December Again

Twelve months and here we are again. Days to weigh our accomplishments and to postpone to the new year everything we failed to finish. What has changed in Cuba — and in each one of us — since December 2012 which we also put on the scales? Very little and so much. In the small space of my personal live, it seems that everything has moved at an unprecedented pace; in the life of a nation, however, it is barely a tremor, the blink of an eye. January started with the Immigration and Travel Reform, and in the following months there were many times we said goodbye; now without that sense of no return we had before, of final departure and exile for life, it’s true, but we continue to remove names from the telephone book at a worrying speed. Our condition of an “island in flight” grew, this time within a legal framework that allows and increases it.

Social differences were sharpened. The number of beggars and dumpster divers grew. However, many modern cars began rolling down our deteriorated streets and more than one nouveau riche spent their vacations on the other side of the Atlantic. If anything characterized 2013, it was the polarized stories about it that we hear. Anecdotes of families who opened luxury restaurants in the heart of Havana and of others who can no longer drink coffee because they can’t afford the unrationed price. Of some waiting outside a boutique to buy Adidas sneakers and others waiting outside a dining room to be given the leftovers to take home. We live in a time of high contrasts, days of photos discolored by the laboratory of life. A year, also, in which the ideological discourse distanced itself even further from reality.

Repression, for its part, increased. To the same extent that civil society grew and began to take certain spaces. The battle for the monopoly on information was lost by the government in 2013 and won by clandestine networks of audiovisuals, news and digital libraries. We were better able to learn what was happening, but, with that as a starting point, the power to convene ourselves and come together is still lacking by a long stretch. Life is more expensive for everyone, privileges and perks are concentrated in an elevated elite and the fight against corruption reached some but avoided others. Remittances from family and friends abroad, plus the subsidies from Venezuela, allowed us to avoid collapse, but the red ink proves that the economic reforms have failed. At the very least they have been unable to offer Cubans a better life, a motive for staying here.

The world offered us some lessons, among them the images from Kiev where so many have lost their fear. Fidel Castro faded a little more in his long living-death that has already lasted seven years. And freedom? This, this we are going to see if we win and achieve it in 2014.

44 thoughts on “December Again

  1. HEY Marabu!! DID YOU CALL THE Walter Mercado HOTLINE ALREADY??

    Walter Mercado Salinas[1] (born 9 March 1932), also known by his stage name Shanti Ananda, is a Puerto Rican astrologer. On 8 January 2010, and after a fifteen-year relationship, Mercado announced that he and television network Univision have parted ways.[2]Walter Mercado’s Network features psychics and astrologers with unique gifts and style. Let us guide you on your own journey. Let’s discover your own unique gifts! Find your answers to love, money, and career. A 10 minute reading can change your life for the better. Call Today! OR FIND OUT CUBA’S FUTURE RIGHT NOW!

  2. YOANI A FUTURE PRESIDENT?

    This is what the enemy wants and Humberto articulates. An this is not a complete nonsense.
    Under Obama administration her chances are zero… but Obama has only three years to go.

    If the next US-president will be a hawk pressing for military options, Yoanis chances will skyrocket. As soon as the marines will land on the beaches of Havana they will start to divide the prey: Damas in Blanco to the Senate, the alcoholic who one complained of the food supplies to the United Nations, Farinas as a President of the Central Bank.

    The number of dead could be four digit of five digit, Yoani won’t care. She won’t shoot either. She will just stand with a bunch of flowers (white, of course) for the first US-general to touch the cuban soil.

  3. YOU GO FLACA!! A FUTURE PRESIDENT OF A DEMOCRATIC CUBA!
    CNN: Seven incredible women who rocked 2013 – by Lauren Said-Moorhouse,
    JUSTICE CATEGORY: Blogger Yoani Sanchez gained global fame through her prominent blog “Generation Y” where she reveals the realities of life in modern-day Cuba. Critical of Raul and Fidel Castro, it reaches people all over the world in 20 languages — though few fellow Cubans are able to read it. After travel restrictions were lifted on Cubans earlier this year, Sanchez embarked on an 80-day tour across 10 countries.
    Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time. Each month, we meet two women at the top of their field, exploring their careers, lives and ideas. From a 16-year-old girl who took over the United Nations to the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature — several remarkable women have captured the world’s attention in 2013. To honor their achievements, CNN takes a look at some of the most notable women of the year.
    http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/30/business/seven-incredible-women-2013/

  4. What an absolute gullible chump you are Marabu. Fidel Castro and his posse have been plundering Cuba’s wealth for years. He’s incredibly wealthy.

