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Readers of Granma in an Angry Struggle Against Retailers

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

by Laritza Diversent

Readers of Granma, the official daily publication of the Communist Party of Cuba, are requesting real action against the sellers of various household items, one of the self-employment categories most in demand by Cubans.

J.C. Mora Reyes, this last Friday, complained about the lack of governmental action to repress it, in the Letters to the Editor section on June 8. According to the commentator, along with the denunciation, the retailers have crossed a line: “What was sneaky before and supposedly ignored, now is known.” However, he asserted that “everything stays the same, thereby encouraging transgressive tendencies as something quasi-normal.”

“I’ve read, heard, and given many opinions about the resale of articles commercialized by the State with inflated prices formed only by the law of supply and demand and the pretense of innocence by those who should and are obligated to protect the consumer,” commented J.P. Granados Tapanes, in the same section.

The weekly section in Granma, in less than one month, published around 10 opinions of readers who were against the retailers. The majority of readers think these people are not self-employed and accuse them of strangling the economy for those who are working.

According to official data, before expanding and creating flexibility in the types of self-employment in October 2010, the sector constituted approximately 87,889 people, 0.78 percent of the population. Presently there are 378,000, and it is hoped that the number will grow to 500,000 this year.

Right now the category of Contracted Workers is the one most requested by Cubans. Next comes Producer-Seller of Food, Transportation of Cargo and Passengers, and Producer-Seller of Various Household Items (retailers).

“It’s sad to see how all types of merchandise, in many cases subsidized by the State, and other things that come from outside in hard currency, are for sale publicly at inflated prices with self-employment licenses,” comments J.P. Granados Tapanes.

Legislation prohibits self-employed Cubans from selling industrial articles acquired through established state networks. It also requires them to market their own products exclusively, with the possibility of freely setting prices.

Grandos Tapanes called the self-employed cuentapropistas “workers by means of extortion” and held them responsible for “the deterioration in the ability of any employed Cuban, no matter what his economic level, to buy things with his salary, which is worth less all the time.”

The solution for these retailers is a wholesale market, where they can acquire merchandise in quantity and at lower prices than those offered to the population in retail markets, only the ones legally recognized by the authorities. This is a problem that, according to the recorded guidelines approved by the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, will be worked out before the end of 2015.

According to Mora Reyes, public denunciation doesn’t have any effect when “there exists tolerance, procrastination, inability, expediency, or defections on the part of the authorities in the application of energetic measures” against these demonstrations.

According to the reader, to go on the offensive is not something to be taken lightly. It’s “a pressing responsibility from the moment in which you become conscious of a situation incompatible with human dignity. Acting is better than talking,” is the conclusion.

There’s no doubt that the government’s inactivity in the face of these denunciations converts this section of the only daily newspaper into a national tirade. It airs complaints and laments without giving any solution, in the style of the accountability of the municipal delegates. However, the cuentapropistas are worried about the influence that these opinions could have on the upper echelon of leadership.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

June 25 2012

OMNI-ZONA FRANCA Back in Cuba After Touring the U.S.

June 27, 2012 1 comment

by Yaremis Flores

Amaury Pacheco del Monte, coordinator of the cultural project, OMNI-ZONAFRANCA, returned this Wednesday to Havana after an artistic tour that included several cities in the U.S.

Invited by the group of contemporary art, Pirate Love and Links Hall, the Center for Independent Dance and the Art of Performance, the alternative group shared its talent in festivals, concerts and universities, together with Cuban and North American artists. During their stay they were invited to local radio and television programs.

“We were on television shows and on the news on Channels 41, 51, and Radio Marti,” said Amaury, who confessed that “until this moment I didn’t understand the importance of a minute on television.”

“In the recording studios we felt at home, surrounded by Cubans almost the whole time, especially in Miami. But we also shared time with Cubans in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New Orleans. It was a fantastic experience. We were well received, and people accepted our art,” said Amaury.

