14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 13 April 2017 — I still have a clear
memory of the Cuban TV show Cocina a minuto, every Sunday before
noon. It disappeared, of course, when it was no longer possible to make
the recipes with what the people had at their disposal in the
refrigerator or the pantry and and what they were still given – although
with a few more alternatives than now – on the ration book.
It was ridiculous that they would broadcast it on television and we
would see the host and chef, Nitza Villapol, preparing some exquisite
dessert with a can of condensed milk and twelve eggs, when Cubans were
only given five eggs per person per month. At home we would say, "But
what planet is this woman living on?" Surely this is what provoked the
cancelling of the show.
In June the Varadero International Gourmet Festival will be held, with
the participation of ten countries.
The magazine Caribbeannewsdigital.com affirms that it will focus on the
search for excellence in tourist services, and will celebrate two of
Havana's most famous establishments, the 200-year-old the Floridita
restaurant and the 75th anniversary of La Bodeguita del Medio. This is
because Washington and Havana enjoy excellent relations at the moment.
Innovations in culinary techniques and vegan recipes, which are trending
around the world, will surely grace the tables; but ordinary Cubans,
once again, will not know this.
Dinner table conversations will be enlivened with quality cocktails
prepared with the real Cuban rum, which enjoys international prestige,
none of those rotgut brands that Cubans drink like Chispa Del Tren
(Train Spark) or Hueso De Tigre (Tiger Bone). Fine Habano cigars,
chocolates and coffee – real coffee, not the one Cubans get that is half
crushed peas – will also be part of the feast, enjoyed and appreciated
by the experts.
According to data from the Department of Commerce, collected by the
United States-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, the island bought a
considerable amount of rice (about 700 tons) in February, something that
hadn't happened for nine years.
We already know who is going to taste that exquisite rice and how many
dishes will be made with it. It is for tourists, who can enjoy rice
pudding or rice with chicken. Instead, the people will continue to eat
the rice filled with pebbles and rubbish that you have to spend hours
picking out before you cook it.
Source: Rice Without Pebbles For The Tourists – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/rice-without-pebbles-for-the-tourists/ 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
René Mesa, better known as Piro, is said to be one of the best cooks in
Cuba for the coveted roasted pig.
At his farm, located about 30 miles east of Havana between the towns of
Jaruco and Santa Cruz del Norte, Piro and his helpers roast in special
kilns and the pigs they raise eat a diet of palmiche, the fruit of the
royal palm, which gives the meat a unique flavor.
But those who want to treat family, friends or potential business
clients in Cuba with the tasty pork morsels don't have to travel to the
island. Orders can now be done from Miami.
Just call a local number, say where you want the food delivered and pay
the fee. The roasted pork will be prepared in Cuba, accompanied by side
dishes, and delivered to the intended recipients on the island.
"We work with seriousness and respect, and we have no complaints from
our customers," the cook said in a telephone interview.
Piro has more than 10 years of experience in the business, and is so
well known that famous American Chef Emeril Lagasse recorded part of
episode six of his series "Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse" on Piro's
"I really haven't had a more tastier pig ever in my life," Lagasse says
in the episode, "Forbidden Cuba." "It's not over-seasoned. You can taste
every bite of the pork. It's just fantastic."
An order that serves 25 people, including a roasted pig weighing about
65 pounds, congrí rice, cassava with mojo and salad, costs about $100,
Deliveries extend from Piro's farm to Havana province in the west and
Matanzas province in the east.
But Piro is not the only Cuban cook taking orders from abroad.
Several private restaurants, known on the island as paladares, have
begun to offer a similar service. Ads for the meals can be found on
"Full pigs roasted on charcoal. Free shipping throughout the capital.
Call in Miami for reservations and payment. Possibility of payment
abroad to surprise your family in Cuba," reads an ad in the Cuba
classifieds site Revolico.
The restaurant, named Mi Sofía, also offers "buffet for events, weddings
and parties in general."
To place an order, the advertisement has a telephone number in Havana
and another in Miami.
A person who answered the phone in Miami declined to comment on the ad
offers, stating that "everything in Cuba gets distorted."
But with phone rates to call Cuba at $1 per minute, on average, the
possibility of placing an order by calling a number in Miami is both
convenient and cost-saving.
Piro's niece, Norei Mesa, who lives in Miami, is one of the people who
takes orders for his roast pork.
"If there is no special date, I get two to three orders a week," she
said. "On special dates like Christmas or New Year, orders are sold out
Piro also offers empanadas and mutton stew known as chilindrón. But he
is famous for his pig.
His meals often make it to other provinces across Cuba, hauled by
customers on the island.
Mesa said some customers have taken her uncle's roasted pig by ferry to
the Isle of Youth or by train to the eastern edge of Cuba. An Angolan
ambassador once took two cooked pigs home on a plane.
Besides Mesa, Piro "has people all over the world" who take orders, she
Payments are handled in cash, although for a while Mesa tried to accept
credit cards: "It was very complicated with the bank account."
Piro said he accepts various forms of payment in Cuba.
So far, the business relies solely on word of mouth. But Piro's son, who
also lives in Miami, "wants to put it on Facebook," he said.
FOLLOW ABEL FERNÁNDEZ ON TWITTER: @ABELFGLEZ
For more information on ordering Piro's roasted pig, call 305-392-1461.
Ads for other roasted pig orders available in Cuba can be found at
Source: Order a roasted pig in Miami and get it delivered in Cuba |
Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article124796684.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 November 2016 — The corner of Infanta
and San Lazaro just awoke from its always busy Friday night. In
the bakery of the El Biky restaurant, Carlos Bernabé tastes one baked
treat after another. Faced with a delicacy filled with coconut, the
demanding eater suggests "only the madeleine could be improved."
He says it knowingly, because the Spaniard comes from a family of bakers
in Valencia and presides over the Indespan company. His excitement to
explore new horizons has brought him to the island several times in the
last five years. He says that the challenge here is to "encourage
innovation in the bread and bakery sector."
Barnabas takes a bite of his pastry and a sip of coffee. He explains
that his firm has done innovated research "in the field of healthy
baking." Outside the windows of the café where he speaks with 14ymedio,
the sun begins to shine through everywhere, defying the clouds and traffic.
Over a year ago the entrepreneur came to train and supply the employees
of La Antigua Chiquita bakery, and he affirms that "since then, the
bakery has exclusively dedicated itself to preparing breads and pastries
for the celiac population." Celiac is a disorder that obliges those who
suffer from it to each gluten-free foods.
Barnabas boasts that the breads and pastries prepared under his
company's methods "become medication." He evaluates the initiative that
started at the bakery on Carlos III Street as "a resounding success"
because "it is the first bakery in Cuba that offers good quality
products for celiac sufferers," and that has been able to maintain a
stable supply of products.
The businessman has not wanted to stay only in Havana and the project is
expanding to other provinces. On his most recent trip he helped to "set
up the second gluten-free bakery for celiacs," now in Santa Clara. In
this effort he was accompanied by two bakers from his team in Valencia.
This type of preparation "was totally unknown" to the Cuban employees,
but after three days of practice "they know how to make different kinds
of products such as breads, hamburger buns, pizzas, cakes and muffins,"
says Indespan's president.
In these last five years, while promoting his ideas on the island, he
has been approached at his presentations by everyone "from crying
children" to "mothers of adult children who were finally able to eat
warm bread." He found that many felt socially excluded because at
parties and recreational activities "all the sweets contained flour,
contained gluten," which is dangerous to their health.
Last Friday Barnabas did a demonstration at El Sylvain on Calzada de 10
Octubre in Havana in which he made breads and desserts for diabetics,
"with zero sugar," he says.
He explains that in this effort to introduce formulas and methods for
healthy eating in Cuba, he has found "great support" and "those
responsible for the bakeries are very concerned about it." He maintains
"a fluid conversation with all those involved so he doesn't run out of
supplies," and in order to avoid "celiacs not having their food, their
The baker is not done in terms of projects. He plans to increase the
variety of products and on his next trip will bring "gluten-free pasta
so celiacs can make spaghetti, cannelloni and lasagna at home."
He estimates that there is a need for more than "five hundred bakeries
of this type" throughout the country to satisfy the demand. "The
important thing is to start on the path and then offer the facilities
necessary for the self-employed to be able to continue," he says, in
relation to the private sector.
