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Posted February 08, 2008 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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By Shasta Darlington | CNN

In a rare public expression of discontent, a video obtained by CNN shows Cuban students grilling a top official about low wages and why Cubans are barred from tourist hotels and from traveling abroad.

Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s National Assembly, was grilled about government policies.

During a meeting between Ricardo Alarcon—the president of the National Assembly—and students at the University of Computer Science, the young people voiced some of the concerns many Cubans share in private, but don’t often air publicly.

“It seems to us a revolution cannot advance without a plan,” Eliecer Avila said, standing at a microphone. “I’m sure it exists, we just want to know what it is.”

He asked about restrictions to Internet access and why workers are paid in Cuban pesos but have to buy many basic goods in another currency that is 25 times as expensive—the “convertible peso” that foreign tourists are required to use.

“That means a worker has to work two or three days to buy a toothbrush,” he said.

In the video of the recent meeting with students, Alarcon said he didn’t have the expertise to address all of the questions, but he devotes 30 minutes to responding to Avila’s queries. CNN obtained the video from students who asked to remain anonymous. Video Watch the confrontation »

While acting President Raul Castro last year publicly called on Cubans to tell officials what they think is wrong with the country, the forums that followed have been controlled in where they’ve taken place and in what issues are open for discussion.

The university video opens a rare window on public debate in Cuba, as students pressed Alarcon for answers on government policies.

When asked why there are restrictions on Cubans traveling abroad, Alarcon said: “I wish all the Cubans could go out and get to know the world outside.”

“I think it would be the end of the ideological battle in this country. When the people see how things really are, what’s real, how other people live,” he said.

Asked why Cubans aren’t allowed to enter the island’s tourist hotels freely, Alarcon told students about his times in New York, as Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“How many times did they kick us out of a store?” he asked. “Because by the Latino accent and the color of our hair they realized we weren’t Anglo-Saxons and shouldn’t be in the store?”

Another video obtained by CNN shows a recent meeting held to explain a new tax on Cubans working for foreign companies.

The unpopular proposal drew open jeers and mocking laughter, something officials here aren’t used to. While the questions and complaints on the video are nothing new, it is unusual to hear them voiced so openly.

The unusually aggressive questions come ahead of what could be a decisive meeting of Cuba’s National Assembly on February 24. Recently elected deputies will meet for the first time to select the new Council of State and its president—a position held by Fidel Castro for decades.

But the ailing 81-year-old leader—who handed over day-to-day control of the government 18 months ago—has suggested that he may be ready to throw in the towel, permanently passing the reins of power to Raul, his younger brother, and to a “younger generation” of leaders.

Watch the video here

  1. Follow up post #1 added on February 08, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Great questions with bad answers.


    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on February 08, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    And this from Bloomberg…

    By Bill Faries

    A Cuban video on the Internet showing local students questioning Ricardo Alarcon, head of the national assembly, provides a rare look at rising dissatisfaction among young people with the government of Fidel Castro.

    In the video, obtained by the British Broadcasting Corp. from sources it didn’t cite, one student at Havana’s Universidad de las Ciencias Informaticas asks about the communist country’s Jan. 20 parliamentary elections, in which none of the candidates faced opponents. Another questions why laborers are paid in pesos that can’t be converted to hard currency.

    ``Why is trade on the island done in a convertible peso while our workers are paid in a currency that has 25 times less purchasing power,’’ asked a student identified by the BBC as Eliecer Avila. ``People have to work two or three days just to buy a toothbrush.’‘

    The video appears as Castro’s decision whether to retain his seat on the Council of State, a requirement for holding the presidency, will be revealed this month in a vote by the new national assembly. Castro, 81 hasn’t been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery and handing interim power to his 76-year-old brother, Raul, in July 2006.

    ``There is deep dissatisfaction among the younger generation,’’ said Brian Latell, a professor of U.S.-Latin American relations at the University of Miami. ``They are alienated and dissatisfied.’‘

    `Who Are They?’

    Student Alejandro Avila criticized the list of candidates in last month’s election and said he ``didn’t want to die’’ before having the chance to travel abroad to places like Bolivia, where Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto ``Che’’ Guevara was killed.

    ``I saw all the photos of the delegates in the election and I said to myself `Who are they?’‘’ Alejandro Hernandez said. ``I don’t know them. They never visited the UCI.’‘

    Fidel Castro met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, 62, in Havana for 2 1/2 hours on Jan. 15. The next day he released a letter that said he ``didn’t have the physical capacity’’ to speak to the Cuban people.

    The elder Castro has ruled Cuba since leading a revolution against the Batista regime in 1959, when he was 32.

