Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cuba dissidents sentenced to prison for leaflets

Cuba dissidents sentenced to prison for leaflets
HAVANA | Tue May 31, 2011 5:08pm EDT

(Reuters) - Four men who threw anti-government leaflets in Havana's Revolution Square were sentenced on Tuesday to up to five years in prison by a Cuban court, family members said.

Cuban dissidents decried the decision and said they should be considered political prisoners.

Three of the men -- Luis Enrique Labrador, 33, David Piloto, 40, and Walfrido Rodriguez, 42 -- received five-year sentences, and Yordanis Martinez, 23, was given three years after the court heard evidence they had committed "defiance" and "public disorder."

In January, they threw leaflets into the air in two locations in Havana, including the massive Revolution Square that sits in front of the main government offices and is the site of major parades and government rallies.

"They did not commit any criminal act, they didn't place bombs or attack anyone. They only protested for their ideals," said Vidiet Martinez, brother of one of the prisoners.

Cuba in March completed the release of 114 political prisoners -- including all who were considered "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International -- in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church.

Since then, dissidents have accused the government of roughing them up and detaining them, but none for long periods.

Cuban leaders consider government opponents to be mercenaries in the pay of their longtime ideological enemy, the United States.

Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights told reporters the long sentences were "too much" and suggested Amnesty International should put them on their list of prisoners of conscience.

Outside the courthouse, people shouted for and against the government, with most in favor.

"Look, they are four common criminals, counterrevolutionaries, they attacked a policeman, and these mercenaries have to show respect," said government supporter Juan Miguel Garriga.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks and Nelson Acosta; editing by Mohammad Zargham)



The State That's Afraid of Words / Angel Santiesteban

The State That's Afraid of Words / Angel Santiesteban
Angel Santiesteban, Translator: Unstated   

Henry Constantin

How weak is a State that sees danger in the words of a student? And using its power forcefully attacks and dictates the immediate expulsion of Henry Constantin from the Superior Art Institute (ISA) in Havana, brutally abusing his rights and using psychological torture. In recent days, in the middle of the night, and aware of the cowardice this implies, leaders of the student union (FEU) took action against Henry to avoid that the rest of the students would be witnesses.

Caught in deep sleep, and without giving him a chance to react; manhandled by the dean of students and other manipulated students, and given his refusal to go along (as he made it clear that he would not leave the school on his own two feet), they dragged him from his dorm, down the stairs, events only comparable to the hordes of the Nazi SS or the dictators of the past century in southern lanes, and put him in a car and abandoned him far from home and the university.

How disgusted must they be with themselves, those who committed this outrage? This event could be inscribed in the long anthology of horror of the Castro dictatorship.

How much madness was needed to carry out this procedure?

Where is the "defender of the humble," Mr. Comandante who now wastes none of the ink of his Reflections to interceded against the unconstitutional abuse he fathered? None of them were expelled from the university despite their armed activities. Why are the universities for communists, if not even Batista himself refused them to his enemies? The "Revolutionary" that cheated us promised justice, rights and freedoms, and instead exceeds in horror the regime he fought against.

Why does the young Henry Constantin, talented art student, in need of freedom, as we all seek through our blogs, not deserve some droplets of ink from the elder strongman, after he's poured out a veritable river of black letters to publicly defend the murdered Bin Laden and to express sorrow at the loss of this "comrade"?

How much misery has a Government put together to abuse a young artist, diligent and talented student, of a physically barely developed adolescent, for the supposed crime of issuing opinions?

So many questions and so few logical answers.

How then, from different places in the world, have human beings been able to defend a system that puts shames us?

In any event, our friend and brother Henry, you will rarely have the opportunity to be more of a hero than now, it is difficult to grow as high as you have done this time. I'm honored by your courage, being just a boy, you have made a mockery of the system and its perfect fascist machinery.

Know that your strength like ours, is multiplied after each unworthy act. I also know that you harbor no hatred, the artist in you will not let you, despite the shock and feeling of helplessness. They are deserving of pity, because they fear losing the space that they maintain by the force of injustice, they are aware that their attitude has no place in modern times.

You also know that we will not stand by with folded arms. We will continue demanding justice and your rights, which is the same.

Here is my friendship forever, and my breath.

May 31 2011



Havana: Hookers a la carte / Iván García

Havana: Hookers a la carte / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Regina Anavy

When Roman, a tall, skinny guantanamero, who has spent three years
living clandestinely in Havana, feels a burning sexual desire, he plans
his binge.

After working 12 hours selling trashy textiles and pirated tennis shoes
in a street fair on Galiano, which brings him daily earnings between 20
and 30 dollars, he goes to the small room he keeps rented for 40 dollars
a month in the San Isidro shantytown. He bathes and shaves. He puts on a
bright pair of jeans and pours a strong, cheap cologne over his whole body.

To accelerate his libido, he takes half a capsule of Viagra, sold on the
black market for a dollar each. Earlier, in a cafe near the Casa de la
Música in Central Havana, he calmly drank five or six ice-cold bottles
of Bucanero beer.

After a bit, the whores start to congregate. There are two ways to deal
with the hookers in local currency. Either wait for them shamelessly to
come to you to make their offers, or by that universal body language of
prostitutes, you see what vibe they're presenting.

It's all easy. Sex-hungry men like Roman already know the pimps for many
prostitutes. There is something for everyone. And prices. You can have a
quickie for two dollars in the bathroom of the cafe where you're
drinking beer, or in a dark corner of the many dilapidated buildings in
Havana, they will suck you till you finish. Always with a condom in place.

If you want something different, you have the option of hookers a la
carte. Black, white or mulatta. Equally, you can have two on your arm,
to make a picture of lesbian love. If you pay extra, you can take them
home. In that case, the pimp asks you "please don't abuse them or give
them drugs."

At any time of day in that kilometer of Havana geography that includes
Chinatown from Zanja Street up to Central Park, a legion of kids have a
trained eye to spot the guys who are looking for hookers.

Osvaldo, a young mulatto who spends several hours in the gym every day,
is one of those who lives off his women. He has six working for him. "I
live by my pinga (penis). That's what God gave me. A good cock and the
power of seduction. I was once arrested for pimping. But this is a
business that lets you make money without getting your hands dirty. Now
the police are less strict. And I work without much pressure. The ideal
thing is to hook up yumas (foreigners) with my girls. But there are now
many Cubans with money, and they are more generous than foreigners," he
says while scanning the scene.

There are also independent hookers, like Julianna. She doesn't have a
pimp. "All the money I make is for me. I have to take care of my sick
mother, who suffers from nerves, and a 5-year-old son. After 8 pm I pay
a woman to take care of them both and I go into the 'fire' (the street).
I do well," she says. The only thing she asks is that the guy be good
looking and bathe before having sex. "Oh, and to not be stingy."

Dedicated to the "meat market" (prostitution), several houses in Central
Havana are for rent. Some are comfortable and air-conditioned homes,
which typically charge five dollars an hour. Others are true joints.
Hot, humid rooms that look more like the cache of a terrorist than a
place to fornicate.

These shacks charge a dollar an hour. They are preferred by Cubans with
few resources. Roman, who turns over money every month to his mother and
three children in Guantanamo, would rather pay for a cheap room.

All the hookers carry condoms. Some even keep in their bag in a sharp
awl or a Swiss army knife recently sharpened. "It's that sometimes the
guys get nasty or will not pay or try to give us a beating," says
Tatiana, one of the hookers swarming around Monte Street.

By nightfall, the prostitutes have multiplied. The pimps drink rum in
the bars and parks nearby, while their women are "working" outside.
Specialized police in their black uniforms with their German shepherds
don't even see them. There are so many prostitutes it's frightening.

Photo: Cover of the book, The Night Gave Birth to a Hooker (2006,
publisher Manati, Dominican Republic), by Olga Consuegra, writer and
screenwriter based in Santo Domingo. In the book, 22 Cuban prostitutes
in the Dominican Republic recount how they started hooking in Cuba.
Today they are known by Dominicans as "imported hookers". The only man
interviewed is the owner of a brothel.

In a review published in the Journal of the Americas in December 2006,
journalist Luis de la Paz wrote: "Many have college degrees (veterinary,
engineering), [and are] professionals in different fields. All left Cuba
for a better life and in most cases continued in the ancient craft. So
they were not led into prostitution by their status as migrants, but
were brought to this task by the tyranny that rules Cuba, that has made
prostitution into a way to survive, something which, unfortunately, is
not deeply discussed in the book."

Translated by Regina Anavy

May 26 2011


Telenovelas and Teleprejudices / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

Telenovelas and Teleprejudices / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado
Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado, Translator: Unstated

Cuban television debuts at its usual time of 9:00 in the evening, on the
Cubavision channel, a telenovela–soap opera–titled "Under the Same Sun,"
which is already generating a buzz. Although they haven't provided much
information about it, it's said to consist of three stories. In the
first one being aired, are the taboos and intolerance that still exist
in society against homosexuality, among others. Some time ago an
interdisciplinary team, taking advantage of the reach of this mass
media, television, and with the support of the press, began influencing
people with a different view of human sexual diversity. I celebrate the
intention and the task, even more because a long time ago international
organizations, such as the United Nations, and coalitions of countries,
such as the European Union, jumped the barrier of segregation for sexual
preferences and established legal mechanisms to prevent discriminatory
practices in this and other aspects. We perceive in our country that
perception is gradually changing in this regard.

