In memory of Oswaldo Payá
14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 9 March 2017 – We take as a given that all
people aspire to be free, but the idea of individual freedoms is not
Defenders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes argue that a
dictatorial approach to government is moral, just, and necessary. Some
preach that a developing nation needs a strong man to effectively
promote economic growth without the complications of democracy.
Others feel that an authoritarian government is necessary to ensure law
and order. Others prefer monarchies and other hereditary forms of
government to protect the traditions and customs of their people. Others
believe that their church and government are one and the same, and that
their religious beliefs are about selfish desires for freedom. Marxists
sacrifice individual freedoms on the altar of collectivism.
If that is their decision, those believers in the permanent dominion of
a single party should be free not to be free, preferably on another
planet. But this implies the question of how a society should decide its
form of government. The dictatorial response is to remain in power
indefinitely, as we can see in totalitarian states such as North Korea
and Cuba. The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive,
multiparty and frequent elections.
That is why the Cuba Decide plebiscite project, headed by Rosa Maria
Payá Acevedo, seems to me to be a refreshing proposal after nearly six
decades of Castro rule in Cuba. Rosa María is the young and eloquent
daughter of the late democratic activist Oswaldo Payá, winner of the
prestigious European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of
Thought. Rosa María, as president of the Latin American Youth for
Democracy Network, continues her father's work to promote democracy on
the tragic island.
The Cuban Decide initiative proposes that voters respond with a simple
"Yes" or "No," to a basic but transcendental question:
Do you agree with free, fair and plural elections, exercising freedom of
expression and of the press; and organizing freely in political parties
and social organizations with total plurality? Yes or No?
It would be naive to expect the Castro regime to accept such a
plebiscite. But, at the very least, promoting the plebiscite provides a
strategic tool to stimulate in Cuba and in international forums a
solidly focused political debate and public dialogue. The plebiscite
focuses attention on the fact that deciding how to be governed is the
prerogative of the people, and no one else.
Few would reject the central postulate of the plebiscite that Cubans
should be free to decide their future. Even sympathizers of the Castro
regime would find it ideologically difficult to refuse to ask such a
simple question to the Cuban people.
The only intellectually honest way to oppose a plebiscite that empowers
the people in this way would be to argue that the people have nothing to
say about their future, and that dictatorships are the preferable forms
of government. Not many international leaders would be willing to
publicly proclaim that preference.
The Cuba Decide Plebiscite is not a political platform, but rather a
tool to begin the change that would be justified if the Cuban people
decide, by a "Yes" vote, and that offers the possibility of
alternatives. The "No" vote would legitimize the one-party permanent
mandate. To some extent the idea of the plebiscite offers the
leadership of Raúl Castro's successors an elegant and accepted way of
changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing one-party rule. In
post-Castro Cuba, the initiative of the Cuba Decide plebiscite promoted
by young people can become a key component of a legitimate transition.
Freedom has consequences, not all of them useful, but it is immoral to
deprive the people of their liberties, as dictators do. Our rational
approach is our basic way of living. If we cannot act according to our
free opinions we can not live fully as human beings. And we need freedom
to act according to our reasons.
After decades of living without freedom under a totalitarian government,
the Cuba Decide Plebiscite is an initiative promoted by citizens
presenting to the Cuban people a question with rational criteria: Do you
want to be free? "Yes or No." Who could oppose such a question? The
answer should enlighten us all.
Editor's Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute of
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author
of the book Mañana in Cuba.
Source: Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel – Translating Cuba
- http://translatingcuba.com/do-you-want-to-be-free-14ymedio-jose-azel/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 — The leader of the Patriotic Union of
Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer, was released Thursday after being detained for
more than 24 hours. The opponent denounced an "increase in
the repression" against the activists of his movement, in a phone call
to 14ymedio a few minutes after his release.
"The search of the homes began at six in the morning," explains Ferrer,
who was taken out of his home at eight o'clock in the morning this
Wednesday and taken to the First Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, known
as Micro 9.
The former prisoner of the Black Spring explains that the police raided
six properties of UNPACU members. They seized "food, a hard disc,
several USB memories, two laptops, five cellphones, seven wireless
devices, a stereo, a large refrigerator, an electric typewriter and a
"I spent more than six hours in an office with a guard," Ferrer recalls.
"Then they put me in a cell where you could have filmed a horror movie
for the amount of blood on the walls of someone who had been cut."
The dissident was interrogated by an official who identified himself as
Captain Quiñones, who threatened to send him to prison for "incitement
to violence," in a recent video posted on Twitter. Ferrer flatly denies
During the operation they also confiscated medications such as aspirin,
duralgine, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
"Most of our activists are in high spirits," says Ferrer. "This type of
assault does not discourage us," he adds. He says that "from November
2015 to date, there have been more than 140" raids of houses of members
of the organization.