    ``The younger generation has heard about cell phones and iPods and all of these sorts of things,’’ said Jose Azel, a researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies in Miami. ``They don’t have the same kind of attachment to the revolution.’‘

    To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Faries in Buenos Aires at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on February 08, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    And this from the Associated Press…

    Taking up Raul Castro’s invitation to speak their minds without fear of reprisal, more Cubans have begun publicly complaining and challenging government policies on everything from gay rights to limits on Internet access and travel restrictions.

    This week some leading figures called for change: Culture Minister Abel Prieto said that he supports gay marriage, and famed folk singer Silvio Rodriguez said he believes all Cubans should be free to travel abroad and stay in the hotels reserved for foreign tourists.

    Open challenges of government authority remain rare in Cuba, where the Communist Party dominates all levels of power. But since replacing his older brother Fidel as acting president, Raul Castro has urged Cuban citizens to help shape their country’s economic future.

    Tentatively at first, then more audaciously, Cubans have responded.

    University students, for example, were outspoken in a town-hall style meeting on Jan. 19 with Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s legislature. A video of the meeting posted on the Internet shows student leaders challenging him to explain why government policies fail to live up to Cuba’s egalitarian ideals.

    They asked Alarcon why many basic goods - including toiletries and clothes - are sold in convertible currency meant for tourists and foreigners, making some necessities virtually inaccessible to state employees paid in Cuban pesos worth much less. They complained about laws prohibiting citizens from entering state-run hotels without official permission. They complained about limits on Internet access, and on rules that make getting a travel visa nearly impossible for most Cubans.

    Alarcon ducked questions about the Internet and called travel a privilege, not a right. When he was their age, before the revolution, he told the students, he wasn’t able to enter Cuba’s luxury nightclubs or exclusive beaches.

    “I never set foot in the Tropicana, nor Varadero,” he said. “You know why? “Because my father didn’t have the money to pay for it!”

    However, other powerful Cuban figures joined the calls for societal change.

    “I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that,” Prieto, a member of the party’s powerful Politburo, told reporters following a screening of a documentary on Rodriguez’s career.

    Cuban lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow gay marriages, though its progress in the legislature’s closed-door sessions remains unclear.

    A 57-year-old writer turned political leader, Prieto is the only top Cuban government official who sports shoulder-length hair. But he is also a member of the island’s supreme governing body, the Council of State. And he said he supports what Raul Castro has termed a “debate” on Cuba’s future.

    The “immense majority of intellectuals” want to “confront problems, to battle all expressions of bureaucracy in culture and in society and at the same time defend this revolution and socialism,” Prieto said.

    Rodriguez, whose songs have made him a leading voice of the Cuban revolution, described what Cuba is going through now as “a moment of change, of transition ... not the only one I have lived to see within the revolution.”

    The internationally renowned folk singer is a member of parliament who has long defended the Cuban government in the face of criticism over alleged human rights violations. Nonetheless, Rodriguez said Tuesday that authorities should ease restrictions that prevent many Cubans from entering state-run hotels, traveling overseas and even within their own country. “Permission to leave and enter should be completely open,” Rodriguez said.

    For decades, Cuba has restricted travel to keep citizens from flooding large cities in search of jobs. It also limits visas abroad, citing national security concerns. Since Cuba first began accepting foreign tourists en masse in the early 1990s, most Cubans have been barred from hotels, even if they can pay for rooms.

    Cubans also are complaining about a law requiring citizens to register their full salaries for taxation if they have been paid illegally in dollars or euros for working for foreign firms or embassies.

    Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became an independent journalist and an anti-communist, documented a Jan. 12 public meeting at state-run employment agency Acroex in which employees criticized the new measure.

    “Nobody can disagree with Cuban workers paying taxes on their earnings, something which happens in the whole world,” Espinosa Chepe wrote in an article released Tuesday. But he blasted government requirements that Cubans who work for foreigners arrange their jobs through state employment agencies, which collect hefty fees in convertible currency and then pay the employees in less valuable regular pesos.

    In the article, he said the meeting caused such an uproar that officials suspended plans for similar forums at other state-run firms.

    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on February 09, 2008 by Cuban American

    WOW SURPRISE SURPRISE! There is discontent with the Cuban regime from its people?!?!?!

    News flash guys, the discontent has been there since Castro assumed Totalitarian control of Cuba.  Nothing new here, other than the fact that it leaked to international press.  I am glad to see the MSM reporting facts for once instead of cuddling up with Fidel and reporting his lies.  I just hope and pray that the college students and youth of Cuba are able to stem some kind of change, and that they follow in the example of the Venezuelan college students.  “People shouldn’t fear there governments, governments should fear there people” - V

  5. Follow up post #5 added on February 09, 2008 by nacho with 111 total posts

    In Spanish only



    Cuba: preguntas difíciles al gobierno


    Fernando Ravsberg
    La Habana

    Representantes de los 10 mil estudiantes de la Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas (UCI) cuestionaron muchas de las políticas del gobierno cubano en una reunión que mantuvieron con el presidente del parlamento, Ricardo Alarcón.
    Los jóvenes preguntaron porqué se pagan los salarios en pesos y se venden los productos en divisas, porqué no pueden viajar al extranjero, por qué a los cubanos se les impide hospedarse en hoteles y porqué no tienen acceso pleno a Internet.

