Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fidel Castro: Cuba's Self Criticism

Below is an excerpt from Fidel Castro's latest editorial. In it he bemoans the "irritating ineequalities" that have arisen in the wake of the 'special period' as a result of 50% or more of the population receiving dollars (or convertable pesos), while 50% receives only pesos. Dollars in Cuba provide an opportunity to buy many non-subsidized Western consumer goods because they are bought and sold in international market prices.

While we are on self-criticism, check out an exceprt from a new 'harsh' Cuban documentary about the migrants of Eastern Cuba to Havana called Buscándote Habana (Looking for Havana). It is an isse Fidel addresses frankly in a recently translated excerpt from Ignacio Ramonet's book Cien Horas Con Fidel (100 Hours With Fidel).

But I thought Cuba did not permit complaints (let alone award them at film festivals). Here is Fidel's latest missive:

Not all workers receive the incentive of convertible pesos, a practice that became generalized in a large number of companies during the Special Period, without always fulfilling the minimum committed requirements. Not everybody receives convertible currency from abroad, something which is not illegal but which at times creates irritating inequalities and privileges in a country that does its utmost to supply vital services free of charge to the entire population. I do not mention the juicy profits being made by those who transport people clandestinely, nor the way they would fool us by changing the US bills into other currencies in order to avoid our response measures against the dollar.

The real and visible lack of equality and the lack of pertinent information gives way to critical opinions, especially in the neediest sectors.

In Cuba, without a doubt, those who some way or another receive convertible pesos –even though in these cases the sums are limited –or those receiving currency from abroad, also acquire free essential social services, food, medicines and other goods at extremely low subsidized prices. However we are strictly fulfilling our financial obligations precisely because we are not a consumer society. We need serious, brave and conscientious managers.

Those using up gasoline all over the place with our current fleet of vehicles of all kinds; those who forget that the prices of food increase sharply and that raw materials for agriculture and industry, many of whose products are distributed to all at subsidized prices, must be acquired at market prices; those that forget that the country has the sacred duty to struggle until our last drop of blood and must spend money for raw materials and defensive measures faced with an enemy who is permanently on guard, they can compromise the independence and life of Cuba. We cannot fool around with that!



Blogger jsb said...

Havana - Before the police raid, the Perez family paid $7.56 per month for a DirecTV window on the world.

Daniel, a literature major at the University of Havana, watched the Chicago White Sox on ESPN. His mom, Marisel, never missed an episode of "La Fea Más Bella" (The Prettiest Ugly Girl), a popular Mexican soap opera on Univision. And Daniel's younger brother was an avid fan of the VH1 music videos.

Now, they are stuck with four Cuban TV channels - and two of those are devoted to educational programming.

"Cuban TV is boring.... There isn't much variation," says Daniel Perez (who fears arrest, so asked that his family's real name be changed). "I like being in the loop, knowing about the newest trends and feeling like I'm in touch with the world."

Having a satellite TV, cellphone, or Internet connection at home is illegal for most Cuban citizens. But that hasn't stopped the spread of such services on the black market.

Pedro, a young underground entrepreneur, gets his nightly news from Channel 23 (Univision), "because Cuban TV doesn't give me unbiased coverage of world news.... But neither does American news. So I watch both and compare them."

Pedro, who requested his last name not be used, estimates that 90 percent of his neighbors get satellite TV service. "That business really started to accelerate about a year ago," he says. "All of our neighbors know about [it] but nobody talks about it. The woman who lives below me is the president of the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution] and even she has cable television."

But in recent months, the Cuban government has stepped up efforts to curb this booming underground industry. Two months ago, the police raided Pedro's neighborhood early in the morning. They blocked off the streets, climbed on the rooftops, and began cutting cables leading to the satellite dish, he says.

"My neighbor started making hand signals at me from the window of his house that the police were here and to take down my cables," says Pedro. Although Pedro escaped detection, he decided to remove his cable connections permanently for fear that the police would discover his illicit CD-making business. As for his neighbors, "Two days later, people were already putting up their cables again."

Mauricio Barroso, a telecommunications official in the Ministry of the Interior, says that 37.6 percent of households in Havana were connected to the service when the police began the raids in March. By early May, one set of raids had netted a significant amount of coaxial and neoprene cable, three satellite receptors, five satellite dish antennas, 43 signal amplifiers, a computer, and five LNB (low-noise block converters), according to the government-run newspaper, Granma.