  5. If you wouldn’t hate Cuba, Humberto, you’d be happy with every penny this poor country might earn.

    Instead, you spread lies about “Castro owns everything”. Cuban President is in fact one of the modest Heads of State America has known.

  6. Every perceived perk in Cuba, including the education and sub-par “health care” system, are heavily subsidized on the backs of Cuban workers, who work 40 plus hours per week for a measly twenty dollars.

    They’ve already paid.

  7. It is propably true what the Cuba-Hater Humberto says about car import prices.

    I also think the government will try to make exile Cubans pay a surcharge on the car imports. You may call it a custom duty, it does not matter.

    Those living abroad have abandoned Cuba without paying a cent for the education they received. Also, a great number on them has lied filling the passport application: they declared tourism or family visit as a reason for the trip. In fact, their true intention was to emigrate.

    Send a huge bill to them, Mr Diaz-Canel.

  8. DONT BE SURPRISED IF THE CASTROFASCISTS SELL THE NEW CARS AT SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER PRICES THAN IN THE USA! THE OLIGARCHY CASTRO MAFIA HAS TO SURVIVE AT ANY COST! BESIDES, CUBANS ONLY EARN ABOUT $20/MONTH SO IT WILL BE THEIR RELATIVES ABROAD WHO WILL BUY THE MAJORITY OF THESE CARS!

    VOXXI: Cuba opens market for new cars but who’s buying? – by Susana G. Baumann
    Cuba recently announced it will open unrestricted imports of brand new cars for all residents in the island. The measure will rescind a domestic ban that constrained trading in new vehicles since the 1950s for the majority of the people in Cuba. Surely, there were always some exceptions.

    The privilege required potential purchasers to prove that funding to pay for imported vehicles had been obtained by legal means –for instance, temporary work abroad.

    So who can really afford a new car in the island and why is this measure coming along at this time?
    The measure aims at ending the privilege of some government officials and professionals who, through special permission from the ministry of transport, were allowed to import newer cars for their personal use. This practice increasingly created, according to the newspaper, opportunity for “enrichment and speculation.”
    In 2008, Castro’s government also distributed small pieces of state-held land –from 33 to 99 acres each- to thousands of potential or established owners or farm workers, who could hold them under 10-year renewable contracts for private agricultural exploitation.

    With the announcement of the new measures –and for the first time in almost 50 years–, Cubans were allowed to regain their entrepreneurial spirit in private activities that included opening small carpentry and repair workshops, food and entertainment establishments, and small farm kiosks to sell their own produce at the curb of roads and major highways, among others.

    The United States has been the largest provider of food and agricultural products to Cuba despite the embargo, according to Forbes. Since 2001, when some trade was restored, the U.S. has grown to export around $2.5 billion to the island yearly.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://voxxi.com/2013/12/29/cuba-opens-market-for-new-cars-but-whos-buying/

  9. SORRY! IN SPANISH ONLY BUT TOTALLY EXCELLENTE! EXCELLENT!

    YOUTUBE : DOCUMENTARY “OFF LINE ” Official Video – Directed by young filmmaker Yaima Pardo, OFFLINE is a documentary about ( lack of) Internet in Cuba . We decided to name our documentary “Off Line “to refer to the state in which we find most of the Cubans in terms of connectivity , this phrase is used in situations where the internet connection is not working . We live disconnected in 2013 and it is disturbing that the Internet is presented to us the Cuban people as a great puzzle and the idea of having in a massive way is as distant and having it sunk the same way as the famous and mysterious fiver optic cable from Venezuela. This documentary part of an urgent concern , because we are running far behind from actively participating in the information society for all, and to be able to influence its evolution towards a knowledge for all society , thus being excluded from the benefits and freedoms that this implies for human beings of the 21st century.

  10. Simba Sez: But Marabu, it was only a mere six days ago that you said this was impossible. Should I begin to disbelieve your reasoning?

