I would
have tried to avoid it, but I learned a lot," said González Vivero.
"They told me to 'talk, talk about everything that is going on.'"
"You feel that you have no rights, that you cannot demand anything.
There was a large sign at the entrance to the jail explaining the rights
of prisoners. I was supposed to be able to see a lawyer at any time, but
they never let me see mine (...) They never let me call anyone. They
said they would, but they didn´t," he explained.
As for the support he received from the common prisoners, he explained:
"The first night I was able to bathe because a prisoner, accused of
robbery, lent me a towel and some soap. I was able to communicate with
my family thanks to a prisoner who still had not had his mobile
confiscated. He did me the favor, spending his own credit, of calling
for me. He was a baker who had been arrested because some of the bread
he had produced was underweight," he explained.
González Vivero estimated that in the end there were about 14 people in
the cell. "Apparently they carried out a raid yesterday," he said.
Maykel González Vivero resides in Sagua la Grande and recently lost his
job at the local radio station for writing for independent media.
On his way to the area affected by the hurricane he wrote an article for
DIARIO DE CUBA: "On the Road to Baracoa After Matthew's Passage," in
which he criticized the political propaganda in the midst of disaster.
Source: Maykel González Vivero: "You cannot imagine what a cell is like"
| Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1476429378_25996.html 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
March 29, 2016
HAVANA TIMES — Some of us who live in Cuba have the strong feeling that
our current eating habits aren't exactly healthy. Some know this, others
simply don't even worry about it.
The situation could become much worse when many more food products begin
to arrive in Cuba as a result of future agreements with the United
States or any other country with a food industry ready to export its
less popular products back home.
In Cuba, there are official government diets for individuals suffering
from celiac disease, gastric ulcers, high cholesterol, HIV, diabetes and
other conditions. A medical doctor issues a document and a local entity
responsible for food rationing allots that person a series of subsidized
"dietary" products, which that person can buy on a monthly basis using
their ration booklet.
The supplementary whole powdered milk allotted me on February 23 was
considerably "different" from the milk I usually get: it has a different
taste, with a lighter, thinner and drier texture. To prepare this powder
milk using lukewarm water – it would be impossible to use water at room
temperature – results in a soft, sandy paste that swells up inside the
cup but does not dissolve. The cups and spoons remain coated with this
paste, as though one had added some kind of cereal or flour to the milk.
Because of this, this milk lasts much less.
"Perhaps they've always mixed the milk powder with something else and
the mixer got the proportions wrong this time," I said to myself.
In my case, I get the whole milk (people call it the "yellow milk" in
Cuba) for gastric ulcers. Because of this condition, I supposedly need
to drink milk and other neutral foods, such as cassava.
After talking about the problem of the milk with the person who sells it
and the manager of the ration locale (as we always suspect those who
work in these places abuse the little power they have and generally
question their integrity, particularly in connection with the sensitive
issue of milk), they assured me they were not to blame, so I ended up
paying the company that distributes the product a visit. There, they
told me the milk I received must have gone bad because of air that
seeped into the bag during packaging. This barely perceptible process
may have affected others at one point or other.
After I was given this explanation, they gave me a new bag of milk and I
This explanation, however, leaves me with no cards to play, and made me
ask myself: how many chemicals are used to prepare this milk formula? I
read the ingredients listed on the 1-kg package again: for every 100
grams of product, the milk contains 39.10 grams of carbohydrates, 26
grams of fat, 24.3 grams of protein, 4 grams of humidity and 487.60 Kcal
of energy. The package says the milk was produced on February 14, 2016
and expires on May 14, 2016. This list, however, prompts many legitimate
This nutritional information does not in any way clarify the components
of the mix: what is the milk made of, in addition to milk? It would seem
they forgot to detail its composition, or, perhaps, it has so many of
these that it would be a headache to try and squeeze them into such a
tiny space. Also, the package makes no mention of the manufacturer,
which isn't Cuban, leaving you even more in the dark about this.
We are constantly reminded that these are subsidized products, but that
shouldn't exempt those who distribute them of responsibility. As the
milk isn't produced domestically, as we are told, there are more than
good reasons to include all of the information the customer requires.
