Category Archives: Cuba

Mirad, Un extranjero…

«Mirad: Un extranjero…» Yo los reconocía,
siendo niño, en las calles por su no sé que ausente.
Y era una extraña mezcla de susto y de alegría
pensar que eran distintos al resto de la gente.

Después crecí, soñando, sobre los libros viejos;
corrí, de mapa en mapa, frenéticos azares,
y al despertar, a veces, para viajar más lejos,
inventaba a mi antojo más tierras y más mares.

Entonces yo envidiaba, melancólicamente,
a aquellos que se iban de verdad, en navíos
de gordas chimeneas y casco reluciente,
no en viajes ilusorios como los viajes míos.

Y hoy, que quizás es tarde, con los cabellos grises,
emprendo, como tantos, el viaje verdadero;
y escucho que los niños de remotos países
murmuran al mirarme: «Mirad: Un extranjero…»

José Ángel Buesa

¿A cuántas universidades se postuló?

A ninguna. En Cuba se postula a un grupo de carreras.

Haces un grupo de exámenes según la carrera postulada y se asignan un grupo de plazas para cada carrera por provincia. Según la provincia una carrera de estudia en una determinada universidad.

Yo postule a:
• Informática , eran 5 plazas para toda la provincia. Era carrera nacional solo se estudiaba en ISPJAE, La Habana.
• Telecomunicaciones, eran algo así como 12 o 18 plazas. Los de mi provincia estudiaron en la UCLV, Santa Clara.
• Automática. UCLV
• Eléctrica, la universidad de Camagüey tiene la carrera.

Al ser todas ingenierías hice los 3 exámenes de las ingenierías en ese momento (matemáticas, física y química)

De todos los aspirantes a informática obtuve la 3ra mejor nota. Así que accedí a informática.

Comencé la carrera con 18 añitos. En medio del periodo especial. Siempre hambreado y mal vestido… pero con unas ilusiones enormes y un amor a la carrera gigantesco. 1992–1997

Pregunta: ¿Será Guantánamo regresado a Cuba algún día?

La provincia de Guantánamo es parte de Cuba, la ciudad de Guantánamo igualmente.

Supongo hables de la base naval de guantánamo que es un espacio de tierra a ambos lados de la Bahía de Guantánamo que utiliza EEUU desde hace unos 100 años, inicialmente como base de abastecimiento de carbón para sus buques.

Eventualmente regresará. No hay nada eterno. un día incluso desaparecerán los países, las personas, o se unirán países o continentes bajo un sólo gobierno, etc

Ahora me imagino hablas un poco enmarcado dentro del conflicto o la situación actual en la que Cuba no quiere esa base y EEUU dice que está a través de un convenio, etc, etc. Bueno, eventualmente un día igual podría desocuparse por parte del gobierno norteamericano si es desaparece el interés, buscan una forma de no tener gastos inútiles o ya no existe por parte de ellos la necesidad de esta base. Aunque no veo ni medianamente cercana esa posibilidad al día de hoy.

How old were you when you first learned to code, and what intrigued your interest in it?

I was, around 12 years old (1986 maybe). I remember my interests were cycling, reading, watching movies, thinking on going to the beach and stuff like that.

In Cuba we had no computers at home back then, but there were places named Joven Club de Computación (let’s call them “computer’s club”).

Well one day my father told me to visit a computer’s club near home because a son of one of his coworkers worked there. He though it will be a good opportunity to learn about computers, because computers will be the future and so on and so on, you know.. all the blah blah blah your parents always used to say.

Well I said “yes I will go” but I actually never went.. I was interested in cycling and roaming around the city, etc, etc.

So one day my dad asked me: have you visited the computer’s club?

ME: “No dad.. I have not”.


My God, I got really scared and went to …. that place….I was really upset… I asked for Luis, he showed up : “oh you are Ernesto, come on.. you know what: Im busy right now but read this book and try to apply what the book says by using this computer”. He showed me how to start the computer and left to the upper floor.

