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    Cuba is changing, more for some than others

    Cuba is changing, more for some than others
    In the same week , Cubans saw President Obama and the Rolling Stones, a
    symbol of opening on the island. But while many talk about changes in
    Cuba, the private sector is still small and the government could react
    slowly to the U.S. offer to strengthen ties.
    BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
    staff@InCubaToday

    “I wonder how the Castros are doing. They’ve had a rough week,”
    whispered a woman in the crowd at the Rolling Stones concert in Havana.
    “First Obama and now this,” she said of the concert by a band that was
    banned in Cuba only some decades ago.

    Mick Jagger, lead singer of the iconic British group, had just told the
    crowd in Spanish, “We know that years ago it was difficult to listen to
    our music, but we’re finally here. It seems that things are changing.”

    Juan Tornés, 54, agreed. A rock fan, he acknowledged that when he was
    young he never would have thought that such a concert could be held in
    Cuba. His generation was never free to listen to rock, music that
    appealed to youths that Fidel Castro once denounced as “elvispreslian”
    and “feminoid.”

    Men and women of that generation remember when police broke up parties
    where young people played the “bourgeois” music and confiscated their
    LPs and cassettes. But Castro is now 89 and on Friday, March 26, more
    than one million people listened to the British rockers, even if a
    little late.

    The concert venue provided room for nearly all sectors of an
    increasingly diverse Cuban society, even though the government has made
    it clear it will not tolerate political dissent.

    Groups that don’t usually interact found each other in Ciudad Deportiva
    — Sports City — in the Cerro neighborhood of Havana. Children, old
    people, foreigners, everyone was there even though the government had
    not issued one of its usual calls for a mass “mobilization.” Teenagers
    and young adults, who from their clothes appeared to be fans of
    reggaeton music, shared the grounds with punk rockers and even asked
    timidly for photos with the musical “others.”

    When members of the punk band Eztafilokoko arrived, with their spiked
    clothes and Mohawk haircuts, several youths approached them for selfies
    even though the band from La Lisa, on the outskirts of Havana, is not
    well known. “We are underground,” said one band member.

    Lead singer Yansel Gaínza said the band is guided by the spirit of “do
    it yourself. We do everything,” he said, from arranging the concerts to
    the clothes. The Mohawk is spiked with soap and water colors, he added.

    For both rockers and punks, with markedly different aesthetics, Cuba’s
    small spaces for self-employment can offer economic as well as
    ideological and cultural independence from government controls.

    Dynamic but small private sector

    Members of Eztafilokoko said some of them work independently in
    construction. Tornés, a shoemaker, said he made all the clothes he was
    wearing. “I buy the clothes and adapt them,” he said. He even designed
    his own tattoos, which he showed off one by one. Because he’s
    self-employed, he added, he is not affected by any discrimination he
    could face in a state job. “You know it when people look at you with
    interest … or rejection,” he said.

    Cuba’s emerging private economic sector includes one of the more dynamic
    areas of the country’s society. A small sector is prospering because of
    the legalization of non-state jobs – from a family-run paladar
    restaurant so well decorated it could be in Wynwood; to the private bars
    like Kingbar, where young people wait in line to buy mojitos for $3; and
    locally developed apps like IslaDentro, which offers lists of
    restaurants, cell repair shops and other services.

    But even within this sector, inequality is growing more evident by the
    day. While the paladares in the tourist-heavy neighborhoods of Vedado,
    Miramar and Old Havana flourish, restaurants in less traveled Centro
    Habana languish as former state cafeterias converted into cooperatives
    and now run by former employees.

    They are part of an “experiment” launched by the government in an
    attempt to reduce state controls on the economy. But they do not appear
    to be succeeding. One of the cooperative cafeterias on Neptuno Street
    offers a plate of fried rice through an outside window as a “hook” for
    clients, but few step inside the grimy restaurant, which appears to have
    changed little despite the change in management.