One of the things that made the most impact on the leader of the project was the diversity in the U.S. “We met every type of person with different views. After this experience, today I feel changed,” he pointed out.

“I was surprised to meet Cubans who live there and their kids, who have never visited the island but have been brought up in the Cuban tradition, eating bread with guayaba. They feel they are Cuban, without being in Cuba,” he added, moved “by the separation that our people suffer.”

OMINI-ZONAFRANCA today constitutes the vanguard of alternative Cuban art. Its coordinator anticipated future projects “to continue working on Poetry without End, acknowledging ourselves through our artistic work and creating bridges among Cubans in every part of the world.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

June 25 2012

Story of an "Occupation"

March 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Yaremis Flores.

The coordinator of the Cultural Project OMNI Zona Franca, Amaury Pacheco del Monte, is a dreamer. He fantasizes he can offer his family a comfortable life. He’s far from juggling enough to meet the needs of his six small children. His family suffers from the housing shortage on our island, and on top of that, from institutional and human indolence.

Four months ago Amaury illegally occupied an apartment in the capital district of Alamar. He broke into a building that had been vandalized and used by lovers. The apartment was empty for years, but it was requested by several neighbors who lived stacked on top of each other, or who had serious health problems and needed an apartment like that one, on the lower level. Amaury lived in subhuman conditions, like other Cubans, even if, according to the Constitution, everyone has the right to adequate housing.

The maxim that your best friend is your nearest neighbor doesn’t have as much force today. The neighbor upstairs sleeps peacefully, without turning the passkey that could supply water to the new tenants. He refuses to do it until ordered by some authority.

Weeks pass without access to water or electricity. Institutions like the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women and Social Workers have made an appearance, each like a poor student who goes to school just to be present. They appear unfazed by the shortage of essentials. The Neighborhood Council also remains deaf and dumb before these events.

“Representatives of some agencies advise me to say that they already went through here if someone checks; they take notes as proof and go away,” points out Iris Ruiz, Amaury’s wife. “I won’t accept a bureaucratic response,” she says, with her newborn daughter in her arms, who, asleep, seems oblivious to what is taking place.

One of the most famous phrases of our National Hero, José Martí, comes to mind: “Children are the hope of the world.” It’s ironic to see a family that has contributed to the already marked birth rate in our country unable to find a solution to their problem.

The General Housing Act offers some ways to solve cases like this. One is to facilitate the status of squatters so they become renters, with the possibility of purchasing the home and paying the set price.

I believe in the popular saying “if you want it enough, it can happen.” However, Amaury’s family awaits a favorable ruling by the lazy officials. Not out of pity, but because of their duty to uphold the law.

Translated by Regina Anavy

March 8 2012

"Occupy" in Havana

March 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Yaremis Flores.

On the periphery of Havana, in the Alamar district, cases of illegal squatters in unoccupied buildings are proliferating. The Government and the Municipal Housing Division (DMV), the entities in charge of solving the problem, are simply targets for the numerous complaints and pleas of the population.

“You’re not on the list of priority cases, there are people worse off, and they haven’t committed an offense like you,” said Rita, president of the Alamar Government, to Iris, on Thursday Feb. 9, in an interview, together with the DMV Legal Subdirector.

Iris Ruiz, the wife of the OMNI-ZONAFRANCA coordinator, and her 6 small children, occupied the apartment 4 months ago, Number 1 of the Building E-83, Zone 9 Alamar, where they currently live without water or electricity. Her family was declared an illegal occupant by Resolution 1608/2011, which establishes that “in 2004 the house was confiscated, after the definitive exit of the owner, who went to the U.S.”

“It’s uncertain that the house was confiscated,” said Iris. “The Director of the DMV told me that the apartment is not included in the housing stock. After 2004, two people lived there. One of them is still on the records of Betty, the president of the CDR, even though they abandoned the country more than 5 years ago.”

