Private Versus State, Novelties and Fossils

The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. “House Rules” [Briefly] 1. No one under 18 at night. 2. Appropriate dress. 3. Do not bring your own food and drink, it will be confiscated. 4. No pets. 5. No photos without permission. 6. Behave yourself or you will be permanently barred. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation 7, Havana, 8 November 2018 – The distance between them is a hundred yards and an abyss. The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. Both serve food, both are located in beautiful buildings with columns and arches, but the differences are so profound they might be two different universes. The first is under state management and the second is private, a word that the authorities avoid mentioning.

In the Cuba where I was born and grew up everything was state-owned. The snack bars, the pizzerias, the newspaper kiosks and the funeral homes. Most of those places are still administered by the government sphere; they are socialist businesses that have not demonstrated a very efficient management. But in the field of gastronomy there has been a significant and positive change in recent years. In this field, where the Ministry of Internal Commerce once ruled, it is now the self-employed who are leading the sector.

On this Island the fossilized remains of the Soviet era coexist with businesses that could be competitive in New York, Berlin or Madrid. Back-to-back are state services unable to adapt to the new demands of their customers, and private ones trying to stay afloat despite the high taxes, the absence of wholesale markets, and the ill-will professed by Communist Party bureaucrats.

The collapse of the state company is evident, with all its harshness, in the mansion at 3rd and 8th  Streets in Miramar, where a woman jingles some coins outside the bathroom: a gesture to demand tips from the customers who use the stinking cubicle, lacking toilet paper and water. Half the dishes listed on the menu are unavailable, an absence the waitress justifies by the lack of chicken and pizzas. There are no napkins on the tables and in the kitchen five employees vegetate while talking loudly.

The stately patio, with its palms and ferns, is occupied by a metal container that serves as a storeroom and the plants in their stone beds show symptoms of neglect. A piece of paper stuck on a door announces that in the room on an upper floor where videos are shown there are currently no films. The tablecloths are splashed here and there with spilled food and on the TV set over the tables a horror movie is showing images of disemboweled people while the customers sink their teeth into hamburgers.

Just when the customers think it can’t get any worse, the administrators organize a “lightening meeting” with the cooks and servers which paralyzes service and causes a crowd to pile up at the bar. Some, annoyed by the long wait, the missing menu items and the bland dishes, decide to cross the sidewalk and patronize the paladar (private restaurant) offering Spanish tapas. The walk between yesterday’s Cuba and tomorrow’s is a journey between a failed model and another one, possible and desired.

“Everything on the menu is available,” the waiter states proudly to the incredulous customers who have escaped the state premises. No one is able to explain very well how the private restaurant manages to maintain a supply of pork, beef and fish in a country where, in the last year, shortages have worsened, but everyone knows that some of the ingredients travel in the suitcases of innumerable passengers and others come from the black market. “Do you want your paella with seafood, rabbit or vegetables?” asks the waiter. Two tourists take pictures in front of a poster of bulls and another dares to ask for a vegan dish that arrives in a few minutes: varied and without traces of animal protein.

I fear that the mansion at 3rd and 8th may have many years ahead of it, offering bad cooking, the worse service, and the poor flavors that flow from its cauldrons. Meanwhile, the nearby paladar does not know if it will survive, because it has exposed the mammoth futility of a whole system. For this it may pay dearly.

Bolsonaro and the Shadow of Lula

In the second round this Sunday, Haddad (right) could pay for the corruption linked to Lula, who has been his mentor, to the benefit of the extremist Bolsonaro (left).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 October 2018 — If everything goes as the polls predict, on October 28 the far right Jair Bolsonaro could win in the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections.

This possible victory would be underpinned not only by the weariness of a large part of the population in the face of corruption and the inefficiency of the political class, but also by the dead weight that his closeness with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has represented for the candidate Fernando Haddad.

While Bolsonaro fulminates against everyone, crusades against whomever and, like a chameleon, has toned down his speech to some degree in recent weeks, Fernando Haddad is linked to a fidelity with Lula which, right now, is his principal burden. From the presidential candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT), the shadow of the mistakes made by the former president, now in prison, and also by his successor Dilma Rousseff, colors everything.