It was an MSX “intelligent keyboard” ( and the book was about an introduction to programming in MSX Basic… and I sat there for I don’t remember how many hours; actually learning how to start a program in MSX Basic, the first “hello world”, how to run my program, what a variable was… conditionals, loops, and so on… I don’t know: I sat there like 8 hours, until Luis showed up again and asked me if I wanted to save my program, and taught me to save to a cassette in a tape recorder. (oh, and he signed the paper Dad asked me to bring back.. or I didn’t ask him for? I don’t recall now).

Anyway: I was totally amazed!! I could order to computer to do things… I could cycle, or print strings depending on a conditional statement, and so on and so on. Solve math of physics ecuations, code and print my biorhytm (remember that?), well it took me some time to do it but I ended up doing whatever i wanted with the computers.

Oh…. after a couple of week it was dad who was going to the Club to pick me up and to force me to go home to “eat something”

I went to the club as soon as it openned at 8 or 9am, and left only when they kicked me out of it at 10pm or when dad went to force me out of the club. I was even given the keys to stay during lunch break of the Club’s workers.

That was how I started… a brief summary of how I started in fact.

How did the soldiers and generals who participated in the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis feel? Were they nervous?

My father was called to serve into the Cuban army, immediately. Dad remember they were ready.. he was serving at an aiti aircraft mortar battery.

They were very concerned, they were totally sure they were about to die, that the invasion was imminent, that it was the end for everybody. Very somber moments, very sad thoughts should have crossed their minds. He recalls an (or several I don’t remember) American plane flying at very high speed and low altitude “to scare us”. (

Well, at the end it didn’t happen …. and I was able to born 12 years later.

Update: 2018 06 14:

I went to Cuba last month and talked to my parents about this question:

Dad says it was a mortar section, not anti aircraft
They were near the beach, supposedly to repel attempts of american troops to reach the sea shore.
mom says she was not scared… she was guarding the university building in Santa Clara’s Central University. Dad looked at her like if she was talking non-sense and reaffirmed that they (the male group in the mortars section) were truly concerned.
He was the one in charge of sending the coordinates to the mortar crew

What was it like to live in Cuba just before the collapse of the Soviet Union?

I am cuban, I was born in 1974 and I was ~16 when the SU collapsed. Your question is what was it like to live in Cuba just before the collapse of the SU”. We will have to define “before” … how much is before? a month? A year, 4 years? I will assume “before” as being the last 8–9 years. From 1983 to 1991 (SU actually fell on Dec 24th 1991). Im plainly saying what I felt, what I lived there…

I will write about what was to live in Cuba for me and my family. Im pretty sure everybody has a different story to tell. Im not judging the ability of the government to maintain that way of living or whether there were other people that did different better (or worse) things.

Around 1983–1984 Cuba was a paradise to me. Firstly because it was the only country I knew of I had no other ways to compare what was to live in other countries. I lived my childhood in Camagüey City, 570kms east of Havana. To me visiting Havana was the non-plus ultra!!! In Havana they had a zoo with well fed animals (remember : before SU fall), a botanical garden, lots of shops we hadn’t in Camagüey so we could buy chocolates and stuff like that. Havana smelled to me like car’s exhaust mixed with domestic gas odors.. I recall it was the only place in Cuba where gas was delivered to houses via underground pipes (in some parts of Havana) and the only place where you can see soooooo many cars in Cuba (remember I was a child that have never seen such a big city so I have no other way to know there were places with 100 times more cars).

Our family went from time to time to Varadero beach, or Santa Lucía Beach in Camagüey, or to Cayo Sabinal (an inhabited key north of Camagüey) or some other places like Sancti Spíritus, Remedios, Trinidad, Santiago, Holguín.

My mother had a car with a monthly allowance of gasoline (coupons) and they saved some of them and we were able to visit some places from time to time. Not that we spent the whole time travelling but we managed to do some tourism from time to time a few times a year. We also had the possibility to rent buses/tours and do some tours to other places of the island (I remember being to Varadero once and to Santiago another time). It was not impossible, just a matter of planning in advance and gathering a group of persons to share the bus and the tour.

I remember staying at hotels that, to me, were fantastic!! Dishes a-la-carte and the beach near the hotels. BTW I visited one of those hotels 2 years ago and I was severely disappointed… I didn’t like it from today’s perspective.