  11. Great piece of info posted by Cuba-fater Humberto!

    YES, I WOULD BUY A CUBAN MADE CAR. My car would draw the line between Cuba-haters and Cuba-friends.

    And the quality? Most of us have accepted Chinese laptops, TVs and cameras. The cars will follow.

    了解中國人,我的古巴朋友

  12. WOULD YOU BUY A CAR MADE IN CUBA? I SURE WOULD NOT! BESIDES, IT WOULD MAKE THE CASTRO OLIGARCHY MAFIA EVEN MORE WEALTHY THAN IT IS!

    CUBA STANDARD: Top-selling automaker planning assembly in Cuba

    As the Cuban government is gradually freeing new-car sales for individuals, Chinese automaker Geely, already the No. 1 auto seller on the island, is positioning itself for growth in Cuba and the wider region.

    The company is planning to establish a semi-knock down (SKD) assembly plant in Cuba, Shanghai Geely International Corporation, Geely’s international arm, announced in a press release republished by Global Times. The company didn’t provide any specifics.

    In an ambitious global expansion plan, Geely set a target of opening 15 assembly plants overseas by 2015, according to an article by Automotive Logistics magazine.

    In semi-knock down assembly, a manufacturer typically exports a kit with complete car body, usually coated or already painted, to then add engine and transmission, tires, wheels, seats, headlights, glass, batteries, interior plastics, or other components in final assembly, some of them locally sourced.

    “At the request of several ministries in Cuba, including the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, the Ministry of Communications, and the Ministry of Metallurgy Industry, Geely International is now preparing to launch the SKD project in a local place,” the company said in the press release.

    The announcement comes as the Cuban government is seeking manufacturers to open shop at its new Mariel Special Development Zone, an export-oriented zone around a deepwater port 30 miles west of Havana.

    “Geely is continuously improving the storage structure of its bonded warehouse and is adopting multi-channel supply methods” for spare parts, the company said. Geely’s warehouse in Cuba now is at 80 percent of capacity, up from 34 percent last year. The company has also signed agreements with SASA, a local auto service provider operated by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, to jointly open standard service stations and spare-part sales stores.

    Nearly 10,000 Geely-brand cars and trucks are already circulating on Cuban roads, the company said. Government agencies, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Tourism, have been the only buyers of new cars until now. Geely’s CK models are used as senior government officials’ cars; most police cars in Havana are Geely CK models as well. At present, 80 percent of rental cars in Cuba are Geely CK, EC7 and EC8 models; all rental agencies are state-owned.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://www.cubastandard.com/2013/12/26/top-selling-automaker-planning-assembly-in-cuba/

    WOULD YOU BUY A CAR MADE IN CUBA? I SURE WOULD NOT! BESIDES, IT WOULD MAKE THE CASTRO OLIGARCHY MAFIA EVEN MORE WEALTHY THAN IT IS!

    CUBA STANDARD: Top-selling automaker planning assembly in Cuba

    As the Cuban government is gradually freeing new-car sales for individuals, Chinese automaker Geely, already the No. 1 auto seller on the island, is positioning itself for growth in Cuba and the wider region.

    The company is planning to establish a semi-knock down (SKD) assembly plant in Cuba, Shanghai Geely International Corporation, Geely’s international arm, announced in a press release republished by Global Times. The company didn’t provide any specifics.

    In an ambitious global expansion plan, Geely set a target of opening 15 assembly plants overseas by 2015, according to an article by Automotive Logistics magazine.

    In semi-knock down assembly, a manufacturer typically exports a kit with complete car body, usually coated or already painted, to then add engine and transmission, tires, wheels, seats, headlights, glass, batteries, interior plastics, or other components in final assembly, some of them locally sourced.

    “At the request of several ministries in Cuba, including the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, the Ministry of Communications, and the Ministry of Metallurgy Industry, Geely International is now preparing to launch the SKD project in a local place,” the company said in the press release.

    The announcement comes as the Cuban government is seeking manufacturers to open shop at its new Mariel Special Development Zone, an export-oriented zone around a deepwater port 30 miles west of Havana.