Bolsonaro, with his nostalgia for the military dictatorship, has undertaken a slight turn towards the center to appease fears and win a greater number of voters among those areas of Brazilian society who resisted, until recently, to mark his name on their ballots. Their ranks grow every day, however, as people opposed to the PT are willing to punish at the polls the management of a group that began with promises to make a new kind of politics and ended up muddied in the miasma of corruption, patronage, influence peddling and ideological bullying.

Haddad, trapped by his proximity to his mentor, is unable to launch criticisms against the previous administrations of the PT, to promise a radical change with respect to his predecessors or to renege on the figure who has elevated him to these presidential elections. The pulling of strings that control Haddad from the Curitiba prison are too evident and the suspicion that once he rises to the Planalto Palace he could decree an amnesty that would free Lula dissuades many from supporting him.

In Brazil, not only is a new president being elected. If the citizens give the nod to Bolsonaro they would also inflict a devastating blow on the most authoritarian left which, two decades ago, began its ascent to the highest positions in numerous nations in Latin America. That era in which Lula posed in a family photo with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega, Raul Castro, Rafael Correa and many others, is about to receive the coup de grace at the ballot boxes of Brazil.

The problem is what will come next. When the punishment vote passes to spite the PT, it will be defeated. Can Bolsonaro moderate his behavior and govern for all Brazilians? Will he banish from his discourse the exclusions and dogmatism he has promoted to prevent society from becoming further polarized? Will he be able to give the country back its once thriving economy and lower unemployment? Will his mandate contribute to new Latin American alliances more focused on the welfare of the people than on the ideologies?

The answer to all those questions is a big question. Analysts have not ceased to sound the alarm about what can happen with a man so unpredictable and extremist in the presidency. Whatever happens, much of the responsibility falls on Lula’s shoulders.

This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Temper Tantrum Unleashed at the United Nations

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 October 2018 – At first one can even be sympathetic: an elementary school classmate who flaps her arms while screaming. Later, comes the rudeness as the saleswoman’s mouth clenches before she spits out, “Girl, why did you even take that off the shelf if we haven’t marked the price yet?” Or the soldiers practicing on Independence Avenue while chanting a motto that ends in the phrase, “y nos roncan los cojones.”

Thus, over several generations, we Cubans have grown up with the idea that screaming, saying bad words, insulting others, calling them mocking nicknames and not letting others speak makes us look brave, superior or “macho.” This has undoubtedly contributed to what can be called “revolutionary trash talk,” that effrontery in the use of language and manners to make us seem more proletarian, more humble.

Within that code of socialist morality and Cuban uncouthness it is accepted and admired to use the vocal chords at full volume to prevail in a discussion. If, in addition, the person who is most vociferous intersperses swear words referring to the masculine sexual organs, he will be applauded as the winner of the debate and homage will be paid to him for being a true Cuban.

However, relating vulgarity with humility is one of the great errors that this system has instilled in us. My grandmother lived all her life in a tenement in Cayo Hueso and I don’t remember ever hearing a single bad word from her. I know thousands of examples of people who eat only once a day and yet continue to repeat to their children those maxims of “poor but honest,” “poor but clean,” “poor but decent.”

On several occasions I have had to witness the sad spectacle of acts of repudiation against me, with this practice of shouting so that I cannot express myself, accompanied with offensive gestures and rudeness. Experiencing it as an individual is something that everyone handles in their own way (I confess I’ve often laughed at them), but it is something else to see the name of the country where you live associated with such boorish manners.

I can’t stop feeling embarrassed for the Cuban delegation and the lamentable spectacle they displayed at the United Nations. I know that they do not represent all Cubans, not even the majority, but I can’t help thinking that for those present in that room and for all those who watched on TV or online the screaming, the banging on the tables and the mouths distorted by the anger of those shock troops must represent to them “Cuba.”

I want to apologize on their behalf, even if I do not have an ounce of responsibility for what happened and I disapprove of those practices and the government that drives them. However, I do have to apologize because we have allowed this Island to remain in the hands of people who do not have the moral stature or the decency to represent us.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Moreno Versus Correa: Three To Zero

Lenin Moreno after being invested president and receiving the baton from Rafael Correa. (@AsambleaEcuador)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 September 2018 — He seemed the perfect successor: docile, well trained and sticking to the script. However, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has become the worst nightmare of his predecessor, Rafael Correa.