“They left this apartment ruined, while other people needed it,” Iris added. Neighbors say a DMV inspector visited the site several times with apparent illegal buyers for the property.

“Rosaura, a neighbor of this building, has a son who had a heart operation, and she lives together with 10 people; Estela, a neighbor at Building E-79, has a paraplegic daughter and needs to live on the ground floor. These are two of the parties who tried to get the unoccupied apartment. The Government’s response was negative, because “the apartment is already taken.”

Who gets priority? Iris wonders.

According to the President of the Government of Alamar, at the municipal level no institution has the power to assign housing. Since 2006, this function has been the responsibility of the Provincial Government. “Only from me can you get an apartment, since our mission is to combat illegal behavior,” Rita warned Iris, after showing her the extensive list of squatters, waiting for eviction by the authorities.

Yaneisy, known as “the Twin,”already has lived through the experience of an eviction. She’s had a social-work case-file in the Alamar DMV for 16 years. Some time ago, she illegally occupied an apartment. “They evicted me with my 2 young children and put all my belongings on the street. They told me I should go back to my place of origin: a 2-room apartment, where 12 people were living together,” she said.

The housing shortage is a sad reality that increasingly affects a larger number of Cubans. Those scattered around by the usual shortage can’t afford to pay monthly rent for housing, let alone buy a house, whose prices don’t invite optimism.

Translated by Regina Anavy

March 6 2012

Friends

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

I was a little busy at the end of the year, but I did not forget you, and I want to take advantage of the first post of 2012 to wish everyone the best for this year – health, prosperity and happiness – and especially to all Cubans who follow my post, I hope we achieve the freedom we so much desire.

I also want to thank you for the strength and encouragement you give me in your comments. You have allowed me to see different points of view. Even though I can’t exchange comments with you, I like them, although I’ve never seen your faces or heard your voices. Thank you very much.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

January 5 2012

Behind the New Changes

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The new housing regulations in force struck down part of the laws that prevented Cuban emigrants from disposing of their homes before leaving the country permanently. But it left in force Law 989 of December 5, 1961, which requires permission to enter and exit, and the confiscation of property for this reason.

Before the recent measures were approved, it was rumored that this law would be removed from the Cuban legal system. However, only the rule that supplemented it was repealed; its application was still permitted.

The National Housing Institute, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, through Joint Resolution No. 1/2011, repealed the resolution issued August 22, 1995, which made effective the implementation of Law 989/1961, and which was intended to prevent someone from avoiding confiscation and disposal of property before leaving the country.

Why would they leave in effect a law that has lost all meaning? With the new changes the State could confiscate a home if the owners have not disposed of it before emigrating. Nor does it make sense to keep the law, because it imposes on Cubans the need to get permission to enter and exit. The current Immigration Act and its regulations impose and regulate the manner of obtaining such permits.

Nevertheless, rumors continue to spread about the approval of a new immigration law by the end of this year. If that happens, perhaps Law 989/1961 will be expressly repealed. It’s rumored that they might extend the length of stay abroad for two years. Right now Cuban residence is lost after one is absent from the country for 11 months and a day.

The more enthusiastic say that where there’s smoke there’s fire, a popular saying among the islanders. Personally I am not so optimistic. It’s hard for me to believe that the government would give up its control over emigration so easily.

On one thing there is no doubt: Law 989/1961 will pass into disuse. Perhaps it will be repealed tacitly. However, in the Cuban legal system, a law that is not expressly repealed remains in effect. A law that governs by tradition.

The problem is a possible backlash. In 1993, the State, with the coming of the Special Period, allowed the rise of self-employment. In 1997 they began restricting licenses for self-employment, which were eliminated in October 2010 with the new regulations for this sector. Uncertainty refuses to abandon us.

