Economic Crime, the Pitfall in the Path

The question “do you have papers for those sacks?” is among the most repeated by the police to detect the “illegal” origin of a commodity.

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 22 May 2017 — The saleswoman described her merchandise in a murmur: loggerhead turtle steaks, beef and shrimp. The man salivated, but replied that he could not buy any of those products, the most persecuted in the informal market. Every opponent knows that the authorities would want to try him for an “economic crime,” and perhaps that saleswoman was just the bait.

The techniques used by an authoritarian government to control citizens can be as varied as the fertile imagination of the repressors. Some are designed in air-conditioned offices using studied methodologies, while others arise on the fly, from seemingly fortuitous situations.

Are the economic constraints that we live under a calculated scenario to keep Cubans locked in a cycle of survival? Do so many prohibitions seek to leave us civically paralyzed, feeling ourselves guilty and with one foot in a prison cell?

Beyond the conspiracy theories, officialdom has managed the informal market as trap for the nonconforming, a framework for gathering information about the deep Cuba, an element of blackmail against its citizens and a lure to hunt down political opponents.

The Plaza of the Revolution has turned its bad economic management into another way of keeping society in its fist. It knows that families will do everything possible to put food on the table and will turn to the underground networks to buy everything from their children’s shoes to the dollars that at the official currency exchanges are taxed at 10%.

In many cases it is just about waiting, like the spider who knows that sooner or later the little insect will fall into its sticky threads. State Security only has to wait for a dissident to buy coffee “under the table” or to dare to have the bathroom retiled by an unlicensed tile setter.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increased tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions. They are charged with crimes that ordinary Cubans commit every day under the patronizing eyes of the police and with the complicity of officials or state administrators. However, in the case of an opponent, the law has the capacity to be narrower, more rigid and more strictly observed.

In all international forums, Raúl Castro’s government boasts of not having political prisoners and it supports this argument by severely, but politically selectively, criminalizing such trivial matters as keeping four sacks of cement or a few gallons of fuel at home, without being able to show the papers that prove they were purchased in state stores.

Journalist Henry Constantin is accused of “usurpation of legal capacity” for working as a reporter in an independent publication, but dozens of ex-military are appointed managers of tourist facilities without ever having studied hotel management or business management. None of them have been reprimanded for serving in a position for which they are not formally qualified.

Karina Gálvez, a member of the Coexistence Studies Center, is being prosecuted for alleged “tax evasion” during the purchase of her home. However, before the new tax imposed on real estate transactions came into force, thousands of Cubans thronged the notaries to complete their paperwork under the previous tax laws, far removed from the real estate market rates. Not one was sanctioned.

Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ Movement, had his home broken into in a police raid and is charged with the offense of “illicit economic activity.” His “crime”: possessing a laptop, rewritable discs and several disposable razors. Unlike those thriving artists who import the latest iMac from the market or “Daddy’s kids” – children of the regime’s leaders – who have a satellite dish to watch Miami television, the activist committed the offense of saying he wants to help change his country.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government. It is not the same to buy beef in the informal market when you pretend ideological fealty to the regime, than it is to do the same when you belong to an opposition movement.

The black bag can become a wall, a noose, a hidden trap for those who do not applaud.

‘Good Morning, Lenin!’

Raúl Castro watches the crowd parading before the political leaders in the Plaza of the Revolution (CC)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 May 2017 — The loudspeakers blared in the distance. Their echo filled the neighborhood where many took advantage of the Monday holiday to sleep until mid-morning, far from the May Day parade and its slogans in the Plaza of the Revolution. The screams into the microphone sneaked into that apathy, like an alien band with its instruments out of tune. On the Day of the Workers, officialdom took its tropical chauvinism for a stroll.

I woke up, like in the German movie “Goodbye, Lenin!” and had the feeling I’d leapt through time. But my journey did not carry me into a future of imprecise contours, but rather into the past. The words spoken by the Secretary General of the Cuban Workers Center took me back to a time of ideological bravado, years in which the Kremlin bear had our backs and Cuba sent guerrillas to the jungles of South America and cosmonauts to space.

Ulises Guilarte De Nacimiento’s address smelled like mothballs, and didn’t fit the times we are living in. In his angry phrases there was a nationalism as ridiculous as it is outdated, and in any case politically incorrect almost everywhere on the planet. He spoke of exploits that most of the population had never experienced and, to top it off, ignored the demands of Cuba’s working class. He spoke in the past tense, with the rhetorical twists and turns of agitators from the last century and the overacting of every good opportunist.