Societies, which over the course of history have been governed by
heterosexual men, supported through the ages the macho attitudes with
marginalized visions and social standards that have fallen into disuse.
Thus discrimination against women was such that no one considered
lesbianism as a sign of homosexuality in them, while in men it was
regarded as a disease. Thus, a lesbian inclination in women was actually
suspected, it was subject to double or more incisive discrimination.

Cuba was no exception in regard to this evil. Since the beginning of
this process–which increasingly is less than revolutionary–it is
customary to belittle and devalue those who are different. To be gay is
to suffer humiliation, along with continuing detentions and restrictions
on travel to avoid to meeting with like-minded people and related
groups. Everything was questioned and questionable, except for the
bearded manhood who had fought for this model. Beyond that, machismo and
militarism were the medals of those times which marginalized people of
different sexual orientation. They saw them and looked down at them like
flies in the soup, and so they were treated …

Today, Dr. Mariela Castro, Raul's daughter and Fidel's niece is trying
to clean up the images of her uncle and father from decades ago, and
vindicate the rights of the gay community in a crusade against
homophobia. Marches are held each year in the streets of the capital by
bringing together several hundred homosexuals to demand that their
rights be recognized. I support Mariela's campaign, although it
reawakens in me the logical question that surely has attracted many.
"Don't heterosexuals have rights too? What about the rest of society?
What about freedom of expression and association? And the multiparty

It is incongruous that the daughter of Cuban President be allowed to
demonstrate in our streets with a large group of people who advocate
sexual freedom that we, as part of alternative civil society, may not do
so, having had for decades other valid demands, legitimate and humane
that are also covered by international legislation as a part of
modernity. There should be consistency in the rights issue, you should
not recognize some and ignore others.

Taking this work as a departure point, it strikes me that is just and
necessary to hold a day against diversophobia, or fear of political
diversity, from which the Cuban authorities and their supporters suffer.

For now, I think we can start an "International Campaign Against
Pluriphobia"–rejection or fear of plurality–to prevent totalitarian
systems from washing their hands of contradictions, and manipulating
them to look like the rule of law. In justice and legitimacy, it is
necessary to paint the entire house, not just the facade.

May 30 2011


Monday, May 30, 2011

Cuba: Poor but Content / Iván García

Cuba: Poor but Content / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated

In the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, there are people who are viewed with
disdain. Waldo is one such case, chief of surveillance for the Committee
for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). A neighborhood full of
prostitutes and marginal people who live from what "falls off" the truck.

Due to his intransigence and zeal to enforce the guidelines from the
superstructures of power, Waldo has alienated people. According to
gossip, he is also a full-time informant for Special Services.

A retired saddler, Waldo's hobby is to spy from behind a wide iron
window on the movements of people marked as suspicious or conflictive.

His number one objective is a pair of "notorious counterrevolutionary"
residents on his block. He feels acknowledged when the tough guys from
State Security rely on him to inform them about the activities of this

Waldo has never wavered in his unreserved support for Fidel Castro. Not
in the most difficult times of the Special Period, when he lost teeth
due to lack of protein, 12-hour blackouts and an optic neuritis that
left him almost blind.

Life has treated him harshly. One of his sons deserted the boat of the
Revolution and now lives on the other side. His retirement pension is
just about enough to pay the electric bill and buy food provided by the
ration book. Little more. He eats and dresses badly. But he still
worships the Castros.

Waldo belongs to that segment of the needy to which Raúl Castro referred
in his report to the Sixth Party Congress. Citizens who despite being
poor as church mice are stalwarts of the revolution.

Every day they are fewer. I present to you their profile. As a rule,
they are over 60, are former military, low ranking political
commissioners, or retirees who feel useful to the cause, spying on their
"antisocial" neighbors or at the front of a CDR meeting to discuss the
latest political speech.

There are also the young, opportunistic and climbers, who enroll in the
Revolutionary process to try to get a slice of material goods. Like
Vivian, a poor and clever girl, who ran and, without opposition,
obtained the post of delegate to the Popular Power Assembly from her
constituency, which allowed her to weave a web of influences and acquire
building materials free of charge when her dilapidated housing needed
tobe repaired.

Or ex-officers like Jesus, a fighter pilot who participated in Castro's
adventure in Angola, who is so strict in interpreting the Marxist
theories that his own party colleagues start to tremble when they see him.

These comrades, stubborn, faithful, poor, but happy with their
Revolution, form a core of Talibans with a bombproof faith in the Castro
brothers. They have not received any material advantage from the
Revolution. Nor foreign travel nor foreign currency to buy shoddy goods.
They are pure types.

Some even feel betrayed by the Castros. Not because they stopped
providing an additional quota of coffee or a Chinese 21-inch TV. No.
Their distrust of the brothers is in the direction they are taking the

Especially the permissiveness towards opponents and the weakness in
fighting fight crooks and hookers. These steely communists have limited
understanding, even with regards to what Comrade Fidel explains, why the
'parasites and worms' are greeted with a red carpet and allowed to bring
their dollars to relatives in Cuba who live full speed ahead without
working for the government.

Neither do these intransigents look kindly on their leaders wanting to
have a dialog with the United States. They grew up hating the gringos
and imperialism.

In the dead of the night, they assault ideological doubts. That vanish
with the dawn. And they rise up humming "whatever it will be with Fidel,
it will be." Now they've changed the lyrics. Substituting Raul for
Fidel. To keep up with the times.

April 28 2011


Cuba: Whose Afraid of the Debate? / Iván García

Cuba: Whose Afraid of the Debate? / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated

Every day Cuba is more of an island than ever. A sector of the official
intelligentsia is engaged in an interesting debate on the future of the
country. It's something that's needed. I don't think it's the shock
troops of Cuban Intelligence, as a certain sector within the opposition
insultingly suggests.

Simply something is moving. Both bloggers — we call those accepted by
the government, within this movement there are many nuances — as well as
figures within the national culture use new information tools to reflect
their points of view.

I'm not naive. In Cuba spontaneity is rare. Certain government sectors,
to counter the phenomenon of alternative bloggers, have encouraged the
intellectuals who defend the irreversibility of the revolution, who with
their talent, in their proposals, reports, articles and analysis, assume
the need to maintain a project created by Fidel Castro in 1959.

Is good that journalists of the caliber of Reinaldo Taladrid, Rosa
Miriam Elizalde and Enrique Ubieta sharpen their pencils and make known
to us their keen observations.

Their works, which I sometimes do not agree with, are better and more
substantial than the soporific political speeches of the island's
hierarchy. The evil background of this supposed "Battle of Ideas" is an
unwillingness to accept the other side.

And it exists. They live in the same country and think differently. I
would be disappointed if people who I appreciate professionally, such as
Sandra Alvarez or Elaine Diaz, bloggers accepted by the government and
of unquestionable quality, fall into the cliché of the official
discourse, of labeling all who disagree with the Castro brothers, with
the crutch of 'agents of the empire, mercenaries or traitors."

Any ideology or political system leads to resistance. To fail to
recognize it is to deny the dialectic. Unanimity does not exist. A
government cannot govern only for its supporters. In democratic
societies, the various factions argue and talk to each other. In Cuba,
each side is entrenched in an islet. And they fire their missiles. They
read what the opposite group writes sideways. But always at hand they
have the little sign that some are "puppets operated by the State " and
others, "mercenaries paid by the empire."

If the Cuban revolution is considered a mature and consolidated project,
it need not fear open and respectful debate among Cubans who think
differently. Enough of monologues. There should be a dialogue.

I find it incomprehensible that journalists, analysts and foreign
scholars can debate with people who advocate socialism and these
intellectuals cannot even say hello to citizens whose "sin" is to not
agree with the Castro brothers.

What is at stake is not to tear the system down and implement capitalism
as Enrique Ubieta believes, director of La Calle del Medio, the only
readable newspaper on the island.

It would be very pretentious to think that bloggers barely known in
Cuba, by dint of posts that are read only by those the other side and
0.2% or less of the Cubans, will create a climate of opinion to unseat
the established status quo.

Were it to happen, it would be the first blogger revolution in history.
Let's not fool ouselves. Yes, new tools such as the Internet, Twitter or
Facebook have a remarkable drawing power. But only when the
deterioration of a nation, its citizens' complaints and malfunctions of
the country's economy articulate a widespread discontent.

If things in Cuba are distorted it's simply from inefficient government
management. If there is a sector of society that asks for deeper changes
it is because the present does not meet their expectations.

What has devalued Marxist socialism is incompetence. It has not worked.
Nowhere. And not for lack of professionals and resources. True, in the
utopian communist society there is no lack of material and money is not
needed. Nor is the army or the police to suppress or tough guys with
State Intelligence making your life impossible.

But we must keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. And to be human,
to truly evolve, we need freedom, confrontation of ideas, dialogue and
to listen to the other party.

The point that most worries closed governments such as Cuba's is
information flow, and therefore they control it because they find it
easier to govern. They also inconvenience people fleeing the tight state

I think the followers of the revolution driven by convictions. If so,
they are honest citizens. So why not have a face to face dialogue?

If, in fact, the supporters of Cuban socialism have solid arguments, I
do not see why they're so afraid to discuss eye to eye, and not in
virtual forums. Please Ubieta and company, show that you are free men.