However, to achieve this "the most important thing" is "to improve the
supply of raw materials." In his conversations with Cuban entrepreneurs
he has learned that "their main problem is supplies," stable supplies
"to make bread for diabetics or to get mixes."
There needs to be "in the very near future, a way for private
individuals to get the raw materials necessary to give the population a
quality product," Bernebé emphasizes. Having a wholesale market still
seems like a dream, but even though the projects are "going slowly" the
baker believes that "we have to keep pushing."
Source: When Bread Is Also Medicine / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/when-bread-is-also-medicine-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
Visiting climate refugees in a disappearing Cuba.
MALLORY PICKETT AUG 11, 2015
October 23, 2005, began as a calm day in Dilcia Edreida Alarcón's
hometown—Playa Rosario, a fishing village just south of Havana. But
around 6 p.m., she noticed the waves. They were huge, and getting
bigger—up to four meters high—breaking closer and closer to her
beachfront home. The radio alert she had been waiting for came: Wilma
was furiously churning toward Cuba's south coast, the most intense
hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic.
As the waves pounded the shore, Alarcón and her neighbors gathered
everything they could, and fled. Officials from the ministry of civil
defense took them to an inland shelter to wait the storm out.
This was the most active hurricane season ever recorded over the
Atlantic: Katrina had blasted through New Orleans just two months
before, and Wilma was the fifth in a series of record-breaking storms
that caused nearly 1,700 deaths and $100 billion in damages in the
United States alone. Rosario residents had weathered many storms over
the years, and been evacuated often. After each hurricane, they returned
to re-build their ravaged homes. But this time was different. Cuban land
use officials knew Playa Rosario was doomed. The sea was rising, and
Rosario was built on sinking land. It would be completely submerged by
2050, and the shoreline was already retreating as much as three feet per
year. Every hurricane scraped more dirt and sand from the crumbling
shoreline, and, in the years to come, the waters would keep rising
higher and the storms would keep getting stronger.
After the hurricane, Alarcón and her neighbors were told they couldn't
return to what was left of the town (only three of the 113 homes were
still standing) and instead were transferred to a temporary shelter,
where many have remained for the past 10 years.
Cuba is on a tectonic seesaw, much of its north coast rising while the
south coast beneath Rosario subsides.
Today, all that's left of Playa Rosario are the foundations of homes,
now crumbling into the sea. The main road is completely submerged, and
spring water bubbles up through the remains of an old patio. Skeletal
house remnants face the sea, contemplating the water's edge as they are
slowly engulfed: one and a half feet deeper every year. It's a ghost
town. The house where Alarcón's three sons were born is underwater, and
now she lives in government housing eight miles inland. "El mar se comió
todo," she says. The ocean ate everything.
Playa Rosario's heyday was Alarcón's youth. The town was always a humble
place, just a handful of simple homes on the beach, but in the 1960s
Cuban tourists would visit by the busload. They came to fish, play, and
cure their ailments by taking the waters—a sulfur-rich underground
spring flowed into the sea and bubbled up through the mud. Doctors would
prescribe baths at Rosario for rashes and asthma. Residents fished for
shrimp and lobster and bartered for produce with farmers in the
surrounding countryside. Only a few hundred people lived there but the
town's impact on the coastline was soon apparent. They built houses and
a road right on the beach, at the expense of the coastal mangroves. They
drained the aquifer, and saltwater from the sea soon crept in to the
fresh natural water they were so proud of. Without the mangrove barrier,
hurricanes and waves ate away at the coast, which was already low. The
town was only about 10 inches above sea level, and even without the
constant erosion, the whole coast was always slightly sinking—Cuba is on
a tectonic seesaw, much of its north coast rising while the south coast
beneath Rosario subsides.
For 20 years, Cuban scientists have watched the waters rise. Cuba is
shrinking, and there's nothing they can do but adapt.
The people of Rosario, developing un-checked, did plenty of damage. But
their efforts alone weren't enough to drown the beachside community.
Neither was the sinking land. But Cuban scientists, armed with a
climate-change risk assessment, realized the coastal road, destroyed
mangroves, depleted aquifer, and sinking land would have no chance
against the rising seas. "I understand that re-location strategies are
painful for the population," Juan Llanes Regueiro, a professor at the
University of Havana, writes in an email, "But in many cases they are
The plight of Playa Rosario's residents is a preview of what could
happen all along Cuba's edges. The island is long and very thin—at its
widest point it only takes about two hours to drive shore to shore. Ten
percent of Cubans live along its 3,735 miles of coastline, and tourist
beaches and coastal resorts generate $2.6 billion each year. The
government has anticipated climate change as an existential threat to
these communities and businesses for years. In 1991, before any
international effort to address climate change was in place, Cuba formed
a national commission to predict global warming's effects on Cuba. Two
years later, at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio, Fidel Castro
conveyed his view on the gravity of the situation in an address to other
world leaders: "An important biological species is in danger of
disappearing," he said. "Mankind." In the 23 years since then, Cuban
officials have continued to urge action on climate change at
international meetings, with more fiery rhetoric. But to no avail. For
20 years Cuban scientists have watched the waters rise. Cuba is
shrinking, and there's nothing it can do but adapt.
The people of Rosario were forced to adapt by retreating from the
water's advances. The settlement prepared to receive Playa Rosario's
residents is eight miles inland, a cluster of two-story apartment
buildings at the end of a dusty road, bordered by train tracks and
cornfields. The concrete walls are strong enough to withstand the next
hurricane, and the finished houses are painted bright baby blue. Alarcón
lives in a first-floor apartment with four rooms, lace curtains in her
bedroom, and a garden outside—something she could never have had in the
sands of Rosario. She's been here seven years, one of the 100 or so
Rosario refugees who have moved in. But, 10 years after their
evacuation, there still aren't enough homes for all 300 of her former
neighbors. Some finished houses stand empty because the lagoon that
receives the settlement's wastewater doesn't have the capacity for more
people. Many others are still under construction.
"We have no life here," Miliani says. But she and her family know they
are the lucky ones.
But Alarcón is lucky. She lives below her sister-in-law, Dalia Garcia
Miliani, a cheerful woman with short dark hair and lots of laugh lines,
and Dalia's grandson, Yosiel Rojos Gil. Yosiel is 17, but his skinny
frame and big eyes make him look even younger. He's already finished
school, and now he works in the fields that surround the settlement,
farming corn, sugar, and cabbage.
It's hard work, Yosiel says. Where they live now, everything is far—the
store, the beach, the next town. He was just seven years old when they
left Playa Rosario, but he seems to pine for the life there as much as
his elders do. They miss the seaside village life, when they had fish to
barter for more food and goods. Now they mostly live off the Libreta de
Abastecimientos, a monthly ration every Cuban gets: Two and a half kilos
of rice, half a kilo of beans, a few kilos of sugar, a liter of milk per
day for children and a dozen eggs—$8 worth of food, for the month.
"We have no life here," Miliani says. But she and her family know they
are the lucky ones, to have real houses. The rest of the former Rosario
residents still live in the temporary shelter, waiting to move into the
settlement's permanent homes.
The shelter is only five minutes away by car, but a 20-minute walk in
the hot sun. Yosiel's mother lives here, just another faraway place for
him to walk to. It's small, a few one-story buildings, very close
together, with crumbling cement brick walls and tin roofs. Laundry dries
in the sun, and most people are inside to escape the heat. Emilio Acosta
Durand and his brother Osmel sit on the floor of one room, mending a
tarp they will use for fishing. The men are shirtless, their skin
sunbaked to a rich tan. Emilio has his seven-month-old daughter, Emily,
on his knee.
"We've been here 10 years," Emilio says. Emilio and Osmel lived and
fished in Rosario for most of their lives. They still fish, but they
have to take a motorcycle on the rough road to the beach, and come home
to this dusty, dry room every night. The houses they had in Rosario
weren't any fancier, but it was nice to be by the water, Emilio says.
Emily smiles and bounces in his arms. An angry red rash covers her
little arms and legs. When she's older, Emilio says, he will take her to
Rosario, to bathe in the sulfur-rich water and mud that have cured
Rosario baby rashes for generations. That's also where he hopes to teach
her to swim.
