E-mail from Ernesto About Cars in Cuba

[Ernesto – Age – Early 20’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Lives with Mother and Extended Family; Occupation – Educated in Business and Finance, Works in Hotel Operations for Government Owned Hotel; Fiancé of Marisa]

Via e-mail

Dear Franklin:

It was good getting to know you when you were here in Havana earlier this year. Marisa sends her regards.

You asked me to explain to you again how the ownership of cars works here in Cuba, and how it might change under the proposed laws. Private property ownership doesn’t really exist as somebody who lives in a non-communist country would think of it. When we are permitted to “own” something, that doesn’t mean we can transfer it, or sell it. Real property is treated similarly, although it has its own unique laws.

You know that Cuba is full of American standard cars from 1958 and before. After the revolution, imports and exports involving the United States ended. Naturally, that means there are no retail or wholesale vendors of parts, and no ability to order parts via Internet or mail. So finding replacement parts if a car breaks down is much like going to a junk-yard in the U.S. Individuals sell parts, sometimes, rather unofficially. There’s no organized way to find them. And you might find somebody who has parts, but perhaps has ten or twenty very specific parts for particular models and years of cars. For those reasons, repairs involve creativity. One must devise or build a part from whatever materials one can find.

In general, there is no law against selling a car that predates 1959. But of course, since we all make approximately $35 to $40 dollars American per month, there is not much possibility to pay for one.

Only certain people are permitted to own other cars, and the only cars on the streets later than 1958 models are small European and Russian cars. Of course, the Russian cars are now old as well.

Click this link if you’d like to see a link to a U-Tube story about cars in Cuba. As you know, Franklin, I manage to get some slow, Internet access on an ancient computer in the government hotel where I work. While many sites are blocked, sometimes I can find things like this:


The Party Congress says it’s going to loosen the rules regarding owning, buying and selling cars. But just like the proposed change in real estate ownership laws, we Cubans aren’t that excited about this. Considering that most of us have no way to make any significant income, we just can’t afford to buy even the least expensive car. Lately, as you know, the government, under Raul’s rule, has made a lot of changes, supposedly to improve the country’s financial condition, but we are still the same. They’ve fired a multitude of workers and told them to go learn how to work as businesspeople, and have removed products from the list of what we can purchase under the subsidized system. But, bottom line, is it’s all the same.

So, Franklin, I saw Yaineris the other day. I think you know she was deported to her home city after her conviction for prostitution at the beginning of the year. She and her daughter are residing with the lady who has the apartment on the fourth floor of my building again. I don’t talk much to her since Marisa doesn’t really like her line of work, and I guess feels threatened. But you know, Marisa is the love of my life, and I would never do what she is probably afraid I might do. But anyway, Cuban men don’t have money to pay for those activities. People who work like Yaineris work with foreigners.

You need to come back soon, and bring your family next time.

Un Abrazo.


Selling or Buying a Home Under the New Cuban Congress

[Angel – Age – 40’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Lives with Wife and Extended Family; Occupation – Self-Employed Barber, Previously Government Employed Barber]

Dear Franklin,

I hope this letter finds you well. You have asked me to explain for your blog how homes are bought, sold and owned in Cuba, and what changes we expect with the new Congress.

The 1940 Constitution protected property rights, although President Castro had destroyed much of the protection was eliminated. But when Castro took control in 1959, the Constitution was changed. The government first took large farms and properties of foreign companies. The government then had the right to take the homes of those who had left the country, were committed of a crime, etc. The government took those properties and moved people and government agencies into homes taken from people. They moved two families into the home of my uncle because he had left the country. My aunt and her daughter were still in the home, and they were forced to move. The photo in this blog is of a home in Santiago de Cuba, which was taken from its owners and now is a communist committee office.

Over all these years, it has been illegal to buy or sell property. The only way to change your home was to do a trade, called a permuta. The law permitted a trade, but it had to be an even trade. No money could change hands. My home is a floor in an old building in Centro Habana. I need a home on the first floor, because of my mother’s health, whereas mine is on the third floor, and there’s no elevator. I have tried to trade my home for another for four years. I have tried to use the Internet web site called permuta.com. I have not been successful.

The new law supposedly will let us legally sell a home and buy a new home. It will also allow trading up or down and exchanging money. Honestly, we do not know if it will really change things at all. We hear of new laws and changes, usually for foreign sources. When we receive information from our own government, the information transmutes quickly into speculation and excitement, which usually does not lead to anything.

My neighbor, Roberto, has received a visa to depart the country. Somebody asked him whether he could sell his home and take the cash with him. He laughed uproariously. Surely you don’t think our government would allow that.

