''That new law helps maybe cuatro gatos. As I do the maths, I see I will never be one of them. I make USD22 a month, and a room here is USD150.''
Yadeli, identified as a security guard at a luxury Varadero hotel, tellsThe Miami Heraldhow he feels about Raul Castro’s decision to allow Cubans to stay in hotels previously reserved for tourists (yes! in Cuba!). As the paper points out, Yadeli’s job is to stop Cubans “who try to enter his hotel”.
The Cuban actor Jorge Perugorria, who shot to international fame in the mid 1990s as the star of the hit film Fresa y Chocolate, has been talking about the “reform process” on the island.
Perugorria has told the Spanish daily El Periodico that he is very supportive of the changes being introduced by Raul Castro. But like the good revolutionary he is, the actor says sudden change is bad, while taking “one step at a time” is much, much more preferable.
Which probably means that while it’s okay for Cubans to be allowed to window-shop for a DVD now, they will really need to wait until 2010 before they are able to window-shop for toasters.
"The [Castro regime] is introducing changes in a measured and intelligent way because it wants to build a better form of socialism and bring about more freedom,” he told the paper, adding that despite many offers from abroad, he is quite happy to continue to live in Cuba.
Of course, Perugorria is one of those lucky Cubans who are allowed to travel in and out of the country freely – provided they don’t stray too far from the approved (Communist Party) line when interviewed.
We are indebted (again) to our friends over at Penultimos Dias for this piece of marvellous Orwellian entertainment.
It’s an article published by the Castro regime’s propaganda sheet, Granma, explaining in great details the legal rights of Cubans when it comes to the privacy of their mail.
Without even a hint of irony, the reporter tells readers that one of the fundamental rights “granted by the Revolution” to its citizens is the right to absolute privacy when it comes to communicating by letter.
In other words, the post is inviolable. Sacrosanct.
Which will come as something of a shock to Cubans, most of whom are under the impression that just like in the old East Germany, their letters are often intercepted, opened and read by State security officials at will. same with telephone conversations. And emails.
The editor of Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party and the only national daily on the island, has called on the Castro regime to change the existing laws that severely restrict freedom of speech.
You see, Lazaro Barredo thinks the current legislation is not tough enough. That's right - not tough enough ...
Instead of demanding greater freedom of speech - as any half-decent editor would - Barredo is demanding that the existing laws be tightened further so the regime can properly and more efficiently "punish" those he describes as “mercenaries”.
A Member of the rubber-stamp Parliament, he has told the local media that the regime should introduce tougher measures to deal with anyone who has the temerity to call for democratic change, or to criticise the Castro brothers.
For the record, the existing legislation (the laws Barredo thinks are too soft), already stipulates prison terms of up to eight years for “mercenaries”.
Yes, folk, it’s 100 days (give or take a day) since that lovable idealist Fidel Castro handed over power to his slightly younger brother, Raul.
And to mark the occasion, The Daily Telegraph in London has published a feature by reporter Fiona Govan looking at how Castro II has gone about making life “more comfortable” for ordinary Cubans.
The reporter highlights some of the recent economic "reforms" introduced by the regime, such as giving Cubans the right to window-shop for outrageously over-priced mobile phone, personal computers and DVD players, although they will need to wait a couple more years before they can window-shop for a new toaster.
To be sure, Ms Govan does point out that political freedoms remain well, non-existent, on the island, highlighting the recent intimidation and harassment of dissidents, including the Ladies in White.
Still, her assessment is quite optimistic.
“Raul's practical gestures have created a significant amount of goodwill and brought him breathing space as he attempts to grapple with a struggling economy damaged by a decades-long US trade embargo and the inefficiencies of a highly centralised state-run system,” she concludes.
“One of the ghosts that is haunting Cuban politics is the fate of Eastern Europe. We must avoid that outcome here. That’s why policy implementation and political reforms are so slow - because the political leadership doesn’t want to let things get out of control.”
Rafael Hernandez, editor of the official but supposedly "reformist" magazine Temas, which is published by the Cuban Ministry for Culture, speaking to CBS News.
He may be old, near death and out of sight but Fidel Castro still knows how to get bang for his publicity buck - much as he has been doing since the mid 1950s.