    Little change is also evident in the decrepit shop that repairs fans, TV
    sets, rice and pressure cookers, clothes washers and shoes. The locale
    is rented out by the state enterprise that used to run the shop, but its
    employees now work for themselves.

    “We earn what we can. We don’t have warehouses for spare parts, and if
    we don’t have warehouses, we can barely work,” said one worker named
    Damian. The labor costs from 20 to 60 pesos, or about $1 to $3.

    Everyone who has the opportunity to sell something, rent his home or
    start some private business seems to have tried it, including Rubén Díaz
    Daubar, whose “House of Tango” in Centro Habana offers salsa dance
    lessons to tourists for the equivalent of $10. With that income, he
    offers free sessions to the neighborhood.

    Some Cuban professionals, such as architects, have requested licenses to
    establish cooperatives in their respective areas, without success so far.

    The majority of the private businesses are still so small that they have
    no impact on the national economy. And they do little to overcome the
    poverty which afflicts large sectors of the population that live off low
    state salaries and face rising prices for food and transportation.

    News media alert to the “danger” of engagement

    “Cuba is changing,” says a U.S. businessman at the Havana airport. His
    company, which makes souvenirs and decals, has been trying to establish
    a commercial relationship with Cuba for the past 12 years, he said. “My
    company is big. We can have the luxury of waiting, but we want to be the
    first ones there,” he explained.

    Many Cubans, however, say that there are myriad roadblocks for the
    development of Cuban enterprises, as well as benefiting from the
    business openings proposed by President Barack Obama. All relationships
    with foreign companies are still managed exclusively by the government.

    Even the state-controlled news media has complained about the slow
    implementation of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro’s so-called “guidelines” for
    economic reforms, and the delays in efforts to decentralize the
    management of state enterprises. A report Thursday in the Cuban
    Communist Party’s Granma newspaper again noted the problems.

    And yet some of the same media, and organizations more or less akin to
    the party’s ideology have launched a campaign warning about the “danger”
    presented by Obama’s decision to try to engage rather than isolate Cuba,
    sparking concerns that Castro will try to slow down the improvement in
    U.S.-Cuba relations, specially after his brother Fidel recently made
    public his disapproval of the process, writing that “we don’t need the
    empire to give us anything.”

    Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez appeared to agree with Fidel
    Castro when he praised the former leader’s comments as “extraordinarily
    timely.”

    The PCC congress to be held in Havana this month will be an important
    indicator of whether Raul Castro will really push the reforms that his
    people are asking for.

    The biggest question hanging over the island’s future is whether Cuban
    youths will have the luxury of waiting for the reforms to have an impact
    on their personal lives. The year 2015 set a record for Cubans arriving
    in the United State without visas – more than 40,000 – and 2016 may set
    a new record. About 10,000 Cubans without visas arrived in the United
    States in January and February alone, according to U.S. government data.

    White House officials have said that before Obama’s trip to Cuba, they
    received several recommendations that he specifically offer hope to
    young Cubans during the visit. That’s what Obama did during his speech
    from the Gran Teatro, when he asked “young people … to look to the
    future with hope” because “the youth of Cuba … will rise and build
    something new. The future of Cuba must be in the hands of the Cuban people.”

    The message was not lost on Cubans. “Obama is a ray of hope, to keep
    advancing and moving forward,” said Rolando Valdés Suárez, one of the
    young waiters who served Obama and his family at the paladar San
    Cristóbal on the first day of the their visit.

    But other youths said they want more than rhetoric.

    While waiting outside the U.S. embassy in Havana, hoping to get a photo
    of Obama on her cellphone, Cuban state television producer Adonais
    Fontes Suárez, 37, said Cuban youths “expect to see results from the
    conversations” between the two countries.

    Although “political changes take time,” she said, Cuban youths want to
    make sure that “the concrete result” of the negotiations “will not be
    mere words.”

    Nora Gámez Torres: @ngameztorres

    Source: Cuba is changing, more for some than others | In Cuba Today –
    www.incubatoday.com/news/article69738467.html

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