Of the Cable, a Fiber

It is getting close, but it hasn’t arrived; they announced it but it’s not concrete. We may be able to see it soon from Punta de Maisi, nevertheless it seems so distant and remote to us. For more than two years the fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela has been the carrot dangled before the eyes of the inhabitants of this disconnected Island. Its thin threads have served as an argument against those who insist that the web access limitations have more to do with political will than lack of bandwidth. We have paid attention to the sluggish wanderings of the umbilical cord that will connect La Guaira with Santiago de Cuba, the boat that brought it from France, and the news which announced it will increase our data, image and voice transmission speed by three thousand times. But something tells us that this cable already has a name, an owner and an ideology.

With its 640 gigabyte capacity, the new tendon will be particularly devoted to institutional projects monitored by the government. When the official press mentions its advantages it stresses that “it will strengthen national sovereignty and security,” but not one word is directed to the improvement of the information spectrum for citizens. At a cost of 70 million dollars, this underwater connection seems destined more to control us than to link us to the world, but I am confident we will manage to upset its initial purposes. In these times, when several installations from the so-called Battle of Ideas have been converted into hotels to raise foreign currency and there are warnings that unprofitable businesses will be liquidated, it is quite likely that many of the digital pulses will reach the hands of those who can pay for them. With authorization or without, connection hours will be sold — to the highest bidder — in a country where diversion of resources is a daily practice, a strategy for survival.

When we are connected with Venezuela along the seabed, it will be even more immoral to maintain the high prices for access to the vast World Wide Web from hotels and public places. They will also lose the justification for not allowing Cubans to have accounts at home, from which we can slip into cyberspace, and it will be more difficult to explain to us why we can’t have YouTube, Facebook and Gmail. The pirated connections will increase and the black market for films and documentaries will feed on those megabytes running across our island platform. In workplaces with Internet the employees will also use it to register with the U.S. visa lottery, surf foreign sites looking for work, and engage in lovers’ chats. They won’t be able to prevent our use of the cable for things very different from what is planned by those who bought it, those who believe an Island can be neatly tied up — with no loose ends — with a simple fiber optic cable.


89 thoughts on “Of the Cable, a Fiber

  1. Access to the state-controlled Intranet cost $1.50 per hour, and access from a hotel with Internet network cost $7 per hour. Very few can afford those high costs and low connection speed since the average monthly salary is $20. The main reason for this is the regime priority to exercise total control of information in and out of the island.

  2. Colin/Dumbir:”The Miami Mafia” speach was created by the Castro Communists Propaganda Aparatus. This kind od propaganda was used in Eastern Europe too. Of course you work for them. It is obvoius. Nobody in his right mind would claim that Cubans have a good live ( especially if you travelling to Cuba and talking to the Cubans ). It is also true that Cubans will not complain about Castro or about the lack of freedom because there are many RATS giving information about who is complaining about Castro. They are complaining openly about the 23$/month salary for a teacher or about the fact that there is not enought food or that they cannot get soap or shoes. They talk about that but they are cleaver enough not to blame the regime.

    Questions for the Cuban Diaspora. Please respond because I need to knwo this. I find that Cubans from the island are superb and extraordinary people ( Colin and Dumbir are the opposite, because they have a hard job) . How come the Cuban diaspora is all criminals and mafioso ??????? Does it ring a bell for any normal reader on this blog ?????? The propaganda aparatus ( Colin/ Dumbir and the rest if the MINIT ) is working overtime to present the Cuban diaspora as being operating as a criminal organisation. In the same way as those who died in vain many years ago at the Bay of Pigs in an effort to take their country back from the communists; those were called criminals and mafioso too.

  3. #85 given how much time I have spent living in and travelling around Cuba for many years I doubt there is much I am not aware of – both good and bad.
    And of course if you believe the nonsense of #83 then I work for the Cuban government and actually make those laws!

  4. #80
    “I’m not sure what your point is about the Cuban bloggers either”

    Very simple. Cuban bloggers are not gaoled. This is contray to what some people here repeatedly argue.

    The credibilty of arguments about the ills of Cuban life would be enhanced if mistruths and exaggerations were not continually spewed out her. And I agree generally with your summary of Sanchez’s writings. It rarely contains the sort of exaggerations that several of the regulars here continually post. But i ‘suspect’ she finds the Miami Mafia type of polemics distasteful.

  5. Colin,

    As you may or may not know, there was a law, strictly unconstitutional, that forbade Cubans entry to tourist hotels. This used to infuriate some Cuban expatriate friends. The law has been rescinded, but there are still hassles. If you go the executive suite of the Riviera, for example, you have to show your passport to use the internet — they simply don’t want Cubans there. Same is true even at the ECTESA office in Vignales. They are second class citizens in their own country.

