International Book Fair

I am studying the International Book Fair that occurs in Cuba each year. I'm trying to figure out if I can attend part of it. It starts in Havana and travels around the country, ultimately ending in Santiago de Cuba.

I found notices published by various countries, including Barbados, advertising and asking authors to become involved
Following is a Wikipedia link:

The following is published by the Embassy of Cuba in Cyprus: click to enlarge

Here is a link to a group with which one can travel to enjoy the Book Fair, and see some great sites. I'm somewhat concerned that the books that are promoted will all be pushing communism and socialism, but supposedly it is international, and not that way at all.

The link is by is posted by a particular travel provider, but it comes up on searches as being very involved in the fair, and other cultural events. It has great information, and as of this writing still has places available. It explains the event and this year's focus, and also contains a historical description of the event. Also, if you read the sites it will go to, there are two days of visiting the event in Havana, and one day in Cienfuegos. Also, they visit the University of Havana, and a unique publishing house called Ediciones Vigia in Matanzas. Matanzas is about an hour from Havana. It also goes to a Literacy Museum in Havana.

I also was interested in learning about Hemingay's life in Cuba. When I was last there, I visited the room in the Hotel Ambos Mundos, which is a museum now, and I saw, but did not eat at one of his favorite restaurants, La Floridita. Some friends recently went to Cuba on a cultural trip, and told me about going to Cojimar. I am interested in going there, so I started researching. I found a great Life Magazine photo exposition, in preparation for its publishing The Old Man and the Sea as a novella. Here is a link to the Life Magazine site.

Click on the photo and see the series.

a view from hemingways window in hotel ambos mundos

hotel Ambos Mundos - There's a room that is a museum because Hemingway lived and wrote there.

A restaurant in Havana that was one of Hemingway's favorites.
Hemingway's room in the Hotel Ambos Mundos

Clamp Down On Cuba Corruption

The Associated Press has published an article about a clamp-down on corruption in Cuba:

Amid economic reforms, Cuba goes after corruption
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press

November 20, 2011

Rather than quote from it or provide comments from the editor of this blog, we are providing the link to the article.

Report From Oswardo – My Escape to Venezuela and Return To Cuba

November 20, 2011 – Via E-mail
Oswardo – Age – Late 20’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Occupation – Student, Computer Science; Husband of Yoana

I’m so sorry to say that I just couldn’t stay away from my family and Cuba, and I have returned. I hope you will forgive me. I know you gave me the money to deposit, with good intentions, hoping to improve my life and eventually the lives of my family. But it was just too much for me.

As you know, I have never known any life but life in Cuba after the “Revolution.” That means I went to school, was indoctrinated in Communism, served in the military forces, was working on a college degree and working at the university. I’ve lived all my life in the decrepit little apartment where my mother was living in 1960. The neighborhood has not been maintained at all since that time. The side wall has a huge hole. The front door is a gate with a padlock. The television is an ancient black and white model with rabbit ears, which shows only communist propaganda. The government supplies a salary in pesos Cubanos for my mother (half wage because she’s retired), for me (lower wage because I am a student) and my wife (a higher wage by about $5 a month because she’s a doctor). We have a young child in the house, so we are entitled to a little milk and beef, which we would not be allowed otherwise. Life is hard in Cuba. Everything involves dealing with interminable waiting, and long lines. But it is a simple life. There is no danger, little crime, and no lack of basic necessities, at least from our point of view. When something is not available, we know how to deal with it and we employ alternatives.

But I found that life in Venezuela was not easier. In fact it was harder. At first I was enamored with the material things. A year earlier, I had left Havana for the first time, with you, Franklin, to explore Santiago de Cuba. As you recall, I had to ask you how to use the electronic room key because I had never seen one, and had never been in a hotel room, since it was illegal to do so two years ago. The hotel had a color television with satellite, which showed VH1, an incredible station showing music videos, which I had never seen. You brought me an I-Pod, something I had never had, loaded with music. My favorite was the album Shaman by Santana. Even though it was not new music, it was new to me, and included a Latin rhythm and instruments with rock characteristics as well. Incredible. You probably also remember our breakfasts at the rooftop restaurant of the Casa Granda Hotel in Santiago, and how every morning I devoured bacon because I had never seen or tasted it before. I had never been to a restaurant other than those that take Pesos Cubanos until we walked Havana together and traveled to Santiago.