My week has involved recurrent talk on the subject of nutrition. Some
people I know wonder how long our bodies will be able to withstand the
digestive abuse we subject them to daily, aware that we all need to eat
and of how hard it is to put a good meal on the table.
One of the factors that has an impact on what people buy, in addition to
personal finances, is people's lack of knowledge on these matters and,
therefore, what they perceive to be "good" for the body (of both
children and adults) – an attitude of buying the minimum to get by
without doing too much "damage."
This is the result of a diet based on all of the junk food available, a
diet that people have adopted and made into a habit. This diet includes
hot dogs, powder drinks, canned fruit conserves (which the owners of
food establishments sell as "natural," smoked pork and chicken (treated
with potassium nitrate, and other chemicals) and head cheese (the
sub-product of a pork sub-product)
People aren't exactly convinced that, in order to have a better life – a
longer and healthier life, that is – they should look for products that
are healthier for the body.
It would rather seem we're fenced in, for, even though meat sub-products
are conserved, treated and manufactured, the quality of those destined
to hotels and hard currency stores is one thing, while that of the
products destined to ration locales (i.e. the rationed economy that
those with ration booklets have access to) is quite another.
Being at the bottom of the food-distribution chain is probably no
different for Cubans today than it was for humans prior to the advent of
"civilization": it's like being besieged by a wild beast that's always
on the hunt for you.
In our case, this predatory hunt is expressed in the form of early and
adult diabetes (in people without a family history of the condition), in
increased blood pressure (brought about by excessive consumption of
wheat flour in different forms) and the magnitude of one's stress (which
cause digestive and other problems), to say nothing of serious
conditions such as cancer, which has spread as a main cause of death in
Cuba and affects people in their daily lives in other ways.
This February, the processed sandwich meat sold at the ration locale was
in such condition that my cat didn't even look at it. Now, I'm going
through this unpleasant experience with the milk, as I can't get my
hands on the supposedly better quality milk destined to children (sold
in different bags), which is "untouchable."
I increasingly get the feeling that the gap between the natural and
artificial is narrowing more and more. I know this is nothing new out in
the world, but Cuba is just beginning to experience this and the health
of its inhabitants is suffering for it.
On occasion, you hear someone say that "they" look after us or try and
improve our health in some fashion.
They say this because running after a bus keeps us in shape, and the
fact a bit of beef is beyond the financial reach of the majority and
drinking a glass of milk every day proves impossible (though this is
questionable) spares us the dangers of growing fat.
Following the same logic, however, eating pork in excess, or taking in
disguised flour products, doesn't help us in the least either.
Speaking of proteins, we should literally be swimming in fish, as Cuba
is surrounded by water.
But no. The fish or seafood people want to eat is also expensive,
considering their salaries. Sometimes, it is hard to find it, and buying
it in downtown Havana isn't the same as doing so in the suburbs.
In Cuba, one grows old with more stress, and children grow up picking up
bad eating habits, eating excessive amounts of "knick-knacks."
To improve one's health, folks, no matter whether you're old or young,
requires leading a healthy life in every sense of the word, and it is
important to ask oneself what one eats and drinks, and how one goes
about maintaining such habits.
You also need to ask yourself whether you're damaging your metabolism,
deliberately or unwittingly, or whether you've struck a proper balance
of carbohydrates, proteins and fat, keeping a watchful eye on sugar.
Life for us Cuban-humans is more important than any financial concerns,
no matter how important these are, beyond all of the common or uncommon
excuses used (that one doesn't have enough money and is saving for the
future, that the country is under an economic blockade, or the Zika
virus is spreading).
I believe that, if we do not act now, as others have also been telling
us, we will regret not having taken precautions a year from now.
By then, we will be talking about the types of substances that make up
what we eat – if a "green awareness" doesn't save us first -, foods full
of artificial flavors, coloring, high gluccomate contents and fake
proteins (or chemicals disguised with names people don't know), or
anything the food industry brings us to feed more people.
These and other substances, owing to our lifestyles, aren't generally
burnt by the body and become fats, surrounding our organism and flooding
us with pollutants, not to mention the bad habits they encourage.
From this to a total breakdown is but a small step.
