The Devaluation of Piracy

With their colorful covers and nylon sleeves, the new supply of CDs and DVDs fills every corner of my city. Selling music, TV series and movies is one of the self-employment professions that has expanded — more and more rapidly — in recent weeks. Everyone wants to have their own distribution point; the most creative offer compilations of the same actor, or the complete discography of a singer. There are no copyright barriers and the American and Spanish serials are the most commonly purchased. Piracy is no longer something whispered in the ears of those interested, rather the merchandise is displayed publicly on makeshift wooden and cardboard shelves. Anyone can wrap up record labels or producers, as long as they don’t cross the line of the ideologically acceptable.

Given the audacity shown in ignoring copyright, it’s striking that no one dares to offer the popular — but banned — programs readily available in the alternative information networks. Absent from the public catalogs are the documentaries — so often watched in Cuban homes — that approach our national history through a different lens from the official. Nor do the shelves in doorways and windows display films that show the situation in the Romania of Ceausescu, or in Stalin’s Russia, or the North Korea of Kim Jong Il. The real hits of the underground world would jeopardize the licenses of these newly minted self-employed. Warning “visits” to the new entrepreneurs make it clear, don’t even think about providing certain controversial materials. The censorship pact is in place.

Beyond the issue of control is that of profitability of these small businesses. When they first started to emerge, the price of a DVD with five movies was around 50 national pesos. Today, in view of the profusion of vendors, it’s dropped to around 30. Many don’t survive the first quarter as independent workers. Others diversify their production and expand their sales. But to stay afloat and become profitable, they will probably need to turn to themes currently banned. In a few months, a good part of them will have, in addition to the visible offerings, another hidden shelf only for trusted customers, to satisfy the restless seekers of the forbidden.

23 thoughts on “The Devaluation of Piracy

  1. NPR:Cuba Issues Thousands Of Self-Employment Licenses-by Nick Miroff-TO HEAR AUDIO PIECE CLICK LINK AND THEN SPEAKER ICON AFTER 7:00 PM ET.

    January 18, 2011 Communist authorities in Cuba have issued more than 75,000 new self-employment licenses to help offset the layoffs of half a million government workers in the coming months.

    But it’s not clear if they can create jobs fast enough.

    DVD pirates were the first to emerge from the shadows of Cuba’s underground economy. They’ve set up homemade display racks all over the city, blasting bootlegged CDs at pedestrians like street vendors in any other Latin American capital. They have reggaeton music, Harry Potter movies and nature shows lifted off the Discovery Channel — and they’re now licensed by the Cuban state, which cares far more these days about job creation than copyrights.

    Elsewhere, Cubans are delivering pizzas, or setting up snack bars and restaurants in their homes, and even hiring employees. It may not be a recipe for economic growth, but at least it’s creating some optimism during an otherwise worrisome time for Cuban workers.

    On a recent day, Dayami Sanchez, 26, sits at a small stand outside her Havana apartment building, knitting a cap. She says she’s her own boss, sets her own hours and manages her own money. The stuffed animals, hot pads and other knickknacks on her table were all handmade, but it had taken her a week to crochet a pair of $5 gloves.

    A few blocks away, Rene Ramos, 70, was walking up and down the street blowing a whistle to draw attention to his homemade peanut bars. Without a whiff of irony, Ramos described himself as a symbol of the Cuban Revolution, saying he had been a lieutenant colonel in the Cuban military and served overseas in Angola.

    Ramos says he thinks it’s magnificent that everyone now has the opportunity to work legally, explaining that he has spent the past 10 years dodging the police to avoid fines. He adds that he doesn’t mind paying a few dollars a month in taxes.

    According to the government, 68 percent of the new business licenses have gone to those who were previously unemployed, a sign that many Cubans are simply legalizing jobs they used to do on the black market. But the problem is that once the layoffs start, Cuba’s economy must absorb 500,000 workers — 10 percent of the island’s labor force — in just a matter of months, including many Cubans who may not have the wherewithal to start a business or make it on their own.

    “It’s not the state anymore,” says Ricardo Torres, a Cuban economist. “It’s you, the main actor of your own destiny or fate, right? It takes time to get used to that scenario, right? So probably many people will apply for new licenses, but not everybody will succeed.”