When I arrived in Venezuela, I was again enamored by all these things, and many more. But my life was different. I could not enter the university. I was expected to find and work a capitalist job. I know Venezuela is becoming more like Cuba every day, but in many ways it is not at all like Cuba. People own, buy and sell property. They have money to buy groceries, cars, etc. Although often there are food shortages, to me, the shelves had a hundred times what we usually can find in Cuba. My relatives wanted me to help wash a car, and then were not impressed with how I was doing it. I’ve never owned or washed a car before. There are no cars in the inner city where I live in Cuba. I’ve only been in a few cars, and they were taxis. I was in taxis more while you were in Cuba, Franklin, than I ever had before. We Cubans walk or take the GuaGua (bus).

Also, long lines exist in Venezuela. One pays the utility bills at the bank, after waiting in an interminable line. One cannot expect anything to arrive by mail. Hundreds of people are killed weekly in robberies in Caracas. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world. People who own jewelry cannot wear it. People with cars cannot park them anywhere. Walking on the street is unbelievably dangerous.

I was feeling pressure – to act like I’d been raised in a capitalist country, to work, to be different than I am. But most of all, I desperately missed my wife and child. You had given me the amount of money I needed for my wife’s exit visa as well as mine, and our child would have been able to exit with us. When I started the visa process, I thought my wife and child would come with me. I was only worried about leaving my mother behind. But then I learned that my wife would not be able to come, and of course, that meant my child would remain in Cuba too. I learned that it would take years to get them out. I know many other people, including family members, who have done that – the father left and seven or more years later extricated the others - but I couldn’t bear it.

So I have returned to Cuba. Here I am, in Havana, chagrined, embarrassed and sorry. I hope you understand that I just wasn’t prepared for the differences, and I just couldn’t bear to be without my family.

A Cuba restaurant like I am  accustomed to
A fancy store in Havana where one pays in Pesos Convertibles

How we shop for necessities in Havana

More of my neighborhood 
My Neighborhood in Cuba 
see my neighbor in the roofless apartment at the top

where i ate bacon and more bacon

Where we stayed in Santiago - The open window is ours - because we wanted to feel the open air and freedom - of course, I was inside watching VH1

Mariela Castro and Yoani Sanchez Clash on Twitter

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, Mariela Castro (@CastroEspinM) opened a Twitter account for the first time and began tweeting. She is the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and the niece of Fidel Castro. She lives in Havana, Cuba, as does Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sánchez (@yoanisánchez). Her father, her uncle, Fidel Castro, Venezuela President, Hugo Chavez, and other government leaders have used Twitter for a while.

As soon as Ms. Castro posted her first tweet, she became engaged in a war of Tweets with Sánchez.
Mariela Castro is an activist for gay rights. Earlier this year, Sánchez began a discourse with Ms. Castro in which Sánchez challenged Castro to extend her tolerance of gay rights to promotion of all kinds of rights that are restricted in Cuba, such as the right to free speech, to elect political leaders and to travel abroad. Sánchez has been awarded various human rights commendations, and has been invited to speak many times in other countries, but is never granted a visa to leave Cuba to participate in any of these events. Ms. Sánchez has not asked to leave Cuba permanently. She returned voluntarily to Cuba after emigrating to Switzerland, and says she will not leave again until Cuba is free. But she is continuously forbidden to travel. She frequently explains her exchanges with government officials on her blog

One panel discussion to which Yoani was invited, but had to attend via Skype because of her inability to travel was How to Ignite, or Quash, a Revolution in 140 Characters or Less, which was presented in July, 2011 by New America Foundation in Washington, DC. The seminar involved social media, including Twitter and its effects in revolutionary activity in various countries.
Ms. Castro did not accept Ms. Sánchez’ requests for a dialogue on all human rights in Cuba.
In the recent barrage of tweets, Sánchez asked, “… When will Cubans be able to break free of [all] restraints?” and “Welcome to Twitter pluralism @CastroEspinalM. Here, no one can silence me, deny me permission to travel nor impede my entry.”

Castro responded: “Your focus on tolerance resurrects old power structures. To improve the value of your ‘services,’ you need to educate yourself.”

Sánchez tweeted: “Another little question for @CastroEspinM. How can you ask for selective acceptance for one issue. Acceptance is total, or not?”

Castro did not accept the challenge, although many other Twitter followers jumped in. Castro said, “Friends who follow me, thanks for your messages. I appreciate also the mediocre-minded and bored for sharing my tweets with others.”