Source: On Special Rationed Milk and other Food Products Cubans Eat -
Havana Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=117768 Continue reading
Posted on February 6, 2016
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales and Havana, 6 February 2016 – First they
ran out of water bottles, then packaged juices became scarce, and now it
is difficult to find fresh fruit. This is how a hostess of tourist rooms
in Viñales describes the situation there with the significant increase
of tourism in Cuba and the problems of supplies.
During 2015, 3,524,779 foreign visitors arrived on the island, according
to the latest official figures, an increase of some 17.4% over the prior
year. However, the number of hotel rooms and private homes offering
accommodation has not grown just as quickly. Other services, such as
airports, food services and transportation, have also appeared to be
overwhelmed by the flood.
The beautiful valley of Viñales, with its attractive mogotes and range
of nature tourism, has experienced months of great demand. "Now we have
more tourists here than locals," exaggerates Paco, an 81-year-old who
owns a house near the well-known Indian Cave. From his doorway he can
see the incessant caravan of buses that brings visitors to the beautiful
"Before I sat down here," he notes from his wooden armchair, "I saw at
least ten To one side of his house, a family that owns a private
restaurant reinforces Paco's view. "We are struggling to maintain our
menu, because between the shortages and the number of tourists that are
coming it's getting very difficult," says Zoila, the restaurant's cook.
The market stalls show the effects of the increased demand. Every day
5,000 tourists visit Viñales, slightly more than one-sixth of the number
of residents. They come looking for products like fresh fruit, lobster,
shrimp, rum, beer and, of course, the local tobacco. "Sometimes we have
to go to other towns to find papayas and oranges for breakfast," says a
woman who rents rooms to tourists.
She acknowledges, however, that she is "happy" with the surge of
visitors. "Bring more, we're profiting," she repeats a very popular
phrase exuding optimism, although she would like to improve the town's
infrastructure, "to solve these bottlenecks."
There are 60 private sector restaurants in the Viñales valley with a
high demand for vegetables, fruits and meats. A good share of them are
supplied by the illegal market and buy directly from the farmers. "We
only have imported beer," says a sign outside one private restaurant.
The local beers, Cristal and Bucanero "are not available because the
'yumas' [foreigners] arrive very thirsty," a waiter comments jokingly.
A few yards away, a young man offers horseback rides through the valley
for five convertible pesos for twenty minutes. "All my animals are busy
now," he tells some Canadians want a little cross country trot. "I'm
full up, you'll have to wait for the ones making the tour now to
return." The man started with four horses, and now has nine and is
expecting to have fifteen this year.
In Havana, Obispo Street is buzzing at two on a Saturday afternoon. Some
pedestrians choose parallel streets such as O'Reilly or Obrapia to avoid
the crowds. Tour groups walk slowly with their guides, stopping to take
pictures and marveling at an old woman smoking an enormous cigar or a
woman dressed up in colonial-era clothing.
The whole place seems like a great Tower of Babel with the different
languages heard. Among the millions of visitors who came to the island
last year were some 125,000 Canadians, 36,000 Germans, 35,000 French,
32,000 British, 30,000 Spaniards and 26,000 Italians, among other
With the beginning of Air China flights, there are also a lot of Chinese
tourists beginning to arrive. "I can't complain," says Lucia, who rents
two rooms near Plaza Vieja in the historic center. "Last year my rooms
were occupied almost the whole time. I have spent a long time in this
arena and have never seen anything like it," she said.
The problem, points out the self-employed woman, has been that "the
supplies in the stores and the markets haven't kept up." Her family has
had to search everywhere to buy toilet paper, milk, soap and alcoholic
or sweetened drinks, these latter to fill "the minibars in the rooms,"
"Sometimes we have to go out at the crack of dawn to guarantee that
there is bread for breakfast," details Lucia. "This neighborhood has
collapsed, there is no way we can maintain quality service if we don't
have an improvement in supplies," she points out. A simple stroll
through the most important stores in the area, among them the centrally
located Harris Brothers, confirms her words.
"No, we haven't had small bottles of water for weeks," says a clerk on
the ground floor when asked about that product. "They are bought by the
boxful by the people who rent rooms," she adds. The same thing happens
with "beer, large bottles of Cola, and toilet paper," she emphasizes.