  6. After many years of monitoring & seeling intelligence to other countries, it seems like an upgrade of resources is neccesary hence the “connection”
    This is the rebolution that became a proxy of the former USSR, selling Cuba’s independence for food.
    The actions of this reboloution far from ideological are only the cravings for power of a small group of self serving degenerates who hid then as they hide now behind under the mantle of service to human kind, w/pronouncements of freedom & equlity.
    After 50 years of the same pronouncements … all still the same, only the names & titles have changed.
    The personality cult is what has keept the rebolution in Cuba going for so long.
    Its devices of brain washing our youth, of generating fear thru repression.
    Paranoia from constant state of siege, the dependencies for food & other necessities.
    Now we have (to borrow the expression) the dangling carrot of the connection.
    What is the price for this connection? What will cubans give up this time? What will Cuba give up this time?
    She already lost her honor & dignity, she lost her freedom & she lost her independence & most of her natural resources in trade.
    Yes Cuba will be connected … to Venezuela’s a country ruled by a dictator much like castro.
    Let s not forget the many “cuban rebolutionary advisors” sent to help the bolivarian rebolution keep their power.
    Lets not forget chavez’s statements of love for the cubaan rebolution he imitates while he wishes to be like castro.
    The connection is a device, the hope is great & the technology can be used in many ways for many purposes …

  7. …..and Colin is the smart version of the MINIT propaganda officer. Watch the movie on the link. The young peple of Havana are yellling : “Liberta”. Right Colin ? Were you working for MINIT on the 5th of August 1994 ?

  8. Love Cuba! Thanks for your support! No more lies, just information from varied sources, that’s why I post and hated by a few here!

    MIAMI HERALD: Recover our country’s proud memory-BY MIKE GONZALEZ
    When I was a child in the Cuba of the 1960s and the communist authorities would send a volunteer to inquire why I had not yet joined the Pioneros, or was not going along with the rhetoric of the Cuban Revolution, my grandmother would use the same routine to hold them at bay.

    Abuela would get around to informing our visitor that “this family has been in these parts for many generations — centuries.” Yes, she would go on, “we’ve noticed there is a revolution going on outside. The important thing to us is that we’re a familia cubanisima. And, no, my grandson won’t take part in that civic event Sunday morning. He will be at church, where he’s an altar boy. Our family built that church, by the way, the one you saw on the way here. Yes, our name is on the first brick that was laid there.”

    Four decades on, I know why Abuela proclaimed we were a corner stone. We had memories of a time past; and history put things in context. History gave us a sense of permanence that assured us of our daily survival, just as oaks can withstand gale-force winds because of deep tap roots.

    The people of Cuba today need that sense of belonging. As the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has written, “Most young people’s eyes are looking to the outside, because they see that they cannot make change in their country. They desire to take a plane to Miami or Europe and in 10 hours change their lives completely.”

    Convincing them that they have a future on the island once communism fades will require massive amounts of capital, a huge infusion of technical know-how and restoration of the rule of law. But as economist José Azel has observed, “Post-Castro Cuba will need to rebuild much more than its economy; it will need to rebuild its national identity.”

    This is why anyone concerned about Cuba’s future should think about its past. As Winston Churchill said, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

    It just so happens that Cuba as a nation this year marks an important milestone, one that is receiving little or no attention despite its importance to the formation of the Cuban character.

    Sometime this month or next — no one is sure of the precise date — the Cuban nation will turn half a millennium old.

    In the early weeks of 1511, almost two decades after Columbus’s voyages but nearly a century before the settlement of Jamestown, a group of Spanish knights clad in heavy armor set out from Hispaniola to conquer Cuba and recreate there their medieval ways.

    They couldn’t have been more unlike the Pilgrims, but like them, they sowed the seeds of success.

    A quick historical review of the practices they implanted suggests not just why Cuba was once a success but also why Cubans thrive outside communism. Within decades after their arrival, the conquistadors had thrust Cuba into a global trading system that produced the conditions for wealth creation for centuries to come, and gave Cubans a cosmopolitan outlook. The conquistadors also laid the foundations of representative government, which was practiced — with a limited franchise — as early as the 1520s.

    This is especially the kind of history those interested in Cuba’s future should be aware of, to keep the flame of Cuba’s identity — the secrets of its erstwhile success — alive.

    Economic success and representative government have never been lodestars of the revolution, so it isn’t surprising that Cubans know very little about their history today. Mix in the fact that wiping out Cuba’s centuries-grown identity was Job One for the revolution, and what you have today is induced national amnesia. The national identity had to be wrung out so that “revolutionary consciousness” could be installed in its place.

    This will need to change. Once it reenters international civil society, Cuba will have to start repairing not just its economy and political fabric, but also its culture.

    As with most things, Abuela was right.

    Mike Gonzalez, a former journalist, is vice president of communications at The Heritage Foundation. A longer version of this piece will appear in the journal Policy Review on Feb. 1.


  9. Interesting…Colin is very busy working the last few days while Dumbir is off. Indeed MINIT workers

  10. #77 Yes Colin, been to New York and London, etc, and lounged and had tea, unshaved and in ripped jeans, in their best hotels. Have friends who’ve done likewise in Paris, Monte Carlo, etc. A Cuban friend has never seen his wife working because guards, who know he’s a Cuban who can’t pay bribes, won’t even let him near the hotel zone. Yes, I’m sure the hotels in New York don’t let homeless people camp out in their lobbies, does that make the two situations “similar”. One can find similarities between all societies, does that make all societies “similar”. If so, based on the conditions of hospitals in Cuba and Haiti, or of the hungry in Cuba and Haiti, you could say that Haiti and Cuba are “similar”, but I’m sure you wouldn’t want to.