In her blog, Sánchez later said, “The personal attack with which [Mariel Castro] responded stunned me. I did not expect a hand extended in dialog, certainly, but neither did I expect arrogance. It’s true that I need to study, as she suggested, and I will do so and continue to do so until my eyes can no longer distinguish the lines in my books and my rheumatic fingers can no find the keys on the keyboard. However, I have learned that to evade a question by attacking the other’s lack of education borders on arrogance. …

I believe, however, that … verbal attack is a habit that can be cured. The voice can be trained, tolerance acquired, the ear opened to listening to others. Twitter is a magnificent therapy to achieve this. I suppose that as the days pass and as Mariela Castro continues to publish, she will come to better understand the norms of democratic dialog, without hierarchies, where no one tries to give lessons to anyone. When this time comes, I hope we can converse, have a coffee, ‘study’ together — why not? — the long and difficult road that lies ahead for us.”

Various news organizations have reported on the war of tweets:

The new real estate sales law in Cuba

The government of Cuba announced this week that real estate transactions are now legal, with conditions.  This is not the first time this topic has been raised in recent months.  But the changes are official as of November 10.
In the 60’s, the government confiscated properties, including farmland and properties of those who left the country, and imposed severe restrictions on sale at the same time.  Until now, people were allowed to trade properties through a complicated procedure called Permuta.  But now sales of real property for money have not been allowed.

Of course, there are restrictions. Just as proprietors of Paladares  (private homes licensed to serve food) must make deposits at the national bank, so the government can monitor and tax such businesses, the same applies to real estate transactions.  The bank will charge a service fee, and collect an 8% tax.  Also, a person is allowed to own only two properties at one time, one in the city and one in the country.  Another restriction is that one must be a resident of Cuba to qualify. Ex-patriots are not eligible.

The change in real estate law follows changes allowing Cubans to operate certain businesses, and to buy and sell cars.

Discussions were posted on this blog quite a few months ago when the new law was first announced. Now, the same two sources, Time Magazine, and Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez’s blog, have posted stories.

Generation Y again posted potential issues arising from the new law.  She says that on the long walkway through Havana, between Centro Havana and Havana Vieja, known as El Paseo del Prado, “has been unsettled for the last couple of days, and not just because of the hustlers hustling and the hookers trolling for tourists. … In the spontaneous housing exchange that exists on this pedestrian promenade bordered by bronze lions, the curious ask about the details of a measure undoubtedly more flexible, but still insufficient. They want to know if the property title that they have in their hands grants them, starting now, full rights to assign, inherit or sell their houses. In a nation that has lived for decades with a frozen real estate market, they find it hard to believe that everything will be as easy as some speculate, or as legal as the Ministry of Justice assures us.”

“One of the principal fears on the street now is concern about how the Central Bank will rule on the legitimacy of money used to buy real estate. Because for every transaction of this type the cash must first be deposited in an account and the distrustful clients of our banking system fear that it could end up being confiscated if the State decides it didn’t come from “clean” sources. But to every risk people will respond with some kind of trick, so I imagine that from now on the funds declared and placed in the bank will be a half or a third of the real cost of the house. The rest will pass from one hand to another, from one pocket to another. For too long we have behaved like outlaws in this area, so one shouldn’t expect that starting now everything will be done according to the 16 pages of the new decree.”

The Blog also says the law allows one to sell before permanently leaving the island, which was not permitted previously.  The blog says, “Thousands of Cubans have been waiting for this signal, like runners crouched at the starting line waiting for the gun to go off.”  It also says the law will allow transactions only in certain areas.

The link to the Time Magazine full article:  Cuba to Allow Sale of Real Estate

The link to the full Generation Y blog:  The Starting Line

Report from George – Aboard the Shirley Lykes – Exchanging Cargo for Precious Human Refugees in Havana

George – Age 70’s. Birthplace – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.; Residence –– Daytona Beach, FL; Occupation – Merchant Seaman for the Lykes Company, now retired.

Report from George – Aboard the Shirley Lykes – Exchanging Cargo for Precious Human Refugees in Havana

George – Age 70’s. Birthplace – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.; Residence –– Daytona Beach, FL; Occupation – Merchant Seaman for the Lykes Company, now retired.


Recently, I wrote you about my recollections of the trip to Havana on the Shirley Lykes ship, and our bringing 1,000 Cuban refugees back to Port Everglades. I posted a few photos from my video.

I am delivering a number of photos, of more people entering the ship, on the ship, and then exiting the ship. If readers recognize themselves or anybody, let us know at