Old Havana still has its chronic problems of water supply, and with the
flood of customers in state and private accommodations, the prices
charged by the water trucks have also risen. "There are days when even
20 CUC isn't enough to get my water tank filled," comments Lucia.
For Maria del Pilar Macias Rutes, general director of Quality and
Operations of the Ministry of Tourism, there is "a challenge to continue
to improve quality systems in order to meet the demands of the boom in
tourism," she declared this week on national television. Among them, are
"programs to improve the situation in food and beverages, entertainment
and shopping," she explained.
"Havana can't take any more," jokes the keeper of a private restaurant
near Havana Bay when asked about the volume of foreign visitors who come
to his place. "We have already renovated three floors in the place and
we still can't cope," the man comments proudly, dressed like a gentleman
of the eighteenth century to attract more tourists.
The increase in visitors is also noticeable in the availability of
transport. A couple of years ago there were few people waiting at the
Havana Bus Tour stops, but now the lines are almost like those "for the
buses to go to work," laughs the driver of one of these double-deck
buses. For five convertible pesos, the route provides a two-hour tour of
the main tourist sites in the city.
The country currently has just over 60,000 rooms, of which 66.5% are in
four- and five-star hotels. By 2020 there are expected to be 85,500
rooms with international standards, according to the Minister of
Tourism, Manuel Marrero, but the signs are that the growth will have to
be faster than programmed. For 2016 barely 3,700 tourist rooms will be
added, and 5,600 will be renovated or improved, particularly in Havana,
Varadero and Northern Keys.
In the private sector, there is a total of 28,634 licensed housing
units, rooms and spaces, but some of them are intended for Cubans or are
premises rented for services.
Nor do the airport terminals escape the congestion and saturation of
passengers. In the Havana airport, travelers can expect to wait between
an hour-and-a-half to two hours from the time their plane lands until
they get out the door with their suitcases. The lines at the passport
checkpoints "at times are so long they almost stretch to the steps of
the plane" says a customs worker.
Customers complain about the stifling heat while waiting at the baggage
claim because the air conditioning in Terminal Three, the most modern in
the country, barely cools the room. "There is no toilet paper in the
bathrooms, and no place to even buy a bottle of water here," a recently
arrived Argentine tourist complained this weekend.
The situation could worsen throughout the year, during which the number
of visitors is expected to exceed 3.7 million, according to Deputy
Minister of Tourism Mayra Garcia Alvarez; this would be 175,200 more
tourists than last year.
Just outside the Havana airport the taxi drivers no longer fight for
customers, it is the latter who have to try to get to one of the
Panataxis as they are approaching the terminal from the street. Two men
were arguing over a cart to carry their luggage. "I saw it first,"
protested one, with a French accent. Finally he managed to hang on to
it, but it had a broken wheel.
Night falls and tourists are pouring out of the airport to visit a
country that cannot cope with meeting their expectations.
Source: There Isn't Enough Beer For So Many 'Yumas' / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mata | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/there-isnt-enough-beer-for-so-many-yumas-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
Inequality is growing in Cuba, threatening the legacy of Castro's revolution
Story by Nick Miroff
Published on December 29, 2015
HAVANA — In the Alamar neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, the
streets don't have names. To find an address, you need to know the zone,
the block number and the apartment, because all the buildings look the
same. Long and rectangular, five stories tall, their facades have been
stripped by the ocean air and re-pigmented in curlicue patterns of mildew.
Alamar is the largest public housing project in Cuba, if not one of the
largest in the world, with 100,000 residents. In a country sworn to
socialist equality, it is arguably Cuba's most equal place, because
everyone pretty much has an identical apartment.
Above: Horses feed near the Alamar coastline; the city's signature
buildings can be seen in the distance. (Photo by Lisette Poole for The
"It was a model city," said Román Pérez, 76, a retired bus driver who
lives in Zone 8, block D52, apartment 21. He helped build D52 and two
others with his own hands, as a member of a communist worker
"micro-brigade." This was Fidel Castro's idea.
"We had everything then," Pérez said. "Everyone looked after each other."
That was 40 years ago. Today, with U.S.-Cuban relations on the mend,
this island has come to the edge of a new post-Castro era. The country's
ideological foundations are cracking, and new uncertainties are coming —
perhaps none larger than whether the egalitarian values of Castro's
revolution will be swept away by rising inequalities and the breakdown
of Cuba's socialist welfare state.