Ever the consummate manipulator, the semi-retired dictator has used his semi-regular "editorial" in the official Cuban media to comment (again!) on the US presidential campaign ... knowing very well that his remarks will received extensive coverage in the American media.
This time around, Castro has some nice words to say about BarackObama, describing him as a "strong candidate" and "the most progressive". Big tick of approval, it would seem. But not quite the type of endorsement Sen. Obama would probably seek, especially when it results in headlines such as, "Castro casts his vote for Obama".
Luckily for the would-be Democratic candidate, the old man in Havana has a bet each way.
In his editorial, Castro also criticises recent comments in Miami by Sen. Obama, who said that if elected president, he would use the US trade embargo as a carrot to help bring democratic change on the island.
Director Steven Soderbergh's new feature film, Che, has met with mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival, with some critics apparently unhappy about the length of the four-hour-long, two-part biopic.
Regardless, the publicity blitz for the film has got under way ... and like old Che, it's a case of all guns blazing, comrades.
The director and his leading stars have been happily providing plenty of colourful quotes to the media, along with their own versions of the Che "legend", making all those predictable references to the guerrilla leader as an "icon" and "idolised idealist".
At the forefront of all this drivel is Benicio Del Toro, the Puerto Rican-born actor who plays Ernesto Che Guevara. According to this Reuters report, Del Toro portrays Guevara as "a courageous man of unswerving principle who inspires fear and respect among his men and ordinary people and administers often brutal justice".
"My administration will press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalise all political parties, labour unions, and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections. The embargo must stay in place until these basic elements of democratic society are met."
US presidential candidate John McCain, setting out his "roadmap" for Cuba during his campaign visit to Miami, as reported by Reuters. Stand by for the (predictable) response from Havana.
For the past 50 or so years, the Castro regime has spent a lot of time, money and effort silencing any form of dissent.
It’s been a huge but largely successful task: exposing and exterminating real or imagined enemies whose only crime, in many cases, has been to question the totalitarian nature of the “revolution”.
Since the very beginning, this uncompromising war on opponents – regardless of whether they are from the Right or the Left – has involved Stalinist show trials and public executions, lengthy prison sentences, official harassment, intimidation of dissidents and their families, occasional beatings and outright discrimination.
Although it’s fair to say that executions are rare nowadays (let’s be grateful for small mercies), this eradication campaign continues unabated, as you can see from the latest “expose” by the Castro brothers.
This time around, senior officials from the Stasi-trained political police and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have staged a press conference to “reveal” how the top US diplomat in Havana, Michael Parmly, is handing over money from Cuban exiles to some dissidents on the island.
Using emails, secret photographs and videos, the officials claim that Mr Parmly, who runs the US Interest Section in Havana, has “carried envelopes with money” from a Miami-based foundation described by the Cuban officials as a “terrorist front”.
The dissidents named as having received the money in sums ranging from USD200 to USD2,400, include Jose Luis Garcia Perez, Martha Beatriz Roque and significantly, Laura Pollan, one of the Damas de Blanco.
Of course, the whole thing is just a corrupt and corrosive charade. Not terribly new and not very inventive, either, but it has provided and will continue to provide a nasty little distraction for the foreign media based in Havana, much as planned.
And it will force the small but increasingly plucky band of opponents inside the island to justify their existence once again, which is also much as planned by the thugs in the regime, who are experts at this sort of thing.
Mind you, if nothing else, this latest piece of nasty entertainment has confirmed yet again that sadly, not much has changed in Cuba under the “reformist” Raul Castro.
A large delegation of Castro regime officials has arrived in India with what the local media have described as a "big shopping list".
As you can see from this article in The Hindu, the delegation is reportedly looking at buying all sorts of Indian-made goods, including pharmaceuticals, energy-saving devices, engines, spare parts, chemicals ... you name it.
In fact, the Cuban Ambassador to New Delhi, Miguel Angel Ramirez, told the paper: “Though Cuba is small, when we buy we buy big."
Which sounds like terrific news for Indian manufacturers, doesn't it? Perhaps not.
According to the article, trade between India and Cuba used to be quite strong back in the 1980s, with Indian exports to the island totalling about USD300 million a year. But bilateral trade collapsed in the 1990s due to the demise of the Soviet Union ... and the fact that the Castro regime simply refused to pay its "outstanding debts".
