The New Cuba

Jauretsi on Cuban Affairs, Youth Culture, Music, Art… and everything in between

Big change is afoot in the area of Cuba investments. Normally, this is an area relegated to non-Cubans or foreign investors who are unemotionally linked to the Cuban Revolution.

(The Fanjul Family)

Early February, Sugar Baron tycoon Alfonso Fanjul (no relation to this blog) is the first major Cuban businessman (US Resident with a Spain passport) to stand up and speak out about his desire — and willingness — to consider investing in Cuba. This is akin to a Cuban “coming out of the closet” metaphorically. It is something many Cuban-Americans have considered, but have not had the courage to speak aloud. Of course this has caused an earthquake with the more conservative Cuban bretheren who refuse to engage in any island activity until both Castro’s are gone and the nation has transformed into fully democracy.

What made this old-school cat change his beliefs 100% from his previously unprogressive manner of thinking? A healthy visit to Cuba awoke the sleeping giant. Alfonso, also known as “Alfy” took a trip to Cuba in April 2012, then another in Feb 2013. He was so touched and taken aback after an approximate 50 year absence, that he chatted with everyday folks on the streets of Havana, and eventually all the way up to Cuba’s foreign minister. He also toured state run farms and checked out a sugar mill. In essence, he feels that if every other country in the world is checking out Cuba for future investments, then why shouldn’t his family, who had previously lived in in Cuba for 150 years pre-revolution. How can one argue that sentiment? I’m certainly not mad at him.

Here’s the statement that got him into hot water with the conservative right…
“Now, would we consider an investment at some later date?” says Fanjul to the Washington Post. “If there’s an arrangement within Cuba and the United States, and legally it can be done and there’s a proper framework set up and in place, then we will look at that possibility. We have an open mind.”

Alfonso Fanjul.jpg
(A Younger Mr and Mrs Alfonso Fanjul at Taboo, the Palm Beach Post)

The reason I believe hardliners are angry is because Alfonso could be a “game-changer” to shift popular opinion, both with US Policy makers and within the Cuban-American power circles. Everyone follows a leader, and Alfonso is one of the kings in the scene. Before this change of heart, he was known as a major funder of Anti-Castro movements. He’s also close to members of Congress and the Clintons. Of course this is a swamp of moral issues considering the lack of human rights on the island, the restrictions of freedom of the internet, the lack of free assembly, and many more injustices that the caribbean nation must answer to before dealmaking. It seems, however, that Alfonso has found himself a seat at the negotiation table, and will be an interesting chess piece in the game of Cuba/US policy. It’s the role of a lifetime, and he is grabbing his seat at the table with grace.

Alfy’s narrative harks back to his youth, beginning with the emotional journey of a young boy who fled Cuba after having his family’s Sugar Cane fields taken from the family. He spent a lifetime rebuilding the sugar empire in a new country. Last year, he finally returned to the motherland at the age of 76 years to face all his old demons, only to embark on this profound healing process in the 3rd Act of his life. Above that, let’s not forget, Fanjul is a businessman. The lure of Havana’s gradually opening market poses challenges in this new world. It is also a chance to visualize bringing his family’s flag back to the native soil. It is this mission that lights up this mans heart with high voltage. I look forward to discovering what projects this soul-searching individual has cooked up within the next few years in Cuba, despite all the slings and arrows he will receive from Cuban conservatives. He is part of a growing consciousness of elder Cuban-Americans contributing to the solution, not the problem.

“Do I have a soft spot in my heart?” he says to Washington Post. “Yes, that’s my country. My interest is finding a way to unite the Cuban family. When you talk with people and hear them, it humanizes. Talking is the first step.” We’ll be watching, Alfy.

Read the full article on Alfono Fanjul in the Washington Post.

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MARIA BACARDI album copy copy
(Maria’s album stash from her mothers pre-Revolutionary record collection)

2 weeks ago, I invited Maria Bacardi to the Sugar Barons Show. Born in Cuba in 1957, Maria Bacardi left the island as a young child to be brought up and educated in Europe. On the show, Maria surprised me by bringing her mothers old vinyl (pictured above), the same albums she witnessed her mother weep over for years in her youth. Yes, the records came from Pre-Revolution Cuba, to exile in Spain, then new York — 55 years later.