On 18 December, at least nine houses of members of the opposition
movement were searched and numerous personal belongings seized by
members of the Ministry of Interior.
Among those who still have not been released are the activists Jorge
Cervantes, coordinator of UNPACU in Las Tunas, and Juan Salgado, both of
whom are being held in the third police unit in that eastern city. The
whereabouts of opponent Esquizander Benítez remain unknown. In addition,
about 50 of UNPACU's militants are being held in several prisons in the
country, which makes the it the opposition organization with the most
political prisoners in the country.
Source: José Daniel Ferrer: "This Type Of Assault Does Not Discourage
Us" / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/jose-daniel-ferrer-this-type-of-assault-does-not-discourage-us-14ymedio/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 8 March 2017 — The headquarters of the Patriotic Union
of Cuba (UNPACU) were assaulted by police forces in the early hours of
Wednesday. The troops forcibly entered five homes located in the
Altamira and José María Heredia areas in Santiago de Cuba, where they
arrested a dozen opponents, according to opposition sources.
Two buildings that operate as UNPACU headquarters and three belonging to
members of the movement were the object of a wave of searches carried
out by agents of the political police and brigades of the National
Revolutionary Police (PNR).
The homes were "looted" simultaneously according to activist Ernesto
Oliva Torres, who reported that at the main headquarters the troops
confiscated "a refrigerator, a television, two laptops, six cordless
phones, among other items."
The searches were accompanied by arbitrary arrests and the interruption
of the telephone communications of most of the UNPACU activists.
Among those arrested on Wednesday morning were Liettys Rachel Reyes,
Carlos Amel Oliva and his father Carlos Oliva, Alexei Martínez, Ernesto
Morán, Juan Salgado, Roilán Zamora, Yriade Hernández, Jorge Cervantes
and his wife Gretchen, David Fernández, Miraida Martín, and the national
coordinator of the movement, José Daniel Ferrer.
14ymedio was able to confirm that Carlos Amel Oliva was released on
Wednesday night, but several of the dissidents remain incommunicado.
Oliva's telephone line had serious problems that prevented the dissident
from communicating with the press.
Liettys Rachel Reyes, 30 weeks pregnant, was under arrest for about
three hours and then released. The whereabouts of the rest of the
detainees remain unknown.
Source: Police Forces Assault UNPACU Headquarters, Activists Arrested /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/policeassaultunpacu14ymedio/ Continue reading
El crucero Marina de Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, empresa radicada en la Florida, arribó este jueves al puerto de La Habana con 1.250 pasajeros en su primer viaje a Cuba desde Estados Unidos.
La compañía quiere realizar otros nueve viajes a la Isla durante el 2017, cuando se irán uniendo otras dos líneas de la compañía, Oceania Cruises y Regent Seven Seas Cruises, según declaró su presidente ejecutivo, Frank del Río, citado por la estatal Agencia Cubana de Noticias (ACN).Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed),
43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents
said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the
depths of Cuba.
The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked
asphalt and the small of cane juice, revolved around the sugar mill and
the usual thing was that grandfathers, fathers and grandsons worked in
the sugar industry.
It was a sugar mill town like many others. Squat brick houses half
plastered, a handful of white wood houses, guarded by five or six grungy
prefabricated buildings, built after Fidel Castro's Revolution.
The present and future of the village was to drink alcohol distilled
from cane, playing baseball on scrub ground and taming some lost mare
around some stinking green creek.
But Nivaldo wasn't a cane cutter nor a worker at the mill. He graduated
as a doctor on a rainy night in 1997 and after completing his social
service in a mountainous area of Santiago de Cuba, specialized in
When he stepped in Havana for the first time, like almost all the
country people, he took a photo at the base of the Capitol, and used a
finger to count the number of floors in the Habana Libre Hotel or the
"My dream was to be a doctor. Have a family and live according to my
professional status. I'm a specialist, I have a marvelous family, but in
order to maintain it I do things I'm not proud of."
"I have been on international missions in South Africa, Pakistan and
Venezuela. Not out of conviction but simply to earn money and repair and
furnish my house. In Cuba it's hard to find a doctor who hasn't violated
the Hippocratic oath, and accepted gifts or money to maintain his
family. In the countries where I have worked, I've seen patients under
the table who have paid me. In Cuba I have groups of patients who've
given me gifts, a box of beer that costs sixty Cuban convertible pesos,
according to the seriousness of their suffering."
On the Castro brother's island a lot of things don't work. You can wait
an hour and a half to get from one part of town to another because the
chaos that is public transport.
From the time you get up in the morning the problems accumulate.