    I’m not sure what your point is about the Cuban bloggers either. Assuming Cubans are no longer sent to 20 years in prison for speaking honestly to the outside world, but subject to lower levels of harassment, this means what? They should be glad to be followed and randomly picked up by police, mobbed by officially organized repudiation rallies? I have read Yoani’s blog for years, and based on my observations, her writing is as devoid of exaggeration as is humanly possible. Most Cubans would write a lot worse about their government.

    I would sincerely like to know your vision of a future Cuba.

  11. #77 I don’t disagree with you commitment to democracy wherever.

    But this

    “And on a last note, as of this month, Cubans were still being barred from entering (even for a minute) some of their country’s hotels, even if they are decently dressed and clean and have family members working in the hotel. Unless of course, they have fat wallets and willing to part with cash, then they’re always welcome.”

    …….could equally have been written about similar situations in New York, Sydney, Paris, London etc etc etc

    Sad but true.
    Have you ever been to any of these cities?

  12. #76 “Castro brothers military regime, based in its judicial system, can condemn Cubans Internet users up to 20 years in prison, if they post what is considered by the regime to be a “counter-revolutionary” post in a foreign website. They could face up to 5 years prison if connected illegally to the Internet. You will not see anyone, unless approved by the regime to do so.”

    Name ONE of the many bloggers who constantly criticise the “regime’ that has been convicted for doing this?!!
    Thus site ALONE has many boggers weekly critcising the ‘regime’ http://www.havanatimes.org/?cat=4

  13. Humberto (Avalanchito) and others:

    This is my first time posting here although I’ve been reading Yoani’s blog and the comments for years. I just want to encourage you to keep posting those news clippings as they enable me to keep informed of current events in Cuba without having to access other sites. So a big thank you to both you and some other posters for all the interesting information.

    For anyone reading this who hasn’t been to Cuba, or has only seen it through the hotels or through officials channels, I can assure you that Yoani’s writing is as honest as it comes. And contrary to what her detractors say, she is a voice of moderation and reconciliation in a society where the majority hate their government. A peaceful future (anywhere) will need more voices like hers. As her detractors correctly note, and which she openly admits, she is more privileged than the average Cuban. So she can’t write about the constant hunger and physical suffering that my hungry and homeless Cuban friends would write about if they had access to the internet. I also have Cuban friends who are Communists, who are rich, and everything in between. And the most amazing thing about the system, is that absolutely nobody believes in it. I’ve been trying to find some who do for many years, so please, to those posters who have met Cubans who do, please tell me where to find them. Are you sure you haven’t been conned? You do realize it’s a police state, right? And the first thing people are taught is how to lie? Open your eyes and ears and heart, and people might start being honest with you, because deep down, they do want to speak freely.

    And on a last note, as of this month, Cubans were still being barred from entering (even for a minute) some of their country’s hotels, even if they are decently dressed and clean and have family members working in the hotel. Unless of course, they have fat wallets and willing to part with cash, then they’re always welcome.

  14. Castro brothers military regime, based in its judicial system, can condemn Cubans Internet users up to 20 years in prison, if they post what is considered by the regime to be a “counter-revolutionary” post in a foreign website. They could face up to 5 years prison if connected illegally to the Internet. You will not see anyone, unless approved by the regime to do so.

  15. Miami, why dont we take a long walk together and I will hold your hand! You have to be cute though!

  16. #69 “Why do you keep repeating this misinformation? I have personally seen both Sanchez and her husband with their notebook computers accessing this site and logging onto THIS site.”

    But of course sometimes they use this system as the New York actress Julia Stiles reported a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal “Even the controversial blogger Yoani Sanchez uses a flash drive to upload her blog posts at hotel kiosks.”


  17. #68 “My head hurt trying to decipher these young Cubans’ thought process, but it was clear that people knew very little about what was happening in the world beyond what the Cuban government wants them to know.”
    I suspect that 10 years after this very dated experience you might be surprised at how much of the world that young Cubans do know. I speak regularly with young and old people in Cuba and find both stratas surprisingly similar to those in my own country.
    You would clearly be surprised as to how many for example are regularly on social networking sites like Facebook despite the very real difficulties in accessing the internet.

    But I agree that unfortunately they care litle about the so-called Cuban dissent ‘movement’.

  18. #65 :Colin said: “Maybe english not being a first language is why you so often seem to reproduce length media reports often almost identical to previous ones? Woudn’t a link to each and a short summary be preferable…so that anyone interested can read them without being forced to scroll through such verbiage.”

    My dear Colin, I speak spanish, english and a fair Italian! DONT GO THERE!And as far as my verbiage, lets call it FREEDOM OF SPEECH! Do you know what that is?

    Ok it is your comprehension then that is limited perhaps because english is not your first lanquage?
    I was not suggesting that your posts not appear – I simply suggested a strategy whereby anyone could read them and they would take less time to scroll past for those that don’t. Many of your verrry long whole slab postings are almost identical – simply different media write ups of the same initial report. And if you wrote a short precis of what you find interesting in a particular report would in turn enhance your english.
    To infer that my suggestion may be a restriction on freedom of speech is a typically paranoid statement here.

  19. #68 “Bloggers like Yoani Sánchez of Generation Y don’t post directly to the Internet. They need foreigners to go to Internet cafés and spend big bucks to connect and send their messages to friends abroad who then post for the world to see.

    Few Cubans — including Yoani — can check out those posts.”