I thought of all the topics he failed to address, all the proletarian demands that no one mentioned because the event had more ideology than class-consciousness. Missing were any demands from labor, requests for greater union autonomy, complaints about serious violations of occupational safety and health throughout the country, and the vital demand for wages more in line with the high cost of living.

Instead, the government preferred to use the day for political purposes, repeating the structure of the podium, up there, and the workers down below. More than a thousand foreign trade unionists and activists were present as guests, able to see with their own eyes the “proletarian enthusiasm” displayed by Cubans, but the event was nothing more than a faded repeat of those that formerly took place in the extinct socialist camp.

When the Berlin Wall fell, where were all those workers who had marched on the International Day of the Workers? When the USSR collapsed, what did they do to block those workers with medals on their chest who marched shouting slogans in those squares?

Invitation to the Readers of ’14ymedio’

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 14 April 2017 — In this blog I have experienced good readers and bad moments, shared stories and exchanged opinions. For almost three years you have also accompanied me in the adventure of running a digital newspaper. Together with the team of 14ymedio, you are part of a diverse family spread over several continents.

To talk about this time that we spent together and update you on the challenges that are to come, I want to invite you to the meeting: Cuba: at the distance of an embrace, this coming April 24 from 6 to 8 pm at the CubaOcho Museum and Performing Arts Center in Miami, to share anecdotes and ideas with you and two other reporters from 14ymedio.

I know that many who live far away or are busy and will not be able to come, but I don’t lost hope of continuing to have this kind of conversation in different cities and one day, why not, do the same thing in our newsroom in Havana: without repression or fear.

____________

Note:
The Address of the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center is 1465 SW 8th Street #106, Little Havana, Miami.

There will be a menu for those wishing to buy food and drink during the event. Special guests will be our friends from Project 305 of the New World Symphony of Miami, an initiative of which we are part and which seeks to collect audio and video clips to be used in an orchestral work that reflects the spirit of this city.

Raul Castro Squandered His Last Chance

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands a year ago in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.

Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences.

These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.

The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.

Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.

When Life Is In The Hands Of Human Traffickers

Terminal 3 in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (14ymedio)

Terminal 3 in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 4 February 2017 – The wifi signal barely crosses the glass. The wireless network at José Martí International Airport only covers the boarding area. But a woman presses her whole body against the opaque window that separates the travelers’ area to communicate with human traffickers who are holding her daughter in Mexico.

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO. The videochat is cut several times by the poor quality of the connection On the other side, the voice of a man repeats, without backing off, “Three hundred dollars so she can return on Tuesday.”

The woman wipes her tears and unsuccessfully asks for a reduction. Nearby, a maid who cleans the bathroom passes by, idly dragging a cart with cleaning supplies. A customs official walks by, absorbed, and pretends he is not listening to the disturbing request projected from the screen of the phone, “Don’t kill her, don’t kill her.”

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO

The scene happens in a place crowded with people, most of whom are passengers about to board a transatlantic flight, or a new commercial route to the United States, and there are also the family members and friends who have come to see them off. No one shows any sign of hearing the drama developing a few feet away.

A tourist tosses back a beer just as the woman is asking the man for half an hour to “collect the money.” She starts the race against the clock. She calls several contacts from her IMO address book, but the first four, at least, don’t answer. On the fifth try, a shrill voice on the other end says, “Hello.”

“I need a huge favor, you can’t say no,” the lady stammers. But the head that can be seen on the screen shakes from side to side. “Are you crazy? And if after you pay this money they don’t let her go?” asks the voice. The tension makes the hand holding the phone start to tremble and her granddaughter, who has accompanied her, helps her hold on to it.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay it back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana. The mother agrees, promises she can “repay every cent,” although it sounds like a formula to get out of a bind. The man believes her.

Now they must arrange the details. The victim doesn’t have a bank account but the mother will send information about “how to send the money.” This is how the kidnappers get paid. Only then will they allow her to fly from Cancun to Havana, or at least that is what they promise.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay in back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana

In the middle of last year the Mexican authorities shut down a network trafficking in undocumented people from Cuba that operated in this tourist area in the Mexican state of Qunitana Roo. The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy this January has left many migrants in the hands of the coyotes, who don’t hesitate to turn to extortion to make up for the reduction in the flow of Cubans and, as a result, their loss of earnings.

The wifi signal is lost altogether, but the mother is feeling relieved. “She was in a large group, about 20 people,” she tells her granddaughter. A simple calculation allows us to know how much the captors will earn on “freeing” all those they are holding.