There is also no doubt that the changes that have occurred and those that are rumored to come are good and hoped for by the Cubans. The problem is that their adoption and permanence depend solely on the will of the political class, which is entering into a period of general elections in 2012.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than that, a strategy to increase the level of acceptance of the Communist Party of Cuba among the population. It’s not by chance that it’s happening in the second half of the first term of the head of state and government, and the First Secretary of the only recognized political organization governing the country, Raul Castro Ruz. Maybe it’s a simple coincidence, but I don’t think so.

Translated by Regina Anavy

November 29 2011

The New Legislation on Buying and Selling Property Has Been Published

November 3, 2011 3 comments

The Government has just published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba, the legislation that authorizes the purchase and sale of private property.

Download here.

Translated by Regina Anavy

November 3 2011

It Won’t be Easy for Cubans to Buy or Sell Houses

August 6, 2011 1 comment

Photo: Havana House, drawing by the Canadian, Alicia Bedesky

A few days ago, the newspaper Granma announced that by the end of 2011, Cubans would be able to buy and sell homes. Despite the buzz caused by the news – according to the announcement, the steps for conveying property legally would be more flexible – many people still have misgivings.

According to the newspaper, “the payment of the price agreed upon between the parties will be made through a bank branch.”

“I don’t like that. It seems strange that they’re now making it so easy,” says Manolo, 40, who works filling cigarette lighters. He distrusts the requirement to open a cash account at least for the buyer, and adds: “What worries me the most is having to justify the money.”

The government only recognizes as legitimate income from employment, remittances and inheritances. “How do I show the money my brother sends me through ‘mules’ or one of those private agencies that are not recognized by the government?” asks Manolo.

Indeed, for those who can’t certify the legality of their inflows of money, there is the risk of being prosecuted administratively for unjust enrichment, because the state can presume that the deposits are the result of theft, diversion of state resources or activities on the black market.

In these cases, they confiscate homes, cars, bank accounts, etc., acquired over a period of time that may be prior to when the inherited wealth was verified, which allegedly enriched the individual and the close relatives who can’t justify the legal origin of their goods.

Moreover, taxes are also on the list of concerns of those who are obliged to create a bank account to buy a home. The seller must pay personal income tax, while the buyer has to pay for the transfer of property.

And the tax rates make people uneasy. On the black market, real estate is priced in convertible pesos. The price of a stone house with a room, kitchen and bathroom, located on the outskirts, can run between 5,000 and 6,000 dollars in hard currency. In local currency, by which taxes are calculated, it would be between 125,000 and 150,000 Cuban thousand pesos.

The more anxious analyze the situation by comparing it to the taxes on private businesses. “If someone who by the sweat of his work makes more than 50,000 pesos has to pay a 50 percent income tax, can you imagine how much it will be for selling a house?” commented the clerk at a privately-owned cafe.

The transaction, undoubtedly, will eliminate tax evasion, but not fraud in the affidavits. It appears that the relaxation of bureaucratic regulations in the sale of housing will not eliminate “the manifestations of illegality and corruption,” as Granma says. And the government waits.

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Translated by Regina Anavy

August 4 2011

Logic, Absurdity and Socialism in Cuba

June 5, 2011 1 comment

Logic passed through Cuba. He was curious about how socialist democracy worked, but full of doubts. He asked everyone he saw, and only Absurdity could give an answer. “Why have the decisions of a political party been so decisive in the life of an entire people?” was Logic’s first concern.

“The Sixth Communist Congress,” Absurdity began his explanation, “discussed the final draft guideline of economic and social policy of the Party and the Revolution, to update the Cuban economic model and ensure the continuity and irreversibility of socialism.”

“The continuity of socialism as a system must be decided by all the citizens,” interrupted Logic. “So why does a political party of nearly 800 thousand members decide the issues to be discussed and what should or should not be reformed? Were they elected by the people”? he asked.