There's no water in the tank. There's no money to buy a pair of shoes
for the kids. Or you have to eat whatever there is, not what you need or
Let's not even talk about other things, also important for human beings,
like freedom of expression, the right to join a party other than the
communist party, or to elect the president of the Republic.
But healthcare, universal coverage, was the pride of the autocrat Fidel
Castro. It worked well as long as the former USSR was sending checks
worth millions and connected a pipeline of petroleum coming from the
Later with the fall of Soviet Communism the deficit came. Ruined
hospitals, nurses looking like police agents and missing medical
specialists. The Raul Castro regime tried to keep the the flagship of
the Revolution afloat, but it was taking on water everywhere.
The first ones who become fed up are the doctors. If not all of them, at
least a broad segment. The causes vary, but the keys are the low
salaries and the lack of recognition for their work.
Migdalia, a dermatologist points out that "for six years I earned 700
Cuban pesos — about 35 dollars — and the salary was barely enough for me
to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. Now I get 1,600 Cuban pesos
— almost 75 dollars — and it's not enough either. So I accept patients
who give me bread and ham, or a piece of clothing, or money in cash, and
I give them personalized attention."
Joel, an allergist, wonders why, if what the international media says is
true and the government gets between 7 and 8 billion dollars from the
sale of medical services, "they don't pay us salaries consistent with
the inflation in the country. I was in Venezuela two years. The
neighbors gave me food and gave me gifts of clothing and things. Rather
than a doctor, I looked like a merchant buying stuff to sell when I came
back. I got to Cuba, after three years on a mission, between business
and the money I saved I had some four thousand dollars, not even enough
to rebuild my house. Now I'm chasing a mission in Trinidad and Tobago or
Qatar, but to get it you have to pay some official at the Ministry of
Public Health (MINSAP) some 400 or 500 bucks for them to put you on the
list. For these reasons, among others, many doctors decide to emigrate."
If we credit the statistics, a little more than three thousand doctors
have deserted in the last seven years. Venezuela is a destination that
puts their lives at risk. The delirious criminality in the South
American country has provoked, according to a statistic from 2010, the
deaths of 67 Cuban health professionals.
The lack of high-quality specialists makes it difficult to care for
patients in Cuba. Daniel has been looking for an ear specialist for six
months to diagnose and treat a problem.
"They only treat you as am emergency in a hospital if you're dying.
Diseases and symptoms that require lab tests, exams with equipment such
as cat scans or x-rays. can only be obtained quickly by paying with
money or gifts. Preventive medicine on the island is in crisis," Daniel
Twice a month, Marta pays 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to the
dentist who sees her daughter. "It's the only way to get high quality
care. If you don't pay, and try to work through the system, they don't
fix your mouth or they do it badly."
Aida, who works for a bank, waited almost a year to get an appointment
with an allergist. "Her appointment at the polyclinic was once a month.
But she never went. With two little bites of ham, two soft drinks and 5
CUC I was able to get an allergist to see me. Then, if they see that you
have resources, then they stretch out the attention to get more money
out of you. Some doctors have become hucksters. It's painful."
When you go to appointments at hospitals, you see that the majority of
patients are bringing gifts for the doctor. But it can be a gift in
kind. Though many prefer cash.
Source: Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-renting-out-medical-specialists-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton
14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age
67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer
"trained by the Revolution," scavenges among the garbage for the
sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured
spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons,
cans and empty containers.
"My last name? Why? And I don't want any photos. I have children and I
had a life. I don't want people to talk about me," she says while
agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and
disappointment. "I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of
those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes."
Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to
official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even
the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become
acute before 2025.
With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an
economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a
result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the
biggest challenges in its history.
"I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars).
From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier
refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older,
less energy efficient models] and an additional 100 pesos for the
purchase of medicines," says Raquel.
Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines
she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program
does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with
"One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a
significant increase in public spending and the decline of the
population of childbearing age," explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist
based on the island and author of several books on the subject.
According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from
11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.
Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country's
fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the
population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4
children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were
126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.
For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such
as those facing Cuba.
One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return,
according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.
In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and
socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about
20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and
physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer
to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive
thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia
nursing home, in Havana's Cerro district.
The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a
month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security
grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that
they can't pay the cost.
Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security
systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it
received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65
billion dollars over 30 years.
"Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system
provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and
food at subsidized prices," explains the economist.
"It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults.
They don't give me any subsides because I live with my son, my
daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own
expenses and cannot take care of me," says Raquel.
"I need dentures and if you don't bring the dentist a gift they make
them badly or it takes months," she adds.
With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy
pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In
1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension
would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of
pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special
Period, according to Mesa-Lago's calculations.