It's unlikely Emily will be able to take her own children to Rosario,
and by the time her grandchildren learn to swim few Cuban beaches will
be left for them: Five percent of Cuba will be completely underwater and
82 percent of Cuban beaches will be partially or fully flooded by the
end of the century, according to Cuban scientists' predictions. Rosario
is the first Cuban town to be permanently evacuated, but the people of
Playa Uvero, about 186 miles to the northeast, might be next, and there
may be many more: "Re-accommodation" is one of the many prongs of the
government's climate-change adaptation plan, according to official
The ministry of civil defense has already embarked on a coastal
protection scheme in which it demolished 287 beachfront government
structures and 198 privately owned buildings since 2012. These buildings
were taken down for violating Cuba's coastal development law, which
forbids construction within 40-80 meters of the shore, and building on
sand dunes. The law was passed in 2000 but wasn't enforced until 2011,
after the government conducted a study on the effects of climate change
and found that rising seas would swamp Cuban beaches well before the end
of the century.
"I think they're just being smart," says Dan Whittle, who works for the
Environmental Defense Fund in Havana and has been involved in Cuban
coastal development for over two decades. The Cuban government isn't
"trying to engineer its way out of the problem," he says. They're just
moving out of the way, trying to stay safe for whatever comes next.
Source: El Mar Se Comió Todo: On the Shrinking of Cuba - Pacific
http://www.psmag.com/nature-and-technology/climate-change-refugees-cuba-is-shrinking Continue reading
Posted on February 15, 2015
Ivan Garcia, Havana, 14 December 2015 — "The truce ended," bawled a
newspaper vendor on the bustling central Calzada de 10 de Octubre, in
Leaning against a peeling wall in the lobby of an old neighborhood movie
theater, the vendor offers the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth)
to passersby who read, while they walk, an article by the historian
Elier Ramirez calling for Cubans to be cautious about the dark
intentions of the United States.
At the door of a farmers market stained with reddish earth and with
stands overflowing with pineapples, sweet potatoes and yucas, Roman, a
market clerk, reads the article seated on an iron chair.
"It's more of the same. They want to crush Cubans' widespread
expectations after the 17 December accords. The other day the newspaper
Granma also was marking territory, saying that our sovereignty is not
negotiable. Those people (the regime) are scared shitless. If the doors
really open, the system is going down. It won't last as long as an ice
cube in the sun," says Roman.
After noon, the old newspaper seller, sitting on a cardboard box in a
doorway next to an art gallery, eating a serving of rice and beans and a
slice of an omelet.
In a bag he still had more than thirty unsold newspapers. "We Cubans
don't care much about the news any more, good or bad. There are people
who buy the newspaper to wrap up their garbage or to use as toilet
paper. The enthusiasm awakened by the December 17th news has died down.
They (those in the government) want it that way. And that's why they're
saying the Yankees are the enemy and the people want to go to the US,"
says the old vendor.
At El Lateral, a private restaurant on Acosta Avenue, a group of friends
were drinking Cristal beer while waiting for their Hawaiian pizzas. They
preferred to talk about soccer, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo or "The Flea"
The government's political manipulation of the issue of relations with
the United States. They haven't written even a comma to implement some
of the measures that could favor the owners of private businesses. They
don't want to leave the throne. They don't want people to live their
lives independently and to have a better standard of living. My advice:
leave Cuba. The sooner the better," says a boy with a quirky haircut.
In a park in the Havana neighborhood of Sevillano, Daniel, retired
military, looks after his grandson riding a bicycle. "People aren't
happy with the Cuban government's treatment of Obama's policy toward
Cuba. Most want the tensions to end. We're tired of the same broken
record. Cubans want to prosper," he says, lighting a Popular brand
"I wonder if the government thinks about the future. For the youngest
people, the Cold War is ancient history. Our differences are not theirs.
Cuban youth see the United States as an aesthetic reference and a model
life," says the ex soldier.
When asked about the issue of democracy and human rights, the silence is
profound. "I don't think you can pressure Raul Castro on that topic.
That political rights aren't respected in Cuba? It's true. But the
world, expect some dozen nations, in one way or another also violates
human rights. You have to wait for this generation of leaders to die for
there to be an opening in this land. The government has one last option:
get on the train and normalize relations. If they don't do it, it's
obvious to the people, who are already tired of everything," says Daniel.
In an Internet surfing room in the old part of Havana, a
twenty-something employee who sells mobile phone cars has her own
therapy to escape the political.
"For my mental health, i don't read the newspaper. I prefer to rent the
"packets" with soap operas, serials and movies. My personal goal is
short-term. Tonight I'm going out with a delicious "mango" (boy) who has
a car and money, and enjoy a disco. It is my present and my future. In
Cuba you can't pick a fight. Otherwise those old guys (the Castros) will
kill you with a heart attack," she says laughing.
The good vibrations provoked among many ordinary Cubans by the news of
December 17th is being displaced by the permanent indifference of the
olive-green regime. The desire for a radical change that could transform
their lives was just that: an illusion.
13 February 2015
Source: Cubans of Milkless Coffee Put Their Feet on the Ground / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba -
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Posted on February 12, 2015
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 9 February 2014 – "The flour trail is
easy to follow," says a retired baker whose hands, for more than five
years now, haven't mixed ingredients nor added leavening to a dough. "I
left it all behind, because the administrator of the bakery where I
worked changed every six months and the last one ended up in jail,"
explains this sixties-something man with long arms, wearing a white cap
from his days in front of on oven.
The illegal market in flour has grown in recent years. With the revival
of private businesses offering varied menus, demand for "the white
powder" has multiplied. It's estimated that three of every five pizzas
sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired
in the underground networks and not from the hard currency stores as
required by law.
A recent TV report has revealed that the diversion of the grain starts
at the mills where the wheat is processed and packaged for distribution
throughout the country. Cienfuegos Combined Cereals supplies the product
to 11 of the country's provinces, and a high percentage of its
merchandise ends up in the informal networks. The trail this traffic
leaves extends from the ships of the Cienfuegos company, passing through
the railroad cars of at least three provinces and also involving
entities such as the Business Base Unit (UEB) and Cargo Transport
The Interior Ministry has an ongoing investigation in response to
multiple complaints of shortages of flour. The Controller of the
Republic herself has intervened in the matter and at the end of 2014
presided over a tense meeting in Camaguey Province attended by all the
entities involved in the embezzlement. That meeting turned into a
battlefield where each party defended their own innocence and accused
In November 2014, María Victoria Rabelo, director general of the Cuba
Milling Company, had sent a long missive with a detailed sequence of the
thefts committed against the merchandise marketed by her company,
pointing an accusing finger at the railroad authorities. According to
the millers' version, the sacks of precious grain go astray during the
journey to numerous destinations in the region.
In July of last year, the Department of National Railways reduced the
number of staff in the Loading and Unloading Inspection Division. Added
to the spending cuts is the illusion that the security of the loads
relies more on automated methods and the verification of the locks of
every boxcar with merchandise. The result of this measure has been a
In a Provincial Food Company inspection of 60 boxcars, it was determined
that between September and October alone, over 100,000 pounds of the
precious product disappeared. "If before they reduced the manpower of
inspectors they were losing between two and three sacks per boxcar,
today we're talking about losing as much as 17 tons fromone of them,"
confessed one Cuba Milling Company official on national television.
Ledy Guerrero Ramírez, head of packing and stowage for Cienfuegos Cereal
company, said it was impossible that the product was stolen during
loading. "No way," she responded before the insinuation that the main
diversion was happening in her entity. "Here we have a computer with two
automatic scales and here we have another computer where the number of
sacks loaded to a boxcar is programmed in," she added. Guerrero Ramírez
also said that, when the full number of sacks is loaded, the conveyor
During the police investigation it was found that, despite the
implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the
shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons
less flour. An even greater mystery, and one confusing to the experts,
is that this happens without the security seals placed on the door of
each car showing any signs of being violated.
The railroad operators defend themselves, bringing up Ministry of
Economy and Planning Resolution No. 2 of 2008. According to its
provisions, the supplier is obligated to place the product in the
warehouses of the customers and guarantee its arrival in good condition
and without losses. Following the exact letter of the provision, it is
the responsibility of Cienfuegos Cereals to take control of and
transport the flour to every distribution center.