    “Geely is continuously improving the storage structure of its bonded warehouse and is adopting multi-channel supply methods” for spare parts, the company said. Geely’s warehouse in Cuba now is at 80 percent of capacity, up from 34 percent last year. The company has also signed agreements with SASA, a local auto service provider operated by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, to jointly open standard service stations and spare-part sales stores.

    Nearly 10,000 Geely-brand cars and trucks are already circulating on Cuban roads, the company said. Government agencies, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Tourism, have been the only buyers of new cars until now. Geely’s CK models are used as senior government officials’ cars; most police cars in Havana are Geely CK models as well. At present, 80 percent of rental cars in Cuba are Geely CK, EC7 and EC8 models; all rental agencies are state-owned.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://www.cubastandard.com/2013/12/26/top-selling-automaker-planning-assembly-in-cuba/

  13. CAN YOU SPELL “CASTRO FAMILY OLIGARCHY”? OR “CASTRO FAMILY MONOPOLY”?? NONE OF THESE REALLY SPELLS “COMMUNISM” NOR “SOCIALISM”!!

    HAVANA TIMES: The Cuban State: Protecting the Youth or Protecting its Interests? – by Kabir Vega Castellanos

    Some time ago, the Cuban media announced that all video-game and 3D home theatre locales were being shut down.

    The main argument used was that the licenses which had been granted the owners of private establishments did not afford them the right to operate the locales for such purposes and that said places (videogame centers in particular) led to an atmosphere of frivolity and bad habits.
    A few weeks after these events, which proved traumatic for investors and customers alike, the Cuban press ran an article promoting a “national DOTA (strategy game) tournament” which was to be held at computer clubs in the country.

    This was a rather surprising bit of news. I have never seen a State locale with more than six computers connected to a Local Area Network. Computers at these clubs aren’t well maintained and I’ve seen that the Microsoft Power Point courses offered there use extremely old software. I doubt DOTA 2 will run in any of these computers, not even with the graphics set to the minimum resolution.
    Curiously enough, some weeks later, a news article showered 3D cinema with praise, calling the experience it affords “intense.” The article commented on each and every one of the magnificent features of this virtual world while trying to avoid sounding like capitalist advertising.

    As way of a conclusion, it announced that 3D theaters managed by the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC) were already operational.

    They shut down game and 3D theatre locales to protect young people from vice and then organized a national DOTA tournament. Are they saying that the same game, when played with State authorization, doesn’t lead to frivolity and addiction?

    Are 3D films harmful when shown by the self-employed and intense and beneficial when screened by the State?

    It’s clear they don’t want Cubans to be financially independent, but, at the very least, they should use less ridiculous arguments.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=100835

  14. THIS IS SUCH A WEIRD PIECE OF CUBAN HISTORY! AND OMEN PERHAPHS!

    JILMA MADERA (La Victoria, Pinar del Río, Cuba on September 18, 1915 – February 21, 2000 in Havana, Cuba) was a well-known Cuban sculptor. Her two most famous works are the Christ of Havana and the bust of José Martí at the Pico Turquino.

    She studied painting and sculpture at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro” under the tutelage of Juan José Sicre (the sculptor of the José Martí Memorial).

    Her statue of the Christ of Havana was a commission she won in 1953 during the government of Fulgencio Batista. It was done in Carrara marble and is 60 feet tall and weighs 320 tons. It is composed of 67 pieces that were brought from Italy, where Madera carved the statue and was blessed there by Pope Pius XII. It was inaugurated on December 24, 1958, just two weeks before the fall of the government of Fulgencio Batista.

    She worked and made some exhibitions at New York’s Sculpture Center, in USA, and exhibited other works at the City of Havana Local Council (Ayuntamiento de la Habana), the Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club, and some painting and sculpture national exhibition halls, in Cuba.

    Her bust of José Martí was done in 1953 and placed at the Pico Turquino during the centennial celebrations of Martí’s birth in 1963 by Celia Sanchez.

    THE CHRIST OF HAVANA (Spanish: Cristo de La Habana) is a large sculpture representing Jesus of Nazareth on a hilltop overlooking the bay in Havana, Cuba. It is the work of the Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera, who won the commission for it in 1953.