Franklin, I understand you will be returning to Havana soon. I’m looking forward to seeing you here in Cuba. Un Abrazo.


Venezuela, Chavez, Medical Care

Written by: Franklin Marquez – Miami, Florida – July 10, 2011

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

What is with the relationship between Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, Venezuela with Cuba?  Well, apparently it’s just that Chavez wants to be like Castro, and wants the country for which he’s a dictator to be like Cuba.

It’s always been known that he greatly admires Castro and the Cuban government and wanted to emulate them. It is said that the guards he hires to protect him in his rambling and circuitous manner of hiding are Cuban guards. If they’ve been able to protect Fidel from hundreds and hundreds of attempts on his life, including many documented attempts by the U.S. and the CIA, then they must be good.

Then there’s the huge respect for Cuban doctors.  Chavez chose to go to Cuba to remove the so-called “cyst” on his hip. Maybe he really did have one, related to the cancer, but it took weeks of speculation and concern about his whereabouts and condition before he revealed that he had an unnamed cancer.

So why’d he have to go to Cuba to have the surgery?  Was it because their doctors are better than his own country’s? Hasn’t he gotten enough Cuban doctors to Venezuela yet?  Or was it just because he knew he had a condition that he needed to keep secret, at least for a while?

Who knows?  Maybe, who cares?  There’s plenty of speculation. Interestingly, Cuba has not issued exit visas to some doctors who have wished to repatriate to Venezuela.  Hmm, maybe they let too many get away.

Reinaldo – Havana, Cuba – July 10, 2011

[Written by: Reinaldo – Age – 50’s; Birthplace  – Countryside near Bayamo, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Occupation – Lives with Wife; Operator of a Casa Particular]

Dear Franklin:

It was a pleasure meeting with you a few months ago when you visited our lovely island of Cuba. You did not tell me very much about the United States, but I guess I know pretty much. Or I think I do.  Most of the people who stay in my casa particular are from Europe. Most are here on vacation. Europeans do not have the restrictions like your country imposes travel to Cuba. The visas that Cuba issues to European visitors also less restrictive than those issued to Americans. But the real reason the government makes it easier to stay in hotels is that the hotels are government owned, and the government wants the money.

I’ll explain for your readers. Cubans are not permitted to own real estate. The government owns most real estate. There are some exceptions for non-Cubans to own certain properties in certain areas. All hotels are government owned, or owned by the government and a foreign entity of some kind. Restaurants are the same way.  The government offers licenses to people to rent out rooms, and to serve meals, and charges a tax. A home that is licensed to offer rooms, with or without food is a casa particular (private home). A food establishment that does not offer rooms in a private home is generally known as a paladar.

This morning I had six guests, all males, ranging in age from 30 to 60, in my casa particular. This Casa Particular is a floor of a newer (built in the 70s) condominium building overlooking the sea in Havana. Some had visitors during the night. I will not say more about the visitors, except that your friend, Yaneiris, was here.

This morning, like every morning, I cooked a casual breakfast. I went to the bakery and bought some bread. I made coffee, espresso style, with a lot of sugar. Coffee is rationed, but I can obtain more because of the license. Sugar is plentiful.

A visitor from Spain left a Spanish newspaper from last week behind. It is rare that I can obtain international news. We only have government newspapers or revolutionary newspapers. We have very limited ability to speak with the outside world. The Internet is not easy to come by, and the sites and even e-mail systems are restricted. So we have trouble learning what is happening in the world, and even what is happening here.

I read the Spanish newspaper cover to cover.  I learned about what was going on in the United States, Spain, Portugal, Greece, particularly the financial crisis, and all kinds of international intrigue. I read a negative article about Chavez from Venezuela. Of course, I also read negative articles about Obama.

Cuba wasn't mentioned in the entire newspaper because, as is common, nothing is going on here, at least as far as the rest of the world seas it.

Of course, a few weeks ago we probably made the news when Chavez came here to have a cyst removed from his hip, which later turned out to be cancer. The fact that he was silent for an extended period caused a lot of speculation. I’m sure that made the news.  Prior to that, we had the celebration of the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs attack and the tremendous defeat of the American fools. Raul Castro made a speech. I visited the Plaza de la Revolución to listen.  Prior to that there were some dissidents in trouble, but I do not care to give my opinions about that.  We also had some rationing issues and some loss of job issues. I understand those issues did make international news to some extent, but I never had the opportunity to read what was said.