    Why do you keep repeating this misinformation? I have personally seen both Sanchez and her husband with their notebook computers accessing this site and logging onto THIS site. They are regulars in the tourist parts of Havana. And nothing wrong with that. But you can’t get something as basic as this correct – what does it say about other things you write?
    Still waiting for your observations of actualy going to Egyptand Tunisia. Presumedly you haven’t and therefore have little concept of the poverty levels relative to Cuba. Chalk and cheese.

  20. MIAMI HERALD: The Mideast is on fire, but will Cuba be next?

    Ayoung fruit vendor sets himself on fire in Tunisia frustrated that a corrupt government keeps him from getting a job worthy of his college degree.

    The Middle East is on fire, and who puts out those flames will determine if there will be an opening for true democracy or the same old oppression with perhaps a different face.

    In Egypt, college students and the poor were on the streets again Saturday demanding President Hosni Mubarak, who has held power for 30 years, to step down. In Yemen, thousands of student protesters have been marching to oust Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for three decades.

    And as these images reach our televisions, computer screens or smart phones in South Florida, many people have told me they can’t help but think about Cuba. As one reader put it in an e-mail: “What’s wrong with Cubans? They’ve had a dictatorship for 52 years! Cowards!”

    Easy for you to say from the comfort of your American home. Try living there. There have been reams written about how many Cubans experience the “Stockholm syndrome,” the paradox of hostages loving their captors for not killing them.

    I’ll never forget in 2002 interviewing 20-something and 30-something Cubans who had a long list of gripes against the régime’s corrupt policies, and yet they would not say a peep about Fidel Castro. When pressed, they would admit that Fidel’s time had passed but that he wasn’t responsible for the corruption. Raúl was more suspect because he ran the military, which controls the economy.

    My head hurt trying to decipher these young Cubans’ thought process, but it was clear that people knew very little about what was happening in the world beyond what the Cuban government wants them to know. And that is what distinguishes Cuba from most of the Middle East, where Internet access, satellite television service and cellphones have played a huge role in bringing protesters together.

    The Internet remains blocked to most Cubans, who have the lowest ratio of computers in Latin America. Smart phones are a pipe dream. Land lines are like cars in Cuba — few people have them and getting a line is prohibitively expensive for people who earn on average $20 a month.

    Satellite TV is accessible for tourists in hotels, but it’s a crime for the average citizen to own satellite antennaes, though a black market has sprouted.

    Bloggers like Yoani Sánchez of Generation Y don’t post directly to the Internet. They need foreigners to go to Internet cafés and spend big bucks to connect and send their messages to friends abroad who then post for the world to see.

    Few Cubans — including Yoani — can check out those posts.

    Technology is power, which is why Raúl Castro isn’t about to take President Barack Obama’s offer to open up telecommunications on the island by allowing U.S. companies to wire it.

    Cuba has turned to Venezuela for the fiber optic cable, which blogger Sánchez noted in a Jan. 24 post is “the carrot dangled before the eyes of the inhabitants of this disconnected Island . . . When we are connected with Venezuela along the seabed, it will be even more immoral to maintain the high prices for access to the vast World Wide Web from hotels and public places. They will also lose the justification for not allowing Cubans to have accounts at home, from which we can slip into cyberspace, and it will be more difficult to explain to us why we can’t have YouTube, Facebook and G-mail.”

    On Friday, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was arrested for the third time in as many days and then released. He was on his way with other dissidents in Santa Clara to lay flowers at the statue of Cuban independence hero Jose Martí to mark the 158th anniversary of his birth. There were no tweets to the masses in Cuba alerting them.


  21. L.A. TIMES: Pizza bakers, mule drivers, shoeshiners: New entrepreneurs lead Cuba’s year of economic change?

    HAVANA (AP) — Where some might see a rotten window frame pocked by termites, Julio Cesar Hidalgo envisions a polished takeout counter, the rich smell of garlic and oregano wafting out onto a warm Havana street.

    In his mind’s eye, the coarsely-laid concrete covering the surfaces of his shabby living room is already a gleaming white countertop laid with sandwiches, pastries, and balls of yeasty dough; a gas oven in the corner bakes mouthwatering pizza.

    After Cuban authorities announced last September that they were opening the island’s closed Marxist economy to a limited amount of private enterprise, Hidalgo was one of the first to line up for a new business license.

    Ever since, the 31-year-old baker has been transforming the front of his narrow apartment in a run-down section of Old Havana into a standup pizza joint and cafe. In a land of modest dreams, Hidalgo says his is simple: to be the master of his own labor.

    “It’s not going to make me rich,” he laughs, adding that he may make only a little more than he does now in a $12-a-month job at a state-run bakery. “But I’ll be working in my own home and I’ll be my own boss.”

    Hidalgo and tens of thousands like him are chasing their entrepreneurial ambitions in Cuba’s year of economic change, hopeful that a sweeping fiscal overhaul announced last year by President Raul Castro is for real. The Cuban leader said the country would lay off half a million state workers by March 31, while granting licenses for a broad, if slightly random, array of businesses.

    The new entrepreneurs face towering challenges in getting their enterprises off the ground, including high taxes, a lack of raw materials, an uncertain customer base, labyrinthine bureaucratic rules and limited access to startup capital. Yet, their success or failure will go a long way in determining the future of Cuba’s revolution.

