- May 31, 2020 -
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Hugo Cancio

Hugo Cancio

Empresario y activista, presidente de Fuego Enterprises, Inc, Fuego Media Group. Fundador y Editor en Jefe OnCuba Magazine y ArtOnCuba

Miguel Díaz-Canel holding hands with his wife Lis Cuesta, talks to voters on March 11, 2018. Photo by Ramón Espinosa / AP.

A new time

Like many of you, I also spent hours in front of the TV set watching Miguel Díaz-Canel’s election as the new president of our country. For most of the Cubans, it was undoubtedly a historic moment. Raúl Castro kept his promise. What will happen after this change? I don’t know, we have to wait. According to what all of us were able to hear, for the time being some of the transformations many were expecting will not take place. In fact, policies and procedures that guarantee the continuity and prefer unanimity were ratified. In the international media, an avalanche of analysts predict and recommend. From the end of the dual currency, the approval of small and medium enterprises, to a broader opening for the private sector and foreign investment, just to speak of the economic aspects. I am concerned that solutions are not being presented with the same interest and earlier rather than later to remedy the popular dissatisfaction with the living conditions, the lack of motivation to socially participate, the persistent intention of migrating among persons of all ages, and fundamentally among the young. In recent days, while this presidential change was taking place in our country, news continued...

Foto: Claudio Peláez Sordo.

The road is to build

Speaking of relations between Cuba and the United States has been and still is a delicate issue whether in Havana or Miami. Contributing, being a pioneer, defending the improvement of relations, no matter the good intentions, or having made this task a life project, does not matter when you have given and taken risks. It seems an insult, a provocation, a threat. In Miami, for example, those of us who have spontaneously looked for to this, way before December 17, 2014, have suffered insults, accusations, questionings, threats, attacks; some have lost their lives. This task hasn’t been easy, but necessary and positive. Without all these years of efforts it would have been very difficult to get to where we are. Today Miami is very different, the majority think like those who blazed the trail. In Havana, most of the people also support the reestablishment of relations and fairly consider it as their own triumph. However, compared to the conciliatory and tolerant attitude and character that existed before President Obama’s visit to Cuba, in places where this change of political climate should be the norm suspicion seems to be the key word. I don’t want to generalize. There are many good...

Photo: Luis Gabriel

A better deal…for whom

When Donald Trump won the elections last November, we all felt we would have four years of a lot of work ahead of us. The scarce statements about Cuba of the then presidential candidate were not precisely encouraging. In any case, the Obama variable in the normalization process had been decisive. And, from then on that variable would be out of the equation. The months that followed were an armor plate for bilateral cooperation. In October, Obama had already signed a presidential directive for an “irreversible opening to Cuba.” During the last days of his government more than 20 agreements were signed between the two countries. Maritime exchange, conservation of protected areas, their environmental management. Two embassies, a bilateral work commission, systematic technical exchanges, we saw Raúl Castro with Obama in New York and Barack Obama walking through the streets of Havana. The rebirth announced on 17D was at its prime. The growing closeness between Americans and Cubans, the increase of trips between the two countries and of the meetings between scientists, artists, academicians and business people, opened new development possibilities. The generalized sign was that of optimism. Now, although we still don’t know how much, all that is in...

Havana view from Norwegian Sky

Havana, ready to receive us

It was 11:00 am when my name was called. There were a great many of us, hundreds of men; of all heights, ages, colors…. Only family men, students, average men, inmates. I was just a little man who barely knew what he was doing or how he got there. I had just turned 16 and was about to board a yacht headed to an unknown destination: Miami. It was May 15, 1980, the farewell date; a sad episode that has gone down in history as the “Mariel exodus.” It was the day I left Cuba, my country. Today is May 2, 2017. I remember the day I describe before for two reasons: it is May, and I am returning to Cuba – my country – by sea. Not on board a yacht belonging to an unknown, not like a “Marielito,” not only with men. I’m returning as a passenger in the Norwegian Sky cruise accompanied by more than 2,000 passengers, 2,000 passengers eager to get to know my country! While I walk through the corridors of the ship, en route to Havana, I feel enthusiastic, nervous; I notice an overflowing of curiosity. Many don’t have the slightest idea about who...