    There are plenty of obstacles: Taxes can be high, and the government will license only 178 specific trades, including palm-tree pruner, button maker and fruit peeler. At least the application process only takes a few hours, light speed by the standards of Cuban bureaucracy.

    Monica Yanez, a 22-year-old cosmetology student waiting to pick up her license at a government office in Havana, says she might have tried to get a job at a state-run beauty salon in the past. Now she’s building one in her home.

    She says she has a chair, a mirror and brushes — adding that what she would really like is to get some independence from her parents.

    The government says it will complete the job cuts by March, but there have been no reports of mass layoffs yet. It’s possible the process will drag out longer, allowing the authorities to better manage social and political tensions and offer other jobs to the unemployed in less-desirable industries like construction and agriculture.

  2. Well, if “friendly” translator allows his/her friends to go on insulting people for expressing their opinion, the I can talk whichever way I like.

    At least I am not insulting anyone.

    I am simply stating the fact here.

    But in those empty skulls of those cuban emigrants, losers subliving in Miami on social assistance and small time crime, there is no difference between stating the fact and being abnoxious cuban.

    See, they think if they are abnoxious cuban, then everyone is. If they think only about nonsense, resulting in crime, violence, larceny, theft and murder, these stupid idiots think that EVERYONE is like them.

    And use that as a justification for their continuous chimpanzee behaviour.

    And those people talk about freedom of expression and democracy.

    As they actually know what those concepts are…

    What a joke. “yoani” team and all… A sad, distasteful and shameful display of the lowest level a, supposedly human, behaviour they can assume.

    But not at all unexpected. After all, they ARE certified supporters of crime and criminals. Just have a look at “Clasificados Cuba ” link for verification of their real intentions and plans.


    And the team “yoani” have audacity to complain about “piracy” in Cuba, when they themselves are the top internet pirates!!!

    Don’t believe? go to and have a look how a “democracy” and “freedomfighter” offers free links to cuban movies without paying a cent to the rightful owners of authors rights for those movies.

    In diong so, the cheap “yoani” mate is ripping off his own compatriots thousands of euros every day, and then comes here and bullshits about some “piracy” in Cuba!!!!

    “yoani” team, get a grip!

    YOU are the criminals worse that even all the Castros put together.

  3. Hey Brice, aka Dumbir, this blog CANNOT be read in Cuba unless you work for the MINIT. I’ve been in Cuba many times, different places. I tried to acces this blog and as I thought the acces was denied. Why ? Because Cuba is indeed a “Stalinist dictatoship”

  4. I was just checking here to get Yoani’s view of the newly announced changes in Cuban policy by President Obama.
    I see the WASH POST article was posted here as comment. I do not know if she can even read these comments.
    Please answer, those who follow this more closely. Thanks.
    I do hope this helps, especially the $$ change, if people can start up say food businesses etc easier.

  5. Another brilliant defender of the castros dazzles us with his half-whit logic. Hey Brice how do your simplistic political ideas about race relations and capitalism in the US and Yoani’s ability to publish a blog equate to Cuba not being a repressed society? Using your acute powers of reasoning I suppose when Sakharov, Sharansky and other communist era dissidents in russia spoke out publicly and consistently against their soviet masters they weren’t living in a stalinist dictatorship either, after all they were able to speak out weren’t they? Why don’t you join up with a church or educational group, legally travel to Cuba and see how your bros are doing living in that wonderful color-blind society created by your retched heroes the castros.

  6. #15 BetterWorld quote: Cuba would be happy to pay intellectual property rights on all US cultural products … but it can’t. You know that, so why self-censor?

    Where do you come up with that statement when Fidel himself has stated many times that he considers all such payments against the socialist/communist credo and that the capitalists like Bill Gates can stuff their intellectual rights and that goes double for the fat cats in Hollywood…

  7. Brice #14

    Your statement and logic are so far from reality as to make you appear as a comic/tragic buffoon. To use the results of a natural disaster even one in whose aftermath poor choices and delayed reactions and yes even the decisions preceding it concerning the safety of levies and wisdom of location of residential areas surrounding them were in many ways lacking and then comparing it to a man made tragedy such as the one of the Castro regime over the Cuban people is outrageous.