Raúl Castro's administration drastically reduced the number of
beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called "the
elimination of gratuities." From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some
5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of
Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through
the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and
matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.
The government has authorized some assistance programs for the
elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income
elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small
figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people
Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.
"People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an
avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in
1983, in the Andropov era," Raquel explains.
When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal
tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited
by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district,
until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.
"They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth
floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to
leave it, even though they paid well," she says.
For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars)
almost half as much as her pension.
Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although
she confesses that she wants "like mad" to get a contract with a small
private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state
company and its delays.
In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she
collects in the streets.
"In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have
to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can
not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos.
It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans."
In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data
available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1%
of the population were "at risk of not meeting some essential needs." A
survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income
insufficient to cover their living expenses.
Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were
mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something
from their work and remittances from abroad.
Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy
on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or
search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant
increase in beggars on the streets of the country's main cities has
"It doesn't bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one
who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school," says Raquel.
"The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very
good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He
always comes out and defends me from mockery," she says proudly.
Source: With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash
/ 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/with-a-pension-of-240-pesos-raquel-survives-thanks-to-the-trash-14ymedio-luz-escobar-and-mario-penton/ Continue reading
Apenas un año estuvo en su lugar la nueva ceiba de El Templete. El árbol de 15 años, sembrado en el mismo punto donde se fundó la Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana, no sobrevivió a las condiciones de su nuevo emplazamiento. Llegó para sustituir a una ceiba legendaria, pero se fue secando hasta convertirse en un escuálido tronco sin una sola hoja en sus ramas.
Este jueves, finalmente, las autoridades locales han removido lo que quedaba del joven ejemplar. En su lugar solo se ve ahora un inmenso hueco rodeado de tierra removida que los habaneros miran con resignación y los turistas con curiosidad.[[QUOTE:En su lugar solo se ve ahora un inmenso hueco rodeado de tierra removida que los habaneros miran con resignación y los turistas con curiosidad]]Desde que el pasado año se celebró el aniversario 497 de la fundación de la ciudad, los asistentes percibieron su apresurado deterioro. Durante la realización de la tradicional vuelta alrededor del árbol que se hace cada 16 de noviembre a medianoche, varios asistentes notaron que estaba “más muerta que viva”.La anterior ceiba había encontrado su final a causa del comején que la devoró por dentro, pero ésta nunca llegó a “prender bien” en el lugar, según cuenta un vendedor de periódicos que ofrece su mercancía en la Plaza de Armas.
La capital cubana se ha quedado sin uno de sus símbolos.
By KATARINA HALL • 3/8/17 8:00 PM
At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the
Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on
United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16
other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an
initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade
and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.
Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will
alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The
president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural
Expansion Act would "increase US agricultural exports, create jobs
across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality
American food." While these efforts are an important step in improving
American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform
its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its
The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was
implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that
restricting the population's access to cheap foreign goods makes the
country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its
widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one
thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice
for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.
While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an
important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods
will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal
I spent last year doing research on economic remittances in Cuba.
Throughout my time there, I conducted several interviews with Havana
residents. Like many Cuba observers, I went in thinking that the
external embargo was Cuba's main stumbling block toward development.
Through these conversations I learned that many Cubans think
differently, against the wishes of state propaganda officials.
As one of my interviewees, Jorge, put it: "The embargo that most affects
us is internal. We don't need the United States; we can buy things from
Mexico, Panama, China." The problem, he explained, is that import taxes
in Cuba are so high that it makes it impossible for anyone to buy things
from other countries. "Either that," Jorge continued, "or the customs
officials steal your goods because they can." One time, Jorge went as
far as to destroy a new microwave he had purchased in St. Martin because
custom officials would not let him keep it. "If they wouldn't let me
keep my microwave, I wasn't going to let them have it."
Even if companies are able to legally pay the taxes, the price of goods
drastically increases well beyond the reach of an average Cuban. My
Havana neighbor, Maria Elena, explained that in Cuba you do see imported
goods like refrigerators from China, anti-electricity antennas from
Spain, even your occasional Nestlé ice cream. "But I can't afford any of
these with my $20 a month salary," she said, "a $3 ice cream becomes a
luxury." A resident from the next-door building, Lismary, said that
sometimes import taxes raise the price of a good by 110 percent. With
these prices, American products entering the Cuban market could only be
sold at stores for foreigners or hotels, not your average Cuban store.
If U.S. companies were to become established in Cuba, they would run
into another problem: it takes ages for customs to process goods.
Manuel, a Havana resident who worked for a Spanish company, told me that
sometimes it took his company six months to a year to get the permits
needed for their products to be released by customs. "That is, 6 months
plus countless bribes," he said, "and sometimes we get the products too
late, when we don't need them anymore." Having products stuck so long in
customs could eventually lead to losses for Cubans importing goods and
American companies in Cuba.