Photo: AFP.

Dry Feet

There are few things that arouse so many emotions in a Cuban living outside Cuba as seeing a photo, hearing and speaking about the Malecón, or about their barrio. Happy moments and sorrows, satisfactions, memories, yearnings, contradictions of the country that one day said goodbye to them. Today around 2.5 million Cubans have left the island to reside temporarily or permanently in more than 120 countries in the world. Just in the United States there are two million of them. Numbers that represent an indispensable part of Cuba: its diaspora. They are numbers that, together with the increasingly older population and the decreased birthrates, are demanding an urgent dialogue with the compatriots. The more than 500,000 Cubans who visited Cuba in 2016, the cultural exchange generated between artists living in and outside the island, as well as the recently opened possibility for any Cuban to return to the country, even those who had abandoned official missions, are some examples that show the Cuban government’s incipient will for the reconciliation of its citizens. However, it is not enough. The inquisitive migratory policies the government has maintained for years with Cubans residing abroad, backed by inherited prejudices and discourses, remain almost immobile...

Photo: John Taggart / Bloomberg vía Getty Images.

The Art of the Deal

Is Donald Trump good or bad for Cuba? This is the question of the moment, for which it seems no one has an answer. The new president-elect has asserted and contradicted his position on Cuba, not to mention his already public commercial interest in stamping his super logo on the island. Based on this, it is a bit difficult and premature to figure out how he really feels or to foresee how he will act. Predicting Trump is like a game of hide and seek without an opponent. I don’t know Donald Trump; I confess that many years ago when I was aspiring to be a businessman I read his book The Art of the Deal, which I still have. However, we have one or two friends in common; one of them even forms part of his transition team and probably of his administration. I am told, despite what we all know through the press about the scandals, insults and his Twittermania, that he is a very intelligent man, an excellent father, a good friend and that he has a great sense of humor. When I’ve asked one of those friends about what his Cuba policy will be (a question...

Can We Learn from the Japanese?

Just a few weeks ago I met the ambassador of Japan to Cuba, Masaru Watanabe. We wanted to talk to him and interview him, motivated by the recent visit to the island of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The OnCuba writing staff was very interested in getting to know details about the visit. I, however, was encouraged by a much more personal curiosity. The ambassador kindly accepted our invitation to visit our office in Havana. After touring our venue, we sat down in the conference room. He gave us more than an hour of interview and answered all the questions. He felt comfortable, pleased about the results of the top-level visit to Cuba, and committed to these new airs of cooperation, collaboration and economic ties of mutual interest. While I was hearing him talk, I noticed he was a very peaceful, tranquil and secure man; he sealed each answer with a smile. He seemed to not bare any hate or resentments in his heart, or feel in a state of emergency or paranoia…. However, Japan is located in a zone of conflicts, it is a country surrounded by two regimes that challenge their neighbors whenever they feel like it and...

Photo by Amílcar Pérez

We’re Growing

Lately our mailboxes are receiving messages of support, concern and suggestions sent by readers and followers of OnCuba from all over the world, mainly from the United States. They are concerned about the predictable storm of criticisms coming from a group that is against this innovative and exceptional project. We thank all of them. Both concerns show we are advancing along the right path, and that we are taking up a relevant space we mustn’t or expect to obviate. It is a necessary, healthy and even inspiring debate; it is the driving force that nourishes us. There is no greater motivation than a good dose of criticisms – much better if their intention were to build instead of destroying. With barely four years of existence, OnCuba, in its digital version, is one of the most read media about Cuba in the world. The printed edition, meanwhile, has an unprecedented distribution: it is satisfying to see our magazines in the United States’ most important shops and airports. This magazine, together with Art OnCuba, OnCuba Real Estate and OnCuba Travel make up the only media platform that discovers a country based on its widest, most beautiful and controversial aspects. There are still...