    To further state that because modern technology allows the cries for tolerance and human rights from Cuba to now be heard and disseminated throughout the world and therefore the Castro tyranny is not Stalinist makes you a delusional and idiotic fool for expecting any rational individual to agree with that logic.

  8. Who would they pay the royalties to? Most of these films are Hollywood productions and Hollywood is forbidden from selling it’s films in Cuba … by the US government.

    If the Hollywood producers accept royalty payments they are breaking the US “Trading with the Enemy Act” and can be fined or jailed (by the US government). One or two US movies have gotten around this by giving free copies to Cuban cinemas for public showing – Michael Moore and Oliver Stone have done this.

    Which would you do – look for your royalty and face prosecution by the OFAC or ignore the infringement?

    Cuba would be happy to pay intellectual property rights on all US cultural products … but it can’t. You know that, so why self-censor?

  9. You people aren’t fooling me. You are not oppressed. I once read something by Yoani Sanchez where she complained about a lack of bananas after a major hurricane. Grow up. You know what happened in the United States when a hurricane hit. Two thousand people died. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes forever. They were poor and mostly black and so they didn’t matter to the government. That’s Capitalism and “freedom” for you. The fact you have this blog shows that it can’t be all that bad. I mean I thought they were suppressing your right to dissent and yet here it is on the internet. Your very blog of protest, proof that Cuba is not in fact a “Stalinist” dictatorship.

  10. THE USA will have to get the MONKEY OFF ITS BACK ALSO. Castro is quick to blame others for the 50years he’s been milking the island nation. I hope Obama and his family are the first to travel throughout the island and see it for what it really is, and not a sponsored propaganda tour, that Fidel likes to sell. The people who live in Cuba and not the rich Castro’s, deserve better. Its important for anyone travelling to CUBA,to understand how many political prisoners are sitting in cuban jails ,the lenght of their stays and the conditions they are kept.


  11. ASSOCIATED PRESS:Envoy allowed to meet with jailed American in Cuba

    Cuba allowed a visiting U.S. State Department envoy to meet on Thursday with a jailed American contractor whose case has been a stumbling block to improved relations between the two Cold War enemies.

    State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Roberta Jacobsen, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, met with Alan Gross, who has been jailed without charge since Dec. 3, 2009. Cuban officials including President Raul Castro have accused him of spying.

    Crowley had no details on where or when the meeting took place.

    “We appreciate the fact that … she had the opportunity to visit with him,” he told reporters in Washington.

    Meanwhile, a senior State Department official said Washington has heard encouraging signs from the Cuban government that Gross might be tried and allowed to return to the United States.

    “I am cautiously optimistic because of things we hear that that would be the case,” said the official. When asked if the optimism was based on direct conversations with the Cuban government over the fate of Gross, the official responded: “Yes.”

    The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the case.

    Jacobsen was in Havana to lead a U.S. delegation in regularly scheduled talks with their Cuban counterparts on immigration matters. She also met Thursday with several prominent Cuban dissidents as well as Jewish officials and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Crowley said.

    Cuba reacted strongly to Jacobsen’s decision to meet with the dissidents, saying it “confirmed once again that there is no change in the U.S. policy of subversion and meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs.”

    The Foreign Ministry said Jacobsen was warned not to use the official visit as an excuse to meet with the dissidents, who Cuba considers to be mercenaries paid by Washington to destabilize the government.

    It called the meeting an “open provocation,” a “flagrant violation” of international norms and an “offense against our people.” U.S. government officials counter that they maintain a dialogue with members of “civil society,” including those in opposition, in countries around the world.

    The scenario painted about Gross by the senior State Department official — along with the visit with the prisoner — were the most encouraging signs to date that the case might be nearing a resolution, possibly with Gross being tried, convicted and sentenced to time already served, or granted a pardon or commuted sentence of some sort.

    U.S. officials have said repeatedly that Gross’s imprisonment is an obstacle to improved relations with Cuba.

    However, the official cautioned that the encouraging words from Havana won’t mean anything unless the Cuban government follows up, presumably by finally bringing charges against Gross so a trial can proceed.

    “Words are nice and they are important, but in the end we have to see actions,” the official said. “We have to see things happen to believe it is going to take place.”