May 17 2011


A Little History / Fernando Dámaso

A Little History / Fernando Dámaso
Fernando Dámaso, Translator: Unstated

We Cubans, with regards to our history, are quite chauvinistic. We
believe, and even are convinced of it, that since we appeared on this
earth, we have been fighting for freedom. It goes back to chief Hatuey
(who incidentally was neither Cuban nor Spanish) and his death at the
stake. Since then we have always been warriors, through rebellions,
conspiracies, wars and revolutions. There's even a person who has said
we have accumulated over five hundred years of struggle. This is only
one side of the coin.

On the flip side, of which very little is spoken and less written, it
appears that since 1492 (the date of discovery) to 1848 (the date of
disembarkation of Narciso Lopez en Cardenas, who by the way also was not
Cuban but a Venezuela married to Cuban), a period covering three hundred
fifty-six years (three and a half centuries), liberation actions were
conspicuous by their absence and we lived peacefully and quietly,
without major hot flashes, Spanish, African, Chinese and Creole, born of
the mixtures of one with the others. Neither should we forget that we
were the last colony to become independent of Spain, when all Latin
American nations had achieved it years earlier.

It can be argued that Spain held onto the island so as not to lose it,
as the most precious jewel in her crown, and there is some truth in it,
hence the bloody wars of 1868 and 1895, but it is also true that
independence, despite all the sacrifices of the Cubans, was provided by
U.S. intervention in 1898, when both contending parties were quite
exhausted, even though its strategic objectives were at the tip of their
fingers. It is also known that at the end of the war caudillismo and
disagreements between different military chiefs and the
Government-in-Arms, undermined the Mambi Army (José Maceo never obeyed
the command of the Eastern Department, first from, General Mayia
Rodriguez, who had quit to avoid complicating the situation, nor from
General Calixto Garcia, who replaced him. General Maximo Gomez had
offered his resignation as Commander-in-Chief, and only remained in
office, retired to Las Villas, before the death of Antonio Maceo and his
son Panchito Gómez Toro).

With regards to the intervention it's necessary to recall some figures.
Maximo Gomez was in Las Villas with about five thousand men under arms,
many of them ill-equipped, and because of the distance, he had no direct
involvement in the events that would occur around Santiago de Cuba.
Calixto Garcia was the one who was in the east, also with about five
thousand men under similar circumstances. It is true that in previous
months they occupied villages, but they abandoned them after a few
hours, unable to maintain them at the onset of the Spanish forces. In
Santiago de Cuba, which decided the war, the Spanish had about twelve
thousand soldiers, well armed and equipped. The U.S. Army landed, to
defeat this opponent, about twenty thousand troops, armed and superbly
equipped who, along with the troops assembled by Calixto García, put
paid to the Spanish defense, obtaining their surrender.

Sooner or later, Cuba and the United States will regularize their
relationship and we will live together as good neighbors. This happened
between the U.S. and Russia, China and Vietnam, countries that are more
geographically and culturally distant. Our case is not going to be the
exception. To achieve this, among other things, we must begin to remove
the many layers of ideological and political paint that have covered the
events and characters of our common history. This is the only purpose of
these lines. By a twist of fate, we may be called to be the last country
to abandon socialism (if North Korea does not take that honor from us).
History likes to make fun of statements of eternity: According to its
creators, the Nazi regime would last a thousand years and yet it didn't
last twelve, and the monolithic, strong as steel and irreversible Soviet
regime, today is just a sad memory. Words, fortunately, are only words
and, when not carried away by the wind, they are taken by time.

April 26 2011


From a Cuban Tenement to an Italian Brothel: The High Price of Escape

Yoani Sanchez Award-Winning Cuban Blogger

From a Cuban Tenement to an Italian Brothel: The High Price of Escape
Posted: 05/30/11 02:20 PM ET

She was raised to succeed. As a little girl, her mother took the fried
egg of her own plate, if need be, to give it to her, because she was a
promise which the whole family was hanging from. They didn't even let
her scrub, so that her hands would not crack and harden from the
scouring pad and the soot. When she combed her hair into ringlets her
elder sister predicted she would one day marry a Frenchman or a Spaniard
or a Belgian, someone from the "nobility" of monarchy or business.

"Everyone will love you!" cried her grandmother, whose fingers were
twisted with arthritis from half a century of washing and ironing for
the whole street. They wouldn't even let her have a boyfriend in the
neighborhood, because she had to be preserved for the future that
awaited her, for the potentate who would come and take her from that
crowded tenement in Zanja Street, from that crowded country in the

One day, when she was barely out of adolescence, she found him. He was
much older and didn't belong to any wealthy family, but he had an
Italian passport. Nor did she like him physically, but simply imagining
him in Milan made his bulging beer belly look not so big. The aroma of
the new clothes he brought every time he came to Havana also covered the
smell of nicotine and alcohol that always came from his mouth.

At home, her family was delighted. "The child is leaving us to live in
Europe," they told the neighbors, and her own mother cut her off when
she tried to explain that her fiancé that occasionally became violent
and beat her. And so they pushed her to complete the legal paperwork and
make the marriage official. In the wedding photos she looked like a sad
princess, but a princess.

When the plane landed in the Italian winter, he no longer seemed like
the kind man who, 24 hours earlier, had promised her mother that he
would take care of her. He took her to a club that same night where she
had to work serving clients liquor, and even her own body. For months
she wrote her grandmother about the perfumes and food she had tried in
her new life. She recreated, in her letters and phone calls, a reality
very different from what she was living. Not a word of extortion, nor of
the husband who had evaporated leaving her in the hands of a "boss" whom
she had to obey.

In the Havana tenement they had all spoiled her and made her happy and
she didn't want to disappoint them. When the Italian police dismantled
the prostitution ring in which she was trapped, she sent a brief text
message to her relatives on the other side of the Atlantic, so they
wouldn't worry, "I won't be able to call you for several weeks. I'm
going on vacation to Venice to celebrate my wedding anniversary. I love
you all, your Princess."


Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Agrarian Problem / Dimas Castellanos

The Agrarian Problem / Dimas Castellanos
Dimas Castellanos, Translator: Unstated

In the struggle for land ownership and against eviction in Cuba, many
farmers and farm workers lost their lives. Among them is Niceto Perez,
who was killed May 17, 1946. In tribute to him and the rest of the
martyrs of the field that day, the Law of Agrarian Reform was
promulgated in 1959 and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP)
founded in 1961. A brief look back to such a vital issue in our history
can form an idea about the achievements and what we are still waiting
for in this area.

The diversification of agricultural property in the sixteenth century
began with the delivery of circular farms for raising livestock to
Spanish settlers in Cuba. Later, in the spaces between haciendas–unowned
land–other farmers were allowed to farm, but the royal decree issued in
1819 to identify the rightful owners did not recognize the latter. For
this reason about 10 thousand families were robbed of the land they
worked. Subsequently many farmers were displaced by the advance of the
sugar industry, with orders No. 34 and 62 issued in 1902 by the
government auditor, by which the railroad companies and U.S. investors
could acquire land. From this process emerged the modern estates with
over half of the country's land in the hands of national and foreign

The discontent of the peasants had begun in 1717, the year that about
500 armed planters staged a protest against the tobacco monopoly which
set the price and quantity and prohibited the sale of the surplus,
similar to the current Empresa de Acopio. Those protests were repeated
until 1723, when the growers of Santiago de las Vegas were hanged; later
farmers were involved in the independence struggles of the nineteenth
century. They developed, in parallel, associations to defend their
interests. In 1890 they founded the Association of Settlers in the areas
of Manzanillo and Bayamo, and in 1913 the Farmers' Association of the
Island of Cuba. Beginning in 1930 they began a broad struggle against
eviction and for better markets, prices, credits and rent rebates.

Under the guidance of the Communist Party in October 1937, the First
National Farmer's Congress was held and they created committees, unions
and peasant associations in the six provinces, some of whose demands
were endorsed in the 1940 Constitution. The Second National Peasant
Congress in 1941 created the National Peasant Association (NCA), and
likewise, but under the direction of the Authentic Party, was founded
the Peasant Confederation of Cuba (CCC). During the government of
Fulgencio Batista, between 1940 and 1944, families settled on lands
abandoned by the state and landowners. One such case took place in the
hacienda Uvita, Sierra Maestra, with over thirty-three thousand acres.
However, each settled family was only given "five hens and a rooster, a
plow, a machete and a few dollars," similar to the current distribution
of land in usufruct by Decree-Law 259. Despite these efforts, in 1944
54% of the land was concentrated in large estates, while many peasants
continued to live in poverty.

In his brief "History Will Absolve Me," Dr. Fidel Castro proposed to
grant land to all tenant farmers, subtenants, sharecroppers and
squatters who occupied plots of up to 165 acres. Accordingly, the
October 10, 1958, the Commander of the Rebel Army, Law 3, arranged to
transfer land ownership to the occupying lots of less than 165 acres and
on 17 May 1959 he signed the Agrarian Reform Act, which limited large
estates to just under 1,000 acres and gave titles to a hundred thousand
families, who could get 66 acres without payment and purchase additional
lots to complete 165 acres. With this Act, the State concentrated in its
hands, 40.2% of the country's arable land.

The Second Law, issued on October 3, 1963, lowered the maximum of 165
acres with 100,000 other properties turned over to the State, increasing
its properties up to 70% of arable land, accounting for volume higher
than all prior estates. Then in the '70′s, with the intent to further
reduce private property, they insisted on the socialization of farms
that had been in private hands. As a result of this effort, the number
of Agricultural Production Cooperatives increased from 136 in 1977 to
1,369 in 1986, 64% of private lands, a process in which the ANAP had to
intervene directly in order to convince farmers to join their farms and
work together collectively. Currently non-state land is about a quarter
of the arable land, with more than half in tobacco, corn, beans, cocoa,
coffee and vegetables that are grown in Cuba.