Photo: Claudio Pelaez Sordo

Norberto and Antuan

Antuan is a very good friend, a successful and well-known man in business and politics, he seems to have it all, except Cuba. He is the son of exiles, those who let themselves be consumed with hate, bitterness and the desire for vengeance…. Those who used to suffer from an eternal heart murmur, but with these new airs their souls are melting and they are starting to feel the cure. Antuan is afraid of disappointing his father Norberto. For years he has been concealing his curiosity about Cuba, but he convinced him to return to the island. Norberto and his wife “left” Cuba in a hurry in May 1962, Antuan was a year old and he was the only thing his parents took with them. I’m on the same charter flight to Cuba with Antuan and Norberto, despite the fact that the latter doesn’t have a good opinion about me. Norberto’s wife, Antuan’s mother, is not on board, she doesn’t trust. “I thought you were communist,” Norberto says to me…”people say you are a Castro agent,” he continues. “Yes, that’s what they say,” I laugh. “Why are you laughing?” he says to me seriously, judging me. “How ironic, some on...

Photo: Raúl del Pino Salfrán

Cuba’s most valued asset: its people

It’s already been a year since the so-called D17, a transcendental day in which the governments of the United States and Cuba announced to the world the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations and move forward in a process of normalization that leaves behind the embargo and hostility. Today the island’s market looks very interesting for US investors and businesspeople. The University of Pennsylvania and Momentum, [email protected], in collaboration with OnCuba, organized last November a four-day trip for US businesspeople as part of the Knowledge Mission, an initiative to explore investment possibilities on the island. Wharton has coordinated an important conference series on Cuba in which I have participated as a lecturer: the Cuba Opportunity Summit, the US-Cuba Corporate Counsel Summit, and the Infrastructure, Finances and Investment in Cuba Summit. I had already told my friends about Wharton and Momentum, that it was indispensable for the participants and protagonists of these conferences to visit Cuba. One cannot speak seriously about a country and even less about possibilities and intentions to invest in it without getting to know it, take it in, exchange with its people. It is necessary to understand who we are as a nation, as a people, our culture,...

Photo: Claudio Pelaez Sordo

On the right path

It’s the third time in 17 years that a pope has visited Cuba. Like the previous trips, this most recent visit holds significance for the Catholic Church and for Cubans in and outside of the country. But this pope is different; he feels closer, he’s Latin American, he speaks our language, and from the start, he has shown that he doesn’t follow all the rules. His attitude has made him into a leader. All kinds of people everywhere, Catholic or not, listen to his words, which is why it was a given that whatever he said in Cuba would be closely followed all over the world. In all of his speeches, Francis transmitted a message of peace, hope and love. He encouraged us to be united and to pursue our dreams. He urged us to rise above ideology, to build a culture of encounter, to continue the process of discernment and to serve others with solidarity. He propose to young people that they be the “sweet hope of the future,” and engage in dialogue with those who think differently, without falling into individualism and opening their hearts and minds to talk about what we share in common. Those Cubans who...

We have embassies

By the time you get this edition of OnCuba, Cuba and the United States will have their respective embassies open. It’s an important diplomatic victory for both countries, and also an unquestionable advance for the people of Cuba and the United States. The fact that they have embassies means that each of these governments recognizes the existence of the other as an independent, legitimate nation. Embassies focus their work on promoting government exchange and bilateral relations between their countries; attending to political, economic and cultural affairs; protecting the interests of each country; and providing protection and assistance to the citizens they represent. Until now, neither Cuba nor the United States had been able to carry out such functions. Their respective Interests Sections lacked formal status, and their functions were limited to consular and cultural affairs, engaging sometimes in activities prone to misunderstanding. For Cubans inside and outside the country, these places were not pleasant; they were places of scrutinized documents, resounding rejections, excessive expenses, lives hanging on a “yes,” and thousands of untold stories. Now everything seems to be changing. July 20 and August 14 of the year 2015 mark a historic turning point for both Cuba and the United States....