    Gross, 60, a native of Potomac, Maryland, was working for a firm contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested and sent to Havana’s high-security Villa Marista prison.

    Cuban officials accuse him of spying. The U.S. government says Gross was distributing communications equipment to the island’s 1,500-strong Jewish community, though leaders of Havana’s two main Jewish groups have denied having anything to do with him.


    WALL STREET JOURNA: New Prize in Cold War: Cuban Doctors-By JOEL MILLMAN

    Felix Ramírez slipped into an Internet cafe in the West African nation of The Gambia, scoured the Web for contact information for U.S. diplomats, then phoned the U.S. embassy in Banjul, the capital.
    He told the receptionist he was an American tourist who had lost his passport, and asked to speak to the visa section. As he waited to be connected, he practiced his script: “I am a Cuban doctor looking to go to America. When can we meet?”

    Dr. Ramírez says he was told to go to a crowded Banjul supermarket and to look for a blond woman in a green dress—an American consular official. They circled one another a few times, then began to talk.

    That furtive meeting in September 2008 began a journey for the 37-year-old surgeon that ended in May 2009 in Miami, where he became a legal refugee with a shot at citizenship.

    Dr. Ramírez is part of a wave of Cubans who have defected to the U.S. since 2006 under the little-known Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program, which allows Cuban doctors and some other health workers who are serving their government overseas to enter the U.S. immediately as refugees. Data released to The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act shows that, through Dec. 16, 1,574 CMPP visas have been issued by U.S. consulates in 65 countries.

    Cuba has been sending medical “brigades” to foreign countries since 1973, helping it to win friends abroad, to back “revolutionary” regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba’s central bank counts as “exports of services”—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year. Many Cubans complain that the brigades have undermined Cuba’s ability to maintain a high standard of health care at home.



    WASHINGTON POST:Obama loosens travel restrictions to Cuba-By Mary Beth Sheridan
    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    The Obama administration on Friday announced the broadest liberalization of travel to Cuba in a decade, making it easier for American students and religious and cultural groups to visit the Communist-ruled island.

    It still will not be legal for ordinary American tourists to vacation in Cuba, which has been under a U.S. economic embargo for nearly 50 years.

    But the measures will expand the categories of who is authorized to travel, which are currently restricted to Cuban Americans and a limited number of others. They also will allow U.S. citizens to send up to $2,000 a year to help Cubans support religious institutions or run small businesses.

    “We see these changes as increasing people-to-people contact, helping strengthen Cuban civil society and, frankly, making Cuban people less dependent on the Cuban state,” said a senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition his name was not used.

    The changes come as Cuba is approaching a potential watershed, a Communist Party Congress in April that is expected to intensify changes in the state-run economic model. Supporters of the new regulations say they will allow Americans to help Cuba’s nascent private sector. Conservatives and Cuban American legislators are expected to oppose them.

    The new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), said loosening restrictions “will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba. These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them.”

    The rules are similar to ones put in place during the Clinton administration, but rolled back under President George W. Bush.

    The new regulations had been drawn up by Obama administration officials last summer. But, wary of political fallout, they had held off introducing them until after the November elections.

    Another complicating factor has been the detention of Alan P. Gross, a Potomac contractor who was arrested in Havana in 2009 while working on a secretive U.S. government pro-democracy project. He has not been charged.

    Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been quietly pressing for the rules to be issued. In a recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton obtained by The Post, Kerry wrote “the United States has a choice and an opportunity to be relevant” at a moment when Cuba has allowed more economic freedom.

    The new regulations allow authorized religious institutions and universities to issue permits for their members to travel to Cuba. Other cultural and educational groups will be able to seek licenses for such trips. The measures will also allow more U.S. airports to run charter flights to Cuba.

    Americans will be permitted to send up to $500 per quarter to Cubans, as long as they are not senior Communist officials.

    The regulations do not need congressional approval.

    President Obama earlier eased restrictions on Cuban Americans’ visits and remittances to the island.