Army General Raul Castro, in his speech on July 26, 2007 in Camaguey,
explained the need to produce in Cuba–where surplus land and rainfall of
the last two years had been generous–the food the State was buying
abroad at high prices. That is, he took up the unresolved issue of the
inefficiency of state agriculture, of which sugar is a paradigmatic
case, since the island had emerged from the eighteenth century as the
world's largest sugar producer. However, two centuries later, when the
entire industry and agriculture are almost all in state hands, it has
fallen from 8.5 million tons produced in 1970 to 1.2 million in the
2010-2011 harvest. A result similar to the early years of last century
and without any correspondence to the thousands of professionals,
academia and research, machinery, irrigation systems and technology now

In the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the
Revolution, adopted recently, it was confirmed: that the socialist
planning system will remain the principal means to address the economy,
the socialist state enterprise is the main form, and encouraging the
participation of foreign capital will continue. However, it turns out
that the system of socialist planning, the state-owned monopoly and
granting rights to foreign businessmen that are refused to Cubans, are
among the main causes of the current crisis. Three aspects sufficient to
lead to new failures.

For the foregoing reasons, the Cuban Government should amend Decree-Law
259 to transfer ownership to the peasants of the land which the State is
unable to make productive, and increase the limit from 100 to 165 acres,
consistent with the farmers' struggles and in memory of Niceto Perez,
and of the previous laws and the needs of the country.

(Published in el Diario de Cuba (www.ddcuba.com) 17 May 2011)

May 20 2011


Rain Has Arrived in Havana / Iván García

Rain Has Arrived in Havana / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Regina Anavy

The habaneros were screaming for it. After 9 months of a fierce drought,
where water-laden clouds kept moving around the city, and the dams and
reservoirs had gone to code red, the rain appeared.

Now, when the month of May leaves us, the longed-for spring showers made
themselves present. Children and teens in shorts, barefoot and shirtless
enjoyed the first serious rain of the season

Some adults also joined the party. And worried. Water reserves in Havana
reach only 18%. And added to that, more than 60% is lost every night
because of leaks in the whole capital. The alarming shortage made the
water authorities give a new turn of the screw in the distribution of
the precious liquid in the capital.

In most neighborhoods of Havana, on alternate days, usually after 8 pm
at night, potable water is distributed to the population. In the old
part of town there are places where running water has never reached the tap.

There are houses with pipes thick with magnesium and garbage. Nemesio, a
resident of Laguna Street in the marginal and largely black suburb of
San Leopoldo, has forgotten the last time he took a shower.

In these places, the birthplace of prostitutes and swindlers, the
"pipers", as they call those who handle the "pipes" or tank trucks,
often make a lot of money. A family in a three-story tenement, with some
resemblance to a U.S. prison from the mid-20th century, pays up to $20
for the "piper" to fill their water tanks.

In these parts, water has its price. Types who came from the east of the
country who live underground in Havana, charge 4 dollars to fill up a
55-gallon tank. And believe me, there's enough work. With the first
rains of May, people breathed a sigh of relief.

"We now need it to rain every day for two months, in order to take the
bad away," says a santera. Like her, there are many people afraid of the
vagaries of time. The news from the north and south is frightening.
Murderous tornadoes in the U.S. and endless rain in South America. As if
to show that the world is upside down.

In Arroyo Arenas, municipality of La Lisa, west of the capital, there
was an intense local storm, which dropped hail the size of lemons. The
rains of May also brought thunderous lightning, and because of
deficiencies in drains and sewers, the streets were flooded.

But that's not important. Habaneros were clamoring for rain, so the dams
and the water table are overflowing. We'll see if these showers
alleviate the African heat.

The showers of May have returned a smile to residents and authorities.
Let the water continue. Let Havana become Macondo.*

Translator's note: Macondo is a fictional town created by Gabriel Garcia
Marquez. It suffered a four-year rainfall.

Translated by Regina Anavy

May 28 2011


Younger Castro brother turns 80 in aging regime

Posted on Sunday, 05.29.11

Younger Castro brother turns 80 in aging regime
Associated Press

HAVANA -- Cuban President Raul Castro is set to join elder sibling Fidel
in the ranks of octogenarians this week, even as he spearheads efforts
to rejuvenate the Communist-run island's tired economy.

The big day comes Friday, June 3, and it is likely to pass with little
fanfare. Raul and Fidel - who turns 85 on Aug. 13 - have historically
eschewed public celebrations of their birthdays, and the government told
The Associated Press it had no word of any official events to mark the day.

But the milestone is sure to remind supporters and detractors alike that
the era of the Castros is nearing its end, biologically if not
politically. Raul is already a month older than Fidel was when a
near-fatal illness forced him to step down - temporarily, then
permanently - in 2006. In April, Fidel gave up his final post as head of
the Communist Party.

"Fidel is out at the age of 85 - and he was always much healthier than
Raul as a young man - and now Raul is 80," said Ann Louise Bardach, a
longtime Cuba expert and author of "Without Fidel" and "Cuba Confidential."

She gave Raul credit for having the courage to push an agenda of
economic change since taking over the presidency, but said he missed a
great chance to bring in new leadership at a key Communist Party summit
in April when he selected old-guard revolutionaries Jose Ramon Machado
Ventura, 80, and Ramiro Valdes, 79, as his Nos. 2 and 3.

"Their challenge is that they must bring in a younger generation, but
instead Raul picked someone even older than him as his chief deputy,"
she said. "It just shows how unconfident they are. They missed an

On the streets of the capital, Havana, reactions to the president's
round-number birthday were mixed.

"I'm not so concerned about his age because he looks like he's in good
health," said Marcelo Delgado, a 72-year-old retiree. "What I am worried
about is that it seems to be taking a long time to bring in the economic
changes he is talking about, and there isn't much time left."

Since taking office, Raul has legalized some forms of self-employment,
turned over fallow government land to small-time farmers and promised to
trim the state's bloated payroll by 500,000 workers.

He also has pledged to legalize the sale of cars and homes, end
restrictions on Cubans traveling abroad and open up credit to would-be
entrepreneurs - though those proposals remain part of a vague five-year
plan and many are still skeptical.

"Raul is going to turn 80, and the others are even older," said Ernesto,
a 26-year-old Havana resident, who asked that he only be identified by
his first name for fear he could get into trouble for speaking out about
the country's leaders.

"To make real changes the country needs young people," he said. "Raul
talks a lot about giving power to the young, but I ask you, 'Where are

Those with long years of involvement in the island's affairs say Raul's
birthday is a moment for reflection.

Wayne Smith, who was a young foreign service officer in Havana when
President John F. Kennedy pulled U.S. diplomats off the island in 1961,
said he never thought at the time that the Castros would still be in
power all these years later, nor that Cuba would still be America's enemy.

"Good Lord, no," chuckled Smith, who is now a senior fellow at the
Washington-based Center for International Policy. "When we left in 1961,
I expected to be back shortly. Here we are more than 50 years after the
revolution and we still haven't come to a decent relationship with them."

Smith, who returned to Havana as America's chief diplomat in 1979 and
remains an outspoken opponent of Washington's 49-year trade embargo,
said he was hopeful Raul Castro could make good on his economic overhaul
now that he is in command and out from under his charismatic brother's

"It will be interesting to see how far they get before he does pass from
the scene, because of course he will," Smith said.

That would be fine with many Cuban exiles in Miami, who have grown old
themselves waiting for an end to the brothers' reign.

"He's 80 and he may have another four or five birthday celebrations,"
said Pepe Hernandez, head of the Cuban American National Foundation, a
Miami-based exile organization. "But our concern is what happens after
that, and in Cuba they don't seem very concerned about that. I think we
should be concerned about what happens when there are no more birthday
parties for Raul."

One person who is unmoved by Castro's birthday is Daniel Torres, a
69-year-old retired veteran in Miami who left Cuba shortly after the
1959 revolution because he says he was threatened with jail time for
speaking out against the government.

"After 52 years of tears and suffering, I don't know what else to say,"
he said. "It's a shame he's made it to 80."


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Babalawos Women's Meeting in Holguin / Dimas Castellanos

Babalawos Women's Meeting in Holguin / Dimas Castellanos
Dimas Castellanos, Translator: Unstated

Between March 8th and 9th in the eastern city of Holguín, the First
Meeting of Women Iyaonifá in Cuba was held. During the event the
association the "Universal Sisterhood" was established, the first
organization of its kind in our country. During the meeting, of a
universal character, 31 delegates from La Habana, Matanzas, Morón,
Holguín and Santiago de Cubawere directly involved, and attending
virtually were delegates from Venezuela, Mexico, Panama and Spain.

The opening, coinciding with International Women's Day, began with a
drum ceremony to honor ancestors and prominent figures. In particular,
Àgbàyé Arábìnrin Oluwa — the first Iyaonifá known in history, who lived
about 200 AD in Nigeria — Fermina Gomez, Latuán and Maria Moserarrate,
among other priestesses of the cult of Ifá and women important in the
history of Cuba like Mariana Grajales and Celia Sanchez Manduley. On the
second day the session founded the international Universal Sisters
association and priestesses were chosen to develop legislative and
executive policies for the fledgling institution.