Communist Party elders want to keep a lid on market forces, but with
every incremental opening, yawning income gaps emerge. The owner of a
small private restaurant can earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more, in
a country where three-quarters of the labor force works for the state
and the average government salary is $20 a month. Tour guides and hotel
chambermaids make more than scientists and doctors.
Younger Cubans do not seem too troubled. But these disparities,
authorities fear, bear the seeds of social tensions, resentments and crime.
"Men Die, But the Party Is Immortal," says a billboard in Alamar, trying
to reassure residents who may wonder what will happen after Fidel, 89,
and current President Raúl Castro, 84, are no longer around.
Cuba remains a society of unusual social and economic parity in Latin
America, a region beset by deep class divisions and the world's worst
homicide rates. A fraying system of cradle-to-grave benefits keeps
Cubans living in a kind of state-administered, socialized poverty,
earning high scores on U.N. human development surveys but little for
On the surface, Alamar looks like the kind of peripheral urban slum that
a visitor would not dare enter in Sao Paulo or Bogota or Mexico City.
Yet it is a place with no gangs, and essentially no guns or drugs, where
neighbors know each other and parents send children out to play in the
cracked stairwells and weedy lots. Social and economic equality — and
political conformity — have been reinforced by the monotony of the
Old-timers such as Román Pérez say they would not want to live
elsewhere. But most of the other members of Pérez's micro-brigade have
died or moved away. Their children are impatient to get out of Alamar,
to somewhere better.
They see Cuba's model city, and the country's revolution, as running on
'City of the future'
Before it was a neighborhood, Alamar was an argument.
In capitalist countries, governments built housing projects that gave
shelter to the poor but failed to fix the root causes of poverty and
marginalization. Fidel Castro's proletarian city would be different. It
would endow residents with a sense of ownership and belonging by
enlisting them in the construction of their own homes.
The idea came at a low point for Castro. In 1970, he had mobilized the
entire island in a drive to achieve a sugar harvest of 10 million tons.
Students, factory workers and nearly all other able-bodied males were
sent out into the sweltering cane fields with machetes.
The whole thing was a disaster. The sugar harvest fell short, shredding
Castro's veneer of invincibility.
The Cuban leader pivoted to a new fixation: Havana's housing shortage,
the product of a 1960s baby boom and the mass migration of Cubans from
poor rural areas to the capital.
There were few undeveloped spaces big enough for his ambitions. But the
completion of a road tunnel under the Bay of Havana in 1958 had opened
up the city's eastern coastline to developers. Their blueprints had
contemplated an American-style suburb. The rebels' takeover a year later
iced those plans.
"We were living in a one-room apartment," said Luis Castillo, who had
migrated to Havana from Santiago in eastern Cuba. He came to Alamar in
1979 on the promise that his family would receive an apartment in
exchange for his labor as a mason.
"We slept out in the open, in the foundation of the building," said
Castillo, 88, who still lives in the apartment he helped build. "We even
worked on Sundays."
Castro visited Alamar often in those years, dropping by to inspect
progress and show off the project to visiting foreign dignitaries. State
television reports hailed the rise of Cuba's "city of the future."
In an era of right-wing military rule in Latin America, at least one
apartment in every building was reserved for foreign revolutionaries and
activists who might need a refuge.
Alamar today is becoming a different sort of refuge, a destination for
rural migrants from Cuba's interior who can't afford to live anywhere
else in Havana. Four years after Raúl Castro allowed Cubans to begin
buying and selling property, Alamar apartments list for $5,000 to
$10,000, a tenth of what they would be worth in parts of the city that
[$75,000 will get you a lot of house in Havana — if you're Cuban]
Like the great sugar harvest, Alamar's grand ambitions fell short.
Building materials and budgets were diverted to meet construction quotas
for residential units, leaving little or nothing for parks, recreation
areas and stores, let alone upkeep of the buildings.
The neighborhood's 25 "zones" are laid out in no particular order, and
the apartment blocks too were positioned in haphazard fashion. Open
areas between buildings have since been filled in by weeds and debris.
The disarray is compounded by the lack of a downtown or central plaza.
One part of Alamar is so remote it's known as "Siberia."
"Alamar became the reference point for what happens when you remove the
concept of architecture from the construction process," said Miguel
Coyula, a Havana architect who is an authority on the city's history.