    Ricardo Alarcón evitó contestar algunos de estos temas aduciendo que no era un especialista en el área económica y se refirió a lo que ocurre en otras partes del mundo, pero en concreto aclaró poco las dudas de los alumnos sobre Cuba.

    Este es el segundo caso en el que las autoridades topan con las críticas de la población. Anteriormente fue con los trabajadores de las empresas extranjeras, reunión que tuvo que suspenderse cuando la mesa directiva perdió completamente el control.

    Gracias a un video entregado a la BBC por manos anónimas, pudimos seguir el debate de la UCI, donde jóvenes como Alejandro Hernández cuestionaron el voto unido “por ese ciudadano que yo no sé quién es, que nunca visitó la UCI”.

    El voto unido es una lista única de candidatos que presenta el gobierno a los electores para que los elijan en conjunto.

    Otro caso fue el de Eliécer Ávila quien preguntó: “¿por qué el comercio interior de todo el país ha migrado al peso convertible cuando nuestros obreros, nuestros trabajadores y nuestros campesinos cobran su salario en moneda nacional que tiene 25 veces menos poder adquisitivo?”
    ¿Por qué el pueblo de Cuba no cuenta con la posibilidad viable de ir a hoteles o viajar a determinados lugares del mundo?”, preguntó Eliécer, y agregó que no entendía que se le prohibiera visitar el lugar donde cayó el Che en Bolivia.

    Otro de los puntos álgidos de la reunión fue sobre el acceso a Internet, los estudiantes afirmaron que comprendían que el bloqueo de los EE.UU. impedía darle acceso a todo el pueblo, pero no entendían por que está prohibido usar Yahoo.

    Además los estudiantes de la UCI pidieron que los ministros cubanos rindan cuentas al pueblo, que expliquen públicamente los planes de desarrollo, y que sean removidos de sus cargos cuando estos proyectos no se cumplen.

    Difíciles respuestas

    “El presidente del parlamento cubano explicó que “no estaba al tanto de lo de internet” y que el tema de la doble moneda está siendo discutido en el gobierno, aunque aclaró que “yo en ésto soy un perfecto ignorante, pero sé que eso no se puede hacer así como así”.
    “Aprecio que sea preocupación de los jóvenes cubanos la posibilidad de visitar las pirámides de Egipto o de viajar a Bolivia”, dijo, pero agregó que nadie en el planeta puede “hablar de viajar como un derecho. Veamos cuántos bolivianos pueden viajar”.

    “Si todo el mundo, los 6 mil millones de habitantes pudieran viajar a donde quisieran, la trabazón que habría en los aires del planeta sería enorme, los que viajan realmente son una minoría”, respondió Alarcón a los estudiantes.

    Para contestar por qué se prohíbe el acceso a los hoteles dijo que “la cifra de cubanos que pasan períodos en hoteles hoy es superior a la cifra de los que lo hacían antes de 1959” y explicó que “en aquella época yo tampoco conocía Varadero ni Tropicana”

    ¿Reuniones suspendidas?

    Este es el segundo debate inesperado que las autoridades cubanas deben enfrentar, el anterior ocurrió cuando se concentró a 1.200 empleados de empresas extranjeras para cobrarles un nuevo impuesto.
    En el Teatro Nacional se les informó que a partir de este año el fisco se quedaría con una parte del dinero en divisas que reciben de sus jefes “por debajo de la mesa”, prebenda que hasta ahora era considerada ilegal e inmoral.

    Hubo protestas a los gritos, abucheos e incluso carcajadas pero también planteos muy serios como la necesidad de cambiar el código de ética que prohíbe aceptar ese dinero, mientras otros aseguraban que se pretende cobrar impuestos sobre un delito.

    La mesa directiva perdió completamente el control, la reunión se disolvió y se suspendieron todas las demás que estaban previstas para los días siguientes. Ahora esta comunicación impositiva se está haciendo casa por casa.

    Nota de BBCMundo.com:

    Publicada: 2008/02/05 12:55:00 GMT


  6. Follow up post #6 added on February 09, 2008 by nacho with 111 total posts

    Discontent is nothing new, but it is good to see some students voicing. I just wonder what would happen to these students.
    In 1993, at the height of the periodo especial, with 12 hour electricity blackouts, I stood up in a similar assembly at the Universidad d Oriente in Santiago de Cuba and said the same things regarding dollars, access to hotels and freedom to travel. My classmates supported my statements. Our class was made of 30, only 10 graduated as the rest, including me, failed to pass end-of year exams. We never had a chance to reseat the exams as it was customary. A combination of pressure from teachers and Uni officials, lack of electricity to study and lack of everything, all of us gave up.