Luckily for Havana, the Indians appear to be a very forgiving lot - not only have they cancelled the outstanding debts but are offering new lines of credit.
The publicity-savvy daughter of Raul Castro is making news this weekend following officially-sanctioned celebrations in Havana to mark International Day Against Homophobia - only the second time such an event has been held in Cuba.
And as you can see in the photograph above, this time around, Ms Castro has been joined at the event by none other than Ricardo Alarcon, the head of the rubberstamp Cuban parliament, an old ally of Fidel Castro and still among the top dozen bosses of the decrepit Communist Party.
Needless to say, the foreign media was there in force to record this "unprecedented openness", as you can see from this Associated Press report.
Now, it'd be churlish to criticise Ms Castro's work on behalf of one of the most marginalised minorities in Cuba. But her ability to essentially whitewash the atrocious treatment of Cuban homosexuals over the past 50 years by the regime led by her uncle, her father and the likes of Ricardo Alarcon is, well, breath-taking.
However, it's good to see that while Ms Castro seems to suffer from selective amnesia, some others do not.
The Spanish daily El Periodico has published an article about the celebrations in Havana in which the journalist speaks to a number of homosexuals who survived the worst of the Castro brothers' homophobic repression.
One of these is identified as Lila, a 40 year old artistic director who says her treatment by the regime was in fact quite common for most homosexuals during the 1960s, 1970s and as last as the mid 1980s.
"I was thrown out of university, I was dismissed from several jobs, I suffered discrimination, including discrimination by members of my own family, and then [the regime] accused me of being abnormal, sick ... and a counter-revolutionary," she says.
"But I am still here, while the vast majority of those who tried to wipe me out are now living in the United States."
In case you are still wondering what the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Cuba thinks about Raul Castro and his "reforms", I point you in the direction of an article just published by the Catholic News Agency.
The agency quotes at length from an editorial published in the latest issue of Espacio Laical, the official magazine of the Archdiocese of Havana and therefore, the official voice of the Catholic leadership on the island.
Using the sort of convoluted, innofensive language that has become the norm for such statements, the editorialargues that given his "revolutionary" credentials, Castro II is the only one capable of producing changes that are described as "gradual, dramatic and profound".
“Intellectual leaders and the Catholic Church have expressed confidence in the new Cuban leadership, pressing it for gradual change,” the editorial continues. "And they have communicated to the political leadership in a climate of trust and respect the issues that in their judgment need to be changed.”
Trust. Respect. Judgement. I am sure Raul Castro is all ears.
"The cigars I smoked in Seville were my first since I was in Cuba … 15 years ago. Strange, all the egalitarian advances in that decade and a half (first names all round, the slow death of the tie, affordable restaurants ...) and yet, thanks to the US trade boycott, the Cuban cigar continues to burn brightly as the plutocrat's prop of choice."
Columnist Robert Crampton waxing lyrical inThe Times, London, about great Cuban cigars.
Under the headline, "Cuba embraces golf to boost tourism", Reuters reports on plans by the Castro regime set aside "ideological objections" and embrace golf, "the most capitalist of sports".
It seems investors from Canada and Europe have proposed building "gated communities" on the island, complete with luxury hotels, villas and ... 18 and 36-hole golf courses.
One of those advising the would-be investors is Mark Entwistle, a former Canadian ambassador to Havana, who told the reporter: "Old-school objections to golf on ideological grounds have fallen away ... "
After ignoring the hopeless and depressing reality of daily life in Fidel Castro's island paradise for decades, influential media outlets in the US and elsewhere appear to have finally woken up and started lifting their self-imposed silence. About time.
The latest (and much welcomed) report comes from Carol J Williams of The Los Angeles Times, who writes from Havana on how the regime's much-hated two-currency system "adds up to a social divide".
The subject of Ms Williams' report is a woman called Rosa, a 72-year-old pensioner who lives in truly appalling conditions in Marianao, trying to get by on her monthly State pension of 164 pesos - or about USD7.00.
Like many other Cubans, Rosa prefers not to reveal her surname to foreigners for fear of official repercussion although as the reporter points out, "it's difficult to imagine how her circumstances could worsen". Trust me, Carol, it could ...
Anyway, with no one outside Cuba to send her hard currency and with no "marketable" skills, life is tough for Rosa.
