Havanatur Will Take You

Foto: Katerina Bampaletaki

Photo: Katerina Bampaletaki

Not since those trips to socialist countries in the 1970s and 1980s have Cubans had the opportunity to travel on their own as tourists. Not only will the new emigration reform allow this, the government plans to take advantage of it.

Havanatur, currently part of the Ministry of Tourism, will be the authorized agency for packaged tours. I do not know if the fraternal ALBA countries will be available as one might hope, but Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, or at least Cancun, are some nearby destinations.

Some travellers could also experience a kind of déjà vu if they returned to Russia to revisit familiar places once again. They would not find the interminably long lines to see if Lenin is more greenish or less glowing now that he enjoys the privacy that every corpse deserves. I do not know if any other destinations are planned. Perhaps China or Viet Nam?

Most will travel as a way to unwind, but without intermediaries they will, in due course, come to know another reality. It all depends on having hard currency, and as the old CIMEX* slogan goes, “Havanatur Will Take You.”

*Translator’s note: CIMEX stands for the Cuban Export-Import Corporation, Cuba’s largest commercial corporation. It is involved in finance, international and domestic trade, real estate, tourism and other businesses. It operates Havanatur, which has had a monopoly on travel from the United States.

January 25 2013


The Technique is the Technique

Regina, 3rd from left, proudly showing off her certificate from the MMS training

The phrase, attributed in Cuba both to Stevenson and Savon, the complete super greats of Cuban boxing, is my compass, my alpha-omega, my real reality since I deal with hardware, software, platforms, all to become technologically literate, struggling to reach the sixth grade.

Whenever I face something new — in this area, and that’s every day, and I, for my part, also find something worthwhile every day — my first reaction is to be stunned. I don’t understand anything, if it’s explained to me I forget it immediately, I am afraid to do something on my own and mess everything up. In therapy to overcome my inferiority complex, I have become a student of manuals, a watcher of video demonstrations, there is no instruction booklet I haven’t examined with a magnifying glass to read how to put the Ariel font in six-point type. It’s ironic because with this aura of knowledge, young people come to me for help, which gives me a tingle of insecurity: of losing the respect of those I try to help, and facing my own ignorance and affecting them.

When I already think like that, imagine last Friday when I got a double challenge: My cellphone debut and I also had to activate MMS to connect my Twitter account with TwitPic, the application for images. I spent a 10 CUC car and a little more (every MMS costs. 2.30 CUC [about $2.50 U.S.]), and I would have continued had a not received a very nice text message, I don’t know from whom: “Congratulations, Please, do not try to send any more Twitpics, you already sent the same photo three times.”

So my training ran between pride and embarrassment. Me? I’m not saying if the technique is the technique.

January 21 2013

Clarifications Regardless of the Intent of an Article

Many people who don’t know Cuban could have read this article* by a Frenchman who presents himself as an expert on Cuban issues, which encouraged me to offer some clarifications about what can be done with money in my country, information that I have first hand for being a Cuban who lives in Cuba, where the dual monetary system has resulted in a national currency called “national money” and known by the acronym CUP**, which is deeply depreciated, with salaries which are paid in it insufficient, and the other which is the equivalent of hard currency, known as the Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC**, which is the currency required for almost all products and services.

To ride in a private taxi known as “almendrones” — after the “almond” shape of the old American cars used to provide this service –implies accommodating yourself to the fixed routes that these collective taxis travel. If you go from Marianao to Central Havana, it will be 20 pesos, but if you go to Alamar is will be twice that because you have to transfer to another car, and if this simply trip is after ten at night, the fare doubles again.

If you want or need a home, you should start by inheriting it or building it. Rental housing is a rarity among Cubans, and even if the tax is rent in CUP, the agreement between the parties takes the CUC as a reference, and one-bedroom apartment goes for about 100 CUC.

At the risk of overwhelming my readers, I want to comment on the foods mentioned in the list, because you should know, as the expert does not clarify, that in Cuba the same food can have four prices: The price of food in CUP in the subsidized basic food basket at the ration stores, the market price for the same food not in the ration stores in CUP or its equivalent in CUC, food on the market in CUC only, and last, but not least, the food offered in the black market.

The products in the first group delivered through the ration book for each consumer are:
Soft bread at 5 oz. (per day); and monthly per person rations of 10 eggs, 1 lb. chicken, 1/2 lb. of chicken instead of fish (last year there was no fish), 1/2 lb. of “mincemeat” made from soybeans, 1/2 lb. sausage, 5 lb. kg. rice, 1/2 lb. beans, 5 lb. white sugar and 1lb. turbinado sugar, 2.1 lbs. of spaghetti, 4 oz. of 50% blended coffee and 1 cup of vegetable oil. Children under the age of three receive compotes, up to age seven a quart of milk, and up to age thirteen a quart of soy yogurt. (Sorry if I have not been accurate in converting pounds to kilos, but foods are sold by the pound, and make not my forte. [Note: the translator has converted them back to pounds.])

This monthly allowance costs a little more than 1 CUC. I invite my readers to do the simple exercise of physically checking of these foods to better understand what comes next.

Once the subsidized food runs out, you have to go to the market governed by supply and demand, where the prices vary drastically. As the production is not abundant, either because of so much idle land or because of droughts, cyclones of the Blockade, rice that costs less than 1 CUP here costs 8 CUP for two pounds; grains are more than 24 CUP for 2 pounds, and if you don’t have a child under seven, no matter how much money you have, if you want to drink milk you have to pay for it in hard currency, with a tetrapack of one quart costing 2.40 CUC, or 1.20 CUC for a can of condensed milk, or 1.60 CUC for evaporated milk, or 5.40 for a pound of powdered milk.