We usually rented a beach property with another family or two to share costs on the rent, we stayed 3 or 4 weeks each time (every worker has 30 days of payed holidays a year).

The cost of life was pretty low but salaries were not high. For example taking a local bus costed 5cents, or for me buying a sweet was like 10cents, or a ham sandwich costed 1cuban peso, a personal pizza was 1.2 the cheese one or 1.8 pesos the ham and cheese one. But my parents’ salary was around 300–340 cuban pesos a month (each) and those 600–700 pesos/month for the family have to be used to pay for electricity, food, dress, gasoline, help my grandparents with some money, buy clothes, and so on and so on.

There were rationed food, I mean food that you bought using your ration card, very cheap and it lasted almost, if not the whole month. We used to visit the food-store assigned to us (bodega) with a small cart to buy the whole month of food for the 4 of us.

We could buy our monthly rations in parts ( I mean small portions every week or so) but somehow my parents preferred to go just once a month and buy everything I guess it was not to waste time going 3 or 4 times in a month there.

What was sold using the ration cards?: rice, beans, sugar, salt, eggs, juca root, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, pumpking, peas, coffee, cooking oil, animal fat, packs of cigarettes, canned food (corned beef, russian beef) and .. sorry I can’t remember other things.. Im pretty sure there were several other Im missing. Oh: soap, detergent, deodorant, and with a different ration card: clothes, shoes, fabric to create your own clothes, buttons, zippers and stuff like that.

milk, meat, fruits, fish and bread (in fact everything that lasted a few hours or days) were bought every day or few days as we needed them or as they showed up as they were (maybe) not available all days, we got like a litter of milk or two every day (I think that before 7 years old you got a litter of milk, we were two kids, after 7 and up to 12 or 14 you got 1 litter every two days) and a loaf of bread for the family of four (a bar like bread in Camagüey, in other cities were a baseball size bread for each one). I remember walking with grandma to the meat shop to buy her (and my grandfather) ration of meat or fish and so on. Every family living in the same house has one ration card: we were 4, we got a ration card, my grandparents were two living in another home, they got 1 ration card for the two. The received product for the two and we received products for the 4 of us. They got special products for eldery people (yogurt, milk, cofee) and we got special products for kids (milk, no cofee, no cigarrettes for kids). We gave my grandparents the cigarretes.

Rationed does not mean that it was everything… nope, not in the 80’s… there were some parallels markets (mercados paralelos) and/or (sorry I can’t remember I was a kid) farmers markets where you could buy at a much higher prices the same food you got rationed and even food you don’t get by your ration cards like ham, cheese, yogurt, maybe chicken, pork and so on.

Prices were higher than the one you get by the ration cards but you were able to acquire whatever was available at that time. For example: a pack of cigarretes by the ration card costed several cents, but you could freely buy the same pack of cigarretes 4 or 5 times the prices if you needed to smoke more that what they gave you via the ration card.

Schools? You were given uniforms a set of uniform for the whole year… we also inherited the uniforms from our cousins or friends so usually you have more than one set. My granma was a seamstress and she used to make a set of “similar” uniforms for me because as a kid … clothes didn’t last a whole year without an accident (a hole, a ripping, ink on it, and so on). We were given books, notebooks, pencils, erasers and I don’t know.. things like that…to do our school works and to study. In my case we had lunch at school (for free, of course!) it was not marvelous but was not bad actually.

Electricity and water went off from time to time, it dependeded on the season or the time of the year. The government made campaigns to save energy. I recall a song they ran on TV and/or radio: “apaga la luz… lulú lulú” (turn off the light, lulú, lulú… a familiar way to call some women based on their firstname). Water in our home arrived some hours a day and we stored it in cans and water tanks, etc and used it to clean the house, to cook, bathing etc … we tried not to waste it because you never know if tomorrow it will arrive. We had a Tinajón, an ancient way to store water in my home city, we actually used it to store water.

I used to walk from home to my primary school like 12 blocks from home and later to my junior high school some 6 to 8 blocks from home.

My dad, near 1990 bought a soviet bicycle for me, same color and shape as this one.. I enjoyed it very much and it was very very VERY useful after a few years when everything went upside down.