“The Party does not participate in the elections, but it’s the driving force of the State,” answered Absurdity. “In this country we have made it clear that we will defend ourselves, if necessary with arms. Only socialism can overcome difficulties and preserve the gains of the revolution,” Absurdity affirmed.

“Does this mean that the Communist Party has more power of decision than the National Assembly, the body that represents and expresses the will of 11 million Cubans”? Logic inquired. “Don’t look at it like that,” replied Absurdity. “Look at it as the Party of the people.”

“So Cubans themselves decided to require permission to enter and leave their own country, and that only foreigners could have private businesses on the island, and that their own involvement in the economy would be limited to running tiny little stands and kiosks?” asked Logic. “Yes, it’s so,” said Absurdity. “We all decided to sacrifice ourselves for the Revolution and Socialism.”

Logic continued investigating. “As I have understood, now the National Assembly must transform into law the decisions adopted by the Communist Congress,” he commented. “Yes, that was the recommendation of the Party,” reaffirmed Absurdity. “So the Party commands and the Assembly obeys, without asking the people?” Logic asked.

“In fact, Cubans were consulted about the guidelines. For your information, they were analyzed by a little more than 8 million participants, and 3 of them spoke in the debate, a real lesson in democracy,” Absurdity commented.

“But you just told me that the Party isn’t a body elected by the people,” Logic again interrupted. “So in order for there to be institutions, there has to be a referendum. Logistically a popular referendum is a waste of resources, which, in the historic moment we are experiencing, we cannot assume.”

“To our historic leaders, it seemed more necessary to invest such efforts in a parade where we showed our military arsenal to our enemies. Many are those who want to destroy the Revolution and socialism, so only they have the experience to decide what is best for all,” explained Absurdity.

“This is democracy?” Logic asked in amazement. Absurdity frowned and looked cross. Logic understood that he shouldn’t continue asking questions. Something told him that he never would understand Absurdity’s explanations, much less his reasoning, about how socialism worked in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

May 30 2011

The Official Press, a Sedative for Change

May 22, 2011 Leave a comment

By now we’re used to the newspaper Granma, which excessively highlights one piece of news and omits another. Of course, it’s the official organ of the government and the Communist Party, which owns it and therefore decides what is reported and how. However, it’s difficult to accept the fact that the media is used to propagate the culture of fear and repression.

Looking for information on receiving satellite signals and antennas, I found in the Official Gazette of the Republic, which publishes Cuban laws, one order of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers (CECM) and two from the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) regulating the issue: Resolutions Nos. 98 and 99 from 1995, and Decree No. 269 of 2000.

The rules consider it a violation to import, manufacture, sell or install equipment, antennas, accessories and other devices for receiving radio communications from space, among which are included television signals, as well as broadcasting them.

The regulations provided for administrative fines of 1000 pesos for individuals and 10 to 20 thousand for companies. However, several newspaper articles from Granma informed the public that the fines were 10 to 20 thousand pesos, without specifying. The figures applied by MIC inspectors, at their discretion, could be for either an individual or a company.

The most characteristic work of Granma was the article entitled “Piracy of Satellite Signals” by the journalist Lourdes Pérez Navarro, in August 2006. The reporter revealed how, inside the island, the illegal broadcasting of foreign television programs was developed, the national standards that they violated and their harsh punishments.

According to the journalist, the customers for the business of broadcasting foreign television signals receive “spaces with an avalanche of commercial propaganda that displays the appearance of capitalism, anti-Cuban messages and even pornography.”

She even gave a political-ideological touch to the matter. “In the case of Cuba, part of the programming that is received in this way contains destabilizing content, which is interventionist, subversive and which calls, increasingly, for carrying out terrorist activities,” she said.

Three years later, through those alien television signals, Cubans watched as Amaury Pérez  acknowledged that in Cuba “there is no freedom to have an antenna” and ” … thousands of justifications for not having Internet.”

They picture Pérez saying on Cuban television, “I have an antenna” like he did on the program “To the Point” from the television network Univisión, during his trip to Miami in the last quarter of 2009.