Centralized State control, however, obliges the millers and the railroad
operators to work together in a forced relationship. The spotlight of
the accusations is falling on the work of the UEB railway in Cienfuegos.
Its chief of operations, Antonio Subí Claro, referred to the television
official who had recorded missing sacks over the whole year, which have
been "significantly increased (…), adding up to some 4,800 missing sacks
as of December."
Nothing here … nothing there
Getting the sacks of flour out of the boxcars can only be carried with
the complicity – or blindness – of the train crew. Several farmers in
the central area say that there are sites located on the outskirts of
towns and cities where the illegal off-loading occurs. A non-scheduled
stop allows the product to be transferred to trucks, which wait on both
sides of the rail line. The security seals on the boxcars were never
closed, which requires several accomplices in the loading areas at the
mills. Once they take out the merchandise, they proceed to seal the
doors, leaving no signs that they had been forced.
The web of conspirators is so extensive that from the loading centers
they convey the information to the off-loaders about which boxcars are
marked by the police, to be inspected on arrival. A game of cat and
mouse, where this time the rodents appear to have greater ingenuity and
creativity than the stupid cat who monitors them without success.
Contrary to what many believe, a great part of the stolen flour ends up
in the state institutions themselves. The bakeries are the final
destination of thousands of these stolen sacks. It will be there where
they concoct, with the implements and state infrastructure, the bread
and baked goods that later will be sold by private vendors. A mix of
state and private (estatal and particular) that people have jokingly
The phenomenon of undeclared production has become common in state
institutions. However, it is in bread baking where it reaches its
highest peak. The bakeries work at double their capacity, although the
product offered on the ration book is poor quality and underweight.
Inside the state entities, the ovens never stop and on the kneading
tables they give shape to the bread sold according to supply and demand.
This is marketed "under the counter" from the display cases of the
bakery itself, or is supplied to private bakers, birthday party
managers, café owners and casual shoppers.
Another part of the stolen grain goes to families who hide distribution
centers where they package the merchandise in smaller portions and offer
it to their usual clients. "We supply owners of private restaurants and
cafés, mostly to people who sell Italian food," says Amilkar, a young
man of 28 who is part of the flour distribution network in the capital
neighborhood of Puentes Grandes, very close to the Cuba Milling Company.
"This is a dangerous business," says Amilkar, who has seen many "end up
in the tank." In mid-2013 an illegal flour distribution network was
dismantled in the city of Camaguey. The police arrested two young men
hiding five sacks and flour and two pounds of leavening in the false
bottom of a tricycle. The investigators busted it wide open and ended up
taking down a network of 17 people, who included some who were issuing
false invoices to account for the grain transfers.
An illegal industry that is carried out with the stealth of those who
traffic in cocaine, because all the flour circulating in the country has
been stolen from the state network that imports the wheat and processes
it in domestic mills. Attempts to cultivate the grain in Cuban soil have
ended up being a sterile, and excessively expensive, enterprise.
If I were to buy all the flour I use in the hard currency stores, I
would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford
In selling flour, so it can be processed by others, the suppliers try to
find regular customers. They are offered each sack at a price that
varies between 300 and 400 Cuban pesos. Much cheaper than the 2.2 pounds
for 1 convertible peso (equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos), which it costs in
the network of hard currency stores. Along with the illegal grain
business, there also flourished a wide offering of counterfeit receipts
so the self-employed workers can justify the product to the inspectors.
"In the absence of a wholesale market, if I were to buy all the flour I
would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford," says
Norge, an electrical engineer who now runs a private pizzeria. "We have
several empty containers labeled with the brand of flour sold in stores
in convertible pesos and we fill them with what we get outside, in case
an inspector suddenly shows up."
On Norge's kitchen floor, there is a trail of white powder that extends
to the back door. In the words of an old baker, that footprint is like a
betrayal, a most indiscrete and eloquent track left by the illegal flour
Source: Follow the Trail of Flour / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma |
Translating Cuba -
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Teachers Do What They Can while the Regime Dupes Outsiders
Rosa María Payá October 10, 2014 at 10:53 am
Editor's note: Rosa María Payá is responding to a recent report from the
World Bank, which gives high praise to Cuba's education system. See the
news story, written by Peter Sacco, "World Bank Touts Cuba's Communist
Education as Exemplary."
During my student experience in Cuba I had some great teachers and some
unprofessional and poorly prepared ones. The programs that are set to be
taught were complete and rigorous; the problem was that there were not
and there are not the individuals and conditions to implement them on
The structure of the Cuban education system that was created before
1958, and in many senses is the same nowadays, is very good. This is
probably the main reason why the education system maintains a certain
level of quality, despite the rampant deterioration of the economy and
society. Another important factor has been the people: Cuba's
professional teachers, for many years, were well prepared for their
vocation; they endured the abuses and exploitation of the government and
Today the situation is different. The application of disastrous
government policies has been the genesis of many social and economic
shortcomings. Low wages, a lack of incentives, and poor working
conditions for teachers have added to the extreme politicization of the
content and caused the exodus of these professionals to other fields for
The creation of the schools in the countryside (escuelas en el campo) in
1968 — where many boys had to go if they wanted to graduate from high
school — brought bad consequences for the Cuban families that had to be
separated from their children. They got to see them only every 10 or 7
days, so the children could study.
About 10 years ago, in the absence of professional teachers, the
government began to train teenagers and young people for only six
months, and these emerging teachers were sent to teach in all primary
and secondary schools in the country. As the emerging teachers were not
trained to teach classes, they relied on television and other videos.+
The results have been terrible. Education that had already deteriorated
practically collapsed. I'm not talking about just academics, but moral
and social concerns. Stories of sexual harassment and violence between
emerging teachers and students began circulating by word of mouth.
School attendance is compulsory in Cuba, and with the regime's
totalitarian apparatus and full control over the population, it is very
easy to make everyone comply. I am still grateful towards all my
teachers, at all stages, and I thank them for the sacrifices they made,
and the many others in Cuba who have remained dedicated to education
As of right now, I don't believe that any such quality exists, except
maybe in some university faculties. However, the Cuban government has an
easy time engaging in fraud with international exams, cheating CELAC,
and lying to the world about education on the island.
Source: Cuba's Days of Education Excellence Have Come and Gone -
http://blog.panampost.com/rosa-maria-paya/2014/10/10/cubas-days-of-education-excellence-have-come-and-gone/ Continue reading
Cuba home woes endure despite real-estate reform
BY ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
HAVANA -- The residents of 308 Oquendo Street were jolted awake in the
middle of the night by violent shaking and a noise that they likened to
a freight train, or an exploding bomb.
Part of their building's seventh floor had collapsed into the interior
patio, heavily damaging apartments on the floors below. No one died, but
the 120 families living in the building were left homeless.
Despite reforms in recent years to address the island's housing problem,
such building collapses remain common in Cuba, where decades of neglect
and a dearth of new home construction have left untold thousands of
islanders living in crowded structures at risk of suddenly falling down.
When President Raul Castro legalized a real estate market for the first
time in five decades, it was supposed to stimulate both new construction
and maintenance of existing homes. But 2½ years later, there has been
only a minimal impact on easing one of Cuba's biggest challenges: a
chronic lack of suitable housing.
"We are very worried. The housing situation is critical in Cuba," said
Anaidis Ramirez, among those displaced by the Feb. 28 building collapse
in the densely populated Central Havana neighborhood.
Ramirez and dozens of other neighbors camped out for weeks on sidewalks
and in a nearby parking garage to press authorities to find them decent
homes. Some went to stay with relatives, while others found housing in
cramped government shelters where families can be trapped for years
until a permanent home opens up.
Cuba, a country of about 11 million people, lacks around 500,000 housing
units to adequately meet the needs of the island's citizens, according
to the most recent government numbers from 2010. The housing deficit
widens each year as more buildings fall further into disrepair, punished
year-round by the tropical sun, sea and wind.
Sergio Diaz-Briquets, a U.S.-based demographer who has written about the
island's housing deficit, estimated the figure is now somewhere between
600,000 and 1 million.
And, he said, adding in the existing units that are structurally unsound
or otherwise unfit for occupancy, the true deficit "could be even greater."