As announced, the two key objectives of Universal Sisters are: (1)
Regain the position that corresponds to the female gender in the African
religious context, and (2) To contribute, by their example, to the
reduction of distance between different families and institutions of
babalawos that exist in Cuba.

The Constitution of the Universal Sisters is the result of an effort
directed as repositioning women in the religious Afro-Cuban and
Afro-American context in Cuba which started nine years ago, when the
Ìranlówo Ifa Temple House (Salvation is Ifá) led by Víctor Omolófaoró,
consecrated with the rank of Iyaonifá, equivalent to Babalawo for men,
the Cuban women Maria Cuesta Ifachina and Nidia Aguila Ifabiola in March
2002, and the Venezuelan Alba Marina Portals Ifayeni in June 2004, who
became part of list of women on the continent led by Patri D 'Haifa, the
first American woman consecrated in New York City in 1985.

For Victor Omolófaoró the consecration of women is justified: because
essential knowledge in Yoruba traditions is received at a great age and
male slaves who arrived in Cuba, because of their youth, did not have
it; because African women arrived on the island with the knowledge
required for performing initiations; because until the third decade of
the twentieth century women existed in Cuba with these characteristics;
for the religious activities of the House that she directs are copies of
the ceremonies performed between 1860 and 1930 in Cuba and those
undertaken by the Yoruba peoples of old; because the initiation
performed corresponds to the international movement of the signification
of women; because they have received visits from several Nigerian
Iyanifa; because Professor Wande Abimbola Awise Agbaye, Ifa Inspector in
the World, makes no distinction between men and women, as both can study
and receive a hand of Ifa through knowledge, study and practice; and
because the spiritual leader of the Yoruba religion in the world, Chief
Awoyemi Aworeni Adisa Mokoranwale, said that women "can undertake Itefa
to be converted into Ìyáonífá or Iyá-awo, a priestess of Ifa …. "

The solo work initiated by the Ifa Ìranlówo Temple House is followed
today by several babalawos of the country and the number consecrated has
risen within Cuba to 58, demonstrating that gender equality within the
Yoruba religion is on the road to consolidation. A fact that recalls
what happened in 1857 with the first abakuá oath of whites in Cuba, for
which Petit (Andrés Quimbisa) was accused as a traitor and of having
sold the secret to whites. Likewise, the consecration of women priests
and the birth of Universal Sisters is an important moment in the history
of African religions in Cuba and of gender equality.

April 11 2011


Cuba to drill oil in Gulf of Mexico

Cuba to drill oil in Gulf of Mexico
English.news.cn 2011-05-28 11:28:56

HAVANA, May 27 (Xinhua) -- Cuba expects to soon start drilling
exploratory wells in the Gulf of Mexico and produce four million tons of
oil and gas in 2011, a Cuban oil industry official said Friday.

"This year the oil production is surpassing the plan," said engineer
Rafael Tenreyro Perez, exploration manager at the state-run company
Cubapetroleo (CUPET).

He said the island nation is extending its cooperation programs with
foreign partners in the Gulf of Mexico and also on land.

Right now, domestic oil production can only meet half of the country's
energy demands, with the rest coming from its political ally Venezuela.

According to official data, Cuba produced about four million tons of oil
and drilled 25 wells last year.


Cuba reduces taxes to stimulate self-employment

Cuba reduces taxes to stimulate self-employment
12:36, May 28, 2011

Cuba's self-employed will enjoy a significant amount of tax cuts as the
government has adopted a series of measures to boost the country's
private economy, the official daily Granma reported on Friday.

The report said self-employed workers hiring between one and five
employees will be exempt from certain taxes this year. Other jobs
including home construction and transportation will see temporary or
permanent tax cuts.

The government has also raised the seating limit in private restaurants
from 20 to 50.

These measures were approved at a recent meeting of the Council of
Ministers to facilitate "the rise of self-employed work as an employment
alternative," said Granma.

Apart from cutting taxes, the Cuban authorities also decided to further
expand the current categories of private jobs, taking in occupations
like insurance agents and wedding planners.

Restaurant owners, landlords, agricultural products sellers, private
taxis and cargo carriers will benefit from these measures.

Cuba has so far issued licenses to 314,538 "self-employed" workers. The
country has a population of 11.2 million.

In October 2010, local authorities approved 178 categories of
self-employment, seeking to find "new ways of working" as the country
decided to streamline the bloated state-run firms to "update" its
socialist model.

The expansion of the private sector is one of the major economic reform
measures proposed by Cuban leader Raul Castro and ratified at the Sixth
Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in April.

Raul Castro stressed at the Congress the need to rectify "old mistakes
that have damaged the Cuban economy for the last 50 years".


Silence is Complicity / Angel Santiesteban

Silence is Complicity / Angel Santiesteban
Angel Santiesteban, Translator: Unstated

Sometimes I suspect that blogging in Cuba is like a scream from the
depths of a cave that is lost in the void without finding any listeners.
The echo comes back to me in an irascible silence, making me
uncomfortable, thinking that outside the cave there are no inhabitants,
we are alone.

The scream simply fades in the air. And we continue to roar in vain. We
only manage to exorcise the impotence of knowing ourselves helpless and
insignificant. The danger of posting is a personal matter, although to
do so signifies, in some way, restoring the Nation to millions.

Death in Cuba is like a card game where the loser is well aware that
given the rules and the ethics he must accept the facts and leave
satisfied. And history doesn't contradict me, and I remember some of the
most significant tragedies:

A tugboat with several families, including children, one in arms, women,
the elderly, is assaulted by another shuttle and with water hoses they
are swept from the deck and thrown overboard to their death by
suffocation. And the official press pays little regard to the incident.

They shoot some teenagers for the crime of attempting to cross the
Straits of Florida, after ticking them and guaranteeing them life,
without the blood splatter.

A man dies of hunger in a dark and dirty cell without the guilty missing
a minute of sleep. Only his name remains in the anniversaries: Orlando

Recently they expelled from the National Assembly, and closed the
workshop of the artist Pedro Pablo Oliva, because he publicly expressed
his personal ideas of democracy, and called for a multiparty system.

In recent days, they beat an opponent in the most central park of the
city of Santa Clara, and hours later he died from the aftermath of the
blows. The news becomes know through the willingness and courage of many
who run at risk for others, and in just a few days, the news is diluted
like a flash on the horizon.

A few hours ago, the Superior Art Institute (ISA), revoked the
registration and grades of the student Henry Constantin, because he
reported in his blog the news of the dissident murdered in Santa Clara.
The young artist decided "not to leave the school on his own two feet."
The government understood it as a direct confrontation at his design,
and nothing more dangerous could happen.

There are several possible sequences of what could happen:

1 – They could assault the student, threaten him, the State Security
officials could abuse him and forcibly remove him from campus.

2 – They could manipulate a group of students disposed to "defy" Henry's
position, and in the end the young, emboldened by official pressure,
will want to punish and beat him.

3 – In any of these variants a fatal accident could happen: a fall down
the stairs, a slip in the struggle and he could receive a serious blow.

I know I'm being tragic but after reading the beginning of this post is
there room for any possibility of naiveté or optimism? Does he have to
endure another abusive attack before it happens? Why more lives to
remember? What will we conquer by allowing them to add more pain to that
we already possess?

The silence of those who raise their eyebrows on reading the horror and
then turn the page, is direct complicity with the Castro dictatorship.

May 27 2011


Bahamian oil firm ready to drill by 2012

Bahamian oil firm ready to drill by 2012
May, 27, 2011 07:25 PM - Reporter (Tavernier, FL)

May 27--In the wake of news that a deep-water oil-drilling rig will
likely be operating off the coast of Cuba close to Key West by the late
summer or early fall, the head of a petroleum investment firm announced
that drilling in the Bahamas could begin next year.

Paul Crevello, chief executive officer of the Bahamas Petroleum Company,
said this month that seismic experts are surveying the prospective
wells, which span about 1,155 square miles of sea floor of the southern
Bahamas. He said that information about the potential oil reserves that
BPC and the seismic companies it hired have gathered so far indicates
that drilling is "imminent."

"These results and newly signed agreements confirm that the company is
progressing well with its exploration program and is expecting to be
drilling in 2012," Crevello said in a May 16 statement to investors.

Original seismic interpretations of recent surveys show multiple
underwater structures with four-way closures up to 75 miles long and
three miles high, Crevello said. He said that the structures have never
been breached and the reservoir and seal remain intact.

"What is most exciting is the scale and the size of the structures we
have been able to map... .," Crevello said. "The structures identified
are similar to supergiant structures of the Mexican fields in the
southern Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East."

Crevello said some of the fields BPC is leasing in its agreement with
the Bahamas could have yields as high as 500 million barrels of oil.

BPC already has an agreement with Norway's StatOilHydro to be the
operators of three of BPC's offshore licenses in the Cay Sal area of the
Bahamas, about 120 miles east of where Spanish oil company Repsol plans
to start drilling off Cuba in September.

That project, which involves a giant, semi-submersible rig built in
China and Singapore, has raised the concern of several U.S. lawmakers,
including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Each vowed to try to stop the project through diplomatic pressure and
legislation punishing companies and individuals doing business with the
Cuban government and its energy programs. [See the related story on Page 5.]

Gas prices down for now

Meanwhile, as talk about offshore drilling heats up, gas prices in the
U.S. have dropped slightly this week. Economists and industry watchers
expect fluctuation as summer nears, but they also say drivers may see
some continued relief.