Oh yes, we had a “black and white” tv set like this one. I did not know about remote controls until a few years later. Also a radio to listen AM, FM (we had no fm stations in Camaguey) and SW… I used to listen remote SW stations at nights… It was sooo nice (I later became a ham radio operator). Before having a TV set and a radio my father built a radio and later a TV set (he and my mother are telecom engineers) … it is a shame we didn’t preserve it… after we got the TV/radio from the shop we put the home made radio in the kitchen so my mother will listen to radio… it later dissapeared.. I guess. My grandparents inherited the homebuilt tvset and I never followed the track of it after they got a “real” tv from the shop.

As you can see we were not starving nor living a miserable life… (we even got 3 toys a year for every kid, free medicine, free vaccination, free access to physicians, free access to sports events, free access to museums and zoos, etc, etc).

Now… lets talk about the “decline”:

After 1986 things started getting somehow “different”… initially we did not notice it but some things indeed started getting more and more difficult to obtain…. but I guess we assumed things were like this… by 1989 things got actually difficult to obtain but we could still manage to get some of them, mostly food. But it was difficult, for example, to buy clothes or toys. By the end of 1989 no products came from the former COMECON countries and you could notice it because everything started to become scarce.

By late 1990 gasoline was scarce (by late 1991 it was simply impossible to get it).. as well as some things we didn’t notice like for example fertilizers or food for animals. With no fertilizers, no animal food and no gasoline and no imports from former comecon countries, farms products quickly went to almost 0 until farmers re-learnt how to use oxen for plowing, and even there it was still very low supply for the demand as they were not motivated to sell at state prices and in such a crisis it was better to help the family or to keep animals just in case they will need it for eating themselves.

Between the end of 1990 and mid 1992 I guess we survived by using the country’s reserves (reserves of gasoline, rice, and so on) but as you might guess those reserves were enough to supply the country for several months and that was it. By the end of 1992 we were in a total crisis.

By 1990 the government somehow knew things were going upside down and started to prepare/train the population on what they called “Periodo especial en tiempos de paz” (special period during peace time) in which the possibility of getting no external aid at all was considered; named “plan 0” but maybe Im mistaken with the name. That plan 0 was a plan on how to survive in case NOT a single product or drop of fuel will enter the country. Fortunately they were somehow able to buy/bargain some products and we never had the plan 0 levels.. but we were almost near plan 0.

Well… then… things went REALLY very bad for us the population: no food, no gasoline, no new clothes, no new shoes, no electricity, difficulty to get medicines, etc. Just remembering how bad it was makes me………… well the question was about how was like to live in Cuba before that period.

Hope it was interesting.

Why did you learn Morse code?

learnt morse because it intrigued me…

Extract of my history on how I started in Radio:

One day, back in… 1984, 1985 maybe… when I was 10 or 11 years old, while walking around my home city Camagüey/Cuba (300000 hab), I saw thru a windows a room full of telegraph keys, it was a semi-military organization’s office named SEPMI that used to teach parachuting, how to shoot, swimming, telegraphy and maybe several other (semi)military related activities for civilians. So I asked my mother what were those thingies screwed to the tables? She told me it was an ancient way of sending telegrams, and told me that Agramonte, the chief or person in charge of the local post office was a telegraphist himself, that he used to send telegrams for the local post office. As she worked in the same company with him, we went to where Agramonte, and he was more than happy to talk with me about quite unknown things of telegraphy like dots and dashes, the correct way to hold the key and move the wrist.

Agramonte told me how was his work back in the 40’s and 50’s, etc., how he used to transmit at around 40wpm and write directly the telegram using a typing machine.. how it evolved in the then modern teletypes, he was even smart enough to read the teletype tape directly. Do you remember that teletype stripe with 5 holes in a colum representing a letter? I think it was kind of a baudot code. Well he was able to read directly from that punched tape and I was like “WOOOOOW”!!