Despite their intentions, efforts like the Senate legislation are
unlikely to help average Cubans. While it is true that these efforts
might help the economic growth of some states, and perhaps the communist
regime, they will not provide cheap foods for the Cuban population. As
noble as the intentions of such campaigns might be, it will not be until
the internal embargo in Cuba is removed that Cuban people will begin to
benefit from trade with the U.S.
Katarina Hall is the director of the Human Rights Center at Universidad
Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. She is also a Young Voices Advocate.
Source: Cuba's self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US
embargo | Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cubas-self-imposed-embargo-is-hurting-cubans-more-than-the-us-embargo/article/2616539 Continue reading
Michael Greenlar | email@example.com
on March 09, 2017 at 1:54 PM, updated March 09, 2017 at 2:11 PM
Syracuse, N.Y. -- Alejandro Cobus would leave his apartment in Syracuse
for his ballet class three hours early. He'd walk nearly six miles in
the snow and cold in sneakers. Then he'd warm up, dance for the next
three hours, and walk the same route home in the dark.
He never complained.
"We had no idea," Kathleen Rathbun said. Rathbun is the artistic
director of the Syracuse City Ballet and its school, Ballet & Dance of
Upstate NY. When they found out, the parents of other dancers and
Rathbun began giving Cobus rides.
Until December, Cobus and Jose Carlos Pino were dancers with the elite
national ballet company of Cuba, Ballet de Camaguey. The men, 20, began
their careers at the age of 8 in Cuba. The government program in the
communist country chooses the dancers. They leave their families for school.
"This is your career," Cobus said through an interpreter.
Getting into the program, and staying in, is a tremendous
accomplishment. Cuba, like Russia, trains some of the best ballet
dancers in the world. Now, fate and circumstance have dropped the two
young men in Syracuse where they are dancing with the Syracuse City
Ballet in its production of Snow White.
In Cuba, Cobus and Pino found little opportunity and meager pay. Dancers
were given a place to live and paid $10 a month, they said. They were
given small rations of meat and rice, they said, but it was not nearly
enough to fuel their constant movement. Both men said they often went
Beyond those practical struggles, they saw, stretched before them, a
world of little opportunity. There are only a few good roles for men in
the company. And that company was the only company available to them in
a world where the government controls every choice.
In December, when the company was touring in Mexico, the two men walked
away from everything they knew. They defected from Cuba, crossing the
border into Texas, legally, as political refugees.
They left behind their families. The mothers of both young men are
school teachers who make about $20 a month. The pay is so meager that in
all of their years of dancing, neither man's mother has seen him on stage.
The road to Syracuse for both men has been accidental in the way fate
sometimes seems. At first, Pino and Cobus split up. Pino had relatives
in Houston, so he stayed there for a while. Cobus had no one and no money.
Cobus got a job driving a van until he saved up enough money to make it
to Miami. When he was in Miami, Cobus said, he found help at a church.
There, someone made a connection for him with InterFaith Works in
Syracuse, which brought him to Syracuse and helped him find an
apartment. They also helped him find the ballet and are continuing to
help him learn English.
On the surface, Syracuse seems like a place that couldn't be farther
from Cobus' tropical home. But when he found a place to dance, he found
a new home. Ballet, after all, is the same in every tongue. And he found
warmth, family even, in Rathbun and her ballet company.
Cobus called Pino to tell him he found a place where they could both
live and dance.
Pino arrived two weeks ago. He and Cobus are sharing the small apartment
in Syracuse. They are friends, but more like "hermanos," brothers. And
opposite in so many ways.
Cobus leans forward as they talk, pointing and unpointing his toes. The
men are paid a little by the ballet, but they need other work, Cobus
says. He tries to think what he could do with his meager English -
cleaning during the day maybe, so he can dance at night?
Pino leans back in his chair, he legs outstretched. He smiles and tells
Cobus he worries too much. All will be fine.
They bicker, in a friendly way. Cobus gets up too early, Pino says.
Cobus says Pino sleeps too late.
Rathbun smiles at them and laughs before their words are even
translated. She calls them, "the boys." She and dance moms from the
school have clothed them, driven them. A dance mom, Erica Stark,
translates for them. As they talk before rehearsal, another mother
brings sandwiches for them.
When asked what their ultimate goal is, Rathbun already knows the answer
for Cobus: Basilio in Don Quixote.
"He is always doing it in the studio," Rathbun says. The role is full of
dramatic leaps, including a spiraling, dangerous one that Cobus adds.
(That makes Rathbun grimace because she worries he'll fall).