Pepe’s Ashes

His knees hurt very much; they were like two old rusty hinges. He could hardly see. His tears became condensed and stuck to his pupils, forming a cloud that caused him to only see black and white, sometimes only black. He couldn’t hear much, but he remembered sounds: a dog’s bark, a note from a muffled trumpet, the voice that took away his things, and that cough, that unbearable cough… He talked endlessly. It was his only defense, his ultimate trench. Pepe was 88 years and nine months old. At that age, and even older, some have better vision. But not Pepe. He was tired, disappointed, and his disappointment made his health worse. Less than 24 hours after December 17, 2014, he suffered what would be his last massive heart attack. He was an assiduous survivor of heart attacks and also attacks of rage, all of them or almost all of them caused by Cuba…that’s what Pepe used to say. “Look son, I left Cuba 52 years ago. I never believed in that government. Communism doesn’t work, not in Cuba or on the moon. I was always a humble man from the countryside, hardworking, and I lost everything, they took...

Photo: Roberto Ruiz

A Cuba that I want

A very young Cuban artist approached me recently to say hi, and he used the opportunity to make a comment that surprised and pleased me. Not all young people have succumbed to being seduced by the “privileges” of capitalism; most of them want something different from what exists, either here or there. “I’m very optimistic about everything that’s happening between Cuba and the United States. I travel a lot to Miami and New York, and we do need a store like Walmart or something like that, but not the crazy capitalism that exists there. I’m afraid that Cubans will lose their innocence in that sense, and all of the services for the population, and the social values that we have, especially in education, health and culture,” he told me. Last December, a few hours after President Obama’s speech, top executives of U.S. corporations, investment funds, and law firms began setting into motion something that had been stewing for some time: their Cuba Plan. In a recently-published article, Princeton professor and former secretary of labor Robert Reich said that most U.S. companies do not feel any kind of alliance or commitment to their country or to raising wages for their workforce,...

17D

It was 6:58 a.m. when the phone rang. I was meditating and I jumped. I never put the phone on mute, in case of a family emergency. Startled, I answered without looking at the caller ID. A familiar voice, somewhat nervous and agitated, said to me, “Today is the Day.” Maybe if it had been an announcement, or a reminder that it was a special day—an important meeting, a doctor’s appointment, a trip—I might have had to ask for a few minutes to catch my breath and jog my memory. But I’d been waiting for more than 20 years for that moment, and that voice—that voice was part of the process; that voice and I had traveled too much, talked too much, and worked too hard over the last 12 months for me not to know, at that precise instant, what was happening. “The President is going to speak at noon,” the voice told me, hanging up without giving me time to react. A few minutes later, I began getting alerts on my cell phone: “The Cuban government has freed Alan Gross.” I made a quick call to Washington and it was confirmed for me that the three Cubans who...

Los Van Van / Photo: Rolando Pujol

The Rolling Stones of America

I don’t remember the date very well; it must have been wintertime in the late 1970s or early 80s. We were in high school, dressed in blue, and everybody—except me, because I didn’t know how—was dancing to a big hit by Juan Formell and Los Van Van. I preferred the music that we got from the outside: the Bee Gees, Eagles, Aretha Franklin, Chicago, Marvin Gaye…. I didn’t like Los Van Van, and I would turn up the volume on the radio only to hear their song “Elisa,” a ballad featuring the voice of my Uncle Lázaro Morúa, who sang with them at the time. Actually, I listened to the song mostly because the fact my uncle was singing with Juan Formell and Los Van Van made me popular with other students. Then I emigrated, and I left “Elisa” and Formell with his Van Van, ensconced within the borders of an island that was known not only for inspiring revolutionary movements all over America, but also for its own cultural explosion. One day on an elevator in Philadelphia, an American guy asked me where I was from. “I’m Cuban, from Cuba,” I said. “Cuba! Where is Cuba?” he asked, amazed...