    The statue was carved out of white Carrara marble, the same material used for many of the monuments of the Colon Cemetery. The statue is about 20 metres (66 ft) high including a 3-metre (10 ft) base.[1] It weighs approximately 320 tons. The statue was built from 67 blocks of marble that had been brought from Italy after being personally blessed by Pope Pius XII. The figure of Christ is standing with the right hand held near the chin and the left hand near his chest. Facing the city, the statue was left with empty eyes to give the impression of looking at all, from anywhere to be seen.

    The sculpture, located in the Havana suburb of Casablanca, in the municipality of Regla, was inaugurated on La Cabaña hill on December 24, 1958. Just fifteen days after its inauguration, on January 8, 1959, Fidel Castro entered Havana during the Cuban Revolution. That same day, the image was hit by lightning, and the head was destroyed. It was subsequently repaired.[citation needed]

    The sculpture is located 51 meters (167 ft) above sea level,[2] rising to a height of 79 metres (259 ft), allowing the locals to see it from many points of the city. There is a panoramic viewpoint at the site of the sculpture.

    HOW THE CHRIST OF HAVANA WAS BUILT:

    The Christ of Havana is a work of Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera, who tells us how this idea originated: ‘‘in the early months of 1956 ‘ The Christ of Havana’ contest was announced , creating thus a Board chaired by Mrs Marta Fernandez de Batista, the wife of the Republic’s dictator at the time’’.
    The sculpture was firstly made in Cuba and then in Italy. First of all, Jilma made a model of plaster with all its proportions. Then, in order to have a good material to work with it was necessary to transfer it to Carrara, Toscana’s province, Italy, where the world’s finest statuary marbles are found.

    The monument is made up of seventy-seven pieces, which were perfectly transferred in wooden crates. The assembly of the sculpture started on September 3, 1958 and finished on December 24, 1958.

    In 1961, the head of the image was struck by lightning. For this reason, the eternal Creole humour was immediately displayed. So, people rumoured that due to Revolution was heading toward Communism, the statue of Christ said: ‘‘May a lightning strike me if this is Communism’’, and then it smashed a portion of its head.

    http://cubandivingcenters.com/how-christ-havana-was-built

  15. Sure, Nick, there are so many people escaping poverty and their capitalist “paradise”. A few Haitians died a few days ago at sea, too. But let us be honest with ourselves: if I were offered a quadruple salary wouldn’t I emigrate? This is the case of non-criimnal Cubans. They make some $500 a month (including $20 to $60 in monetary form) and jump to $2000 if they manage to land a full time job in the US. I understand economic migration.

    I protest against criminal migration. No matter what he robs, no matter whom he rapes or kills in Cuba, a Cuban can peacefully walk the streets of Miami if he behaves in the US.

    Any other criminal would be sent back to his country of origin. Cubans no.
    Actually, if he boasts he raped a daughter of a Communist Party secretary he will be labeled a “freedom fighter”.

  16. And shame on all the dictator apologists of the world, who don’t have to live under oppressive dictatorships.

  17. Re Marabu @ 7.04,
    It is a sad reflection on the downfalls of the neo liberalist economic model that there are many killed at sea and across deserts and other frontiers attempting to reach the rich segment of the capitalist world from the poorer segments of the capitalist world.

    The startling thing is that some people in their deluded states of mind would attempt to distort and twist these tragic facts to slur The Republic of Cuba and its system of governance.
    Shame, Shame, Shame on them all.

    To think that some of these well off types from the well off segment of the world would seek to twist the fact of such tragedies to try and further their own sad little propagandist agendas…

    Such a sad shame…

  18. That reply made absolutely no sense, no surprise there.

    Marabu, do you realize that, since you smoke weed, you are a criminal in the United States?

  19. The emigrants do not buy plane tickets for the “perceived subsidies”.
    Or maybe they do?

    If they sell a house built on state credit and subsidised materials, or a TV received as a workers’ reward then what it is?

    True, the criminals among the emigrants don’t care about the subsidies. One store roberry gets them a First-Class seat, or more.

  20. Oh, so Cubans can now purchase plane tickets with “perceived subsidies” to their meager and insufficient salaries? I think not. Nowhere in the story does it claim that the Cubans flew to the Dominican Republic. I’m sure they got there the say way that they were trying to leave there.

