Cuba

Posted by Ellen

Until a couple of years ago, internet access in Cuba was a tightly restricted privilege; now, however, anybody can go online.

But two big obstacles remain. One is cost; a few minutes of wifi can eat up an entire day's pay for an average Cuban. Thus, although some people do use the web to check for news beyond official government reports, most internet activity in Cuba is focused on phone calls, often video calls, especially to friends and relatives abroad. 

The other obstacle to getting online is that wifi is not available in your living room; you have to go to a hotspot, which is often outdoors, in a park or plaza. So Cubans such as the Havanans in the photo above gather at hotspots around town with their phones and tablets.

In the evenings, when the tropical heat is letting up a bit, some hotspots get so crowded that the internet slows to to a crawl and may crash. The govvernment has promised to expand the wifi network and even bring it into people's homes, but little progress has been noted.

That's because of the American embargo, say Cuban officials. And they may be right.

Posted by Ellen

José Stein, our man in Havana, shares a street scene with us. "Random people," he says, "who've seen a lot of history."

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Joe, our man in Havana, is spending the spring semester in Cuba. He visited this bookstore the other day, where there were four people, five dogs, lots and lots of books, and on the floor near the left edge of the picture, a green and gold portable typewriter.

Posted by Ellen

At the American base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the radio station bills itself as "Rockin' in Fidel's Backyard," there's a McDonald's, a Jamaican Jerk House, a Starbuck's, and the most notorious prison in recent world history, where our government has stashed people to torture and hide from the eyes of the world.

The prison has been in the news recently, a little bit, because Obama's maneuvering to close the place down has been beaten back by Congress once again, and not just by Republicans either. The one place on earth that has come to symbolize America's most feverish embrace of the dark side will keep on keeping on. 

Prisoners there were called "enemy combatants" in the Bush dialect of Orwellian newspeak; in the Obama dialect, they have been renamed "unprivileged enemy belligerents." They're not awaiting trial. Mostly, they're waiting to die.

The nightmare that is imprisonment at Guantanamo has become less intensely violent over the years; much of the torture nowadays involves tedium and despair, which never go away. Suicide attempts have been frequent, and an unknown number have succeeded; hunger strikes are ongoing, and they are dealt with aggressively. The prison's military management will not release details.

Here's what they will tell us: there is a trailer at Guantanamo that serves as the prison library. No law books are allowed, unless you count John Grisham novels. But there are hundreds of video games, 2,100 movies, and 20,000 books, 90% of them in Arabic. Movies are censored: low violence, no sex.

The Guantanamo MickeyD's is a couple of miles away from the prison complex, near the living quarters of the base's American personnel and dependents. A decade or so ago, when prisoner interrogation was so urgently "enhanced," a story made the rounds that detainees who cooperated were being rewarded with Happy Meals.

The "worst of the worst" could be bribed with Happy Meals? Move them to Florida then.

Posted by Ellen

Taekwon-Do tournament in Havana, Cuba.

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They really do like their baseball in Cuba.

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That's a pretty nice t-shirt that the guy in white shorts is wearing on this Havana street.

Posted by Ellen

Downtown Havana, Cuba, in 2009.