Pino would be Albrecht in Giselle, he says.
While dance was chosen for them, neither man would change his life path.
They live to dance.
In a back room studio at the Civic Center, where the ballet is doing its
dress rehearsal for Snow White, Cobus and Pino take turns running
through leaps and twists across the floor. It is a friendly show of
one-upping. One man runs and leaps, the other take a cell phone video.
Then they switch.
Cobus does that spiraling leap that makes Rathbun nervous. The first
time, he falters and puts him hand down. The second time, he nails it.
Here, though they have so little, their dreams seem closer. Even this
one: Perhaps one day their mothers, who gave them to the ballet when
they were still little boys, will see them fill the stage with leaps so
large it seems like there must be a tiny bit of magic somewhere.
"Algun dia," they both say. And smile.
Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, life and culture in Central New York.
Source: Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in
Syracuse | syracuse.com -
http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/03/cuban_dancers_who_walked_away_from_their_country_are_now_building_new_dreams_in.html Continue reading
BY DAVID G. MOLYNEAUX
ISLA DE LA JUVENTUD, CUBA
After a calm winter's night at anchor on Cuba's remote Siguanea Bay, 34
American travelers on the 150-foot motor-sailor Panorama II awakened
before dawn and collected their snorkeling gear, prepared for a ride on
a local boat to the southwest corner of Isla de la Juventud (formerly
Isle of Pines).
But on this day, the schedule, which had been arranged with and approved
by top tourism officials in Havana, was not to be.
Communication about changing procedures is not an attribute of central
government in Cuba, a country known for breakdowns in plans and
mechanics and disincentives for individual decision-making. Military
guards in charge of the island docks had received no written
instructions from Havana (though an approving word would filter down for
Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic trips in weeks that followed).
So, no local boat would be coming to tender us from our ship to shore as
the sun began to rise. Ever resourceful, expedition guides attempted
alternative transportation, rolling out zodiacs that belonged to our
chartered Greek vessel. Alas, Panorama II's captain called off our
morning journey to a white sandy beach for swimming and snorkeling at
Punta Frances Marine National Park. Instead, we would cruise directly to
Cienfuegos, our last city on the 11-day Cuba expedition.
During the course of the cruise, our schedule changed almost daily from
our printed itinerary.
The previous day on Juventud, we had reached shore without a hitch. We
toured Presidio Modelo, where Fidel Castro and fellow revolutionaries
were imprisoned in 1953 through 1955. We then made a delightful visit to
Nueva Gerona's Escuela de Arte Leonardo Luberta, a music school for
We walked El Búlevar, a pedestrian-only boulevard where city residents
turned out to watch us watch a terrific show. The show featured models
dressed in minimalist pirate's clothing made of newspapers, and two
local bands, one playing for a presentation by children of a folkloric
dance, a second performing music of the Santeria Church as dancers
representing the orishas, Yemayá and Eleggua, swirled.
"After such an inspiring day among the creativity, talent and spirit of
the local people, and after seeing the benefits from so many of the
government institutions like art schools and hospitals, today we faced
our share of difficulties," said Tom O'Brien, our expedition leader, as
we motor-sailed east to Cienfuegos (toasting with a spontaneous round of
Earlier in the week we had been turned away from two seaside sites,
including famed Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) Marine Park,
the attraction that had drawn some of the passengers to book this
voyage. Now we had been outmaneuvered by the Cuban military, although
they did it politely and respectfully.
O'Brien applauded passengers for their patience, flexibility, open minds
and "surprisingly high spirits."
Why not? While snorkeling and swimming were out — in fact, we never
dipped our bodies into the water during the entire week at sea — we
remained a satisfied lot of travelers, sailing in and around ports on
the southwestern coast of Cuba, which largely has been closed to
Americans since the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Fifty-five years later, we had floated up to the infamous Bay of Pigs
and calmly walked ashore to visit a museum in Playa Girón for Cuba's
version of the failed invasion. We began the morning at daybreak for a
woodsy birdwatching walk that did not yield a Cuban green woodpecker but
did lead us to exciting views of a dozen indigenous species, including
the Cuban pygmy-owl and the bee hummingbird, smallest bird in the world
at 2 ½ inches.
The Lindblad/National Geographic expedition to Cuba — three nights in
Havana at the venerable, outdated Nacional Hotel and seven nights
cruising on the cozy Panorama II — was described as a people-to-people
tour, as spelled out in a contract with the Cuban government. That's
what we did — meeting, listening to and/or watching talented Cubans
speak, entertain and show off their homes, businesses and creations in
Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Nueva Gerona. Even our free time one
morning at the 60-block Havana cemetery, Cementerio Colón, seemed to
qualify as a people-to-people visit.