The Cuban government is also levying multi-tiered fines and jail sentences on satellite TV providers. According to Granma, signal distributors were slapped with fines of 10,000 ($450) and 20,000 ($900) Cuban pesos and jail sentences of three to five years. Users of the service were fined only 1,500 pesos ($67.50).

Mr. Barroso says that illegal satellite TV service in Cuba has been around since the 90s, "but people gain access to the service much more easily now.... The service is much more affordable. That's why it's increasing at such a rapid rate. For the service to build up to the levels of '93, it took three years. Now, they [the service providers] fill up half the city in three months."

In Daniel's neighborhood, the satellite TV guy is a 6-foot-4-inch tall Afro-Cuban named Alberto. He declined to give his last name. Two gold teeth glint as he smiles and explains his fee structure. He charges a one-time connection fee of 10 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) or about $11, and 7 CUC ($7.56) a month for service. In a good month, with 300 households in his neighborhood as clients, he rakes in up to 2,000 CUC ($2,160). He still has a legal $15 per month income as a truck driver. He keeps this job in order to keep a low profile. By Cuban standards, Alberto is wealthy.

When Alberto started his business four years ago, he had to shop for a satellite dish antenna, a receiver, an access card with the correct code to capture the signal, a signal amplifier, and cable on the black market. He distributes the satellite signal from his single dish antenna to his neighborhood through a spider web of cables over the rooftops. There's a catch, however. Everyone on the network has to watch the same channel that the satellite dish owner is watching. Alberto does an informal survey of his customers to find out what they like to watch. His programming schedule includes telenovelas from Univision and Telemundo, movies from HBO and STARZ, popular talk shows such as "Don Francisco Presents," and the variety show "Sabado Gigante."

But the average official monthly wage in Cuba is only $15. How can Cubans afford this service? Many have illegal businesses and relatives living abroad (mostly in the US). According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, an estimated $812 million were sent to Cuba in the form of workers' remittances in 2006 alone.

Pedro, for example, gets $100 a month from his brother in Washington, D.C. His second source of informal income comes from the sale of pirated copies of CDs produced with a computer from his brother. "In two days, I make what a Cuban doctor makes in a month. That's how I am able to pay for a cellphone and satellite TV service," says Pedro.

In May, the government-run media reported that satellite TV is part of a US plot to overthrow the Cuban government. Mayra Espina, a researcher at the University of Havana, says that may be an overreaction. "Watching 'La Fea Más Bella' is not an act of opposition against the state. It is not a political attitude. It is a phenomenon of free time."

Despite the recent crack down, satellite dishes continue to pop up on roof tops. "If there is censorship," says Alberto, "There is business."

* Daniel Palacios contributed to this story from Havana.

4:37 AM  
Blogger leftside said...

Thanks for the off topic posting (that I read last week).

It is a fine piece of journalism, excpept for the minor point that it totally ignored the fact that the US Government has a contract with Direct TV to broadcast US Government propoganda via TV Marti into these satellite dishes. This move was followed 2 months later by the first crackdown.

We have seen the way these propoganda channels have been criticized for their lack of balance and irrelevance and we also know the way the channels are used whenever a crisis begins to brew on the island (we saw the result once with the Mariel boatlift). Not to mention the tranmissions violate US anti-propoganda laws.

So the satellite watchers, who were largely left alone before, can blame the US Government for their troubles.

(from the first Herald link above) Just two months after the U.S. government announced it would transmit TV Martí, its anti-Castro propaganda channel, on Direct TV -- which Cubans can watch with banned satellite dishes -- Cuban authorities appear to be going after the illegal signals with a vengeance.

1:23 PM  
Blogger jsb said...

I'm sure you'll blame the crumbling architecture on the embargo, even though Cuba EXPORTS concrete to Venezuela.

This is what YOU'VE done to Cuba. People like you who've supported this dictatorship have made it a hell hole. History will not be kind to you.

5:12 AM  
Blogger jsb said...

More on cuban censorship here:

“We’re not afraid,” said Berta de Los Angeles Soler, 43, whose activist husband, Angel Moya, is serving 20 years in prison. “How can we be afraid they will put us in prison if our husbands and relatives are already there?”

5:22 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home