  21. Yoani, Merry Christmas from Vancouver Canada, I have followed your writings for more than a Year now, I have learned much. I am an Educator here in British Columbia, of Trades people, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Welders. I spend a lot of time in Mexico, teaching English, 30 years now. The daily wage there is about $9.00 for 8 hours work, with English, a little bit more. There also, there is a huge spread between the haves, and the have not’s.
    I have passed on your web site to many People, one of whom is a man called Felipe (not his real name). He lives in Monterrey, and is married to a Beautiful Mexican Lady, also, he was a Journalist. His Blog Site is the “UNSEEN MOON”. Interesting man. Both he and his Wife have been to Cuba, and stayed in Havana.
    Keep up the Good Work, I wish you well, you are an Interesting Woman. Thank You.

  22. Cubans are poor. Their monthy income is about $500, which already includes $20 – $60 monetary salary payment.

    This low income has still allowed the reported sea victims to fly to the Domincan Republic. The United States generally refuses visas to persons with criminal record. The Dominican Republic appears more lenient.

  23. Poor Marabu, you just don’t have the ability to think critically. You really just don’t get it. A visa and a flight you say? To this day, not all Cubans are allowed to travel off the island prison. Visas and flights are expensive, and , as you well know, most Cubans make around twenty dollars per month.

    Desperate Cubans who want to escape the island prison are not necessarily criminals. How cushy it must be to sit at your computer in a relatively free country and paint oppressed Cubans as “criminals.” Your assumption that those who undertake this journey don’t know how dangerous it is reeks of condescension.

    I hope that the missing balseros are found safe.

  24. TRAVEL WARNING

    I am reading that some human lives are probably lost at sea:
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/25/3837228/coast-guard-calls-off-search-for.html

    Is cuban domestic press neglecting to warn the people of the perils to travel in small boats?

    I understand that to a cuban criminal it may appear attractive to assume 2 days of risk and to spare 10 years of prison (non-criminals get passports and visas and travel safely)

    But yet, drowning is a terrible death. Don’t do it, guys.

  25. Happy Christmas HUMBY!
    Not a bad account of a ballgame at El Latino…
    Although with some strange inaccuracies.
    El Latino is at its best when its ‘el clasico’, Industriales vs Santiago de Cuba and the whole stadium is packed out..
    If it’s the play offs, semi final or final even better still.
    Its something to behold.
    It really is a quite remarkable atmosphere and something very, very special.

  26. It brings me much mirth and seasonal merriment to know that after all these years there are otherwise seemingly reasonable people out there who think this:
    Cuba is full of BAD stuff. Its all bad, bad, bad.
    The whole bad place is run by big bad monsters and everywhere the people are unhappy.
    Then hey presto the Magic Christmas Capitalist Fairy will wave its magic wand and instant happiness will come to one and all. All the big bad monsters will run away and all the newly happy people will go around laughing and singing and being happy all day long just like they do in all the other nice happy capitalist countries of the world.
    And people such as Happy Hank will feel that they are able to visit this land of happiness.
    And all the happy people will take to the streets and give thanks and praise to the capitalist God for sending Happy Hank to them and they will thank him for all his hard work over the years…

    Thank You for bringing me this festive chuckle.
    A Happy Christmas to one and all.

    And don’t forget children:
    Be good and do what yer ma and pay tell you to do, say your prayers and pledge your allegiances and Santy Claus will come around and turn all the bad stuff into good stuff….

  27. WALL STREET JOURNAL: What It’s Like to Watch Béisbol in Cuba – by John W. Miller
    Baseball was one of the main reasons I visited Cuba last month. Growing up in Europe, I used to watch the Cuban national baseball team show up for tournaments in the Netherlands looking like a squad of recreational leaguers. Dressed in faded uniforms, they smoked cigarettes in public and carried equipment in plastic bags. On the field, however, they almost always destroyed sartorially superior American, Japanese, Dutch and Korean squads. It made me want to see these Cubans play at home, on their own turf, which by the way offers something that’s hard to find in America, where I live now: winter baseball. The National Series—Cuba’s top level of play—runs November to April. What I discovered during a visit to Cuba last month surprised me. No, the level of play, particularly the pitching, didn’t come close to matching even a bad Major League Baseball game. And you can see top Cuban players at home, such as Yasiel Puig, the outfielder who starred this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, or first baseman Jose Abreu, who this off-season received $68 million over six years from the Chicago White Sox. Rather, Cuba’s real world champions are its fans. The island loves baseball more than anyplace I’ve been. I can go weeks in America without running into a fellow seamhead. In Cuba, it was easily the best, most available conversation lubricant.

