By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Throughout her childhood, Giselle felt the heat from her parents' activism. At school, teachers segregated her from other students, and secret police followed her home. Despite her high marks, the University of Havana refused to admit her, until her father threatened to talk to foreign media.
At the university, where she enrolled in 2003, she studied computer science — and got a front-row seat to Cuba's rapidly changing online culture. "It's not a major where they can just ram party politics down your throat," Giselle says, laughing. "So it's a natural place for change."
But in 2007, just before Giselle was due to graduate, the university expelled her. The reason: She refused to sign a form condemning her parents' activism.
But she suspects it had as much to do with the government's rising fears. Someone so untrustworthy couldn't be allowed access to government-run computers and the internet. "They understand what the web can do to them. You can't control it," says Giselle, who earned political asylum after her expulsion from school and now studies at the University of Miami.
"It scares them," she says. "And it should."
What follows are a few examples of the ads and sellers on Revolico. New Times has withheld some information about the sellers to protect them from possible prosecution by Cuban authorities. Ads and interviews, which were conducted by phone, have been translated.
Subject: I give Chinese classes
Date: August 21, 2009
I teach Chinese — phonetics, grammar, writing, and everything about the language. If you're interested, call after 9 p.m.
Name: Mileidys and Ernesto
Twenty-eight-year-old Ernesto is overeducated and underpaid. The Havana native has degrees in psychology and sociology. His wife, Mileidys, has degrees in psychology and Chinese.
They're more comfortable than most — Ernesto works at a cultural center and as a part-time professor at the University of Havana. Mileidys heads a human resources department for a telephone company. But in July, they decided they needed some extra cash.
So twice a week in the living room, after she returns home at 8 p.m., Mileidys coaches students in Mandarin grammar and spelling. As the Chinese invest millions in the production of nickel and the telecom industry in Cuba, interest in the language has spiked. She charges $2 a meeting.
On a recent summer day, Ernesto answers the phone recently after the third ring. The line crackles over the Florida Straits.
"You know, the black market has always been in Havana. Revolico, it's the same market, just online. You'll find more on the street corners, of course. People are scared, for good reason, to put too much stolen stuff out there on the web.
"Just remember: All the important business in Cuba is done by the state. Castro owns the bread. Revolico just moves the crumbs."
Subject: Guitar lessons: all ages and skills welcome
Date: August 12, 2009
I give classes in acoustic, popular, and electric guitar. I have a music degree and can teach in your house. Call 05293**** or write to me at ***@gmail.com. Thanks!
Jorge, a music teacher in central Havana, answers his cell phone on a busy street.
"I charge $3 a lesson. You want to learn? I can teach anything: folk, classical, electric, concert. I studied guitar for years, my friend.
"I produce music also, so if you're good, I can help you put a record together.
"Revolico? Yeah, I've been using it for a while now. I don't know when I started. You know what? This isn't the kind of conversation I can really have on my cell phone out in the open. Maybe email me later. Bye."
Subject: Convertible Ford, 1956, luxury!
Date: August 26, 2009
This, friends, is the only place to find this car. Very hot, very exclusive, great engine, good upholstery and painting (white and green). All original, V8 motor. I'll put photos on the web soon. Interested? Call 203****, ask for Enrique or Juan. We'll show it to you whenever you want.
Name: Enrique and Juan
Juan is a government engineer with some cash to burn — and his ride shows it. Most Cubans make 20 bucks a month; Sanchez wants 13,000 pesos, or more than $14,000, for his '56 Ford hardtop.
It's worth it, he says, for a pristine classic in a country full of barely running Yank tanks.
"Yeah, it's a lot of money. But I already had one guy call today wanting to see some photos. It's a beautiful car — classic and in great condition.
"I've never used Revolico before, but I'm impressed by what it can do. A car this expensive, you can't easily sell it to people you'd meet in everyday life. I needed to reach more people.
"I'm selling it because I need the money. That's all I really want to tell you.
"As far as I know, this is all legal. If someone finds me on this site, we'll go through the legal process to transfer the car title. It's not something bad; it's positive. It's just a tool to do transactions you'd do anyway, and it's making life better."
Subject: Rent a new car with a driver — trips to anywhere in Havana
Date: August 10, 2009