  14. This is it, the party is over for the “ones dressed in GREEN”. The world now knows about what really happens in Cuba. Americans will now be able to travel to Cuba and will expect better standards for all, yes for all not just them. The Hotel Nacional will have to change the rugs and the steaks will have to be thicker. This change or CAMBIO is what many are calling for. I have been listening via internet to the new music in Cuba and I’m incouraged by groups like los Aldeanos, PPR, Gorki, el Disipulo ,Raudel/Escuadron Patriota, Real 70, Anderson, Silvio Jr “el Libre” are a BIG NEW sound and the heart of a NEW REVOLUTION. Yoani Sanchez is a living JOAN DE ARC and will be recorded in History as such. Thanks to everyone who posts here, including the Regime apologist who enjoy their FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Cuba will have a promising future once they get the MONKEY OF THEIR BACKS.

  15. (Reuters) – U.S. food sales to Cuba fell by 30 percent from January through November compared with the same period in 2009, meaning trade has halved in the last two years as Cuba bought more from allies, a U.S.-based group said on Friday.

    Cuba imports about 60 percent of its food, and the United States has been the country’s top provider for years despite political tensions and an almost five-decade-old U.S. trade embargo.

    A Cuban official who has played a key role in the food trade between the countries has not been seen in Cuba for nearly a month and Cuban sources say he has defected to the United States.

    U.S. food exports to Cuba through November were $344.3 million compared with $486.7 million during the same period in 2009, according to figures released by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based group monitoring commerce between the two countries.

    The Caribbean nation is required to purchase agricultural goods with cash under a 2000 exemption to the embargo, but Havana is cash-strapped due to the impact of three hurricanes in 2008, the global financial crisis and inefficiencies in the state-dominated economy.

    Cuban purchases from the United States of frozen poultry, wheat, soy products, corn, beans and other products peaked at a record $710 million in 2008, then fell 24 percent in 2009.

    The report said Cuba was turning more to countries such as Brazil, France, Canada, Russia and China where it could purchase food on credit. The communist-led island was also giving preference to state-run suppliers over private ones, the report said.

    Meanwhile, rumors have swirled in Cuba and abroad since late December that the Cuban official — who acted as a go-between with U.S. politicians, trade groups and businesses to foster food sales — is in the United States.

    Pedro Alvarez headed up state food importer Alimport when the trade began in 2001. He was replaced in 2008, serving briefly as president of the Chamber of Commerce before being fired early last year under suspicion of corruption.

    An employee at Alimport and another at the Chamber of Commerce said Alvarez had not been seen since December and it was “common knowledge” he fled to the United States.

    Neither the United States nor Cuba have confirmed reports carried by some Miami media and Cuban-American websites that Alvarez left Cuba.

    The employees said they wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject and restrictions on talking to foreign journalists.

    (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

  16. Violent anti-government protests drove Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power

    TUNIS (AFP) – Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali quit on Friday after 23 years in power and fled the north African state as the authorities declared a state of emergency following deadly protests.
    Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced on state television that he had taken over as interim president, after a day of violent clashes between rock-throwing protesters and riot police in the streets of central Tunis.
    “I call on Tunisians of all political persuasions and from all regions to demonstrate patriotism and unity,” Ghannouchi said in a solemn live address.
    Government sources told AFP that Ben Ali had left the country but it was not immediately clear where he was headed.
    Ben Ali had promised on Thursday to stand down at the end of his mandate in 2014 and said the prices of basic foodstuffs would be cut.
    Ghannouchi announced after another day of violence Friday that the government had been sacked and elections would be held in six months.
    Ben Ali’s dramatic departure came after several tumultuous weeks in which a protest over high food prices and unemployment in central Tunisia escalated and spread across the country, with anger against the president spilling into the streets.
    “We just want democracy,” 24-year-old Hosni, his face wrapped in a Tunisian flag against tear gas, said during riots ahead of the president’s departure.
    Tarek, 19, an engineering student with a rock in one hand and a metal bar in the other, said: “Our president has promised a lot. They’re empty promises.”