    Now, 15 years later, some students are saying the same. I just hope nothing happens to them.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on February 09, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Thanks for posting the links and telling us about your first hand experience.

    1. Do you think that this event was real or was it staged and the video leaked? One of the students is reading from his notes which seems odd for someone to have to refer to notes for such a personal speech.

    2. Do you think this professional video was leaked on purpose? Since the media is so well controlled in Cuba, why was this event videotaped let alone leaked?

    3. Why was Ricardo Alarcon so demeaning with his answers? I doubt he was kicked out of places in New York City because he was Hispanic and his answer about not letting Cubans travel abroad was stupid. Those were shameful answers and I thought he had more class than that.

    If this event was real and the video was truly leaked then this is great news for the change movement in Cuba. Youtube just might be the venue that enables change in Cuba.

    Cuba consulting services

  8. Follow up post #8 added on February 09, 2008 by nacho with 111 total posts

    1. Do you think that this event was real or was it staged and the video leaked? One of the students is reading from his notes which seems odd for someone to have to refer to notes for such a personal speech.
    (my first thought was that it was staged as all those things always are in Cuba. Maybe not, I think he referred to his notes to carefully choose his words and not to sound like a “dissident”, the Boliva reference… well I don’t know many Cubans who would like that, most want to visit Europe or the US or other places. All in all, there#s a 50/50 chance it was staged)

    2. Do you think this professional video was leaked on purpose? Since the media is so well controlled in Cuba, why was this event videotaped let alone leaked?
    (yes, it is a professional video, not a mobile phone recording or secret camera thing. It could be that someone was genuinely interested in distributing it or that is part of an concerted government move to appear more open to criticism and change. Not only the fact that it was leaked to the BBC, an agency that, if anything, leans to the left, but also the fact that the BBC correspondent made it public, all foreign correspondents in Cuba are closely watched and he could not have made it public without the goverment knowing one way or another. )

    3. Why was Ricardo Alarcon so demeaning with his answers? I doubt he was kicked out of places in New York City because he was Hispanic and his answer about not letting Cubans travel abroad was stupid. Those were shameful answers and I thought he had more class than that.

    (Yes, I agreed, I was surprised he showed such lack of diplomacy. Shame on him, maybe he was taken aback by the carefully worded questions of this students? I also read on his responses that he was following a script but he did not agree with that. Did anyone else note that he hinted certain things were about to change in the fact that Cubans are not allowed to travel?)

  9. Follow up post #9 added on February 11, 2008 by cubanpete with 127 total posts

    21-year old Eliecer Avila, who was featured in the video, has since been taken into custody by Cuban authorities.  So much for freedom of speech in The New Cuba.

    For change (cambio) we can believe in.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on February 11, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Do you have a link to that information?

    Cuba consulting services

  11. Follow up post #11 added on February 11, 2008 by nacho with 111 total posts


    the Babalu blog also has it in english

  12. Follow up post #12 added on February 11, 2008 by nacho with 111 total posts

    I also received confirmation that the other young man featured in those videos is fine at his home. At least today

  13. Follow up post #13 added on February 12, 2008 by nacho with 111 total posts

    Cuban official newspaper Granma is showing a video of Eliecer Avila “denouncing a international media campaign against Cuba”

    See it here (In Spanish)

    Videos are here:

    http://videos.cubasi.cu/Entrevistacon estudiantesdelauci.wmv


    I have not been able to watch the videos so I hop you can and then reach your own conclusions

    I have posted these comments and videos not for promoting Granma or the Cuban goverment, only for the purposes of showing what Cubans inside the country are hearing

    More on the case in Cubaencuentro


  14. Follow up post #14 added on February 15, 2008 by abh

    The video is clearly real.  You guys are super paranoid if you think it’s fake.
    I look at these developments as baby steps; everybody in Cuba knows that these type of conversations happen often but are suppressed One thing that is not often mentioned is the incredible amount of self-censorship that exists.  Everybody’s familiar with the dynamics of speaking against the system.  In the video one can notice that both the speaker and the people in the audience are nervous, I also noted the guy who got on the mic after Avila’s questions and defended the system.  This is a very common thing.
    I see this as ultimately a positive move towards more dissent being allowed.  This video was seized upon by some in the Miami crowd who want to show that it proves that there’s evil in havana.  To me this question and answer session mirrors many conversations I had with Cubans.  I would try to push them and they would constantly defend the system to the extent of being apologists.  Such conversations constantly frustrated me because I didn’t see the discussions moving in a positive direction.  But if such criticisms are allowed and even encouraged, we could see some positive change.

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