Round trip

I have recently noted an avalanche of young Cubans who have exchanged the island for Miami’s beaches and nightlife. Precisely now that Cuba has begun to take small but sure steps toward an economic opening, which could well provide a bevy of opportunities. This beautiful island, with its security and potential, is what many young people are leaving behind. They prefer Miami. A few days ago, a friend told me, shortly after arriving in Miami, that she never thought she would run into so many university friends here. Another friend, in Havana, commented that she had been left alone, that all her friends now live in Miami. Years back, those who decided to emigrate, condemning themselves to a long, tendentious exile, made the decision based on political and ideological differences with the Cuban government. They left the country in search of freedom… Leaving the country, for many, was equivalent to acquiring a one way ticket, a route which implied losing not only your house and objects of sentimental value, but your friends as well, and even some resigned or domesticated family member. The recognition of the freedom to travel and the right to emigrate, without being booed or thrashed (Mariel),...

Dayri

I got her call an afternoon that was boring but beautiful, one of those days where you don’t expect or need anything, and you’re just feeling good from such spontaneous, simple beauty. Everything seemed perfect with me, on the outside. On the inside, things weren’t so great: the accumulated loneliness of eight long years was wearing my patience thin. I was exhausted from the wait. I was on the verge of giving up, and just then my phone rang. “Good afternoon, Mr. Cancio,” she said. “You don’t know me; I have an order for you.” Actually, she didn’t say it; she whispered it in my ear. She softly murmured her charms. “Hello? Who are you? What do you want? What can I do for you?” I asked somewhat roughly, frustrated by the waiting and the interruption. “This is Dayri.” “Who?” “Dayri,” she repeated, with infinite sweet- ness. I sensed it. Immediately. She was the one I’d been waiting for, I swear to god I knew it. Yes, it was her; my woman, my lady, my life partner, my life, my everything. Unconsciously, with the authority of a goddess, she was trying to give me some kind of a message without imagining...

Investing in Cuba

With an import-dependent economy and no major natural resources, and blockaded by the world’s most powerful country, it is easy to understand Cuba’s enormous battle to achieve sustainable economic development. Despite the changes wrought in recent years, the Cuban government continues to seek a driving force for economic growth, and is now advocating for foreign investment. The main incentives promoted by the new Foreign Investment Law are related to tax policies and substantial discounts for those who wish to invest in Cuba. Businesspeople from all over the world are closely watching what is happening in Cuba, and high-level talks have begun, including with governments that previously did not foster economic relations with the island (such as members of the European Community). Nevertheless, U.S. businesspeople cannot invest in Cuba. An absurd law prevents them from doing so…. Cubans resident abroad, wherever they live, also have had the possibility of investing in their country, but the Cuban government has specified that it is interested in multi-million dollar investments, something to which only a small minority has access. Anybody who visits the island and chats with Cubans who live there knows that investments have been made by Cubans who live abroad. The small...

Foto: Escuela Cheng Ming de Argentina

Deaf politician syndrome

For more than 50 years, my adopted country, the United States, has subjected my native country, Cuba (and even more sadly and disturbingly, its people, my people) to an exhausting, unjust, and inhumane embargo and economic blockade…. For me personally, it’s as if my hands—left and right—were unable to communicate with or even recognize each other. As if that undeserved beating weren’t enough, the USA has Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which not only prevents the island from asking for U.S. economic aid (which it wouldn’t do anyway), but also afflicts the rights and sovereignty of individuals and countries; it prevents the world of international banking from establishing commercial relations with Cuba without being subjected to grueling, undiscerning scrutiny. A recent survey conducted by the Atlantic Council demonstrates a change in the sentiment and opinions of U.S. citizens regarding this incoherent and anachronistic U.S. policy on Cuba. The results speak for themselves. Most people in the United States, whether Democrat or Republican, favor a normalization of relations between these two neighboring countries. And even more relevant is the fact that in Florida and here in Miami—home to the largest Cuban immigrant community in the United States,...

