Viva la ilusión / Long live the illusion

(April 27th, 2018)

Last week, on April 19th, Cuba made the headlines as a transition to power was passed from Rául Castro to Presidente Miguel Díaz-Canel. Rául Castro, handpicked their successor, and remains at the helm of the Communist Party; his son runs the intelligence services; and his ex-son-in-law runs the military’s vast business interests. The Castro name is still on a great many things and the new Presidente Diaz-Canel has vowed that there will be no “capitalist restoration”. It seems the government plan is increased Internet access, land reform, increased private economic activity, and getting rid of the dual-currency. Basically, as it is now this transition to power seems to just be the same old Cuba with some new names in charge. Government as usual.

It does however, mark on important aspect as the popular Cuban blogger, Yoani Sánchez wrote: “At least three generations of Cubans have lived only under the leadership of two men with the same surname. That uniformity is about to be broken on April 19 when the name of the new president will be publicly announced. Whether he maintains the status quo or looks to reform it, his arrival to power marks a historical fact: the end of the Castro era on this Island.” Expectations in Cuba and abroad are low and a general sentiment of fatalism, that everything will continue to grind as it is now, as it was under Fidel and Rául seem to be the biggest set of emotions on the island.

Meanwhile, the USA embassy in Cuba has been called a “ghost town” as it has found itself more than empty after the mystery illnesses effecting at least 24 USA diplomats there, prompted the USA government to cut staffing. Trump has continued a tougher stance on the country, by making it more difficult for individuals with USA citizenship to visit Cuba, outside of non-profit groups. Land of the free to travel anywhere, except for here (insert country name), and there (insert country name).

For Cubans living on the island, in order to make a living under the Marxist-Leninist State Socialist economy one can either work in the formal economy, the informal, or one of the few privately allowed businesses, like small restaurants and families who rent out part of their homes for travelers. One statement to sum up the situation economically for Cubans, is that taxi drivers can earn more money than doctors, so you have the doctor leaving their practice and on the way home turning into the taxi catering to the wealthy tourists.

The majority of Cubans make more money in the informal (grey and black market) and provide for themselves rather than those working formal State jobs. The most popular job in Cuba currently is helping distribute El Paquete Semanal or “The Weekly Package” as it was recently recognized as the largest employer on the island. What is El Paquete?

“Internet access in Cuba is heavily restricted. However, millions of Cubans still engage with digital content through an informal, pervasive, offline internet known as El Paquete Semanal
or “The Weekly Package”. Every week, a new version of El Paquete (EP) becomes available, and includes a one terabyte (TB) collection of digital content that is distributed across Cuba on external hard drives, USBs, and CDs. This collection includes a variety of television, music, movies, apps, educational programs, YouTube videos, magazines, and news, and costs between between 2-5 CUC”

2-5 CUC equals the exact same as $2-5 US dollars, as the currency is fiat and pegged one-to-one with the US dollar. “Although EP is not formally sanctioned by the Cuban government, the network has been allowed to continue and thrive. As a result, it not only provides an alternative to state-controlled media, but also offers a way for Cubans to sustain their livelihoods [8]. This has led to thriving media-sharing practices in Havana, to the point that social gatherings often revolve around media-sharing” The Cuban practice of being inventors or known as “los inventos” carries on as they have turned the lack of information and Internet into the largest informal economic provider via human infrastructure. This is nothing new and after the Special Period of the 1990s, the informal economy has always had a greater share of economic activity rather than the official formal state economy. In many ways, I’ve always thought of the informal economy of Cuba as an extreme of capitalism, as people finding any way possible to provide for themselves and their families.

In terms of anarchists on the island, one widely reported space via Fifth Estate and their GoFundMe campaign is that of the Alfredo López Libertarian Workshop. Although news of this library and social center doesn’t appear to be widely available for those living outside of Cuba at the moment. By nature of it being talked about in anarchist spaces, as a libertarian project in Cuba one always has to be careful of the State repression that is frequently handed down to actors who oppose their authority. I’d be very curious to see how places like this exist in places known for repression of alternative ideas, especially that of anarchists.

Cuba, only 90 miles away from the USA, yet it seems like a completely different world. We would love to hear from more anarchists and their experiences surrounding Cuba. No’ vemo asere.

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