    Protesters even descended on the interior ministry in Tunis, one of the symbols of 74-year-old Ben Ali’s iron-fisted rule, where they openly chanted for his swift departure and paid tribute to the “blood of the martyrs”.
    “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is our chance. We’ll never have another chance like this,” said Adel Ouni, a 36-year-old diplomat, observing the protest, adding: “This is a social revolution.”
    Tunisian authorities then declared a national state of emergency, banning public gatherings and imposing a strict curfew across the country.
    “The police and the army are authorised to fire on any suspect person who has not obeyed orders or fled without the possibility of being stopped,” said a government statement carried by the official TAP news agency.
    The army meanwhile took control of the main international Tunis Carthage airport and airspace was shut down, an airport source said.
    In earlier comments on TAP, Ghannouchi said the president had decided “to dismiss the government and call early elections in six months”.
    The statement said the decision had been made the day before, but there had been no mention of the government’s dismissal in Ben Ali’s national address Thursday although he did take a swipe at his lieutenants for “deceit”.
    But the apparent concessions did little to stem the calls for change with the chant of “Ben Ali Out!” echoing at demonstrations across the country.
    “This is a demonstration of hope,” Moncef Ben Mrad, editor of an independent newspaper, said at the protest in Tunis earlier on Friday.
    “It is the birth of a people who demand more freedom and that the families that have looted the country return the wealth and are called to account.”
    Speaking at a news conference in Paris, Tunisia’s main opposition parties, both legal and banned, had demanded Ben Ali step down in favour.
    According to a Paris-based rights group, 66 people have been killed since mid-December in the worst unrest faced in Ben Ali’s rule, about three times higher than the official toll.
    Although Ben Ali had called on Thursday for an end to live firing by his security forces, medical sources said 13 people had been shot dead on the same night in the Tunisian capital and suburbs.
    In a bid to quell the unrest, the president had promised in his national address that he would not seek another term in office and vowed to liberalise the political system.
    Addressing other complaints, he also pledged to lower the prices of basic commodities such as milk, bread and sugar, and lift restrictions on the Internet.
    With the tensions mounting, the leading tour operator Thomas Cook said it was evacuating more than 4,000 holidaymakers from the Mediterranean nation including from Germany, Britain and Ireland.
    France became the latest in a list of European countries to advise its citizens against travel to Tunisia.

  17. WALL STREET JOURNAL:Julia Stiles on Being Stranded in Havana .

    With three days left to go in my trip, I was walking around Havana flat broke. I had been spending my convertibles, the secondary currency used by tourists, like Monopoly money. I figured when my cash supply got low, I’d simply slow down my spending. With funds dwindling, I realized I had miscalculated the cost of my lodging, and forgotten about the exit fee at the airport. Cuba is not a place where one can access American banks or use credit cards, so if you run out of cash you cannot get anything. You can’t even get off the island. I had been staying in a casa particular, where specific families are licensed to rent out a bedroom in their homes by the night. The couple putting me up had become like my surrogate Cuban parents; Carlos knew just how I took my coffee, and would stay up waiting for me if I came home late at night. We would sit in their sun room and chat about everything from rations to folkloric dance, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to pay my bill. When he tried to teach me a Spanish phrase using the tricky subjunctive tense, the example he gave translated to, “I would go out with you tonight if I had the money…” I almost choked on my own tongue. What could I sell? Who did I know that I wouldn’t be ashamed to ask for a loan? How would I ever reimburse Carlos and his wife if I couldn’t send a check back from the States? I thought about reciting monologues in the Plaza Vieja for spare change.

    I could swallow my pride and ask to borrow from someone in the humanitarian aid group that brought me, but they had already left for the other side of the island. With few cell phones, most everyone is still accustomed to leaving messages at someone’s home and waiting for a return call. My younger sister, who was there with her college, had agreed to cover for me. That is, if anyone could find the person to unlock the dormitory safe, and that could take days. I knew I might not starve, but I would have to beg, borrow or steal to pay for the rest of my stay.

    I replayed every expense that had gotten me to this point. If only I had argued with the taxi drivers more. If only I had waited in the very long lines with the locals for a better exchange rate, instead of lazily going to the Hotel Nacional. I was under the impression I had been quite frugal, but I was so accustomed to thoughtlessly using credit cards, I had underestimated how much cash to bring even just for the basics.