"Where they go after that is very hard to say," said Frederick Joutz, an
economics professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"There are supply issues and geopolitical events that could raise the
price once again."

According to AAA, the national average price for a gallon of regular
gasoline on Wednesday was $3.81, down from $3.92 a week ago and $3.86 a
month ago. Discount prices in the Upper Keys were about $3.72 a gallon
at press time.

But the price of gasoline is linked with the price of oil, which went up
above $100 a barrel again at the beginning of the week after forecasts
for the price of Brent crude from the North Sea were higher than
expected from investment firms Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

Still, Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman with AAA South, does not expect the
forecasts to impact gasoline prices in the coming months. Where oil
closes at the end of the week on the New York Mercantile Exchange is a
more predictable indicator, she said.

Brady said gas prices are coming down because world economic growth has
slowed and fuel demand is down. Also, the U.S. dollar is strengthening a
bit against the Euro. Oil is priced in dollars, and it goes higher the
more the dollar weakens because of international investors holding other
world currencies.

Mark Isaac, an economics professor at Florida State University, said
drivers shouldn't get comfortable with the lower prices -- or expect
prices to come down much more. The price of oil is always one disaster
away from skyrocketing, he said.

"As usual, there are political and regular economic factors at play.
Right now, the politics is pretty quiet -- Libya is at a stalemate -- so
that's factored in. But politics can turn on a dime on one day's
headline, as we've seen," Isaac said.


Getting Online in Cuba Remains a Risky Endeavor for Most

Getting Online in Cuba Remains a Risky Endeavor for Most
May 28, 2011 at 4:00 am PT

A recent article in the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde described the
"cyber-warfare"being used by the United States to subvert Cuba.

A stylishly-dressed man in his late 20s hawked pirated DVDs and computer
games from the doorway of his apartment in the alleyways of Old Havana.

He is licensed and fully sanctioned by the Cuban government to do so, he
told me, adding that if I wanted a TV show or movie that he didn't have,
he could almost definitely find it for me.

Illegally copied media is not an officially recognized issue in this

Internet access is another story.

When I asked the DVD seller about his Internet-related behavior and
practices, he quickly hushed me up and insisted we move to the other
side of the road to speak.

"Internet? Things here are bad," he said quietly. "They're really bad."
When I inquired about his use of the Web, he shut up completely and
walked back to his booth.

This is a typical story in Cuba, where only a tiny fraction of Cubans
have legally-sanctioned Internet access and many more use a variety of
clandestine methods to log on and connect with the rest of the world.

As of 2010, Internet penetration in Latin America and the Caribbean
stands at 34.5 percent, based on data from Nielsen and the International
Telecommunication Union.

But a recent survey done by Cuba's National Statistics Office says that
only 2.9 percent of Cubans have direct access to the Internet–a number
that includes state and academic officials.

Even for them, it's mostly at work where they can use the connection,
because it can be monitored. The Big Brother treatment extends to the
home, as well, one university professor with a connection in his house
told me.

The key word in that statistic is "direct," though.

In my conversations with average Cubans, even outside of urban centers
like Havana, people showed an impressive knowledge of popular Web sites,
online services and modern hardware.

More than once, as I used it to snap photos on the street, my camera was
correctly identified by cries of "iPhone, iPhone!" by excited children.

So without direct access, how is this information coming through?
Certainly, many Cubans are in regular contact with their family members
in other countries, and some interact with tourists on a regular basis.

But others are finding different ways of getting online in their own

One teenager told me about her friend of a similar age, who set up his
own pirated connection at great financial cost and legal risk.

"It is a big risk, but for him it is worth it," she said. Sometimes she
uses his connection as well, but made me promise not to say a word of
that to her mother.

Individuals with sanctioned and illegal connections alike share them
with other Cubans, a sort of Internet black market. As it is explained
to me, people will offer up their bedrooms or workspaces, wherever a
computer may be set up, as illegal cyber-cafes of sorts–one of many ways
to supplement their universally meager income.

Another journalist who recently visited related her experience in one of
these situations.

"I would go to a home to check my e-mail, and I did it seated on a queen
bed, beside another customer who was also surfing," she said in an e-mail.

Once connected, some of the more daring users will access sites like
Revolico.com, a sort of Cuban black market craigslist, where people can
post classifieds to sell anything from computer parts to cars or apartments.

Private buying and selling of the latter two have been very tightly
restricted by the government, but new laws mentioned at the country's
Communist Party congress last week may change that.

Knowing all of this, I felt a bit guilty when I was easily able to check
my e-mail from the hotel's computer. The price for 60 minutes of access
is about $6.00, a sizable chunk of the average monthly salary of $20.

Considering the intolerably slow connection speed (by American
standards), it comes out to the value of most of a week's work for the
typical state employee for me to find out that AT&T is buying T-Mobile,
shoot off some one-sentence responses to friends and delete a few daily
Groupon offers.

There was some hope for improvement in the country's connectedness when
a fiber optic cable from Venezuela arrived in Cuba in February, after
four years, with nationwide installation estimated to be complete by July.

But state officials have made it clear that, while this cable will
dramatically increase connection speeds and lower costs to go online, it
will only benefit those who are already on the Internet, which includes
foreign businesses, high-ranking government workers, some students and
foreign visitors like me.

To make matters worse, Raul Castro's government has a history of
characterizing the Internet as a means for nefarious capitalists to
corrupt Cuba's socialist ideals, with an obvious focus on the United States.

Most scholars on this side of the Florida Strait agree that the new
cable won't do very much to let Cubans see the rest of the world in any
truer light than what state-run media casts.

But those Cubans I spoke to who even knew about the project were
optimistic. After all, what choice do they have?

I couldn't help but be optimistic for them myself, even as I stood in
the immigration line at Miami International Airport 100 miles away,
lamenting the spotty 3G coverage inside the terminal building.


Cuban Bishops: Country Is Slowly Moving Toward A Democratic System

27-May-2011 -- Catholic News Agency

Cuban Bishops: Country Is Slowly Moving Toward A Democratic System

MADRID, SPAIN, May 26 (CNA/Europa Press) - Two Catholic bishops in Cuba
said the country is moving toward a more democratic system, despite the
continual dominance of a single political party.

"The country is taking steps that are not exactly the same as before.
This is an indicator that we may possibly be heading toward our own kind
of democracy and manner of governing," Bishop Emilio Aranguren of
Holguin said.

Both Bishop Aranguren and Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez of
Havana, made their comments during an interview with the Uruguayan
newspaper La Republica. The bishops were in Uruguay participating in the
33rd General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops' Council.

Bishop Hernandez said that in Cuba "there is still just one political
party, but in this democracy there will need to be different parties."

"And so how do we get there?" he asked. "Five years ago you didn't hear
much from those who had different opinions, and today you do, and the
opinions of a particular person or group of persons are taken into
consideration," he added.

Both bishops said "changes are being implemented in the country, slowly,
but they are changes nonetheless." They pointed to the fact that most
Cubans took Fidel Castro's resignation in 2008 in stride, despite his
more than four decades in power.

Bishop Hernandez also denied that the government has launched a new
persecution against Catholics.

He said there is "more freedom" for the clergy in Cuba. "Of course it
isn't what we would like it to be, we would like there to be more, and
they know it. But we are betting on a gradual process. I think that in
the future the Church will have more chances to be present in those
areas that are part of her mission and that we have requested," he added.

The Catholic Church "is not a political party," but a "servant of the
people," the bishop said. Cuban officials "have grasped the importance
of the spiritual value that the Church has for the people," he said.


Incessant Activism (and Repression)

Incessant Activism (and Repression)
at 11:02 AM Friday, May 27, 2011

Yesterday, the Castro regime arrested 13 pro-democracy activists in the
city of Santa Clara, as they held a peaceful march in honor of deceased
political prisoners.

Amongst those arrested were Guillermo Farinas (recipient of the European
Parliament's 2011 Sakharov Prize), Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez) and
Librado Linares Garcia (one of the 11 political prisoners released
within Cuba last year).

Meanwhile, in the town of Placetas, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera (head of
the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement), was brutally beaten and arrested
along with two other female activists.

Here's an eye-witness account from one of her colleagues, who was
subsequently released:

"Yris was the subject of a brutal beating by a State Security official
known as 'the weightlifter.' Her hands were numb, she was vomiting, had
headaches, dizziness, she's epileptic, has diabetes and asthma. We don't
know where they took her. We don't know if she died, or what conditions
they left her in."

Perez Aguilera's whereabouts remain unknown.

More "reform" you can't believe in.


Cuba: Facts and Realities

Cuba: Facts and Realities


"No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver"
– Spanish saying

(There is no worse blind person than the one who does not wish to see.)

On May 13, Miami newspaper headlines and TV leads should have said:
"Obama makes fool of himself." The "leads" would have referred to his
statement: "I would welcome real change from the Cuban government."

Obama's conditions? "For us to have the kind of normal relations we have
with other countries, we've got to see significant changes from the
Cuban government and we just have not seen that yet."

A clever tabloid might have headlined, "Obama Goes Blind – Can't See
Changes Right in Front of His Eyes!"

If Granma had a sense of humor its editorial would have begun with:
"President Obama stands for `Change we can believe in,' but does not
stand for change Cuba's leaders believe in."

Indeed, changes in Cuba have come fast and furious over recent months,
but apparently Obama has his own definition of the word "insignificant."
Or, maybe his advisers did not inform him that Cuba has freed all the
"political" prisoners it arrested in 2003 and some others as well.