As an unrepentant coffee drinker, I know that a cup of “mixed” coffee (with peas or other fillers in it) at any kiosk costs one CUP; a fiction of coffee, a fake; if you want coffee-coffee, you have to pay 3 CUC for the cheapest ground coffee. I’m not the same with alcohol but there is nothing more agreeable than a beer with Sunday lunch, a luxury I only allow myself two or three times a year, because a beer costs 20 CUP or 1 CUC.

But where the gentleman who wrote the article is most greatly confused, is in the price of proteins, so coveted in Cuban because of their scarcity, despite being frowned upon in the modern diet.

Pork, the most consumed and “economical” costs 50 CUP for two pounds if you buy large pieces because in small portions it costs up to 80; eggs are sold at 1.50 CUP or at the equivalent of 8 CUP in hard currency stores.

I do not dwell on the price of other foods because to explain what I can and can’t buy exceeds my patience and would exceed yours. Meanwhile, the cost of electricity if going up; it’s 9 cents only for the first 100 kw, and in my house with three people, with no appliances other than the refrigerator and the heater in the shower, we use 220 kw a month, which is around 60 CUP.

The article, designed to denigrate a well-known figure, manipulates data, with ignorance or malice, which casts a shadow on the credibility of the writer, to use his own words.

Translator’s notes:

*The link in Regina’s post does not work so we have not been able to confirm the article she’s talking about, and will not, therefore, speculate about who its likely author is. 

**The monetary values relative to the U.S. dollar are approximately $1.10 per CUC and 24 CUPs to one CUC.

January 18 2013


The day of implementing the travel and immigration reform has arrived. Some, with their bags packed, are now lined up at the immigration offices to get their passport “enabled.” At the embassies, the same thing. Now, getting the visas will be the mess.

The government should ask itself once again how it didn’t think before about the gain surrounding the promulgation of such a law: the illusion that “you, too, can have a Buick” (if you’re too young to remember ask your granny); the income in convertible currency with the mindset of Ochín — the little Japanese who earning more earned less — decompress, and above all… above all… pressure the enemy.

I thought they would have thought about all this, those who were given the task of returning this tiny little parcel of violated rights to the citizens. I thought they would have thought it, but not said it. A difference from other countries where governments can ask forgiveness for the blunders of their predecessors that they had nothing to do with; here for more than half a century the government remains the same, and to ask forgiveness is asking too much.

The newspaper Granma has published articles somewhat amnesic articles lately, blaming the U.S. government for the politicization of the issue and the failure of the migration agreements.

But I was astonished on Saturday while watching the TV program The Law — which specializes in legal themes — address the famous migratory reform, responding to questions from the public.

Before a case “raised” and later after an allusive dramatization of the case, they declared to the “viewer” that, in effect, with the new extension of the time a Cuban could remain abroad from 11 months to 24, someone could remain in the United States for the time required to establish themselves under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and then, with their American residence, return to Cuba without losing their rights as a Cuban citizen. As we know, in our journalism, they don’t improvise.

January 14 2013

Incense and Myrrh


Yesterday, while enjoying my coffee in the morning, the children bustling outside reminded me that it was ‘Three Kings’ Day.” It has been a while, for my husband and me, since the suffocation of making this day happen for our son came to an end. Memorable for me, because I believed in the Kings for a long time, but also felt for my husband who, from having been so poor, knew they did not exist. In Rafael’s case, his 2nd Grade teacher decided to cut off this illusion for the entire classroom.

Yesterday, the children got new toys, but without being thankful to Melchior, Caspar or Balthasar. Powerful daddies gave their children Xbox, battery-operated cars, bikes, and the list goes down to the common rubber balls and the pseudo-Barbies from the ’Everything for $1.00’ stores.

Except for street-vendors of plastic toys such as small cars or furnitures for dolls and for the slow circulation of certain toys that eventually are sold in Cuban pesos instead of CUC, buying toys in CUC is a problem, especially since what were charmingly called “the basic,” “the non-basic,” and “the additional rationed toys,” disappeared, and even toys themselves  for a time. Yet, in the past few days you could see children in toy stores choosing their presents and taking them home, especially on the eve of the 6th.

But, what about the ’Kings?’ Those were forced into exile along with Virgin Mary and Mickey Mouse when we began building Communism.

Mickey Mouse made a comeback in the cartoons pirated from Disney Channel. Virgin Mary came back, invoked by atheists in recent times. Even the birth of the son of the Virgin got his holiday, a concession by Pope John Paul II. However, the star of Bethlehem turned out to be a scientific supernova.

The Three Kings have become a sort of urban legend. There is talk about a cavalcade by the Kings a few years ago; you hear that this year they appeared in some parts of the city. I do not think this ban comes from Santa Claus, this chubby man omnipresent since Christmas has no longer been categorized as an ideological deviation. The Kings do their magic clandestinely, since the effort to dissipate them began with the invention of a Children’s Day, many months away from January 6th.

While disguised, the old traditions loom shyly, without the charm of the grass and water for the camels.

Translated by Chabeli

January 7 2013

The Numbers for 2012

The statistics keepers for WordPress.com prepared a report about the year 2012 in this blog [the Spanish version].

Here is an extract:

Some 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog has been visited about 330,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would need around 6 years for everyone who looked at it. Your blog had more visitors that a small country in Europe!

Click to see the complete report.

January 4 2013