    The Cuban state now employs 84 percent of the island’s workers and controls 90 percent of the economy in one of the world’s last bastions of Soviet-style communism. If the free-market experiment works, the cash-strapped government could shed millions of dollars from its payroll while boosting much-needed tax revenues and creating a new business and consumer class. It could also legalize part of a booming black market that provides everything from sausages to satellite television.

    If the experiment fails, however, this already disillusioned and dysfunctional country will have turned hundreds of thousands of people out of their government jobs and into an uncertain future. All of this in the same year that Raul Castro turns 80, and his older brother Fidel is widely expected to step down from his final official post as head of the Communist Party.

    Through January 7, more than 75,000 people had received new licenses, joining about 143,000 private sector workers left over from the island’s last dabble with capitalism. Government economists say they hope a quarter of a million new entrepreneurs will eventually sign up.

    Almost all the new businesses are small, operating out of homes or on street corners. But the stakes for Cuba couldn’t be higher, with the economy weighed down by crippling disorganization, a broken infrastructure, endemic corruption and an enormous labor force that has become accustomed to getting paid very little — and doing very little in return.

    Among the thousands who have taken the leap into private enterprise are Maria Regla Saldivar, a 52-year-old black belt in Taekwondo who plans to open a gymnasium in the ruins of a destroyed laundromat, and Javier Acosta, who has started an upscale restaurant catering to tourists. There is Danilo Perez, a 21-year-old accountant who has gotten a license to buy and sell bootleg DVDs in Havana’s hardscrabble El Cerro neighborhood, and Anisia Cardenas, a seamstress with a license to make clothes.

    Many others are giving manicures, painting homes, fixing cars and driving taxis — services on the list of 178 officially-sanctioned private activities. Some of the other opportunities are more obscure, such as fresh fruit peeling. And some are so specific they refer to just two people, like No. 159, which makes it legal to be part of the Amor Dance Duo.

    Even the Cuban government — in an internal document to party leaders obtained by The Associated Press — warned that many of the businesses will fail within a year. And many Cubans say privately that they will wait and see if ventures such as Hidalgo’s prosper before jumping into the fray themselves.

    But for now, optimism and excitement reign among the new entrepreneurs.

    “We are going to be a success. I am sure of it,” says Gisselle de la Noval, 20, Hidalgo’s bright-faced girlfriend, who will work the till at the pizzeria and share in its profits. “This (economic) opening was marvelous … I think those who know how to take advantage of it will have a bright future.”

    Cuba’s push to open its economy to private enterprise does not indicate an ideological change of heart among its Communist leaders. It is based on necessity.

    The economy has been slammed by the global economic downturn, a drop in nickel prices and the fallout from three devastating hurricanes that hit in quick succession in 2008. Revenues from tobacco, rum and sugar have fallen, as have remittances from Cubans living overseas.

    Prevented from borrowing from international monetary institutions by the 48-year U.S. trade embargo, Cuba was forced to reduce food and other imports from its main trading partners by 37 percent.

    The economy grew by just 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent respectively in 2009 and 2010, a terrible performance for a small, developing country — and figures many economists dismiss as fantasy anyway, since Cuba counts state spending on social programs when calculating economic growth.

    Even state-run newspapers have been filled with stories of extraordinary inefficiency, with dozens of “watchmen” paid by the state to guard fallow fields, or 30 emergency workers at a hospital standing idle because all have been assigned to a single ambulance.

    “My fear is that the Cuban state is completely broke,” says Uva de Aragon, a Cuba expert at Florida International University, who is closely watching the free enterprise experiment. “I don’t want to think about what will happen, even in the medium-term, if it doesn’t work.”

    Shortages are everywhere: in the sparse shelves at state-run supermarkets; along the unlit city streets and empty, rutted highways; in the antiquated factories on the outskirts of cities and in the tractorless farms dotting the countryside, many still relying on oxen to till the earth. The country of 11.2 million people has the lowest Internet penetration in the Western Hemisphere.

    The state pays workers salaries of about $20 a month in return for free health care and education, and nearly free transportation, utilities and housing. At least a portion of every citizen’s food needs are sold to them through ration books at heavily subsidized prices.

    Getting by on those salaries is such a struggle that stealing from state-owned companies is endemic, a major perk of having a job, and a frightening loss for those about to be laid off. The thievery is also a huge cost to the government, one of the reasons the country finds itself in such dire economic straits.

    Since taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, — first temporarily, then permanently — Raul Castro has been whittling away at the subsidies.

    In recent months he’s cut free workplace lunches, removed potatoes, peas, cigarettes, soap, detergent and toothpaste from the ration book, and suggested the whole system must eventually be scrapped.

    Just how bad things had gotten became apparent in September, with a red-letter headline in the Communist Party newspaper Granma that the state would lay off a tenth of the island’s work force, while opening up the private sector. Days later, authorities published the list of 178 activities in which new licenses would be issued.

    The list steers clear of activities that could present a threat to the state’s monopoly on most economic activity. There are no licenses for independent lawyers, bankers or engineers, nor for Cubans to work privately in strategic sectors such as mining or hotel management.

    Still, there is no overestimating the scope of the change.

    For the first time since the 1960s, Cubans will be able to hire employees. They may rent out their homes and cars more freely, and hope to one day get business loans from state banks. Raul Castro has even called a rare Communist Party Congress, scheduled for April 16-19, in which the reforms will be enshrined as the country’s only way forward.