In Havana, the Habana Compás dance troupe drummed and danced to blends
of the rhythms of Cuba. In a private rooftop performance, Grammy-winning
Septeto Nacional, founded in 1927 and now in its fourth generation,
played Cuban music with special guest singers that included Pedro
Godinez, 90. We rode in classic American cars from the 1950s; toured
Ernest Hemingway's former home, Finca Vigía; and met with artists and
young journalists (at OnCubaMagazine.com, which is published in the
In Cienfuegos, the Cantores de Cienfuegos choir sang religious and
classical Cuban songs. In a specially arranged musical program, children
performed "Cucarachita Martina" at a harborside pavilion.
We ate well, and viewed even better at seaside rooftop restaurants and
in historic homes where Cubans are expanding their businesses and
presentations for an anticipated rise in visitors.
Havana, said guidebook author and lecturer Christopher Baker, is in the
midst of a gastro-revolution thanks to the creativity of cuentapropistas
(private entrepreneurs). Cuban food was tasty, although without much in
the way of fresh vegetables. On Panorama II, meals were more creative
than those on land, all of which were well-prepared combinations of rice
and either meat or fish.
Twice when we arrived at Cuban ports, passengers and guides lined up to
have their temperatures taken by a local nurse. That was a first for me.
In Cuba, at least on the southwestern coast, the government doesn't want
travelers bringing any germs ashore.
Travelers on this expedition unanimously reported a positive feeling
about the island and their many contacts with its residents. American
travel guides who have spent time in Cuba call it a country of
scarcities when speaking of material goods but with no scarcity of
enthusiasm and confidence among the people. That was an accurate
portrayal of the Cuban folks we met, both the people we were guided
toward and those we met casually on the streets.
By its nature, expedition cruising is significantly more adventurous
than relaxing. Such a cruise draws a special breed of travelers who are
flexible and patient about outcomes. Although Lindblad/National
Geographic expeditions are well guided by experts of the land, nature
and photography, travelers do not know for certain what expectations
will be realized, and when. That is part of the fun.
New expeditions, such as cruising the southwestern coast of Cuba,
require an additional degree of open-mindedness, anticipating a surprise
▪ Eleven-day cruises of Cuba on Panorama II start at $9,500 per person
double occupancy and are available through March, then again in December
through March 2018. Information: 800-397-3348 or expeditions.com.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of
Source: Adjusting to Cuba's rules on a Lindblad cruise of the island |
Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/tourism-cruises/article137421348.html Continue reading
Next with Kyle Clark. 9NEWS @ 6. 3/7/2017
Mike Grady , KUSA 2:52 PM. MST March 08, 2017
BOULDER, COLO. - A good laugh can be a great cure for a lack of
creativity. That's why you'll hear plenty of it at Boomtown Accelerator
Jose Vieitez, the co-founder, helps startups fine tune their software,
business strategy and other elements essential to a successful business.
"When you start a company, it's very easy to start building product and
figure out how to make money later," he says.
But this group is not made up of Boulder techies
"My company is called Isladentro," Indhira Sotillo says through a
translator. "It is a mobile application that acts as a guide to Cuba."
Her app is essentially a type of Yelp for Cuba.
Sotillo founded Isladentro in Havana in 2013. She visited Boomtown on
Tuesday with two other Cuban tech startups.
"It's been a great benefit to be able to learn about business here, but
also to show what we're able to do in Cuba," Sotillo says.
The companies are among the 10 winners of the 10x10KCuba competition.
They've earned the opportunity to work with accelerators in America and
Running a Cuban based tech company isn't like starting one in the U.S.
It creates unique challenges, which call for creative solutions.
Sotillo's app is offline now because in Cuba people have very limited
"All of the information is in the app, so you have the sense of being
online even though you're not."
Vieitez's family still lives in Cuba. He knows firsthand the sacrifice
that Cuban entrepreneurs make daily.
"All the time you have to make sure that you're playing by government
rules, and in addition making good business decisions which can be
difficult," he says.
Vieitez hopes the ideas developed during the two weeks he's spending
with the companies will have a global impact. And Indhira is looking
forward to sharing her foreign tech experience back home.
"Everyone is helping each other be successful in their businesses, and
that's something I'd like to take back to Cuba," she says.
Source: Boulder company helps Cuba catch up in the tech race | 9news.com
http://www.9news.com/news/local/next/boulder-company-helps-cuba-catch-up-in-the-tech-race/420890424 Continue reading
Posted: Mar 08, 2017 5:48 AM
Updated: Mar 08, 2017 6:09 AM
Two human rights activists from the island nation spoke about what it
will take to secure democracy in the country.