According to the report, the "ever shrinking" monthly basket of basic foodstuffs she gets from the State at subsidised prices lasts barely a week, public transport is almost non-existent and buying even essentials such as powdered milk is described as an "unimaginable luxury".
But at least she has access to a terrific (and free!) health care system , right?
Well, the visit to her allocated doctor, who happens to be three miles away (she walks there and back), is indeed free, but Rosa "pays with her time", forced to wait outside all day until the doctor can see her.
OK, but she gets good-quality, low-cost medicines, right? Hmmm .... the pills her doctor prescribes cost the equivalent of 50 US cents each - so a vial of 15 would use up her entire monthly income. Not surprisingly, Rosa "rarely buys them, preferring to spend the money on food".
And on and on and on ... enough to make you weep. Read the article here.
As you would have read elsewhere, the Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez of Generacion Y has been awarded the highly prestigious Ortega y Gasset Prize for Journalism by the Spanish newspaper group PRISA.
Unfortunately, Ms Sanchez was not in Madrid last night to receive the award.
Something about the Castro regime not being able to give her an exit visa in time. Or misplacing her application. Or running out of ink. Or some other typical bull story like that. As always.
Instead, the award was accepted by Ernesto Hernandez Busto, our friend over at Penultimos Dias, who has also written a cracker of an Open Letter to Ms Sanchez.
In a pre-recorded speech played at the ceremony, the Generacion Y blogger said that while the prize may give her a “small protective shield”, it would not necessarily protect her from reprisals by the Castro regime because “in Cuba, one is ever immune from the State”.
Those personal computers have finally arrived in Cuba.
A month or so after the Castro regime announced that Cubans would in future be able to buy PCs without the need for Government permission, the first machines appeared over the weekend in selected stores in Havana.
But according to this report in The Independent newspaper, the machines are both pricey – and a little, well, clunky?
The only brand available is Qtech, a unit powered by the cheaper Intel Celeron chip, which comes complete with DVD player (but no burner?), a “bulky monitor”, Windows XP operating system and what are described as "standard-issue" mouse and keyboard.
The cost? About USD 780.00. Which is a fair bit of money in Cuba. And of course, you can only purchase them at this price (no discounts) and only from a State-owned store.
According to the paper, clerks selling the PCs have confirmed that the Qtech is being assembled in Cuba from Chinese parts.
"Cuban agriculture is a disaster. Farms like this - a collective-run enterprise - lack not only tractors but basic tools. This is a fertile Caribbean island littered with dysfunctional farms which cannot feed the 11 million population, let alone export."
Rory Carroll more or less summarising the last 50 years of the Castro regime for The Observer, London.
As our friends over at Babalu have pointed out, there is some good news out of London.
Voters in the British capital have just elected a new Mayor, Boris Johnson, from the Conservative Party, who comprehensively defeated the Labour Party incumbent, Ken "Red Ken" Livingstone.
Why good news?
Because Mr Livingstone is and has always been a shameless apologist for the Castro regime. During his last visit to Cuba, about 18 months ago, he described the now semi-retired dictator as an "inspiration to the world" and the Cuban "revolution" as "one of the high points of the 20th century".
So, it's good bye, Ken. Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke.
It's taken nearly five decades but the Castro regime has finally admitted that its Soviet-style system of centralised decision-making in the agriculture sector has been a huge failure.
Not that the regime has actually used the word failure, of course.
To do so would mean having to publicly admit that the now semi-retired Fidel Castro was wrong - really wrong! - and as we all know, Fidel Castro is never, ever wrong.
Instead, the official media has dressed up the announcement as a way of "improving production" and reducing imports.
Under the changes, control of agriculture will shift from faceless bureaucrats and Communist Party apparatchiks in Havana to more than 150 specially-convened local councils.
According to this report, the local councils will have enough autonomy to make decisions on what to plant, when and where - you know, much like farmers are supposed to.
The regime's propaganda newsheet, Granma, said that relying on local campesinos to make more of these decisions would "stimulate agricultural production, perfect its sale and increase the availability of food and, in this way, substitute imports."
Welcome to the blog of my new book, Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro's Cuba, which is published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen & Unwin.
The book is now available in the UK, Canada and the US, and in Brazil (in Portuguese).