Thursday, February 07, 2008

In Havana

Are things really changing in Cuba?

Those of us looking in from the outside have been asking that question for 18 months or so, following the unexpected announcement last July that Fidel Castro was “temporarily” handing over power to his (slightly) younger brother Raul due to serious health problems.

From where I am, I can see little if any change. Then again …

According to this BBC report, one of the Castro regime’s most senior apparatchiks has just copped an unprecedented hammering from students during a question-and-answers session held at the Computer Science University – one of the regime’s educational showpieces.

It involved Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the rubberstamp parliament and a favourite of the foreign media, who was peppered during the discussion with plenty of what are euphemistically described by the BBC as “difficult questions”.

Like, why are ordinary Cuban workers paid by the State in pesos when they must purchase many essential goods in State-owned stores that only take convertible pesos?

And why are Cubans barred from freely using the Internet? Why are those few who are lucky enough to get access to the Internet then banned from using Yahoo? Why are Cubans barred from staying in luxury hotels, even if they have the money? Why are these hotels reserved for foreign tourists?

If the questions seem explosive (in the Cuban context, of course), the responses and evasions by Alarcon are nothing short of gob-smacking.

In a clear reminder of what happens to politicians in an totalitarian state who are never challenged and lose touch with their supposed constituents, Alarcon seems totally out of his depth, flailing like a half-dead fish.

He fails to answer most of the questions, saying they are “economic issues” (you bet they are!), or that he is “ignorant” about the Internet. And when he answers, his responses are laughable.

Responding to a question on why Cubans are not allowed to travel freely, he tells students that “if everyone in the world – all six billion people – were allowed to travel wherever they wanted, imagine the traffic jams in the sky!”. In any case, he adds as a form of justification, that “not many Bolivians get to travel overseas”.

Significantly, someone in the audience appears to have made and then leaked a recording of the event. You can watch bits of it here (in Spanish).

H/T Penultimos Dias


Blogger Walter Lippmann said...

The NUMBER ONE reason why Cuba has limitations on internet access is that the United States government refuses to allow Cuba to purchase internet access through the fiber optic cables which already exist under the Caribbean.

Cuba is forces to purchase internet access FROM THE UNITED STATES, by the much slower and much more expensive satellite system.

You might have an issue if Cuba had an equal right to purchase Internet access as other countries do. But that's not the case.

Cuba has plenty of problems, as any Cuban will tell you if you go there, but Washington's blockade is the biggest of all problems Cuba faces.

I travel to Cuba regularly and work in their dialup environment. If Cuba could have real internet access, there could be an even more vibrant debating culture than they have now.

1:10 am  
Blogger Lori said...

Excuse me Mr. Lippman, but the fact that Cubans have to purchase items in a currency which is not the one they're paid in, is not the cause of the EMBARGO. The fact that Cubans are not allowed to stay in hotels within Cuba, is not caused by the American EMBARGO(not blockade!). The fact that Cubans are not allowed to travel freely, is not the cause of the EMBARGO.

If with this retoric that you've written you try to take the focus from the fact that Mr. Alarcon had absolutely rediculous answers to the students' questions, you have not been successful. His answers and the Cuban government's position towards the Cuban citizens is abusive and is only the fault of that government and no other governemt can be blamed.

4:12 am  
Anonymous Nausea said...

Lori, I sympathize, but it's no use casting pearls before swine. It's futile and demeaning.

As for Alarcon, that oily charlatan with no real power but plenty of privileges, he will do and say anything, however ridiculous, to maintain his position and what it furnishes him. No doubt he aspires to greater power should there be a Russia-style "transition" to a pseudodemocracy, but I'm sure he (like all his colleagues) has already made arrangements abroad in case the party ends unexpectedly or inconveniently. He's a model of his kind.

4:31 am  
Blogger Agustin Farinas said...

don't waste your time as the previous commenter said with Lippmann. If Cubans don't have access to high speed Internet, what does that have to do with the access to other sites rather than their own Intranet? Nothing.
If they cannot travel outside of Cuba is also the fault of the USA, or because the flying skies will be crowded or the Bolivian do not travel. What a joke! Lippmann is an apologist for the Kastro regime, who never finds anything wrong with it. Don't waste your time explaining anything to him. Poor Luis, he has to suffer these types of idiots apologizing for the communist regime every so often. Luis, just grin and bear it.