The singer admitted having brought it in from Mexico. “… I installed it even though it was one of the larger ones, not so small. At that time nobody had any idea about the antenna, but I … television for me is very important,” he said. Amaury did not say whether he had permission to use the service. What is certain is that he could see it in Cuba thanks to the illegal reception of signals.

Pérez Navarro claimed that “the broadcasting of satellite programs, technically known as a multipoint distribution system through microwave,” was authorized as a telecommunications service with a limited character.

In other words, in Cuba, only expressly authorized companies can distribute and enjoy the service, people who are given permission by the MIC to be users. The journalist also omitted that the service was coded and intended mainly for tourism and the diplomatic corps.

Pérez Navarro usually covers the “Issues of Law” section in Granma. The article also reported that the piracy of signals “… violates agreed-upon international regulations of usage” and commits “a chain of crimes and administrative violations, which call for severe sentences under various laws and judicial norms.”

She masterfully exposed all the crimes involved in the case. She began with smuggling, which carries penalties of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and fines between 15 and 50 thousand pesos. According to the reporter, tourists and Cubans living abroad were bringing receivers and cards into the country, in violation of customs laws.

“We have detected that another way to own antennas has been the pilfering of such equipment or accessories from persons authorized to provide the service,” she said. In this case, she warned that this was committing the “crime of theft or robbery with force” and another of receiving stolen property, for whoever acquired these things on the black market.

She mentioned other crimes: “illegal economic activities,” by providing the service without a license, aggravated by the use of materials from the black market. “Speculation or monopolization” by purchasing merchandise for resale, and “Damage,” when “electric and telephone poles are disabled or transmission is broken by relocating the cables.”

She also warned that administratively there are “heavy fines and confiscation for the transgressors….The broadcasting of satellite programs requires a license granted by the agency of control and supervision of the Ministry of Information and Communications, an entity that has inspectors with the full authority to impose fines and confiscate equipment when violations are detected.”

In her article she quoted verbatim the contravention referred to in the articles of Decree-Law No 157 of 1995, another of the rules governing the matter, which states that “the amount of the fines to be imposed … shall be determined by the Minister of Information and Communications.” But she distorts the information when she gives the figure for the amount of the fines, as set forth by Resolutions 98 and 99 of that Ministry.

“A fine could be imposed of from 10 to 20 thousand pesos in national currency, or its equivalent at the official exchange rate in convertible currency, besides other administrative confiscation as an additional measure without the right of compensation or any payment,” Pérez Navarro said in her article.

She further reported that “according to Decree Law No. 99, inspectors are empowered to raise said fine up to half of the maximum (10 thousand pesos more), which could mean imposing financial penalties of up to 30 thousand pesos.”

For the finishing touch, she said: “For some, the illegal distribution of satellite television programs has become a form of unjust enrichment, which comes under Legislative Decree 149 of 1994, and they will be deprived by means of confiscation of substantial possessions that do not correspond to their perceived salaries and that they cannot justify.”

Pérez Navarro finished her report stating that “the work of persuasion of the masses” was essential “to eradicate this practice at once to support authorities charged with enforcing regulations for those who with absolute irresponsibility violate the law.”

I confess that my mouth fell open, with Pérez Navarro’s report. That regulatory clarification did not promote the observance of the law, but rather the culture of fear and repression among Cubans. I won’t dedicate even a single sentence to denounce the MIC and its inspectors, for violating the law and defrauding the public. Not to mention that to do its work they violate the citizen’s right to a home, a constitutional right.

The official press knows they have the power to dictate what is right or wrong, what to see, hear and read, and who to obey, through the dissemination of information. However, it doesn’t dare question the politics of exclusion and repression that ithe government implements through its socialist legality, for the people it promised to serve. In other words, it’s the sedative of change.

Translated by Regina Anavy

May 6 2011

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