At first it was just a slight fracture that arose between them, marked more by differing points of view or by dissimilar impressions when the time came to take the reins of the county. But as the months pass the current Ecuadorian president has become the main executioner and undertaker of Correaism.

This September, Moreno has thrown another shovelful of earth over the former leader of the Alianza País party. Ecuador lost the legal battle against the American multinational Chevron, after a long confrontation in a historic case of environmental pollution in the Amazon. Before hearing the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, the president of Ecuador hastened to lay the responsibility on Correa.

The Secretariat of Communication accused the former president, who governed the country between 2007 and 2017, of using the clash with Chevron “to gain political and media prominence,” in addition to using “public funds for propaganda, manipulating national and international public opinion.” The level of the accusations Moreno’s administration has made against his predecessor marks the final break between the former party comrades and is the most critical point in a series of confrontations.

Recently, Moreno defined Correa as a “thug” who was “obsessed” with re-election and the latter responded by accusing Moreno of being a “traitor.” Ecuador’s departure from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) also constituted a serious setback for one of the most visible faces of that failed model that was called 21st Century Socialism. To these blunt blows is added an infinity of public skirmishes in which the current office-holder has always come out the winner from the political and diplomatic point of view.

While Moreno has projected an image of an equable man capable of dialogue, Correa’s arrogance has prevented him from controlling himself and in the face of every criticism he has received since leaving office, he has responded with very little statesmanship and obvious irritation on not feeling himself adored by Moreno.

That reaction is due, especially, to the fact that the plans of the former president saw the naming of a substitute as simply a legal move. The new president was supposed to hold on to the presidential sash for a time, just enough years to allow Correa to return to Carondelet Palace.

Instead, the one who had been trained to be a puppet cut the strings and decided to govern on his own. Beyond the lights and shadows of his administration, Moreno is sending a powerful message to other regimes, such as Cuba’s, who see in the handpicked and loyal successions a way to perpetuate themselves. The Ecuadorian president is destroying the illusions of those authoritarians of all political colors who hope to be able to manage, from behind the scenes, a puppet sitting in the presidential chair.

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This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

History of a Botched Job

The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, as it is not even located on a busy street with heavy vehicles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 September 2018 — The neighbors who pass in front of the huge crater scratch their heads, confused by the impression that they are suffering from déjà vu. Reasons for this estrangement are not lacking because the waterworks rupture that forced the closure of Conill Street, very close to the Avenida de la Independencia (Rancho Boyeros), has been repaired four times in a period of less than three years.

The current pit has been dug by the Havana Water Company, which is in charge of the supply of drinking water, the maintenance of the sewer system and the sanitation and storm drainage in the capital. On this entity falls a good part of the popular mockery and insults, for its remarkable inability to offer stable quality service.

With a bulldozer and an exasperating slowness, workers have unearthed on Conill Street a broken pipeline which, with its successive repairs, has become part of the landscape of this area of ​​Nuevo Vedado which is full of tall buildings constructed during the days of the Soviet subsidy. The deteriorated conduit has become a well-known character in these parts as well as an unwanted “neighbor” who, time after time, reminds us of his presence with a leak.

“It’s because the pipe was damaged,” the head of the works repeats with little enthusiasm this week, every time a concerned resident asks about the repairs that have affected the water supply to several surrounding blocks. The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, a section that is not even located on a busy street congested with heavy vehicles, but the man avoids answering.

The key to understanding the recurrence of the breakage is to recognize the degree to which most public works in Cuba are botched. “Every time they fix it, they don’t reinforce the area between the pipe and the asphalt, so the passing of the cars ends up damaging it,” says a neighbor who has not studied engineering or led a hydraulic repairs brigade, but who knows his own neighborhood well.

Others have been indirect accomplices to the bad practices suffered by this stretch of pipe. “The last time they stole some of the materials and there was even someone who paved the entrance to his private garage with what he diverted from that work,” says another resident nearby. “They filled the hole as well as they could and two weeks later there was another,” he says.