    There are two currencies in Cuba, one for tourists and one for Cubans, and therefore two prices for everything. The first day I arrived, I wandered into the part of town everyone warned against to hear some live rumba. The music was free, but the overall experience was not. Two women decided to take me under their wing, explaining customs and the symbolism behind their dances. In exchange, they seemed only to want me to buy them drinks, and I was happy to oblige. “From each according to his ability,” I figured. It’s easy to romanticize the socialist ideals graffitied on every concrete wall, because generosity seems to be contagious. Obviously the reality is more complex.

    I needed to access my email in order to have a glimmer of hope that my group might learn of my dilemma, which was unlikely, considering virtually no one has internet access in their home. Even the controversial blogger Yoani Sanchez uses a flash drive to upload her blog posts at hotel kiosks. When I met her days before, I noticed paint on her hand and asked if she was a painter as well as a writer. Chuckling, she told me she was doing construction on her house—literally, as in she was doing it herself. She told me that every Cuban has to be resourceful in order to survive.

    I knew that the painfully slow connection at a hotel was too expensive for me at this point, but I was told of a student’s residence hall that had a computer room. I snuck in and logged on to their ancient PC. Of course I got caught, but pleaded with the attendant to just give me five minutes. Before I was able to address my cash situation, an email from friends back in the States sidetracked me, congratulating me on a Golden Globe nomination. There I was, thrilled to have received such a professional honor, yet still unable to barter it for cab fare.

    In Havana, everything can seem poetic. At movie theaters and baseball games, a few entrepreneurial people strap cardboard boxes to their shoulders and sell “Rositas de Maiz.” Instead of calling it popcorn, though, Cubans refer to the treat as “little roses of corn.” As elated as I was about the recognition from my industry, it would afford me no special treatment on this remote and yet not-so-distant island.

    Eventually the Keeper of the Safe was located, and I was able to borrow money to pay for my housing. My host generously offered to drive me to the airport in his 25-year-old stick shift, and I boarded the flight to Miami. With all of its crumbling beauty, Havana taught me the true value of a dollar. It also taught me that the people you know, and the ways in which you rely on one another, are more valuable than any paper currency.

    —Ms. Stiles will be appearing on Broadway this spring in the Neil LaBute play “Fat Pig.”

  18. “Tales from the Golden Age”

    A great movie about Romania under the communism. You can get it on Netflix.

  19. Though normally not a practice to be proud of, piracy of artistic and any other content may just be what the island needs. This could be the slippery slope that may take the arthritic, colon evacuation pouch-holder and his very small brother, down into the sea of freedom where they’ll have to sink or swimm along with the tides.

    Lets just sit back and watch. Like some subway pan-handling musician said eons ago “the times they’ll be-ah-changing”

  20. The wall is more & more showing the cracks as time passes.
    Piracy, black market, “illegal” activities of every kind.
    Where is the “new man” preached to us by the rebolution?
    Where is this counter rebolutionary people coming from?
    After over 40 years of indoctrination, revision of history, repression, intimidation & control … “the new man” as product of this rebolution is absent.
    The blame goes everywhere from the U.S. to the EU all the way to Israel.
    Is everybody’s fault, for not working hard, for not been good rebolutionaries, for not been comited to the cause, to not have love for Cuba etc. etc.
    The truth is the rebolution like the pirates of yesteryears came, pillaged & burned our country, stole anything of value, enslaved us & kidnapped our children to an ideology of destruction & now 40 years later still blame the people & other goverments.
    The failure of the rebolution is in itself, unnatural to Cubans, lovers of freedom & justice which will at its time prevail!!!
    Viva Cuba libre!

  21. It reminds me of Ceausescu’s Romania. There were no copyrights law. A few made tons of money transfering music from vinyl to tape. The only problem was that if caught you could go to jail for a long time beacuse you were not allowed to be involved in any sort of independent activity before 1989. After his execution ( Yoani, thank you very much for mentioning Ceausescu) many started to get into this bussiness as it took 4 years to have copyright law.

    PS: As for forbidden items before 1989, hmmm people who were caught with pornography and anti-communism materials were totally screwed. And just to give a glimps of how the justice system worked those days I have to tell you that disidents who were caught protesting the regime were ussualy brought before a judge with theft/assault charges. After long days and nights of torture they were easily tricked in telling the judge that they indeed were caught stealing or beating up somebody. Man, it is so great to live in communism, right Dumbir ?

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