    “” I’d say. “” Yes, they all knew him.

    I got to three games, all at the Estadio Latinoamericano, a 1946 ballpark a couple of miles southwest of Old Havana. It is the home of Industriales, winners of 12 championships, the Yankees of Cuba. I saw the best.

    The Estadio is said to seat 55,000, but its size feels between minor- and major-league. A half-dozen stands outside sell beer and soda, and different meats on bread. The prices are pennies for locals, while tourists pay U.S.-level prices. (Cuba uses a dual-currency system to soak outsiders.)

    The stadium bowl is symmetrical, like the cookie-cutter American parks of the 1960s, but without upper decks. The ramshackle press box hanging behind home plate looks like a stiff breeze could airlift it to Miami. There is no corporate marketing anywhere; no Budweiser or Coke signs. Only a bit of writing breaking up the blue: Beyond the left field fence, a sign hails “Cuba, Pais des Campiones.” And in right: “El Desporte, Conquista De La Revolucion.”

    On the three nights that I went—one rainout and two Industriales wins—no one was allowed to sit in the outfield seats. I tried and was waved away by police. The crowds are predominantly young and male, and make up a sea of earrings, necklaces and gelled hair.

    Admission is about 12 cents for Cubans, $3 for foreigners. For most fans, there are no designated seats, just one concrete bowl for everybody, like at a high-school game. There is only one concession area, with a few stands selling sandwiches, popcorn and sodas. There is no beer or even water for sale. Between innings, fans sit and watch and talk. Smoking, of course, is allowed.

    On the field, the players warmed up with brown practice balls. Foul or overthrown balls are usually returned from the stands, even during games.

    There are no programs or official scorecards to tell the . No organ music. Between innings, it is salsa and reggaeton. The national anthem is swift, electronic and taped.

    A few things look familiar. The occasional game is broadcast on television (albeit state-run TV). One evening, as I arrived, an attractive female sideline reporter interviewed 23-year-old cleanup hitter and right fielder Yasmani Tomas.

    When rain torpedoed that contest, the groundskeepers emerged and tarped only the hitting area and the pitcher’s mound—just another example of the scarcity of an impoverished country stuck in the past.

    The most remarkable, and pleasing, aspect of attending a Cuban baseball game is the focus of the crowd, which numbered between 10,000 and 20,000. It is as if you had an entire stadium full of seamheads.

    In Cuban baseball, the scoreboard offers inning tallies and run, hit and error totals. No batting averages, pitch velocities or fun facts. And it never, ever tells you when to cheer.

    And so the gasp that comes with every pitch is because of the pitch. The horns hammer on incessantly during tense parts of the game because of the game. A big hit sparks furious roaring. (With every run, the entire dugout empties to congratulate the scorer.) Even in routine early innings, fans stand up and scream about corner pitches they thought were strikes.

    I wandered around a lot, sitting on the concrete steps with Cubans and occasionally in the foreigners section, which is behind the home-plate box seats for sports and Communist party officials. Only the field was brightly lit; the spectators sat in a hazy dim.

    Few other Americans were there. U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba remain strict, though they are loosening. I was there as a journalist.

    The young star, the man with the name that buzzed with every baseball conversation I had in Havana and whose talent on the field was blinding, was Tomas. He is 6 feet 1 of thick muscle and fast hands. In the three games I saw, he cracked several extra-base hits, including a line-drive homer to left. The sounds of Tomas’s dinger went: cheer, crack, roar.

    Impoverished, isolated, beautiful, police-state Cuba is no paradise. There are reasons its people try to leave. Despite their high quality of play, its baseball leagues typically never field foreign players. The pay and conditions are too miserable. But as a fan, I will say this: Its ballgames are about baseball, and I loved that.

    On the field, the play was fast, sometimes uneven. After Tomas threw out a runner from deep right—an unworldly 300-foot heave—the Industriales booted an easy double play. In one game, there were seven errors. The balls and infield seemed unusually bouncy.