The hole in the street started as a slight drop, but over the months it turned into a dangerous cavern. Vehicles from the nearby Ministry of Agriculture had to drive around to avoid it and after the rainstorms it flooded for several days. In the end, the story repeated itself and the pipe that was underground ended up giving way.

“We have paid four times for this repair,” says a self-employed neighbor who sells pizzas a few yards away. “And I say we have paid because this comes out of our taxes, which are quite high.” The worried taxpayer passes each morning in front of the hole and wonders if there will be a fifth time. “Is this a curse?” He asks himself. But the Havana Water Company has no answers.

The Stampede of Venezuelans Jeopardizes Latin America

Hundreds of Venezuelans earn their living in the streets of Cúcuta by carrying suitcases of other emigrants who left like them. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Bogota/Havana, 9 September 2018 — Beside me, a woman with two children sobs as she remembers her native Caracas. In the office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of Bogotá, the Venezuelan accent is heard on all sides, a multitude of exiles who have come from the neighboring country with barely the clothes on their backs and who still have the bewildered look of departure.

In another part of the Colombian capital, near the Plaza de Bolívar, a young man sells arepas very cheaply from a small cart adorned with the eight-star flag. He tells me that he left his two children on the other side of the border and that he is hoping to make enough money to reunite his family “in a safe country.”

A few yards away, another man works as a street artist, becoming a living statue of Simón Bolívar, with the buttoned uniform, a sad look and a sword in his hand. The sculpture breathes under Bogota’s drizzle and seems to symbolize a nation’s fall from grace. From the libertarian summits, through the paths of populism, to arrive at the abyss of the diaspora.

Almost everywhere in Colombia are the displaced people of the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Something similar to what has happened in Ecuador, Brazil and Peru, although the exiles also make it to Chile and Uruguay, in addition to those who have managed to leap the Atlantic and take refuge in Europe and those who have managed to enter the United States.

They have left behind their homes, their neighborhoods and their friends. They are the most recent chapter of the Latin American exodus, but this time starring citizens of a country where, just a few years ago, the president promised a future of opportunities for all. They are escaping from the failure of a system, putting land between their bodies and broken dreams.

The figures of this escape are just beginning to be known. At the end of August 2018, according to official data, 935,593 Venezuelans were living in Colombia, but the real number promises to be much higher. On the corners, at the traffic lights, on the outskirts of the markets you can see them, with the lost look of people trying to grasp their new context and a certain air of relief at having been able to escape.

The authorities of the receiving countries also display a certain disorientation. Most have had a long tradition of emigration and now face the challenge of welcoming their neighbors. The institutional response is clumsy in most cases and, in others, not very hospitable. The exodus has already faced xenophobic responses in some communities.

One of the most interrelated regions of the planet, with the majority of countries sharing a language and customs, has not been successful in crafting joint policies to ease the drama of these exiles. The granting of work permits, healthcare coverage, access to public education for Venezuelan children and the recognition of professional titles occurs at different levels in each host nation, without a common front.

The continent where, a few years ago, the standard-bearers of 21st century socialism joined hands and proclaimed an America for all, is now unable to respond in a judicious and inclusive manner to this humanitarian crisis. Territorial conflicts and the inability to work together are making the exodus more difficult for Venezuelans.

As a curious fact, the escape route does not include Cuba. The island does not appear on the destination map of these migrants. On the one hand, because it is not advisable to take refuge from an evil in the place that promoted and supported the implantation of the system from which you are fleeing. On the other, because behind the false image of a country in solidarity, Cuban legislation is among of the strictest with regards to obtaining residency or sheltering displaced persons.

But the drama is not experienced only by those who have left, but also by those who are left behind. The massive exit of citizens is causing an accelerated depopulation of the South American country, which will be one of the most negative outcomes and most difficult to overcome. Infrastructure can be repaired and capital returned, but the effect of mass emigration becomes irreversible.

Gone are the most daring, the most prepared and probably the most discontented. As in Cuba, the incessant flight of nationals leaves a lethargic population and a country easier to control. Those of us who stay must get used to the farewells and absences. Few of those who leave end up returning.