    Hidalgo is a round-faced man with a permanently amused look in his eyes. Unlike most Cubans, he has been down the free enterprise road before — with disastrous results.

    Cuba last opened up to some private enterprise following the collapse of its Soviet benefactor in the 1990s, which ushered in an era of extreme hardship known as the “Special Period.”

    In 1997, a 17-year-old Hidalgo and an older cousin opened a pizza joint in the same dingy apartment, only to find it was impossible to buy the cheese, flour and tomato paste they needed in state-owned shops.

    They turned to the black market, and ran into trouble.

    “The inspectors would show up … sometimes once a week, sometimes twice a week,” Hidalgo says. “They demanded receipts, and when I couldn’t provide them they confiscated everything. They forced us to close.”

    In those days, Fidel Castro decribed the reforms as a necessary evil and quickly scaled them back once the crisis had ebbed. From a high of 209,000 license holders for private enterprise in 1996, Cuba’s tiny entrepreneurial class had dropped by a third by 2010.

    Raul Castro has vowed it will be different this time around, telling Parliament in December that “the life of the revolution is in the balance.” The government has pledged an initial investment of $130 million to purchase the raw materials new businesses will need, and Hidalgo pointed to a stack of unopened boxes of white tile he purchased for $8 a box in a state-owned shop.

    Still, the path to self-employment promises to be tough.

    Hidalgo has already invested $700 in the pizzeria, largely with a gift from a cousin in Atlanta.

    Given the price of ingredients, Hidalgo thinks he’ll have to charge upward of 20 pesos ($1) for a personal-size pizza with olives and oregano — a small fortune for anybody living strictly on a Cuban government wage. And he’s already got competition: Two neighbors on his rundown street have licenses to open cafes.

    The government has made it easier for Cubans to rent space to each other, but there is no retail property available for private citizens, and few would have rent money even if there was. Most people either must carve out part of their home, or come up with creative ideas to get around the real estate shortage.

    Saldivar, the martial arts black belt, beamed with excitement as she walked through the skeleton of a building that was once an industrial laundry in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. She is petitioning the government to turn over title to the property so she can transform it into a gymnasium, and meanwhile, is using a small park nearby to hold fitness classes.

    The building has no roof or walls, and the oil-stained concrete floor is littered with truck-sized pieces of rusted machinery, but Saldivar is not deterred.

    “I’ll fix it up,” she insists. Her bigger worry is that authorities have not included martial arts in the list of acceptable activities. Saldivar says she will either have to limit her classes to aerobics, or “inventar,” a Cuban specialty that roughly translates as “to improvise.”

    “I don’t plan to give Taekwondo classes,” she deadpans. “I’m teaching the kids ‘Quimbumbia’,” Saldivar’s word for a discipline remarkably similar to Taekwondo.


    Another challenge facing the private sector is taxes, which can be as high as 50 percent, not including social security. Many prospective entrepreneurs say the taxes will make it difficult for new businesses to break even, and could also scare many people already making a living on the black market from becoming legit.

    One woman, who has legally rented out rooms in Havana’s trendy Vedado neighborhood since 1994 and describes herself as a strong supporter of the revolution, complained the new system significantly increases her taxes: She will pay double the current $108 per room, per month.

    “I’m thinking of turning in my license,” she says, asking that her name not be used for fear of attracting the attention of authorities. “What will be left for us after we pay the government?”

    The burden will not be as high for some, however. For cafes, gymnasiums and many other activities, business owners will pay a fixed monthly fee of somewhere between 100 and 350 pesos ($5-$17), plus social security and payroll taxes.

    At the end of the year, most will be asked to declare their income under oath and pay a percentage of the profits. But in a nearly all-cash economy, few are expected to give an honest account.

    Phil Peters, a specialist on the Cuban economy who is vice president of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute, says the government must walk a thin line between zealously policing the private sector for tax dodgers and black marketeers, and sucking the life out of the economic opening before it gets off the ground.

    He says the government must make good on its pledge to create a system of wholesalers, and find a way to extend microcredits to small businesses. Eventually, employee-owned “cooperatives” could take over inefficient state enterprises.

    “If the government is serious about laying off half a million unproductive workers, then it has a very strong interest in making the entrepreneurial sector work,” Peters says.

    Already, there are signs that the other major prong of the reform effort — the layoffs — are going more slowly than anticipated. Four months after the cuts were announced, it is unclear how many people have actually lost their jobs.

    Midlevel managers told AP that workers’ commissions set up to decide who is expendable have been slow to hand over names. Cubans familiar with deliberations in several ministries and state-owned companies say leaders — including some Cabinet members — have been reluctant to shed thousands of their employees.

    “It is a difficult and dangerous process, particularly if it is not handled well, or if there is favoritism or corruption,” a worker on one of the commissions told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job.

    Perhaps the strongest warning that the reforms do not go far enough has come from two prominent economists at the state-run Center for Cuban Economic Studies.

    In a rare opinion piece published in a small Catholic magazine, Pavel Vidal Alejandro and Omar Everleny Perez warned that there are not enough approved free-market activities to absorb half a million laid-off state workers, and not enough white-collar jobs for an educated population.

    They said it was hard to imagine that illiquid state banks could make good on the government’s pledge to extend microcredits, and urged the state to reach out to foreign investors.