Walls

I would guess that he is about 55, maybe 58, but no older…. He needs a few more wrinkles and a few more gaps in his memory to be 60. He tells me that he lived for almost 10 years in Germany, and that he saw the fall of the Berlin Wall with his own eyes. “I might have been one of the first to pick up a piece of the Wall,” he says proudly; or at least, that’s what his expression seems to reflect. For a moment I’m startled when he releases his hands from the steering wheel. They are rough, stiff hands, and he rests them for an instant on his thighs, as if he were feeling that piece of wall in his hands again. “And what were you doing there?” “I was sent to work in Berlin for almost five years as an instructor; I’m an agricultural engineer…. Then I was assigned to the Cuban embassy and another five years went by before I returned to Cuba.” “I meant, what were you doing by the Wall?” “Oh! I was sent from the embassy to attend to the Cubans who lived in Berlin and the rest of the...

MiG-23

I really don’t remember the exact day of this incident—a conversation that ended up with a scar on the head of my friend Carlitos. Lately I’ve been remembering events but not their dates. We were both kids, short in years and height, but we were dreamers. Dreaming was free, it didn’t cost anything like it does now—is anything free these days? Carlitos was the most privileged kid on my block, and on many other blocks. His father was a military officer, and not just any military officer; the insignia on his uniform included more than one star. Back then we all wanted to be soldiers, for well-being and for honor. I do remember clearly that it was raining that day and the air was cold, so cold that it irritated my lungs and caused my bronchial tubes to contract. I remember because that day we both ended up at the clinic: aerosol for me and stitches for Carlitos’ head. The conversation was brief, but the argument lasted longer and turned into a fight with fists and then with sticks (Carlitos was much bigger and stronger). I’m not trying to justify anything, but he hit me first; he was nimbler. Plus...

MiaHavana

A few days ago, while I was reading news about the city where I live and the city where I was fortunately born, an idea came to me that I would make into a reality, if it were up to me. The gesture, one of goodwill and complete common sense, might seem crazy to some, but there are increasingly fewer of those “some,” and the “fewer” group tends to be irrelevant…. I am sure that when the moment arrives, despite the antis (the fewer)—the ones who hold on to obsolete, negative manias—the majority would vote for this idea, both here and there, that is, in Miami and Havana. Here and there seem more alike every day; they seem to be sailing more and more along the same course, and I believe that no bad weather will divert them. Until a few years ago, we were separated not only by geography but also by a universe mined with political and ideological differences, dogmas and slogans, and opposing interests and priorities. Even more unfortunately, we were divided by strong winds of hatred and bitterness that blew in from both shores; it all seemed like an endless nightmare. Now, it’s not so much...

David the Cuban

David is much younger than me, is a better dancer (anybody is a better dancer), and smokes and knows as much or more as I do about Cuban cigars. His Cuban music collection is larger than mine, and it’s not because he is—or thinks he is—more Cuban than me; it’s just that David loves Cuba, and without any exceptions whatsoever, he loves all of its derivatives. They tell me that before he learned how to jump, run or swim, he was dancing to Cuban music, and when he learned to talk the first thing he said was: “And why wasn’t I born in Havana?” Well, if he didn’t say it, he thought it. David is “not” Cuban. Well, espera/hold on; if he is, he isn’t legally so, because he wasn’t born in Cuba (he was born in Miami), and even though his parents are Cuban, Cuba still doesn’t offer citizenship to persons born in the USA to Cuban parents—and there are so many of them! But this doesn’t bother David; it doesn’t torment him, knock him out of kilter or take away from his Cuban-ness. David smells and dresses like Cuba, and when he talks (Spanish-Cuban) he is as much...

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