In tandem with legalizing the real estate market, authorities are trying
to tackle the problem by handing over warehouses, former retail spaces
and other underused buildings to be converted into housing. They also
created construction subsidies for Cubans looking to repair or expand
Angel Vilaragut, a senior official in the Ministry of Construction, told
The Associated Press recently that the subsidies and other measures mark
a policy change from the days when the state shouldered nearly all
responsibility for its citizens' housing.
"It is about seeking solutions to the problem we have today with
housing," Vilaragut said. "There has not been a halt to the construction
of homes by the state. ... The intention is for the people to have
access to materials" such as cement and concrete blocks to do their own
building and improvements.
Around Havana, Cubans can be seen taking advantage of the materials now
available as they add second stories to homes, enclose balconies to
create extra rooms or throw on a fresh coat of paint.
While helpful to individual families, such efforts are piecemeal and
have not adequately addressed the overall deficit, analysts say.
Government statistics say new construction has actually declined since
Castro assumed the presidency from older brother Fidel in 2008, when
44,775 new homes were built.
In 2011, the year the real estate law took effect, 32,540 new units were
built. The following year, it was 32,103. Official figures for 2013 have
not yet been released, but officials said late last year that about
18,000 had gone up through the end of October, 80 percent of the target.
Cuban economist Pavel Vidal, a professor at Javeriana University in
Colombia, said it may take time for the new law to have an impact,
especially because the incipient private sector so far doesn't have the
economic resources to finance large-scale new construction.
"Responsibility for the construction of new homes is being given to the
private sector, micro-enterprises and now cooperatives," Vidal said.
"The new private sector — the scale it has, the capital it has —
apparently it does not compensate what the state was doing."
Meanwhile, people like Lazaro Marquez and his family have to make do.
He and his family live in Central Havana in a substandard apartment
whose ceiling leaks wastewater every time the toilet upstairs is
flushed. To leave the home, his daughter, who is paralyzed, must be
carried in her wheelchair down precarious stairs on the verge of caving in.
Although officials agree the family urgently needs better housing, on a
ground floor, it has been on a waiting list for six years.
Cubans like Marquez and Ramirez have no choice but to depend on the
state, in part because it has not created a mortgage system that would
let them borrow money to purchase a home.
"Everywhere in the world the housing demand is accompanied by a finance
mechanism, mortgage credits, and until a market of mortgage credit
develops, demand will not stimulate construction of new homes for
citizens," Vidal said.
Marquez thinks he had a better chance of getting a new home under the
old rules, which saw the state redistributing the homes of people who
have left the country to those who need housing. The state no longer
automatically takes the homes of emigrating Cubans, who are now free to
sell their property and pocket the cash.
Average incomes of around $20 a month mean most islanders cannot afford
to buy real estate unless they have hard currency through a job with a
foreign company or remittances from relatives overseas.
But even in gritty Central Havana, a one-bedroom apartment can cost at
"I drive a bicycle taxi," said Marquez, who makes about $2 a day
pedaling passengers through the neighborhood. "How am I going to buy a
house or an apartment with what I earn?"
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
Source: HAVANA: Cuba home woes endure despite real-estate reform -
Florida Wires - MiamiHerald.com -
http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/21/4071288/cuba-home-woes-endure-despite.html Continue reading
Surrounded by history but bereft of innovative work from the past four
decades, Cuban architects hope for the future.
By Clifford A. Pearson
March 21, 2014
Making a living as an architect is tough anywhere. But in Cuba it is
essentially impossible. Although Raúl Castro has loosened state control
of the economy a bit, the private sector still barely exists. All
legally-sanctioned construction is done by the government. And everyone
agrees that a government salary doesn't cover anyone's monthly expenses.
Cubans, though, are resourceful and somehow find ways to make ends meet.
Over coffee at the Habana Libre Hotel (originally the Havana Hilton), I
kept asking a respected local architect what he was working on and kept
hearing about fascinating research projects, none of which produced any
income. I finally gave up all pretense of politeness and bluntly asked,
"But how do you make money?" He told me on the condition I don't reveal
his identity: He gives lectures abroad and employs convoluted ways to
bring the funds back home.
Six days in Havana earlier this year introduced me to a place where five
decades of economic stagnation explain only the surface reality: 1958
Chevies still rumbling down the streets, 19th-century villas holding
onto their Neoclassical charms as they fade in the Caribbean sun, and
low-rise streetscapes broken only by church spires or the occasional
Modern tower the same age as those big-bodied cars. Dig a bit deeper,
though, and you find a more complex reality: people like that architect
who somehow push forward despite institutional indifference, opposition,
and a city that is slowly preparing for the future.
A long history of overcoming adversity and a culture rich in
architecture, design, literature, and all kinds of performing arts
provides Havana with a strong foundation on which to build its next
chapter. And as Fidel Castro's health continues to deteriorate and a
recent survey by the Atlantic Council shows a growing majority of
Americans in favor of more direct engagement with Cuba, progress in
Havana may happen sooner rather than later.
Ironically, the biggest and most obvious changes are happening in the
oldest part of town: La Habana Vieja, where the Office of the City
Historian is busy renovating historic structures and rejuvenating the
trades needed to accomplish this task. Don't let the quaint, almost
arcane, title deceive you; the City Historian is a powerful agency run
by a dynamic leader, Eusebio Leal Spengler, who reports directly to
President Castro. In the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed
and its enormous subsidies to Cuba abruptly ended, Leal convinced Fidel
to let him operate his agency on an entrepreneurial basis. The country's
economy had come to a standstill and desperate times bred unprecedented
experimentation. So the Office of the City Historian was given a small
pot of seed money and granted authority to attract foreign capital for
renovation projects in Old Havana.
Since then, Leal has found foreign (mostly European) banks and companies
to invest in converting decaying buildings into hotels, restaurants, and
commercial spaces, which his agency operates. He takes revenues from
such enterprises and reinvests them in other projects—some that generate
further revenue, but some that provide social services, such as housing,
healthcare, and employment training. Today, the Office of the City
Historian runs hotels, restaurants, a radio station, a publishing house,
a tour company, and an impressive array of cultural facilities. Leal has
his own show broadcast on his agency's radio station. Everybody in Cuba
Leal has pursued a strategy of self-sustainability for his office as a
whole and applied it to various operations within it too. So he has set
up a series of workshops to train people in trades such as carpentry,
ironwork, and construction, then employs them in the Herculean job of
preserving and renovating the city's crumbling fabric. The Office of the
City Historian serves as architect for all of its projects, emplying
staff from every design discipline it needs.
The scope of the challenge facing Leal in the early '90s was gigantic.
Havana was crumbling, the result of decades of neglect as Castro paid
more attention to the countryside than the capital. Understanding both
the cultural and economic value of the city's history, Leal focused on
La Habana Vieja. To jump start the process and spread its impact around
the old district, he tackled the city's five colonial squares (Plaza de
San Francisco, Plaza de Armas, Plaza del Cristo, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza
de La Catedral), restoring the public spaces and many of the buildings
"Time has gone by too fast and we still have so much to do," says Leal,
sitting in a graciously restored room in the old villa that serves as
offices for him and his staff. Just outside the building, I noticed a
cruise ship docked at the city's old port. Cruise lines are just
starting to service Havana and Leal admits the city is not prepared to
handle the large numbers of tourists that would descend on it if bigger
ships docked here and the U.S. trade embargo were lifted.
Infrastructure is a huge problem for Havana. The city's system of street
cars was scrapped well before the Communists took over, so residents
must rely on overcrowded and unreliable buses or 60-year-old American
cars called colectivos that serve as shared taxis. Water, electrical,
and sewage systems are also ancient and failing. Proper highways don't
exist, so inter-city transport is excruciatingly slow.
Touring Old Havana with Kenia Diaz, the project director in the Office
of the City Historian and Ayleen Robainas, an architect in the same
agency, I couldn't help but be impressed by their work. Their knowledge
of the city and passion for what they are doing are remarkable. They
understand that restoring a city is about touching the people who live
there, not just retouching the buildings. They showed me the colonial
squares that their agency has used as acupuncture points in healing the
urban body and took me to old palacios converted into hotels or
apartment buildings, a 19th-century pharmacy lovingly restored, and
several of the workshops that produce the crafts and craftsmen needed
for these projects.