    On a small scale, such investment is already happening. Several entrepreneurs said they had received seed money from relatives overseas, most of them in the United States. A recent decision by the Obama Administration that allows any American to send up to $2,000 a year to Cuba could make such loans easier.

    Even if these new businesses get off the ground, it remains to be seen whether they will have enough customers, with so many newly unemployed. But entrepreneurs such as Hidalgo are riding a wave of hope.

    Hidalgo waits as a van pulls up carrying a gas oven, a loan from his girlfriend’s mother. He says he expects to be open for business by the end of February, and plans to call the pizzeria “Baldoquin,” after his grandfather. After more than a decade fantasizing about his own business, Hidalgo says he can hardly contain himself.

    “Just imagine it!” he gushes, thinking of that first pizza out of the oven. “It will be the realization of a dream I have held onto forever.”

    Associated Press reporters Anne-Marie Garcia and Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.


  22. Colin said: “Maybe english not being a first language is why you so often seem to reproduce length media reports often almost identical to previous ones? Woudn’t a link to each and a short summary be preferable…so that anyone interested can read them without being forced to scroll through such verbiage.”

    My dear Colin, I speak spanish, english and a fair Italian! DONT GO THERE!And as far as my verbiage, lets call it FREEDOM OF SPEECH! Do you know what that is?

  23. #55 not sure how what you wrote refutes anything I have. I simply said that a large proportion of people in those 2 countries would envy the economic situation of the poorest in Cuba. So please tell me of your observations in those two countries. Maybe english not being a first language is why you so often seem to reproduce length media reports often almost identical to previous ones? Woudn’t a link to each and a short summary be preferable…so that anyone interested can read them without being forced to scroll through such verbiage.

  24. #59 “The regime level of censorship over the Internet is intense.”
    I’m sure that is correct. As it is in many countries some more, and most less than Cuba.
    But it is not absolute control as the few who ‘live’ on this site want to portray it.
    Otherwise how can you explain the regularity of the numerous bloggers in existence?

  25. LATIN AMERICAN HERALD TRIBUNE: Cuban Dissident Back Home After 3rd Arrest, Hospital Stay-Caracas,Saturday-January 29,

    HAVANA – Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas returned home after being taken to the hospital with chest pains following his third arrest in 48 hours, his mother said.

    Alicia Hernandez said that Fariñas – winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience in 2010 – had suffered “severe chest pain, shortness of breath and a slight fever.”

    Those symptoms led police to move him to the hospital in Santa Clara where he had received treatment last year during a lengthy hunger strike to demand the release of ill political prisoners.

    According to Hernandez, Fariñas underwent chest radiographies, an electrocardiogram and other exams before he was given a series of recommendations and later released.

    “He is suffering from immune deficiency. He has migraines, he’s lost his voice and he’s dehydrated because over the past few days he went off his treatment regimen,” Hernandez, a retired nurse, said.

    Fariñas, who has staged more than a score of hunger strikes over the past 15 years to protest a lack of freedom on the communist-ruled island, returned home in an ambulance late Friday with his mother with instructions to rest, stay hydrated and eat well. He was also prescribed the painkiller metamizole.

    He is scheduled to have another checkup next week and be examined by an angiologist, his mother said.

    Fariñas, a 49-year-old independent journalist and psychologist, and other Santa Clara-based dissidents were arrested three times by Cuban police over a period of 48 hours.

    He was first detained on Wednesday for six hours for “creating a public disturbance” after protesting the eviction of a pregnant squatter from a home.

    Fariñas was arrested again the following day when he went to a police station to inquire on the situation of a dissident who had been taken into custody hours earlier.

    After being held for 18 hours at a police station jail cell, he returned home Friday morning but was arrested that same afternoon while he and 20 other government opponents were on their way to lay a wreath at a monument to Cuban independence hero Jose Marti on the 158th anniversary of his birth.

    Spain’s main conservative opposition Popular Party on Saturday urged the European Union and the Spanish government to condemn the repeated arrests of Fariñas.

    The EU and Spain’s ruling Socialists “cannot remain silent and consent to the repression suffered by dissidents and defenders of democracy and freedom in Cuba,” the PP’s international relations coordinator, Jorge Moragas said on Saturday.

    More than 70 short-term arrests have been carried out over the past three days in Santa Clara, said the spokesman for the dissident Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sanchez.

    That group said in a report earlier this week that brief, arbitrary arrests on the island increased in 2010 to more than 2,000, which, according to that organization, confirms that the Cuban regime is opting for “low-intensity repression” to keep the opposition in check.

    In terms of political prisoners, the commission documented at least 105 cases of people held for political or socio-political reasons, compared with 201 in January 2010.

    The drop is due to the release of dozens of dissidents beginning in the second half of 2010 following talks involving President Raul Castro’s government and Spanish and Catholic Church officials.

    The commission described Havana’s move as a “positive development.”

    Fifty-six people formerly held behind bars on the island – 41 of them considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and who were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 – have left prison “for exile in Spain” in recent months, accompanied by 323 family members, according to the commission.

    However, 11 Group of 75 members who have refused to go to Spain remain behind bars, while eight other dissidents have been paroled in recent years but their sentences have not expired.

    Last February, after jailed dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following an 85-day fast, Fariñas went on a more than four-month hunger strike to demand the release of the most ill political prisoners.