"The bottom line is political prisoners are still there who should have
been released a long time ago, who never should have been arrested in
the first place," Obama said. (Univision May 13, 2011)

Did he ignore the words of his Secretary of State? "Let those political
prisoners out. Be willing to, you know, open up the economy and lift
some of the oppressive strictures on the people of Cuba. And I think
they would see that there would be an opportunity that could be perhaps
exploited. But that's in the future, whether or not they decide to make
those changes." (January 13, 2009, Senate Confirmation hearings)

Did no one inform the President that the United States now has more
political prisoners in Cuba than the Cuban government? Did he not hear
from the government of Spain that they refused to accept nine of the
remaining 46 Cuban prisoners because they had committed terrorist acts?

The President also remained blissfully unaware that he had vowed shortly
after his inauguration to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo where the
political prisoners – more numerous than those held by Cuba – have not
enjoyed even the basic rights of the Magna Carta. Cuban prisoners have
all heard accusations against them, had lawyers and trials. No one at
Guantanamo can claim any of those formal processes.

Obama also ignored the vast economic changes. "The economic system there
is still far too constrained," he told Univision.

Again, his advisors went to sleep at the switch and neglected to inform
him that in agriculture alone, the Cuban government vastly reduced the
number of state farms and simultaneously increased the number of private
holdings as well as the amount of acres individuals farmers can control.
Thus far, the state has turned over 63% of uncultivated lands to the
private sector. By mid May, individual farmers and cooperatives had
received 1,191,000 hectares. (1 hectare + 2.47 acres) And private
farmers now can employ as many workers as they can afford – not allowed
since 1963.

The state also increased the price tenfold for farmers selling beef and
three times for milk. In addition, farmers can now sell more easily to

The state retained price controls on 21 agricultural commodities; all
the rest follow supply and demand. For farmers, access to bank credit
has become much easier; the rates lower.

Oh, people may soon be able to buy and sell homes and cars, and go into
business for themselves in many areas.

Obama, however, is fixated on Fidel. "If you think about it, (Fidel)
Castro came into power before I was born – he's still there and he
basically has the same system when the rest of the world has recognized
that the system doesn't work," Obama said.

Fidel left power in 2006 as we know and ironically Cuba possesses the
only system that still can claim some semblance of old-fashioned
socialism – despite a 50-plus year economic war against it by Washington.

Interestingly, in declaring Cuba's systemic failure, Obama did not
mention the U.S. recession, the double digit unemployment in several
states, the millions of people homeless and hungry, with many more
facing foreclosures and job loss. Indeed, for two centuries the U.S.
economic system has broken down cyclically, and in this best of all
possible systems millions of homeless people stare at vacant homes and
apartments and hungry people cohabit with billionaires. And this
well-working system does not suffer from having on its economic throat
the boot of the largest economic power – as Cuba endures.

Is Obama's word frivolity simply a product of the perfect system's
rhetorical demand at pre-election time? After all, only a year and half
remains before the next presidential contest and the "Miami-Cuban vote"


(CINEMA LIBRE STUDIO – distributor).

Nelson Valdés is Professor Emeritus, Univ. of New Mexico."


Cuban political prisoners in Spain threaten hunger strike over treatment

Posted on Saturday, 05.28.11
Cuban dissidents

Cuban political prisoners in Spain threaten hunger strike over treatment

Former Cuban political prisoners say Madrid has not kept promises it has
By Juan O. Tamayo

Three former Cuban political prisoners and 15 relatives living in
northern Spain are threatening a hunger strike unless authorities
resolve the "chaotic" conditions of their exile, complaining that they
fall short of the welcome promised by the Spanish government.

"They are treating us like simple immigrants," said Erick Caballero, one
of the more than 100 political prisoners freed by Cuba over the past
year after they agreed to go directly from jail to the Havana airport
and flights to Madrid.

Spain's Socialist government promised a broad range of benefits to the
former prisoners and nearly 900 of their relatives, but many have
complained that they were all but abandoned once they landed in Madrid.

The latest complaints came from Caballero, who arrived April 8 and along
with two other former political prisoners, 15 other adults and six
children were sent to a Spanish Red Cross migrant reception center in
Torrelavega, in the northern province of Cantabria.

Caballero said he and the 17 other adults will launch a hunger strike if
authorities cannot resolve their complaints. "Their care for us has been
chaotic," he told El Nuevo Herald by telephone.

He said medical care has been difficult — a woman who was treated for
cancer in Cuba and now has pains could not get a doctor's appointment
until next year — and some of the new arrivals have not been able to
attend job seminars because there's no money for transportation.

The promised pocket money of 49 Euros a month, about $70, was not
delivered until last week, Caballero added. The 177 Euros promised for
clothing has been delivered to only some of the newly arrived Cubans.

The food at the refugee center, a converted maternity hospital, has been
awful and its activities are highly regimented, he said.

"I came out of a high security prison, and here they have a schedule for
everything — bathe, eat, go out, watch television," said Caballero.

El Nuevo's efforts to speak with the director of the refugee center were
unsuccessful, but Spanish government officials have previously
acknowledged delays and other problems with the benefits for the Cuban
arrivals and blamed them on the country's economic crisis. The
unemployment rate stands at well over 20 percent.

Caballero was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison on
charges of "enemy propaganda" and damaging state property. He left Cuba
on the chartered airplane that flew the last of the freed political
prisoners and their relatives — about 200 people in all — to Spain.

The release was part of an agreement by the Raúl Castro government,
announced by the Cuban Catholic Church last summer, to free a large
number of political prisoners. The Spanish government agreed to take in
any prisoners and relatives who wanted to leave the island.

Caballero said Spanish authorities in Cuba gave each of the former
prisoners and relatives a long document titled Process for Receiving and
Socially Integrating Persons Seeking International Protection, which
laid out the government's promises and the exiles' duties.

Each family was then assigned to one of three non-government
organizations that provide benefits to refugees — the Spanish Red Cross,
the Spanish Catholic Association Commission for Migration and the
Spanish Commission for Help to Refugees.

But the head of the Red Cross migrant center in Torrelavega did not know
about the government promises, Caballero said, until he showed her the
document. Her center does not have the resources to meet the promises,
he added.

Complaints from previous Cuban arrivals had grown so harsh that when
Caballero's jetliner landed in Madrid, his group was kept away from
waiting reporters and put on buses that took them to refugee reception
centers, most of them far from the Spanish capital.

Former political prisoner Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina said he wound up in a
Red Cross shelter on the outskirts of Malaga where his toothpaste and
deodorant ran out last week and there's been no money for a haircut
since he arrived.

Rodriguez said he thanked the Spanish government for taking him and his
family out of Cuba and did not want to appear ungrateful, but added that
since arriving he has faced "bureaucratic hell."

"If the Spanish government did not have the conditions, because it faces
an economic crisis, I don't understand why it made a deal with the Cuban
dictatorship to send 1,000 persons to a place where there are no jobs,"
he added.


Cuba new view on gays won't save it

Posted on Friday, 05.27.11

Cuba new view on gays won't save it

It's official. More than 300 Cubans, most of them homosexuals, marched
recently against homophobia through the streets of Havana. In a
180-degree turn, Castroism abandons the tired anti-gay bigotry. To Che
Guevara, champion of "social engineering" and "the New Man" this opening
would have been terrible news.

The announcement that the revolution canceled the old practice of
persecuting and punishing homosexuals came from Mariela Castro Espín,
the second daughter of Raúl Castro and Vilma Espín. In a world that
professes respect for individual freedoms, the news was well received.
It was about time! Mariela, like her uncle Fidel, likes the publicity
but she, unlike her pathologically cruel uncle, used her influence to
put an end to those decrepit revolutionary prejudices.

The reality is that what Fidel preached is reduced every day. Nothing is
saved from the sinking. Everything falls apart. What Fidel needs to say
before his expected and very slow death is that he was wrong and that
Marxist socialism is a colossal disaster. I doubt it. That would be
asking too much of the tyrant who dispensed misery and terror in equal

To Fidel, homophobia was a trench, an almost impregnable one, until he
realized that in the 21st century it was a bad advertising reference for
his deteriorated world image.

Now that Mariela's pro-gay march has taken place, Fidel does not want to
be reminded of the project of "social engineering" or any mention of Che
Guevara or his plan to create "the New Man." Let us now erase that page
of history. Because when it comes to erasing pages from history the
Castros are very efficient. Maybe that's one of the few things the
revolution does well.

For thousands of Cuban gays, however, the rectification of the
homophobic error comes half a century too late. As in the case of the
UMAP (Military Units for the Support of Production), where the project
to re-educate homosexuals reached levels of extreme cruelty.
Rectification came late, very late, for Reinaldo Arenas, one of the best
writers of his generation.

In Reinaldo Arenas we can synthesize the tragedy of gays in socialist
Cuba. The novelist did not conceal his sexual orientation. But to Fidel
Castro, Ramiro Valdés and Che Guevara, owners of a pathological
homophobic obsession, the revolution had no tolerance for homosexuals.

Che, the icon of tourists' T-shirts, was certain that an atmosphere of
masculine toughness and discipline would transform gays into heroic
soldiers of his international wars.

Reinaldo Arenas did not want to be — in Che's words — "a cold killing
machine." He was a pacifist, hedonist and writer. In the popular film
Before Night Falls, Javier Bardem stars as Reinaldo Arenas and manages,
with his masterful performance, to reenact the painful experience of the
great writer in the Cuba of the Castros, where his gay rebelliousness
landed him in jail.