Nothing ends with the delivery of the money. “She is going to want to go again,” concludes the mother, the instant she hangs up from the last videochat. “I can’t stand it here, I can’t” she repeats, while walking toward the escalator filled with smiling and tanned tourists.

Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group "Gente de Zona". (Networks)

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group “Gente de Zona”. (Networks)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 January 2017 — My mother had a T-shirt with the face of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, bought in the informal market in the early eighties. At a meeting of the Union of Young Communists they warned her she could not continue to wear it. The author of La vida sigue igual  (Life Remains the Same) had fallen into the blacklist of censorship and after that the garment languished in a drawer in our house.

This January, almost four decades after that point in my childhood, Julio’s son Enrique Iglesias has come to Cuba to film the music video for the single Súbeme la radio (Beam me up to the radio). A legion of fans is preparing to follow him to the locations where he will work alongside director Alejandro Pérez, musician Descemer Bueno and the Puerto Rican duo Zion and Lenox.

Although the national media have handled Iglesias’ visit with caution, the news spread rapidly among the people. There will undoubtedly be crowds around the places where the singer plans to go, in the style of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katty Perry, the Kardashians or Madonna, during their stays on the Island.

This Wednesday, many young people sigh to get an autograph of the successful artist and wait to capture on their cellphone a moment in which he approaches, passes, makes himself seen. They are women who are the same age as my mother was in those years when she was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with the face of the other Iglesias, the forbidden one.

My mother could never go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch

At that time, the Cuban authorities offered no explanations about the ban. There were only rumors and half-statements: “He made statements against Cuba,” was heard in some official circles; “Julio sang for Pinochet in Chile,” warned the most furious militants, in reference to the artist’s 1977 trip to that South American country.

The truth is that Iglesias, the father, swelled the list of singers who could not be broadcast on radio and television. Has name was added to others excluded, such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Nelson Ned and even Jose Feliciano. The latter was only broadcast again in the Cuban media much later on.

A few years before he was banned, the film inspired by the life of Julio Iglesias had been a blockbuster in the island’s movie theaters. Many viewers boasted of having seen the film several times in one day and the choruses of its songs displaced the songs of the New Trova.

Iglesias, as well as appealing to artistic tastes, meant a fresh wind at a time when Cuban music was filled with slogans. He spoke of romance, love, loss and oblivion, in a country where the bolero had been set aside and the only passion allowed was that which could be felt by the cause and the Revolution. He took off among young people, tired of so much focus on trench warfare and feeling the need for more flesh and less Utopia.

My mother was never able go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch. Another Iglesias has arrived, his songs are different and the Cuba in which he has landed little resembles that Sovietized island of old. Music just won a match over ideology.

Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 December 2016 – On television a speech by Nicolas Maduro reverberates. He is talking about international conspiracies, the enemy that wants to end the “Bolivarian” revolution and the “monetary mafias,” a refrain that recalls the deceased Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro, obsessed with blaming others for the disasters caused by his own decisions.

The differences in style between the two leaders are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. Decades have passed between Castro’s interminable oratory about Cuba and the Venezuela ruled by the erratic Maduro.

In that time, we Latin Americans have become suspicious of populist discourses and learned to reveal the seams of the redeemers, who hide authoritarians under their robes. Their political speeches do not work like they did before. Like those hackneyed verses that compare the eyes with the stars or the mouth with a rose, and that now only provoke mockery.

In these times, when from the podium the homeland is invoked too often, the spectrum of foreign interference is constantly dangled and results are never offered, this is the time to be on alert. If the leaders call on us to spill every last drop of blood, while they surround themselves with bodyguards or hide at some “zero point,” we have to cease to believe them.

A dose of skepticism immunizes against these pernicious harangues where it is explained that the country’s problems originate outside the national borders. Suspiciously, the whistleblower never takes any responsibility for the disaster and blames the failure on some alleged externalities and media wars.

Maduro was trained in the school of politics as permanent agitation, a school headquartered in Havana. To make matters worse, the Venezuelan leader has been a mediocre student, who interprets the original script with a lot of huffing and puffing, very little charisma and a huge dose of nonsense. His main blunder has been not to realize that the manual designed by Fidel Castro no longer works.

The Venezuelan leader arrived too late to take advantage of the gullibility that for decades made many people of this continent exalt dictators. His speeches resonate with the past, like bad poems, that neither move our souls nor win our affections.