2:01 am  
Anonymous nausea said...

Actually, Luis does NOT have to suffer a blatant Castro apologist or give him a platform to propagate grotesquely distorted misinformation. Why he puts up with it is beyond me.

4:36 am  
Anonymous asombra said...

The victims of oppression and evil do not owe any consideration whatsoever to anyone who in any way defends, excuses or condones said evil. Such consideration is not only totally uncalled for, it is also, in my opinion, undignified and even morally questionable.

I know there is hypocritical pressure to be "fair" to those who would never be fair themselves, but I reject that. One must know whom one is dealing with and act accordingly. Neville Chamberlain was at best a fool, regardless of his intentions, in trying to "reason" or "negotiate" with someone like Hitler. We Cubans should not be fools; we have borne quite enough already.

10:14 am  
Blogger Walter Lippmann said...

Freedom is very important.

People from the United States should be free to visit Cuba if they want to.

People who do not wish to go to Cuba can continue to stay home, but those who want to see Cuba for themselves should have the freedom to do that.

The Pope went to Cuba. Jimmy Carter went to Cuba. Politicians and business people go to Cuba. Journalists and researchers go to Cuba.

Why aren't the rest of the people from the United States free to go to Cuba?

10:19 am  
Anonymous beyond obvious said...

Why aren't the people of Cuba free to go abroad, whenever they wish, for whatever reason they may have, for however long they wish?

10:59 am  
Blogger Walter Lippmann said...

For a number of reasons, among the most important of which is the Cuban Adjustment Act which guarantees that any Cuban who touches US soil is guaranteed the right to remain.

No other citizen of any other country on earth has the series of special rights, special privileges and special advantages which the Cuban Adjustment Act provides. Read about that here:

Beyond that, I agree with you it's a problem and I hope Cubans get that right soon. Did you see where Silvio Rodriguez spoke up about that earlier this week?

You know that in order to VISIT the United States, Cubans must pay a $200.00 non-refundable fee to APPLY for the visa. They don't get it back if they aren't granted the visitors visa.

But to apply to leave Cuba permanently, no fee must be paid.

Best wishes,

Walter Lippmann

11:07 am  
Blogger Lori said...

Folks, what Mr. Lippman is saying is that not only politicians and business owners should go to Cuba and help keep that government propped up, but regular Americans should also go and finance a government that was itching to press a button and shred the US with nuclear bombs.

That'll work, as that government has shown so much love for its people, we're sure that as soon as we start financing same, they'll let Cubans do as they please just like when the Soviet Union was financing them. Yep that's the ticket.

1:31 am  
Blogger Walter Lippmann said...

We're free to go to China, Vietnam, North Korea, Iran and Syria, but we're not free to go to Cuba.

Why are we not free to go to Cuba?

1:36 am  
Anonymous Nausea said...

Luis, it's your blog and your business, but I strongly suggest you consider taking out the trash, even if only out of respect and consideration for the great majority of your readers who are fully committed to a free and democratic Cuba.

2:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Did you miss that??

3:02 am  
Blogger Walter Lippmann said...

Those missiles belonged to a country which was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Cuba did not have any control over the missiles.

They did give permission for the Soviets to install them, but had no control when the Soviets pulled them out.

Last I looked, the Soviet Union disappeared over fifteen YEARS ago.

So you can rest easy about Soviet missiles now.

3:12 am  
Anonymous Nausea said...

Not only a sycophant but, apparently, an idiot. I'm afraid it's too rich for my blood. Pass.

5:11 am  
Blogger Agustin Farinas said...

The fellow traveler Lippmann forgot very conviniently that his adired leader Castro himself, asked Khrushchev to press the buttom and oblitarate the USA with its missiles.Is all there in black and white in the letter Castro wrote to the Soviet leader. Nikita was no fool, and knew exactly what that meant for the defunct Soviet Union: total destruction. He thought it over and decided to withdraw the missiles. But there is no need to enlighten Walter about this because he knew it already. He just forgot because is not proper to mention such things now about his admired leader Castro.

2:59 am  

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