“If you don’t like it leave,” the acolytes of the Plaza of the Revolution have repeated for decades, and now Nicolás Maduro also embraces that contempt and mocks the emigrants who are “washing dishes in Miami.” For both regimes, exile is a thing of the weak, the refuge of the selfish who did not want to incinerate their lives in the crucible of the cause.

In both cases, the official discourse has passed through denying the escape, applying denigrating adjectives to those who flee, and blaming third parties for the incessant departure of nationals. Both Caracas and Havana also shrug off concern for their exiles, whom they see only as potential senders of remittances, but not as citizens with rights.

Mass emigration is a bloodletting that weakens any country. Every Venezuelan who now wanders the streets of Bogotá, Quito or Rio de Janeiro is a life project that was lost to his homeland.

A Discreet Test of Internet for Mobile Phones Unleashes Frustrations

A young man connected to the wifi network in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 August 2018 — A young woman was talking on the phone in a café when someone at the next table overheard the conversation. In a few minutes everyone in the place had their eyes glued to their cellphones to test the mobile internet they’d heard about in that private dialogue. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) did not say a word, but at 11 am on Tuesday morning thousands of customers across the country knew that it was the moment they had been waiting for, for years.

Neither the official website of Etecsa, the state communications monopoly, nor its public communication office revealed that tests were being undertaken of the web connection; it was only uncovered by independent journalism sites and private accounts on the social networks. Thus, after two decades of delay and surrounded by institutional secrecy, Cubans peered into the World Wide Web from their cell phones. The experience was exciting but the technical problems generated more frustration than hope.

Congestion preventing the opening of web pages, continuous crashes causing the loss of data signals to phones, and an inability to see the images in applications with multimedia content were some of the most common difficulties suffered by thirsty netizens who expected to set sail in the virtual world, but were barely able splash on the shore of the WWW.

“I’ve spent 20 minutes and I have not been able to open a single digital site,” complained a boy who had learned about the “pilot test” through a friend who works at Etecsa. “They told the employees not to say anything but everyone who has a friend spread the word,” he says. By the end of the day, he had managed to “enter Facebook Messenger and write a couple of messages,” in addition to reading “half of an article, because it wouldn’t completely load,” from a newspaper in Florida.

The disappointed young man was only nine when, in February 2011, the Alba-1 submarine cable connected Cuba with Venezuela. At that time the majority of Etecsa users thought that the Internet was around the corner, but mismanagement and the ruling party’s fear that citizens would actively launch themselves on the web delayed connectivity.

After that came a long period of concealment and evasions. Official voices insisted that the government was going to opt for the “social use” of the new technologies, but it maintained prices for web browsing that had no relationship to national salaries. Wi-Fi zones were also born, a last attempt to delay the arrival of the web in the private space, but at least this addressed millions of people’s the appetite for communication and need for contact.

Connectivity policy has focused on delaying the moment when customers are alone, in the privacy of their homes or in a remote spot far from the public wireless access areas, in front of a screen where they can interact and through which they can publish and be heard. But Etecsa’s arguments were running out, its customers ceased to be convinced by old excuse of the US embargo and the demands for internet on mobile phones became a clamor.

In the end, the clumsy state company — one of the least efficient in the world — has announced that before the end of the year it will enable access to the web from prepaid mobile phones. Postpaid users and some privileged officials or official journalists have been enjoying this opportunity for months, but their opinions on the quality of navigation are very negative.

“It’s hopelessly slow,” says a young journalism graduate who works at a local media outlet with a quota of mobile phones connected to the web. “They have asked us to defend the Revolution on social networks but at this speed it is very difficult,” he says. The basic use this information professional has made of the connection is limited to “exchanging messages by WhatsApp and trying two frustrated video conferences in IMO.”

After yesterday’s experience, spoiled by slowness and technical problems, customers now wait for Etecsa to make an open announcement on the implementation schedule for the service and on the rates for data packages. They also want guarantees of functionality since “for something so bad I’m not going to pay as if it were really internet access,” a woman in the Etecsa office stressed this Tuesday .

The state communications monopoly is in trouble. It has millions of customers tired of waiting and many of them, on August 14, peeked into the network through their phones. Now they want to repeat the experience more efficiently and with complete freedom.