Well, he then showed me what they used for sending telegrams, what a vertical key is (and other types of key), and showed me some sort of artifact that made sounds when he pressed the key. TACK tack tack, TACK.. or something, it was not dit/dashes but TACKs. It has a coil and some sort of metal bar above and the coil circuit got activated by the keypress and the metal bar slammed on the coil. Well, he gave me an old vertical key as a gift, a key I still have… someday I will polish it because it needs it. I used that key when I started in radio as CL7PE… I screwed that key to a thick piece of wood and glued a rectangle of the inner tube of a car tire to the bottom to minimize the key to “walk” around the table when using it and it still like this as of today.

I then learnt the code, I went to the SEPMI to learn and also Isidro, a friend of my parents, soldered and prepared for me a small CPO so I could practice at home with myself.

How did the US acquire Guantanamo from Cuba, and what became of the Guantanameros?

My mother is Guantanamera. She is, in fact from Caimanera, the cuban town next to Naval Station on Guantanamo Bay. My grandfather was a commuter worker, travelling daily from Caimanera to the Naval station for ~15 years

Guantánamo in Cuba is a city (Guantánamo City), the capital of a province: Guantánamo Province, where a Bay is located: Guantánamo Bay. So Guantánamo is not only the Naval Station.

The Naval Base is a portion of land on, or around the Guantánamo Bay, in Spanish we say “the mouth of the bay” where the bay connects to the sea, both sides of “the mouth” are currently part of the Naval Station, the rest of the Bay is Cuban territory as well as the rest of the province and the capital of the province, Guantánamo City are part of Cuba. And yes, cuban boats can sail from inside the bay to the open sea.

Guantánamo province has 6164 squared km, and the Naval Station has 49.4 squared km (the land part), so Guantanameros, even when not happy with the naval station, still have some space to live in.

Oh, the last time my mother (and I)visited her home town was around 1978–1979, I was pretty young and remember the fenced border a bit far from the road to Caimanera, and some other small details (the cementry), we were allowed to enter Caimanera Town because she was born there otherwise we wouldn’t be able to, at least at that time only persons born, or living there, or doing business there were able to enter Caimanera Town.

Do children in Cuba learn a foreign language at school? If so, which?

Currently they are taught English from primary school onward. As there is not a day to day contact with foreigners they usually does not practice English except with themselves so the quality of spoken English is far from perfect.

Most academic literature is in Spanish and English. Very few books are in other languages, Except from 50+ years old persons who studied in the Soviet Union or who learn Russian because they really wanted to, russian is almost unexistant.

Now a little bit about my personal experience:

Back in my era (I’m 45 years old) you were taught foreign language courses from middle school on.

At that time (1986–1989) most of the students were taught English as a second language during middle school. And yes, the rest were taught Russian at that age. It was a very basic English, and very basic Russian (things like saying hello, thanks, verbs, how to construct sentences, and so on).

I remember the first year I took English we wrote nothing. I guess this is the way little kids learn as they are not born knowing how to read/write. After that we learnt how to write and read.

My high school was from 1989–1992 and it was in a special school where we were taught the usual courses other high schools get + some special courses.

They are or were called: IPVCE. In my case I chose Biology so my class had a big emphasis on biology (50% biology, 50% other courses, 10 to 11 hours a day) and oh!! We were taught English (from scratch again) AND RUSSIAN (from scratch). I guess it should have been from scratch as there were some of us that were learning English in middle school, but others were learning Russian.

Those were the final days of real socialism in Europe and we were actually not interested in learning Russian at all. BTW: classes were very simple, much more simple than the English ones we were taught at the same time.

As of now: I know how to read a text in Russian and even mock the pronunciation but just reading, because except for very few words I don’t understand it.

Regarding English classes: we were fortunate to have a very very very good and devoted English teacher: Gavira…. he came the first day to class and promised us we will learn American English, he taught us in American English, to pronounce correctly (not separating one word from another, trying to speak not thinking in Spanish and using proper English) and a big bunch of activities (listening songs, mocking conversations between us, reading book extracts in English, etc, etc). He never ever talked to us in Spanish… I can not recall how he pronounces Spanish, at all.