We played 3 songs I believe. We talked about how it is time to reconcile with Cuba, to release the wound, the pain, the anger while working towards a new day with our brothers on the island. Then the show ended, Maria hopped in a New York taxi. As she stepped out of the car, she mistakenly forgot the record bag. I felt a sharp panic when Maria first told me she lost her mothers albums, and haven’t stopped thinking about them for 2 weeks, and where they drove off to.

Yesterday I also received more news. Maria Bacardi’s mother just passed away peacefully after a very long illness. RIP Elena Gomez del Campo Bacardi.”If I know her well” writes Maria, “she has already started to organize a major dancing party in heaven”. Yes, I add, “with good rum”.

P.S. Maria is also passionate about supporting theater. Her first album, Deseo (2013) is rich in standard covers, so of course I had to ask Maria to sing Beny More’s “Como Fue” acapella in the studio. Good times.

Listen to the original podcast here:
Sugar Barons Show: Guest Maria Bacardi

To listen to additional shows/guest, visit Sugar Barons Radio.

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Curated by Adam Kvasnica, some of the songs on this mix features tracks by Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band & Danay Suarez, Obsesión, Harold Lopez Nussa, Cuban Jazz Combo, Danay and more…

One of the producers of this Gilles Peterson album is Edgar Gonzalez, who recently appeared on the Sugar Barons show and brought some of his own remixes to play on air (expect that podcast posted on this site soon).

Danay Suarez, another singer who appears on this mix is the voice behind the closing credits song on East of Havana (an acapella doowop track played against a sunset kissed Malecon drive).

Havana Cultura Mix

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During broadcast hours, all TVs in Cuba are on, no matter if they are being watch or just serving as background noise. Simone Lueck is a Los Angeles based photographer originally from St. Paul, Minnesota who visited Cuba and captured TV culture, for better or worse. The photo essay is a hardcover 80 page book.

The actual television sets are outdated relics imported from America or Russia close to twenty years ago. Convulsing static pictures in off-color hues, the sets are jury-rigged with computer parts and other discarded technological talismans; they are adorned like religious altars.

In her words:

It happened by chance. In 2000, I tagged along with a good friend on a two-week trip to Cuba. I took my 35mm camera and a bunch of film. The first thing I noticed in Havana was that the city was dark at night. There were no streetlights, porch lights or living-room lamps. It was pitch black except for the faint colorful glow spilling out of open doors everywhere, and it came from the TVs. The light captivated me. For the next two weeks I wandered around, slipping in and out of strangers’ living rooms. Each time I came across an open door and a TV set, I asked if I could take a picture of it. The answer was always yes. Nobody seemed to think it was an odd request and it was usually accompanied by a Cuban coffee or rum.

To purchase the book, visit

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Im posting this information from the Freedom House website because the topic of Internet in Cuba is one of the most debated in my conversations. This data covers last year’s freedom of the press report (the 2012 report is being edited now and not yet ready).

Here is the information:

Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media outlets and allows free speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.” Article 91 of the penal code imposes lengthy prison sentences or death for those who act against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy imposes up to 20 years in prison for committing acts “aimed at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system.” Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are firmly under the control of the executive branch. Laws criminalizing “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorized news” are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. Insult laws carry penalties of three months to one year in prison, with sentences of up to three years if the president or members of the Council of State or National Assembly are the objects of criticism. The 1997 Law of National Dignity, which provides for prison sentences of 3 to 10 years for “anyone who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy’s media,” is aimed at independent news agencies that send their material abroad.

In July 2010, the Cuban government promised the Spanish government, the Cuban Catholic Church, and the international community that within four months it would free the 52 prisoners, including 20 journalists and editors, still held since the 2003 crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism known as the “Black Spring.” By the end of the year, 17 journalists and editors and most of the other of the Black Spring detainees had been released. The Cuban authorities forced the released prisoners to leave the country in exchange for their freedom. They were immediately flown to Spain in a Cuban effort to marginalize opposition groups. Three journalists and several other dissidents involved in this case remained in prison at the end of the year, having refused the government’s offer of exile. While the release was a relief for journalists and their families after years of suffering, the gesture did not signal fundamental changes in freedom of expression for all Cubans, and the laws under which they were jailed remain in place. The U.S. government and some European leaders publicly stated that Cuba was moving in the right direction by releasing the prisoners, but the European Union (EU) decided to maintain its 1996 Common Position toward Cuba. The 27-nation bloc turned down Spain’s request to withdraw the doctrine, and continued to link improved European-Cuban relations to Havana’s progress on human rights and democratization.