    After one game, I squeezed myself out of the narrow, crammed exits and walked to the parking lot. The players were trickling out a door, still in full uniform. They mingled with the crowd, which, like them, lives mostly on state allowances. Most players earn $60 a month, while national stars can make supplements of up to $500 a month, said Peter Bjarkman, an author and expert on Cuban baseball.

    Tomas, the star young right fielder who is rumored as one of the next big targets for major-league teams, emerged. He wore a Cuban national team warm-up jacket over his barrel chest. Somebody called his name. He approached and greeted a band of a half-dozen people. He held the hand of a pretty pregnant girl and chatted, just a big kid after his game.

    The 1970s-era team bus honked. The players weeded themselves out of the crowd. As each climbed onto the bus, he high-fived the driver.
    http://stream.wsj.com/story/latest-headlines/SS-2-63399/SS-2-413503/

  28. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, as well, Hank. I really think that Cuba’s freedom is coming. I feel that the dictators’ hands were forced to let the prisoners on the island travel. Now they can purchase cars? Can you even imagine, being told that you are “allowed” to purchase a new car?

    To the dumb f*cks who comment here and claim that they would love to have the life of a Cuban dissident, guess what, you are totally free to do so. I somehow suspect that you don’t have what it takes. Happy Holidays!!

  29. Merry Christmas, Trevor.

    We do have an enormous amount of work to do.

    My personal decision is not to go to Cuba or set foot on the soil of that unfortunate country until the work is done.

    I advocate for all of the freedoms the dictatorship denies. I’d rather not spend time in a Cuban dungeon or subject myself to arbitrary arrest if I were to go there because of what I and many others believe. So, I don’t go there and will not got there until the dictatorship is dead and gone and the rule of law exists.

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

  30. Keep multinationals off the Cuban coast? LOL. Fool, Fidel Castro has been selling out to the multinationals for years. If you had ever been to Cuba, you could see the golf resorts, etc. for yourself.

    “Border control”? I guess no one ever told you that Cuba is an island.

  31. For the coming 2014 and thereafter I wish all Cubans to make their socialism even better, for exmaple by solving the double currency issue.

    I wish the Cubans to keep their enemies at bay, for example by better screenig at border controls and by tracking their steps by the use of mobile networks.

    I wish the Cubans to preserve their sovereignity, and specially econonic sovereignity by keeping multnationals off the cuban coast. Do not let them grab the cuban banks, hotels, airlines, telecommunications and the, last bur not least, the CUBAN COLA!

  32. Merry Christmas Hank. That is my sincerest wish for Cuba, as well. With information technology, the dictatorship is no longer able to contain and control Cubans the way they used to.

    What astounds me is that deluded fools, who have never been to Cuba, post on this comment section that Cuba is a democracy, or that Cubans should pick coconuts or bananas in order to improve their lot.

  33. Merry Christmas to all!

    My sincerest, most heart-felt wish is to be able to celebrate this holiday next year in a Cuba that has finally cast off the burden of tyrannical rule and is truly free.

    A Cuba free of dictatorship, free of repression, free of acts of repudiation, and free of political prisoners. A Cuba where freedom of expression exits, where a free press exists, where free elections exist, and where freedom to peaceably assemble exists.

    The tragedy is, that is not the Cuba of today. We have a tremendous amount of work to do in 2014!

  34. Math is fundamental. Twenty dollars per month, divided by 28 working days equals seventy-two cents. Seventy-two plus seventy-two equals one dollar and forty-four cents.

    I’m sure people would be absolutely tripping over themselves to grow a kg of onions to make a whopping $1.44 !!!

  35. Yoani writes on Twitter: “my mother, as so many other Cubans, pays for a Kg of onions the 2 days salary”

    Wow! What a chance!
    That’s better then my gambling on bitcoins. If I had a chance to get $300 bucks for a kg of onions I would be planting it from the down till sunset.

    And in Cuba it is so much easier to get cultivable land from the government.

  36. So, everyone’s needs are taken care of, cradle to grave, in the socialist state of Cuba, but people still have to dumpster dive and prostitute themselves? Viva la revolucion.

  37. What a contradiction!

    The author complains that the “Social differences were sharpened” and yet does nothing to fortify and defend socialism, which flattens the differences.

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