Foreign languages at university: 1992–1997: Fortunately we were not taught Russian!!! But English teachers were not as good as Gavira… I made an initial test and passed those exams in 2 of the 3 semesters of English (I was not required to go to English classes)… the last teacher lost my exam and I was forced to attend. 50% or more of our textbooks were in English (Systems Engineer) so we had a daily contact with English (reading mostly).

¿Cuándo y cómo usaste Internet por primera vez?

Abril o Marzo del 96, estaba en La Habana en 4to año de la carrera. Un amigo que trababajaba en otro departamento, nunca he vuelto a saber de él, Manuel se llamaba, me preguntó: ¿quieres entrar a internet? Pasa más tarde por mi oficina y te enseño.

Yo esperaba que fuera él a conectarse a Internet e “iluminarme” con lugares dónde obtener conocimientos… sin embargo llegué y él estaba de apuro, por algo, no recuerdo pero en fin, no me pudo mostrar cómo, solamente me dijo: en “tal programa” (hiperterminal? algo de modem? no me acuerdo) marca tal número de teléfono, el usario es tal y la clave es mascual, anota.

Le dí las gracias y salí corriendo para mi laboratorio…. oh!! regresé y le dije: pero cuando entre a dónde voy? Me dijo: “abre el netscape y escribe”

5 ó 6 horas después, ya de madrugada, logré a través de poner el programa del modem en modo debugging, ingresar manualmente el usuario y la clave y pude escribir doble ve, doble ve, doble ve, punto, yajú punto com en el navegador… salió algo así:


Fue, fue un momento maravilloso: era una página web muy limpia, fondo blanco, íconos pequeños. Fue una puerta al conocimiento abierta! Ahí mismo me abrí mi primera cuenta de correo (que de alguna forma conservo al día de hoy) y comencé a buscar todo, quería buscar de todo a la vez… chat? mail? información? noticias? Era increíble.

Esa madrugada no dormí, ni las siguientes. El modem era un modem de 9600 baudios sin control de errores, así que iba abriendo varias páginas a la vez y leyendo en lo que las otras se abrían.

Desde ese día quedé prendado de Internet.

Curiosidad: tanto fue el vicio que una vez una compañera de trabajo muy revolucionaria y combativa me preguntó mi dirección y le dije mi email de yahoo (algo como [email protected]) y ella se rió y me indicó que lo que necesitaba era mi dirección física (la de la casa) y luego se ocupó de hacerle saber a todo el departamento que yo tenía problemas de socialización porque pensaba solamente en Internet. Mi combativa compañera ya no está en Cuba y la combatividad se le acabó… parece que algún cable se le cruzó en el cerebro con el paso de los años.

En el celular, comencé en 2003, cuando me mudé de Cuenca a Quito, a mi casa no llegaba Internet por dialup, ni dsl, ni por cable y lo necesitaba para mi negocio, así que no sé cómo me enteré que mi telefónica Bellsouth (luego llamada movistar) por un valor muy alto!!! me daba internet como a 64kbs… creo que eran 60 u 80usd/mes y a través de mi teléfono motorola podía conectarme a internet a través de su red CDMA, eso estuve usando casi 18 meses para conectarme desde la casa hasta que me mudé y pude contratar el servicio con el que permanezco hoy. (claro que ahora con mayor ancho de banda que en aquellas épocas).

Curiosidad2: entré al IRC pocos días después y entraba a los canales de Cuba (#cuba) y cuando decía que estaba en La Habana sólo recibía impromerios e ironías (“saludos a fidel”, “eres soplón porque sólo los soplones tienen pc en Cuba”, “mentiroso, los comunistas no tienen internet”) y una serie de cosas que me permitió conocer un poco más “el mundo” y darme cuenta que Internet estaba llena de sabiduría pero también de imbéciles. Terminé yendo a chats de México o de España para leer y conversar.

Curiosidad3: Antes de TODO esto, desde 1995 si mal no recuerdo o 1994, teníamos un servidor de correos a través de UUCP con los nodos del Joven Club, de infomed y de CENIAI Internet. Ellos tenían acceso a Internet y, a través de este sistema de correos usábamos www4mail o web2mail si mal no recuerdo para hacer búsquedas y bajar páginas de Internet, si eso era acceder a Internet (que me parece que sí) pues accedíamos desde antes.