Yoani Sanchez – Generation Y

Written by:
Franklin Marquez – Miami, Florida – July 10, 2011

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

One person we do not have as a contributor to our blog is Yoani Sanchez. However, whether she knows it or not, she is a tremendous influence on this compilation.  She is the most amazing person.  Inside a country where she has been beaten by authorities, where her home is watched around the clock, where talking negative about the government is dangerous, she keeps on publishing her live blog from her home in Havana.

This is how she explains where the name of the blog was derived:  “Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me and to write to me.”

She has recently published books, including a book of past blogs, and non-fiction works. She has won awards. She has written that she could not travel to the presentation of her book overseas, because she cannot leave her country.  She’s been awarded the 2011 International Women of Courage Award.  She’s been mentioned in numerous publications and has been lauded by Time Magazine, among others.

If you are interested in Cuba, and have not read what she writes and publishes, you must do so.  The English version of the blog here.

Her book, HAVANA REAL - One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today can be purchased through the publisher’s site here.

Currently on that site is her acceptance speech for the International Women of Courage award, in which she explains what she does, and why. It’s very inspirational.

She’s a participant, via video in How to Ignite, or Quash, a Revolution in 140 Characters or Less on July 13.  The talk is put on by New America Foundation in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. Yoani will be on at 4:30, and her English translator, Mary Jo Porter is on a panel at 4:45. The talk is about social media, including Twitter and its effects in Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.  It’s unlikely that many in Cuba have technology and Internet access to be able to utilize Twitter and similar social media easily and often, so it seems doubtful that an on-the-spot revolution would work well.  But that’s exactly what Yoani and her followers are doing, slowly.

Follow along and join the conversation on Twitter: Use Hashtag - #140rev

Introduction to This Blog

Written by: 
Franklin Marquez – Miami, Florida – July 7, 2011
[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]
If you read the blog I wrote in early 2011 about my return trip to Cuba, you already know a lot about me. If you haven’t read it, it’s repeated in the tab, Franklin Marquez’s Blog, on this site.

I have arranged with various people who live in Cuba, visit Cuba, or are refugees from Cuba, to write to me and tell me about their lives. I post their writings here.  Some will e-mail, or otherwise transmit electronically. Some will use snail mail, or have their paper writings delivered.  We are not promoting a particular view. We are stating what is said. A description of each contributor is contained in the “Contributors” tab.

We are only using first names of contributors, and we are not saying whether these are true first names. You probably realize that Cubans writing from Cuba are likely to be very careful with their words, because in Cuba anything you say orally or verbally, may have you put in or cause you problems. Thus, they are unlikely to criticize the government in any way.  They may talk about life in Cuba being hard. They may say things that lead you to understand that they are not enamored with the situation.

Our goal is not to say that Cuba is bad, or that it’s government is bad. We are trying to show what it's like to live in Cuba. Cuba is a beautiful country, with kind people. There is little crime. The government doesn't match our American beliefs of democracy. But that's not the issue. The effects of socialism, or communism or whatever one believes the Cuban government is will be evident from the writings. We do have pro-government contributors, who honestly and truly believe their leader has done great things with their country.

We will frequently see explanations of the monetary system, and how the Cuban people buy goods. Although people criticize the rationing system, actually it is related to a government created and supported procedure to supply products to the citizens at a subsidized cost. If a Cuban needs to buy sugar, he or she will have to pay for it with what Cubans earn – approximately 30 dollars per month in pesos cubanos. The government allows Cubans to buy necessities, like sugar, for pennies, but the government then limits how much each family unit can buy during the month.  Rationing causes people to restrict their use of these products, and it causes people not to trade it or sell the products to others. They only have so much.  In the past eight months or so, the government has removed certain items that would be called necessities from the subsidized product list, which also means they are removed from the rationing system. So, now if a Cuban needs to buy one of those products, he or she go to a store that typically takes pesos convertibles, and the products will cost much more than they would have under the subsidized system.

I will step in and comment where necessary.

Coming Soon – New Format and New Blogs

We are in the process of revising this site. If you would like to read Franklin Marquez’ blog, which covered a first-time return trip to Cuba by a man who’d been sent away when he was six, we are reorganizing it so it will be easier to follow from beginning to end.

The new blog data will be called A Day in the Life – Cuba, and will feature a number of writers telling about their daily lives from the island.  It will also feature guest writers who travel to Cuba from time to time. In fact, any reader of this blog who has traveled or will travel to Cuba, whether for vacation or other purposes, is welcome to speak to us about posting your impressions, photographs and other matters here.  

We do not pay a fee, but are happy to have new information of how people, inside and outside, view the island that we love. 

We hope to have new content by July 15. Please check at that time.