They also gave me sneak peeks of two much-anticipated projects: the
renovations of the Teatro Marti and the National Capitol. The theater,
which dates from the late 19th century and had been closed since the
1980s, reopened in February, just a couple of weeks after my visit.
Although I wasn't crazy about the new glass-and-metal canopy that covers
the walkway to the main entrance, I was wowed by the lovingly restored
interior with its curving iron balconies and rococo proscenium stage.
Hidden from sight are new mechanical, electrical, and fire-safety
systems, and a new backstage that make the theater work for live theater
and musical performances.
Just a block away, El Capitolio is getting a multi-year overhaul that
will allow it to serve as the home of the nation's parliament for the
first time since 1959. Modeled after the U.S. Capitol, but injected with
architectural steroids, the enormous Neoclassical building most recently
served as home base for the Ministry of Science, Technology and
Environment. Decades of deferred maintenance, though, took a big toll on
the building's mighty dome and acres of marble.
Now closed and under scaffolding, the Capitol is getting repaired, first
from the top (its dome and upper floors of offices) and then the bottom
(its grand lobby, hallways, and two assembly halls). Diaz, from the City
Historian's Office, says her agency hopes to open the office floors in a
year and a half and compete the entire project in about seven years.
Everyone I spoke with agreed that the work being done in Old Havana has
made a significant improvement, even if the buildings in need of repair
still greatly outnumber those that have received help. Some important
architects, though, bemoan the fact that almost nothing has been done
outside the city's colonial core. Eduardo Luis Rodríguez, who has
written books on modern Havana and is serving as an advisor to the
Museum of Modern Art on an upcoming exhibition on Latin American Modern
architecture, wishes that the same attention being given to La Habana
Vieja would be applied to areas such as El Vedado and Miramar, where
much of the city's 20th-century architecture resides. In these newer
districts you'll find wonderful examples of tropical Modernism, such as
the Habana Libre (designed by Welton Beckett & Associates in the late
1950s along with the Cuban firm Arroyo y Menendez), the Riviera Hotel
(designed by Polevitzky, Johnson and Associates for the gangster Meyer
Lansky in 1957), and buildings by talented Cuban architects such as
Frank Martinez, Mario Romañach, Max Borges Recio, and Rafael de Cárdenas.
Mario Coyula, a much respected architect, planner, and writer, also
sounds the alarm on Havana's endangered Modern heritage. "Time is
critical," he told me over coffee at his apartment in El Vedado. "Many
buildings are near collapse and need to be stabilized." Part of the
problem is that while most Havana residents own their apartments, no one
owns—or takes care of—the buildings containing them. He also worries
about the soul of Havana. "Back in the 1950s, Miami was a sleepy city,
while Havana was a vibrant place." Though he is concerned that Havana is
not prepared for a rapid influx of investment, should the embargo be
lifted, he said, "The future of Havana is linked to Miami."
Coyula notes that Modern architecture in Cuba didn't end with the fall
of the Batista regime. For the first six or seven years of Castro's
rule, the government commissioned progressive architects to design
housing, sports venues, and schools, and let them pursue innovative
strategies. The most prominent of these projects was the set of five
national schools of art that were the focus of John Loomis' 1999 book
Revolution of Forms. Orchestrated by Ricardo Porro in 1961 and designed
by him, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi, the schools of plastic
arts, modern dance, dramatic arts, music, and ballet leaped off the
ground with thin-shelled domes, concrete arches, and undulating Catalan
vaults. But as the project moved forward, political backing for it
waned. When construction stopped in 1965 only three of the schools were
completed, while the other two were just partially built.
In 2012 Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, who had studied in his homeland and
then became a star at the Royal Ballet in London, announced that Norman
Foster had agreed to renovate and complete Garatti's National School of
Ballet. The least finished of the five schools, the ballet building had
never been used and was abandoned except for the occasional student who
wandered over in search of a quiet place to practice his violin or draw.
But Garatti is still very much alive and was taken aback that he wasn't
consulted or involved in the project. Most of the Cuban architects I
spoke with said Garatti should be the one to renovate his building and
that all the outside players in the Foster proposal made it a nonstarter
with the Cuban government anyway.
Frustration seems to be a way of life in Cuba. From the lack of
political expression to the daily effects of the U.S. trade embargo,
Cubans navigate an economic and emotional terrain that presents
obstacles at every turn. Talking with architects in Havana, I was
charmed by their warmth, intellect, and graciousness. But there was a
sadness too, a recognition that despite all the talent on this island,
they could point to very little new or daring that had been built in the
last four decades.
Source: Letter from Havana - News - Architectural Record -
http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2014/03/140321-Letter-from-Havana.asp Continue reading
'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
Posted on August 16, 2013
HAVANA, Cuba, August, www.cubanet.org — Perhaps at the moment the reader
reads this, it will have been twenty years since the beginning of the
Special Period, the major event to befall Cuban history in the last century.
It began in August of 1993 when the former secretary of the Council of
Ministers, Carlos Lage, announced that the Cuban economy had hit rock
bottom and with it all of our precepts and attitudes. Store shelves
began to empty. The value of the Cuban peso relative to the dollar
turned once again into a joke, becoming both a dream and a nightmare
Having dollars was treated like a contagion. All individually held
dollars were decommissioned. Some people received long prison sentences
for their possession. Though it was decriminalized in 1994 as a result
of popular pressure stemming from the "Maleconazo," or the Malecon
uprising, paradoxically some of those sentenced remained in prison
because they committed crimes endemic to prisons during their incarceration.
In those days George Washington's green face journeyed hand to hand with
extreme urgency, with stealth, with fear, hidden in socks or shoes,
behind toilets tanks or imprisoned inside underwear. You had to find a
foreigner willing to buy the prohibited goods for you in hard-currency
To use a colloquial term, we could say that many Cubans became rats.
They ate garbage, rummaged through trash cans, scarfed down pizzas
topped with melted condoms instead of cheese and ate "steaks" breaded
with towel mops, according to urban legends of the times. The level of
predation reached extremes. Dogs, cats, buzzards, wild cuckoos, moray
eels. Even the lionfish, a strange species from the Indian Ocean that
dared to go near the edge of a country engaged in a pitched battle for
survival. It was made extinct.
Homelessness multiplied, along with madness and suicides. The disease of
alcoholism began to grow and take root in society as a means of escape
from paths with no exits. The high cost of living forced fathers, who
could not buy good rum to help them forget their problems, to drink
alcohol from the pharmacy. There appeared a clandestine manufacturing
system to produce bootleg atrocities with names such as train spark,
gualfarina and calambuco. These frustrated drunkards — those with
neither strength nor character nor incentives to educate their children
— neglected them. They in turn lost any hope for a future at an early
age and followed their fathers down the road of alcoholism, sealing
Some called them the Ground Soy Generation. They caused statistics for
swindling and petty theft to shoot up astronomically. Shady dealings and
illicit sales increased. The state imposed two currencies: a weak one it
used to pay salaries and a demeaning one it used to sell things.
Suddenly everything on the black market had a very high price. A used
fish tank went for eighty pesos and a pound of rice for fifty-five.
In the countryside a pile of clothes would be traded for a mutton, a
pair of boots for a hog. Many individuals travelled in caravans through
the fields of Pinar del Río like zombies, trading soap and detergent for
rice and vegetables. Barter.
Before the farmer's market opened in Marianao in 1994, you had to get in
line the night before to buy meat when someone in the neighborhood
slaughtered a pig.
To board a city bus, actual storylines from tragic films were
re-enacted. Cooking oil intended for the production of breads and sweets
ended up for sale on the black market. The same thing happened with
salt, sugar and anything else that could generate money. The most
sought-after jobs were those where one could steal or load up on food.
Jineterismo* revolutionized the conception of the family. Travelling
overseas became one of life's necessities.
Getting a job in a workplace related to tourism suddenly had a price. A
gas station attendant: three-hundred dollars. A salesclerk in a
hard-currency store: two-hundred. A cook: one hundred. The different
ways for dealing with the crisis — between those who had access to
dollars, now called CUCs, and those who had to be inventive to get them
— created a divide in the Cuban identity.