Such criticisms sting for Humberto Ramírez, who was assigned to Alamar
in 1972 as a young architect. He eventually became the project's top
technical engineer. Despite the inexpert labor force, he said, most of
the buildings remain solid. The Alamar buildings did fail as an example
of urban planning, Ramírez acknowledges.
"But they achieved their goal," he said. "They provided housing. And
they created a place of equality for the socialist society we were
Hard times set in
When Olga Mederos moved to Alamar in 1986, there were strict rules. No
pets. No exterior alterations. No religious believers. She tried to put
some potted plants on her balcony and got a reprimand.
"Alamar wasn't so run-down then," said Mederos, 55, who lives in Zone 8,
D54, with her adult son. "People followed the rules. They took better
care of the common areas. On weekends, everyone would volunteer to pick
up trash and sweep the stairwells."
Alamar was then like a gated community, except that the homeowners
association was the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR),
the Communist Party watch group found in every neighborhood on the
island. It enforced the residential rules and the political ones, too.
It aimed to create a community of model workers, devoted revolutionaries
and altruistic neighbors.
It worked, in a sense, for a while.
Cuba was more prosperous then, floating on generous Soviet subsidies.
Bus service to the rest of Havana was plentiful. So were the food
rations at government bodegas.
When the Soviet Union folded, Cuba fell on hard times, but Alamar fell
harder. The power blackouts were constant. Gasoline shortages meant
six-hour lines at the bus stop. Mederos remembers taking her children to
the rocky shoreline to cool off and watching neighbors push off on
makeshift rafts bound for Florida.
The apartment blocks of Alamar still have CDR watch groups, but
neighbors rarely volunteer anymore to pick up trash or work on Sundays.
After 25 years of economic austerity, a collective exhaustion has set
in, the toll of steady emigration, corruption large and small, and the
knowledge, from the impossible-to-filter influences of globalization,
that Cubans live better in almost any other country than their own.
Mederos came from a family of committed revolutionaries and had moved
her parents into the building adjacent to hers. Her father, Aldo, 82,
was a photographer for the Communist Party newspaper, Granma, and what
was then the Ministry of Communications.
He was the first Cuban to print the grisly photos confirming the death
of revolutionary icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Bolivia in 1967. "The
photos were still wet when they took them to Fidel," he said.
The egalitarian ideals of that era are lost today on Aldo's grandson,
Alejandro, 28. He has an American flag in his bedroom but little else.
Trained as a veterinary technician, he was laid off during Raúl Castro's
campaign to downsize the state bureaucracy. Sometimes he drives a taxi.
His mother says he is desperate to leave.
"He says to me, "I don't want to turn 50 in this country with no car and
no house of my own,' " Olga Mederos said.
Mederos's daughter, Wendy, 33, studied for a career as a social worker.
But she grew disillusioned a decade ago when Fidel Castro responded to
chronic pilfering at state gas stations by assigning young social
workers to operate them. She had not gone to university to pump diesel.
She works today in the sales department of the state telecommunications
As elsewhere in Cuba, many of those who sacrificed the most for the
Castros' revolution are today struggling to survive. Mederos's
80-year-old mother, Olga Chang, earns $2 a day selling pastry and candy
in the street. Nearly half of her $15 monthly government pension goes
back to the state for her small-business license.
Olga Chang's husband, Aldo, keeps thick manila envelopes of old photos
that tell the story of a life in the service of Cuba's socialist dream.
There is one of him and Olga on a motorcycle in the early 1960s, when
his little photography studio also afforded them a Chevrolet coupe. Aldo
has photos of a youthful Fidel Castro speaking in Moscow, Hungary,
Brazil, back when Aldo traveled the world to document El Comandante's
A few black-and-white prints show Aldo with a machete in the cane
fields. He volunteered for 12 sugar harvests.
"When I show these to my grandson, he says, 'What good did it do? Look
at you now. You've got nothing,' " Aldo said.
He shuffled the image to the bottom of the pile, looking away. "Maybe
it's true," he said. "Maybe he's right."
Source: A socialist vision fades in Cuba's biggest housing project | The
Washington Post -
http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2015/12/29/a-socialist-vision-fades-in-cubas-biggest-housing-project/ 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 -
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