Rosa María Payá with the Christian Liberation Movement and Cuba Decide
and Oswaldo Payá were invited to the university by the Department of
Cuba Decide is a citizen initiative that coordinates the efforts of
those seeking a binding referendum to bring about free, pluralistic, and
fair elections on the island.
"Its important that we all understand is that because Fidel Castro is
gone that doesn't mean that there is a transition process going on in
the island," Payá says. "The transition process is going to start in the
moment in which the Cuban people could have a voice. And in order to
have a voice we need also the support of the international community and
the American people."
Source: Future of democracy in Cuba - KATC.com | Continuous News
Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette -
http://www.katc.com/story/34692353/democracy-in-cuba Continue reading
BY CONNIE OGLE
Journalist Mark Kurlansky has a sobering message for Americans who say
they want to visit Havana before it's ruined.
"You can't go before it's wrecked because it's already wrecked," he
says. "It's not the place it was in the 1950s or even the 1970s and
'80s. Americans are so egocentric. They think now suddenly it's going to
become commercial because we're there. But you can be commercial and
touristic without Americans, and Havana has already become that."
A former Chicago Tribune correspondent, Kurlansky covered the Caribbean
in the 1970s and '80s. Author of books on a startling variety of topics
— the histories of cod, salt, oysters, paper, the song "Dancing in the
Street" and frozen food among them — he has turned his attention to what
he calls "the Caribbean's great city" in his 30th book. "Havana: A
Subtropical Delirium" is the latest installment of Bloomsbury's "The
Writer and the City" series, which includes works on Florence (by David
Leavitt), Manhattan (Patrick McGrath) and Prague (John Banville).
Kurlansky, who will talk about the book on March 9 at Books & Books in
Coral Gables, jumped at the chance to produce a book about the city,
about which he writes, "Havana, for all its smells, sweat, crumbling
walls, isolation and difficult history, is the most romantic city in the
"I'm an urban person," says the author, who lives in New York City.
"It's a big city, with lots of neighborhoods and things going on. And
the people are great, such great people. They have a wonderful, cynical
sense of humor. They're warm, welcoming people. That's why it's such a
great tourist place — they're glad to see people. It's economic, but
they want to talk to you, too."
"Havana" is not a political book, though writing about the Cuban capital
without mentioning the country's volatile politics is impossible. As you
might expect, the revolution looms large. But Kurlansky also focuses on
other aspects of the city: its history, culture, food, music and sports
(surprisingly, he writes that interest is shifting away from baseball
and moving toward soccer).
"Havana children have put away their small balls and sticks and taken to
foot-dribbling large balls down the street," writes Kurlansky, who also
wrote a book about Dominican baseball. "This might even be intentional
on the government's part. Just as baseball was originally popularized as
a way of embracing America and rejecting Spain, Cubans may now be
turning back to soccer as a way of rejecting the United States and
"Havana" comes at a time when American interest in travel to the island
has peaked, with a record 4 million visitors last year, a 13 percent
increase over the previous year. New cruise and airline service could
make 2017 another record-breaker, with Cuba expecting an extra 100,000
visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Despite these shifts, Kurlansky thinks the biggest changes have already
"The really big changes happened after the fall of the Soviet Union," he
says. "Cuba was a different country when the Soviets were there. ...
They would have these goals. Most had to do with replacing things cut
off by the embargo. So they made their own Coca-Cola and ice cream. They
didn't care about tourism. The downside was there were very few hotels
and restaurants. You felt like a pioneer there. But there was tremendous
energy and enthusiasm. They were trying to create a new society. But
when the Soviets left, they didn't have any more money."
Talking about the revolution in such mild tones used to get you censured
in Miami, and Kurlansky is sure he got the occasional side-eye from
Miami airport workers when he returned from Cuba during his reporting
days. But during a recent interview with WLRN that included an hourlong
call-in segment, he didn't get a single hostile phone call, which makes
him think Miami attitudes toward visiting Cuba are shifting a bit.
Now if only Americans could understand the best thing about Havana.
"People in America think of it as a sad and downtrodden place, and I
guess it could be, but it's not because that's not who Cubans are," he
says. "In Cuba, you get a good story every day you go out walking.
People are so funny. The most popular form of joke is a Fidel joke. You
get lots of jokes about the revolution. That's their nature."
Source: Havana, Cuba is the most romantic city in the world, says author
Mark Kurlansky | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/books/article136876033.html Continue reading
El recordista mundial de salto alto Javier Sotomayor está de visita en Miami, invitado por un amigo, para asistir al Clásico Mundial de Béisbol. Apenas llegar ha concedido una entrevista al diario El Nuevo Herald, que ha publicado este jueves.
Esta es la segunda vez que visita la ciudad estadounidense. Anteriormente estuvo "casi de pasada en 1993".Continue reading