    He ended the hunger strike on July 8 after Castro’s government promised to release 52 jailed dissidents following the church-state talks.

    Havana denies holding political prisoners and says the island’s dissidents are mercenaries working with Washington to undermine Cuba’s communist system.


  26. #58 believe what you like – but your paranoia and abuse hardly serves to give credence to your views genrally.
    Strange that those who profess to support democratic principle are so quick to denigrate thos who express contrary views.

  27. The regime level of censorship over the Internet is intense. It censors everything, forcing the Cuban population to use approved “access points” in order to get on line. Users must provide identification and their addresses to gain access to internet cafes. In this way the regime monitor their online activity, controlling and blocking through IP filtering, user access to websites, monitor e-mail messages, filtering messages for specific keywords and checks of their browsing history.

  28. Colin/Dumbir is traveling all over the world from a filthy basement in Havana ( with the help of that nice travel agency called google) where he proudly produces all this crappy propaganda.It does matter if Colin and Dumbir are in fact 2 different people because the are on the MINIT payroll.

  29. I had a chance to read Larry Press’s paper on the state of Cuba’s internet/ICT to which a link is provided in #32. The report is non-ideological, fact-based, well reasoned and very informative.

    Thanks for providing the link to your study Larry.


    HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 28 — Former Cuban President Fidel Castro questioned the State of the Union speech by U.S. President Barack Obama last Jan. 25. In one of his usual Reflections, Castro strongly criticized what the U.S. president said regarding the U.S. economy, renewable energy and international cooperation, among other issues. “It is difficult that God can bless so many lies,” the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution said.

    See Castro’s full commentary.

  31. Colin, Colin, Colin! You are the all knowing, been around the world, can read peoples mind! What an incredible human beign you are! And by the way I have traveled extensively too and nowhere in the world have I’ve seen doctors, engineers, architects and other profesionals live as they live in Cuba having to
    do menial work in order to survive. A “free education” in Cuban means you are literally a slave to the CASTROFACISTS after you graduate! You have to pay the CASTROFACIST REAPERS!

  32. #43
    “….look what has happend in Tunisia and now happening in Egypt! Cell phones along with twitter, facebook and other media have made the population bold.”

    I get the impression that the handful of regulars here have travelled very little or not at all.
    I have been to Tunisa and Egypt several times. Maybe the different reactions in these (and many other countries)to Cuba is at least in part to do with economic relativities. A very large proportion of those in Tunisia or Egypt would absolutely love to be as well off in terms of housing and access to food as the poorest of the poor in Cuba.
    And again I agree that increased access to the WWWeb in Cuba would be a very good thing.

  33. (Reuters) – A well-known Cuban dissident was hospitalized with chest pains on Friday evening after being arrested earlier in the day while leading a small demonstration in central Cuba, his mother said.

    Guillermo Farinas and about 15 associates were arrested as they marched in Santa Clara toward a statue of national independence hero Jose Marti on Friday afternoon, where they planned to place flowers to mark the 158th anniversary of his birth.

    It was the third time in as many days they were detained for mounting peaceful protests.

    “(Farinas) had chest pains and is under observation at the Arnaldo Millan hospital,” the dissident’s mother, Alicia Hernandez, told Reuters in a telephone interview before leaving to see him.

    There was no more information available on his condition.

    Farinas, 49, a psychologist and writer, gained international attention last year by staging a 135-day hunger strike to demand improved treatment for political prisoners and the release of those he said were ill. He suffers from epilepsy and has had other health problems.

    His hunger strike followed the death of imprisoned fellow hunger striker Orlando Zapata. Farinas was eventually hospitalized and fed intravenously but refused to take any solid food until Cuba began to release political prisoners as part of an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church and Spain.

    Farinas, the winner last year of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was arrested and held for six hours on Wednesday when he and other activists tried to stop the eviction of a family from an abandoned building.

    They were arrested again on Thursday as they marched to a local police station where three associates, picked up that morning, were being held.

    After being released on Friday morning, Farinas said he and his fellow activists would march again later in the day, ignoring warnings they would be arrested.

    “I told them (the police) we planned to go out with flowers for Marti and they said they would arrest us for a third time,” Farinas said in a telephone interview soon after his release.

    He said the protests were aimed at the dire economic and social situation in the communist-led country, which in recent years has endured hurricanes, the international financial crisis and economic management problems.

    “They (the local authorities) said … they were not going to let us do anything on the street. In reality, they are scared the people will go into the streets,” Farinas said.

    Cuba’s leading human rights organization charged earlier this week that while the government was releasing some political prisoners, it had stepped up harassment of opponents.

    The illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said that while 41 of 53 prisoners of conscience listed by Amnesty International had been released in recent months, all but one into exile in Spain, hundreds of government opponents had been detained temporarily.

    (Additional reporting by Esteban Israel and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Peter Cooney)


  34. Damir,

    Maybe you are referring to someone other than I on your last comment (I wrote #43)

  35. Most of the time you hear about the U.S. embargo on the island, but very little is say about the Castros regime blockade of information to the Cuban people. The bottom line is that in Cuba the majority of the people don’t have access to the internet. The regime operates its own Intranet and email service, which helps it through centralized control regulate access to the WWW and maintain control over the information available from the outside world on the Internet to the Cuban people.

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