When, after terrible abuse, his jailers threw him on the street, Arenas
hid in Lenin Park. Always hidden, he wrote and survived until one happy
day the Mariel boatlift occurred and he escaped from "paradise." In
Cuba, the most ferocious phobia against homosexuals continued unabated.
It took 50 years to recognize the error.

The writer faced prejudice, understood that there is no paradigm for the
future and that rebelliousness demands more risk and valor than
submission. As Arenas would say: In Cuba there is much to change!

Pedro Roig, a lawyer, is senior adviser at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies of the University of Miami.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Without One Vote Against / Iván García

Without One Vote Against / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated

When Castro says that Cuba is the most democratic country in the world,
I am uncertain if he is being serious or it is black humor. I can
understand that a lifelong guerrilla, fiercely opposed to the capitalist
model, does not appreciate at all the system of representative democracy
in the Western world.

But from there to setting up a series of institutions, silent and
obedient to the government, where the three branches of State are
controlled by one person and to tell us that this is the only true
democracy, confirms to me that all autocrats have that pathological
mania to appear as democrats.

A dictator should state clearly that he is going to rule until his
death, because he considers himself a superior being. Or because he does
what the hell he wants.

I'm sick of the lies. Perhaps true democracy does not exist. In
countries where universally accepted laws operate and human rights are
respected, failures occur in bulk, but people shout what they want
against their government and no one will look at you with a mean face.

Also, there are independent courts and parliament is like a madhouse,
where everyone disagrees with the package of measures released by the
president. That's what I mean by a democracy.

In Cuba, when the Castros talk nobody can go against them. Publicly, no
one has ever been seen raising their hand to tell the comandante that he
is pondering a load of nonsense.

On the island, everyone is wrong. The infallible are the Castros. If
things in Cuba are crooked it's not by their misrule. No, the 'guilty'
are the negligent workers and certain talentless ministers.

General Raul Castro wants there to be disagreement. But when they end
their speeches and the president of the dull and monotonous Cuban
parliament asks the members whether they agree with the words of the
leader, everyone, absolutely everyone, raises their hand.

I will believe in the Socialist democracy, as advocated by the regime in
Havana, when you see a negative vote.

March 21 2011


Cuban Newspaper Vendors Party / Iván García

Cuban Newspaper Vendors Party / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated

In these April days while the communists of the government party met for
four days in the Palace of Conventions, to the west of Havana, newspaper
vendors had a party.

Bartolo, a nearly blind old man, doubled sales of Granma that he offers
every morning in the dirty doorways of the Calzada 10 de Octubre.
Azucena, a thin lady with frog eyes, also is smiling again. He sold some
150 newspapers a day, three times what she usually sells.

The paper selling business offers meager profits. All these old people
get up at 4:30 in the morning, just as the prostitutes and pimps start
going to bed. After standing in line for three hours, they buy fifty
Granmas and an equal number of Rebel Youth.

They buy them at 20 cents and sell them for a peso (a nickel on the U.S.
dollar). They usually have clients who pay 40 or 50 pesos a week (almost
two dollars), for them to put the morning papers under their doors.

That's not the end of their suffering. Under a blazing sun, they walk
daily between 5 and 10 kilometers to sell 100 copies of the boring local
news. If they sell them all, at the end of the day will have earned 70
to 75 pesos. And believe me, they have to work miracles.

The Cuban press is pure lead. A pamphlet in the style of Pyongyang.
Therefore, to sell a hundred papers every day they have to call on their
ingenuity. In bad times, when baseball and news of interest is
distinguished by its absence, these old men put all their skills into it.

In July 2010, when Raul Castro negotiated the release of political
prisoners with the Catholic Church and the then Spanish Foreign Minister
Miguel Angel Moratinos, the vendors cried: "Hey, the abuse ended. The
political prisoners aren't going home. They're off to Madrid."

In their effort to boost sales that even invent news. Many people on the
island do not read newspapers and they just buy Granma to read the TV
schedule or the sports page.The sheets also are used to wrap garbage or
for toilet paper.

So to call out a striking headling is the hook so people don't pass by
without putting a paper under their arm. And the news of the Sixth
Congress was a good excuse to increase sales.

On Sunday, April 17, there was no way to find a paper in all of Havana.
Some vendors were offering them at three pesos. They loudly announced,
"Elections are coming to Cuba, within ten years," or "Elections for
president every 5 years," or "Starting tomorrow, sales of houses and cars."

Bartolo prefered to shout a more complete title: "Don't wait to hear it
from others, find out for yourself, elections in Cuba, Raul Castro
retires in 2021. The Yankees have nothing for us to envy."

People flocked to buy Granma. At the bus stop, readers wondered if the
ten years that the General announced as a maximum time to stay in power
started in 2008, when he took over the country, or at end of the VI
Congress. It did not matter.

The important thing for all these poor elderly Cubans was not the 'good
news' they hawked, it was the winning streak they were one over the four
days the Congress lasted.

The first day of the event, Bartolo 'went to bed' early. After 12 hours
of walking and shouting out newspapers, he eats, for 20 pesos, a boxed
meal with rice and black beans, yucca and pork steak and drinks almost
two liters of rum bully. When it got dark, he prepared cartons that
serve as his bed in a doorway of Calzada de 10 de Octubre. Until
tomorrow. Good night and good luck.

April 22 2011


Smoking causes 17 percent of annual deaths in Cuba: expert

Smoking causes 17 percent of annual deaths in Cuba: expert
Posted 12:28 AM ET

HAVANA, May 27, 2011 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Smoking causes 17 percent of
annual deaths in Cuba besides heavy economic losses to the state,
according to a local expert here Thursday.

Alfredo Duenas, chief of Preventive Cardiology at the Institute of
Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery, said that the "addiction takes
away 10 years of remaining life of the smokers."

Duenas said that a third of the Cuban adult population smoke, "which is
a hindrance to the development of the nation".

"The dire consequences of smoking, besides diminishing quality of life,
have significant impact on health and economic costs to the individuals
and to the country's budget, due to illness and the expense involved,"
he said.

He said that "85 percent of Cubans are exposed to cigarette smoke in
public and private spaces."

Cigars and snuff production is one of Cuban main industries, but the
national anti-smoking campaigns are intense and smoking is banned in
most of public places.


Cuba announces tax breaks

SA Time: vrijdag 27 mei 2011 22:39:47

Cuba announces tax breaks
May 27 2011 at 06:02pm

Cuban President Raul Castro gestures while delivering a speech on
economic reforms on December 18, 2010 in the National Assembly (Cuban
Parliament) in Havana.

Cuba has announced new measures to spur the island's push into private
enterprise. The government is instituting a moratorium on payroll taxes
for small business owners and loosening limits on the size of private

Under the new guidelines published Friday, anyone who hires between one
and five workers will not be subject to any payroll taxes during 2011.
The measure applies to all small business owners, but is likely to have
its greatest affect on private restaurants and cafes employing waiters
and cooks.

The government also says it will allow such establishments to serve up
to 50 diners at a time, up from the 20 that had been permitted previously."


U.S. company launches Cuban document service

U.S. company launches Cuban document service

After a one-year test run with dozens of customers, a
Massachusetts-based company officially launched a service to obtain
documents from the island.

Cubans living in the United States and Spain often need birth, marriage
or death certificates for immigration and citizenship purposes, or to
apply for a Cuban passport. Beyond mobilizing family and friends in
Cuba, formal options for document retrieval are limited.

Although the process of finding a document in a local civil registry and
getting it legalized by the Cuban foreign ministry can at times be work
intensive and time consuming, Havana Journal Inc. is offering its
service at a flat rate of $495 per Spanish-language legal document.

Customers can order a document via the Internet, but nearly everything
beyond that in the three- to eight week-long process is manual. Cuba has
not even begun to digitize its civil registries; clerks fill out most
forms by hand.

Rob Sequin, who owns the media company, says he works with a network of
associates in Cuba. Arguing his business model is proprietary, Sequin
declines to reveal information about how many people work for him in
Cuba, and how he pays them. He only said that it takes "a pretty
extensive network of associates in Cuba to physically visit the many
civil registries across" the island.

"Our associates are trained to understand the system and are very
efficient in their work, even if the Cuban government is slow or
uncooperative," Sequin said. "Our customers do not always know where
they were born, so sometimes we have to visit several civil registries
to find the records." It takes "a shorter time if we have good
information and records are in a city, longer if we have limited
information or records are out in a rural area," he added.

The setup complies with regulations of OFAC, the U.S. agency in charge
of enforcing sanctions against Cuba, he says, adding that an attorney at
Miami law firm Akerman Senterfitt has confirmed the legality of his setup.

"We did not ask, apply nor require any approval from OFAC," Sequin said,
asked if he received explicit OFAC approval. "Our attorney reviewed our
proprietary document retrieval process, and he deemed it to be compliant
with current regulations."

After fronting a $25 application fee, customers are not asked to pay in
full until they receive a scan of the requested document, as proof of
retrieval. Once fully paid, the legalization process for the document
begins at the foreign ministry. There is added cost for documents if
translation by the Cuban government or delivery to a foreign embassy in
Havana is required.

Sequin's company also operates three dozen Cuba-related Websites,
including news site Havana Journal, and owns the rights to 2,500
Cuba-related domain names.