In 1997 former secretary Lage said in a public appearance that the Cuban
economy had finally hit bottom and was starting to improve. Later
Machado Ventura and Marino Murillo repeated this many times, but in
reality people still waited for a miraculous upswing. Today half of
working-age men — those being called upon to bring about the recovery —
"work" while seated on stools in the doorways of their houses selling
sweet snacks made by self-employed workers using materials stolen from
the state or brought in from overseas by smugglers.
We deserve a medal for pawning ourselves in order to survive those
ridiculous twenty years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Correa, born in Guantánamo in 1963, is a storyteller, poet and
independent journalist. In 1991 he won the Regino E. Boti, Ernest
Hemingway and Tomás Savigñón prizes for his short stories. He has
published a book of stories called La Elección. firstname.lastname@example.org
From Cubanet August 9, 2013
*Translator's note: Sometimes translated as "hustling," it is a category
of illegal or quasi-legal economic activities related to tourism in Cuba
that often involves prostitution.
13 August 2013
Source: "The Ground Soy Generation Remembers / Frank Correa |
Translating Cuba" -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-ground-soy-generation-remembers-frank-correa/ Continue reading
August 13, 2013
By Café Fuerte
HAVANA TIMES — Interested in recovering its declining coconut industry,
the Cuban government is currently planning to enter into a partnership
with one of the world's top producers of the fruit, the remote island of
This past June, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture welcomed Sri Lanka's
highest coconut industry authorities with a view to ratifying a
Memorandum of Understanding on the Development of the Coconut Industry
which had been signed by the two governments in June of 2012.
Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustvo Rodriguez Rollero received the Sri
Lankan Coconut Industry Development Minister, who visited Cuba in the
company of the Chair of the State Board for Coconut Research HPM
Gunasena, Director of the Coconut Research Institute Jayantha
Gunathillake and Chair of the Coconut Cultivation Board Sarath Keerthiratne.
A Very Important Industry
According to reports published by the Sri Lankan press, the delegation
was welcomed at the headquarters of Cuba's Ministry of Agriculture in
Havana, where Rodriguez Rollero informed the visitors of "the current
situation of Cuba's coconut industry and its importance to the Cuban
people and economy."
Coconut palms are the world's most widely cultivated plants and the
chief source of vegetable oils, heavily demanded by the soap and perfume
industries. Coconut pulp is also ideal for the preparation of preserves
and nut milk.
Producing over 954 thousand tons a year, Sri Lanka is among the five
largest coconut producers in the world.
The Ministry of Agriculture official thanked the Sri Lankan delegation
for its "enthusiastic commitment to encouraging cooperation in the
coconut industry." The two ministers affirmed their continued
determination to work together and develop a joint plan of action to
implement the Memorandum of Understanding for the Development of the
Coconut Industry, to entail the exchange of delegations, knowledge and
experience, technology transfers and the extension of cooperation in
research and technology issues related to the handling of coconut palms.
In short, the two governments appear serious about their plans for the
Minister Pushpakumara invited Rodriguez Rollero to visit Sri Lanka in
the very near future (reportedly, following permission from Raul Castro,
the minister will be able to do so soon, between meetings of the Council
Coconut Palms in Eastern Cuba
Following their meeting, the Sri Lankan delegation paid a three-day
visit to several of Cuba's eastern provinces, beginning their tour at
Baracoa, considered the Cuban coconut capital. Baracoa is not only home
to the largest coconut plantations in the country, but also to the
fruit's processing and research facilities.
The tour also included other regions with coconut plantations, such as
Granma and Ciego de Avila.
After considering Cuba's coconut situation, Minister Pushpakumara
affirmed that Sri Lanka would help train Cuban personnel, transfer
knowledge and technology to Cuba needed to introduce new product lines,
a broader variety of coconut plants and other management techniques.
In exchange, Cuba is to assist Sri Lanka in the acquisition of technical
knowledge and technology.
The news that Cuba should offer Sri Lanka technical assistance for its
coconut industry cannot but strike us as odd.
Cuba is developing an ecologically friendly agricultural technology
aimed at increasing coconut outputs, through an experiment being
conducted at Guantanamo's Soil Research Station. The project is
experimenting with coconut plantations where the fruit is sown next to
pineapples, plantains, cassavas, sweet potatoes, coffee, cocoa and yams.
Those involved in the experiment report that it is yielding promising
Coconuts, Plantains and Cassavas
It remains to be seen whether Sri Lankans will find it advisable to set
this initiative in motion in their own country. Cubans have
unsuccessfully been trying to bolster the production of plantains,
cassavas, sweet potatoes, coffee, cocoa and yams for a long time – and
it seems unlikely that the mixed-crop coconut plantations will bring
about the miracle that turns Cuban agriculture's luck around.
What is certain is that they ought to be careful, for nothing less than
their country's means of sustenance is at stake. Nearly 22 percent of
the caloric intake of Sri Lankans is accounted for by coconuts. The
average Sri Lankan consumes some 120 coconuts a year.
If the coconut industry does manage to prosper in Cuba, we may be at the
gates of a new economic salvation for the country, like the many we have
known thanks to Caturra coffee, Ubre Blanca (Cuba's milk-producing
super-cow of the 80s), MicroJet plantains, Bufala yogurt and goose-meat
pate, let alone the promising moringa plant.
Such prospects might be believable if the year 2006 were not so fresh in
our memories. That year, according to official data, Cuba had to import
300 tons of tomato from China, 395 tons of guava from Brazil and 50 tons
of coconut pulp from Sri Lanka just to guarantee the production of La
Conchita sweets. The whole thing is a tough nut to crack.
Source: "Cuba Seeks to Bolster its Coconut Industry" -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=97805 Continue reading
Posted: Monday, August 12, 2013 11:24 pm
Nine months ago, Hurricane Sandy swept through the Caribbean and the US
Atlantic coast, leaving behind a path of death and destruction. In Cuba,
the hurricane made landfall on 25 October 2012, and although the
population was warned hours before, many were not prepared for the
intensity of the storm. Santiago de Cuba, the country's second largest
city, was directly hit by the storm and suffered the most damages. 11
people died, 185,000 houses were severely damaged, and 15,000 houses
were completely destroyed. Many families are still homeless today.
Malteser International, together with the Cuban Association of the Order
of Malta and the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, is helping rebuild 61
severely damaged homes for more than 300 residents in the most affected
regions. The Order of Malta's worldwide relief agency will supply
roofing and construction materials as well as replace damaged home
In addition, Malteser International will help train the helpers of its
Cuban partners. "We would like to help them develop their knowledge on
the principles of humanitarian aid," explains Michael Thanner, program
manager for Cuba at Malteser International. For this purpose, Malteser
International will conduct workshops on the SPHERE project, an
internationally recognized set of common principles and universal
standards for humanitarian response. "These trainings will serve to
streamline the local helpers' efforts and to provide them with relevant
knowledge about disasters, as they will continue to strike the island in
the future," Thanner added.
Source: Order of Malta
Source: "Cuba: Order of Malta helps with rebuilding after Hurricane
Sandy on Independent Catholic News" -
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=23109 Continue reading
August 8, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — Eleven Cubans have died at the hands of other Cubans who
thought stealing alcohol from their workplace and selling it on the
black market was an easy way to make a quick buck. It's not the first
time something like this happens, and it probably won't be the last.
During Cuba's severe 90s crisis, I visited a small town in the province
of Matanzas, where a man who sold fried junk food on the street caused
the death of many of his neighbors, and even his own daughter, because
his "suppliers" had transported the ingredients in sacks of insecticide.
More recently, about thirty people with mental disorders died of hunger
and exposure at an institution in Havana because a group of criminals
with medical degrees and nurses were selling the patients' food
(supplied by the Ministry of Public Health) on the black market.
Once, someone came to our house offering to sell us powdered milk and,
when we asked about its quality, the man, with an air of satisfaction
about him, told us: "It's top quality, we're getting it from the special
needs school." In other words, they were stealing it from disabled children.
Speculators have no soul. During the Special Period, they took advantage
of people's hunger to sell the meat of scavenger birds as chicken,
breaded "meats" made out of floor mops, pizzas covered with melted
condoms instead of cheese and even human kidneys, stolen from the morgue.
The truth of the matter is that, even today, it is extremely difficult
not to rely on the black market somehow: acquiring wood, iron for gates
or fencing, oxygen and acetylene for auto body repairs is impossible,
and, sometimes, such basic products as shaving cream, shampoo, mops and
diapers simply "disappear" from stores.