Journalists continue to be at risk of imprisonment or other severe sanctions if they engage in independent reporting or commentary. In a different case, Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet of the independent news agency Habana Press remained in prison at the end of 2010. He had been given a three-year sentence imposed in May 2009 for disrespect and distributing enemy propaganda.

The government owns all traditional media except for a number of underground newsletters. It operates three national newspapers, four national television stations, six national radio stations, and one international radio station, in addition to numerous local print and broadcast outlets. All content is determined by the government, and there is no editorial independence. Cubans do not have the right to possess or distribute foreign publications, although some international papers are sold in tourist hotels. Private ownership of electronic media is also prohibited.

Approximately 15 percent of Cuba’s population accessed the internet in 2010, but in most cases, they were connected to the government intranet and not the internet proper. Many citizens have access only to a closely monitored Cuban intranet, consisting of an encyclopedia, email addresses ending in “.cu” used by universities and government officials, and a few government news websites such as that of the newspaper Granma. Outside of hotels, only a few privileged individuals have a special permit to access the international network of the World Wide Web.

The regime threatens anyone connecting to the internet illegally with five years in prison, while the sentence for writing “counterrevolutionary” articles for foreign websites is 20 years. However, the authorities do not have the means to set up a systematic filtering system. This forces the government to count on several factors to restrict internet access: the exorbitant cost of connections—about US$1.50 per hour from the points of access to the state-controlled intranet, US$7 per hour from a hotel to access the international network (the average monthly salary is US$20)—and infrastructural problems, particularly slow connections.

Despite these restrictions, there is a small but vibrant blogging community. Bloggers in Cuba have yet to be jailed for their work, but they often face harassment and intimidation. Independent Cuban blogger Laritza Diversent claimed that the trials that characterized the crackdown in 2003 have been replaced by extralegal harassment, including official summonses and arbitrary detentions, and social and cultural marginalization. Some, such as Yoani Sanchez, have also been prevented from travelling abroad to receive awards for their work.

Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 30
Political Environment: 34
Economic Environment: 28
Total Score: 92


(Image: Originally published in another article for the The New York Times entitled Cyber Rebels in Cuba Defy State Limits)

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Raul Castro has been announcing reforms the last 2 years (although they are still bureaucratic and not easy to follow through on). First it was allowing for property sales, then entrepreneurship was offered. Todays latest announcement is about the freedom to travel.. one of Cuba’s biggest issues.

According to NY Times:

The Cuban government announced on Tuesday that it would terminate the exit visa requirement by Jan. 14, possibly letting many more Cubans depart for vacations, or forever, with only a passport and a visa from the country where they plan to go.

Cuba’s doctors, scientists and other professionals, who have long faced tight restrictions on movement, might be held back as well because the new policy includes a caveat allowing the government to limit departures to “preserve the human capital created by the Revolution.”

According to blogger Yoani, the cost of a Cuban passport will nearly double, to just over $100. And yet, the new migration law also gives Cubans latitude to stay abroad longer, letting them remain outside the country for two years, and possibly longer, before losing their rights to property and benefits like health care — an increase from 11 months under the current policy.

Could this be another 93 Rafter exodus (approx 30,000 cubans headed to US shores on rafts), except this one will have a flock of local Cubans scrambling to leave? Countries like Mexico and Spain are bracing themselves for further Cuban residents looking for a new life.

If anything, it will allow for a more circular flow back and forth with Cubans now. Because the new law will let Cubans live abroad for two years, they could obtain American legal residency, which takes at least a year, without giving up their rights in Cuba.

To read the entire story, visit Cuba Lifts Much Reviled Rule, The Exit Visa published for The New York Times.

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