The high prices and poor quality of the clothes and footwear sold at
State chains has encouraged the blossoming of a whole network of private
shops stocked with garments brought from Ecuador, Miami, Panama and even
Russia as contraband.
It is easier (and cheaper) to buy an air conditioning unit or a
television set using the Revolico on-line classifieds page than to go
to a State store. These sellers even offer better warranty terms because
they fear they will lose their business if an unhappy customer publicly
In one way or another, what pushes us into the arms of speculators is
the inefficiency of the State's commercial system. In order to satisfy
needs that cannot be addressed otherwise, you must invariably resort to
them at one point.
Cases like this recent incident remind us that the most dangerous
aspects of the black market aren't its economic or moral repercussions
but the serious risks to our very life posed by the existence of an
economic sector that is crucial to us but devoid of any sanitary controls.
In this connection, one of the most significant things Cuba has gained
by authorizing a self-employed sector is having drawn many illicit
businesses into the open and, by making them visible, allowed Public
Health and other institutions to apply the pertinent regulations.
Reducing the scope of the black market has always been a government
priority, but the systematic use of the police force has not yielded
positive results. Now, the government appears to be trying other
methods, such as the creation of wholesale markets to avoid temporary
Other important steps still need to be taken. One is the creation of
supply shops for the self-employed that carry the variety of products
demanded by the market and offer these at competitive prices and with
the required quality, whose stocks are attractive enough to guarantee
that businesses will purchase their supplies there.
The containment of the black market or the end of product shortages is
no guarantee we won't be seeing any more incidents of this nature in
Cuba. Stores in Spain had plenty of everything when colza oil was sold
to the public, intoxicating thousands of people.
In the meantime, Cuban authorities would do well to inspect the system
used to recruit and train security personnel; because the guards who
stole the methanol are not the exception (I have seen many of them turn
a blind eye on thefts in exchange for a "commission" with my own eyes).
If anything positive has come out of this latest incident it is the
parallel investigation undertaken by the press in order to provide the
public with information. This investigation is something novel for Cuba,
and it could represent the first steps towards turning the country's
media into a truly public service.
This type of journalistic involvement brings Cubans closer to the cause
of the country's problems, shows them how these take place and the human
costs and consequences for those implicated. In cases like this one,
making citizens think is a preventive effort of the first order.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.
Source: "A market in Cuba that endangers the citizenry in a heartless
manner" - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=97587 Continue reading
By Ivet González
CIEGO DE ÁVILA, Cuba , May 20 2013 (IPS) - The lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender community in Cuba has won advances on issues like the
change of name of pre-operative transgender persons, while they continue
to fight for the right to same-sex civil unions.
For the first time since 1997, a transsexual woman who had not undergone
sex-change surgery was issued a photo ID card this year reflecting her
chosen name and gender identity, Manuel Vázquez, a lawyer with the
National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body,
"We will continue supporting efforts to attain name changes in other
cases, and we hope it will become the norm," said Vázquez, who is head
of the legal services unit in CENESEX, which reports that the family and
the workplace are the spheres where the rights of LGBT persons are
violated the most.
Up to now, the photo on the national ID card of trans women and men has
had to reflect their biological sex.
In 1997, CENESEX managed to reach agreements with the ministries of the
interior and justice to change the names and photos on the ID cards of
13 transgender people who had not undergone sex-reassignment surgery,
although other civil registry documents, such as their birth
certificates, were not modified. But that had not happened again until now.
Transgender people who have undergone sex-change surgery, which is
provided free of charge in Cuba since 2008, are allowed to modify their
ID cards. In Cuba, 19 people – two of them female-to-male transgender
persons – have had sex-reassignment surgery so far, according to CENESEX.
"Now a trans person who has not had surgery is free to seek and win a
name change, thanks to this precedent," Vázquez said.
Speaking to IPS during the month-long events surrounding the
International Day Against Homophobia, celebrated May 17, Adela
Hernández, the only transgender member of a municipal assembly in Cuba,
said she had started the process of applying for a name change on her ID
Hernández, a nurse and now a municipal assembly member in the city of
Caibarién in the central province of Villa Clara, had to register as a
candidate in the October-November 2012 municipal elections under the
name José Agustín Hernández and with a photo that looks very different
from the woman who won a majority of votes in her district.
Hernández is one of the special guests on this year's agenda of
educational, cultural and – for the first time – sports activities
organised by CENESEX, which has led a month of anti-homophobia events
every year since 2008.
On this occasion, the central activities took place May 14-17 in the
city of Ciego de Ávila, 434 km east of Havana, ending with a festive
march down the central avenue Libertad, with the demonstrators waving
rainbow and Cuban flags and dancing in a conga line.
Mariela *, a 36-year-old mother, came to watch the conga line with her
nine-year-old baby. "I haven't taken part (in the activities), but I'm
not against it," she told IPS. "These events help families learn about
sexual diversity and to respect it more, and help children and young
people grow up better."
But other people are still opposed to the campaign for respect for free
sexual orientation and gender identity, which CENESEX carries out all
year long, culminating in the May schedule of events, dedicated this
year to families.
CENESEX director Mariela Castro said "the hardest thing is to change
people's mentalities," in a country that is still heavily machista and
homophobic. In fact, until the 1990s, "ostentatious public displays of
homosexuality" were illegal.
Since 2012, the LGBT community and CENESEX have stepped up their
activism demanding recognition of sexual rights as human rights in this
country, which has no specific law against discrimination on the grounds
of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Cuban parliament has not yet debated the bill for a new "family
code", sponsored in 2008 by the non-governmental Federation of Cuban
Women and other institutions. Among other things, the bill, aimed at
updating the family code in effect since 1975, would recognise same-sex
In Latin America, same-sex marriage is legal only in Argentina and
Uruguay, as well as Mexico City and three states in Mexico. In Brazil,
meanwhile, civil unions that confer nearly the same rights as marriage
are legal, and on May 14, the National Council of Justice ordered civil
registries to allow same-sex couples who apply for a marriage license to
Vázquez called for a law on civil unions in Cuba, and said he supported
the creation of a law on gender identity, as advocated by legal experts
But until such legislation is approved, the 26-year-old lawyer's
strategy is to train attorneys and judges on how to take advantage of
existing laws in cases of violations of LGBT rights
"People also have to be brave, and report these crimes," he said.
He mentioned the first workshop on the question of LGBT rights for
lawyers and judges, held in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
CENESEX also plans to expand its legal services to other parts of the
"There is no law on the rights of homosexuals. There is only very vague
language about it," said Raquel Fernández of the Red de Lesbianas
Atenea, a network of lesbians based in Ciego de Ávila. Domestic violence
and limited access to housing or jobs due to homophobia are among the
limitations that lesbians suffer the most, she told IPS.
*The source asked that her last name not be used.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/small-and-large-steps-towards-equality-for-gays-in-cuba/ Continue reading
Cuba's Housing Market in People Terms
June 9, 2011
HAVANA TIMES, June 9 – Very soon Cubans will be authorized to buy and
sell housing, which is an old aspiration of people. In fact, this was
among the five most repeated demands raised by islanders during the
national discussion held back in 2007.
The… Continue reading
Un preso enfermo muere en circunstancias sin aclarar en Las Tunas
Alberto Méndez Castelló
Las Tunas 14-02-2011 – 7:27 pm.
'Por favor, que alguien interceda para no morir gota a gota', había
escrito el pasado 26 de enero. Harold Brito Parra tenía 38 años, 16 de
ellos los pasó en prisión.
"Ahora eres libre", dijo… Continue reading
Lesbians Demand Fair Treatment from Health Providers
By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA, Nov 25, 2010 (IPS) – Lesbian and bisexual women's groups in
Cuba, which welcome anyone who wishes to participate "with solidarity
and in a respectful, friendly and healthy manner," point to the need to
sensitise health personnel to the issue of female sexual diversity.… Continue reading
Cuban '09 coffee harvest was worst in history
By WILL WEISSERT
Adios, cafe con leche?
Cuba — where super-strong shots of espresso are a way of life — says
it had its worst coffee harvest in history last year, with production
plummeting to just 5,500 tons nationwide.
And a full-page article in the Communist Party… Continue reading