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Rise and Fall of a Diocese / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez
Posted on March 29, 2015

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 26 March 2015 – "How
much everything has changed! How gorgeous the Cathedral is with those
add-ons!" exclaimed a Catholic layman on returning to visit his native
Pinar del Rio after three decades of exile.

The improvement of the infrastructure of the diocese, which started with
the arrival of Archbishop Monsignor Jorge Enrique Serpa, is impressive.
The construction work was fast-tracked and the traditional problems with
permits disappeared. The cost of the strategy to sustain it, however,
will be difficult to sustain.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop Serpa together undertook the task,
which happened to please the Cuban authorities, removing part of the
secular activity of the diocese to achieve, in exchange, benefits.

When in January 2007, Monsignor José Siro González Bacallao made
official Serpa's assumption of the Diocese, a new chapter began in the
pastoral, religious and social life of the local church.

The appointment coincided with a rapprochement between the authorities
and part of the Catholic hierarchy, led by the Archbishop of Havana,
Jaime Ortega y Alamino. This improvement in relations culminated in the
visit to Cuba of Benedict XVI, in March 2012, and the release from
prison of a large group of political prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba also paved the way to
understanding. The two bishops most uncomfortable for the Government
were about to retire for reasons of age. In Santiago de Cuba, Pedro
Meurice, old and sick ceded his episcopate to his disciple, Dionisio
García. At the other end of the island, José Siro retired to Mantua and
left the way open for the pact.

Since the inauguration of the new bishop in Pinar del Rio, it took just
three months to begin the dismantling of all the works that were
considered an obstacle to improving relations with the government.

The members of the editorial board of the Church magazine Vitral were
forced out, and the training center and publisher were dismantled. They
also dissolved the Brotherhood of Assistance to Prisoners and Their
Families, the Youth Ministry, the Catholic Commission for Culture and
the Diocesan Council of Laity. Thus, the lay members left the structure
of the Pinar del Rio Church.

When Monsignor Serpa took over, after 20 years serving in the Bogota
Archdiocese, the Pinar del Rio Diocese had only 17 priests, fewer than
30 nuns, and a large group of committed lay people. The churches were
deteriorated and the difficulties in obtaining permission for
restoration were notable.

Now, for the first time in more than fifty years, all the parishes have
priests, the number of members by religious congregation has grown, and
the entry and establishment of other orders, among them the Brigidine
Sisters, have been extended from Havana.

Management has been allowed, in addition to restoring the Cathedral, to
enlarge the parish house and the construction of a complex of classrooms
for catechisms and meetings. The Church has been able to buy a site for
Caritas located in the center of the city, less than a block from the
provincial headquarters of the Communist Party.

In addition, in just eight years Sandino is the first captive people to
have a temple, one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in the last
25 years of the authorities insistently denying Siro permission. The
return of the religious processions in all the dioceses is also a noted
achievement of Serpa.

But the negative consequences of his mandate have also been felt. The
bishop complains of a lack of motivation and commitment among the
faithful, including to make donations. On the other hand, the social
commitment is almost zero and the pastoral is ecclesial – more severe
than the so-called clerical. Except for the Bishop, there is no presence
of Church members in any social environment.

"The loss of moral authority is not achieved overnight," whispers a
Pinar del Rio Catholic. "Rebuilding costs far more than any new temple,"
says the layman.

The legacy the current bishop will leave when he retires, at age 75,
will be a magnificent architectural infrastructure that will not need to
be touched for a while. The challenge will be re-form, articulate and
prepare the Church formed by laymen which was dismantled.

Source: Rise and Fall of a Diocese / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/rise-and-fall-of-a-diocese-14ymedio-juan-carlos-fernandez/ Continue reading
Will the mattress arrive before the baby turns a year old? / 14ymedio,
Yosmany Mayeta
Posted on March 28, 2015

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 28 March 2015 — The
Gonzalez family baby slept her first weeks in a plastic tub lined with
sheets and blankets. She could not use the crib because her parents did
not manage to buy the mattress that is assigned by the Santiago de Cuba
ration market to expectant mothers.

Shortages of the product and delays in its arrival to those in need
create discomfort and situations like that of this baby in homes all
over the country but with greater severity in the eastern region.

Outside of some stores intended for that purpose there are long lines of
pregnant women and their families to buy the so-called "module basket"
that is given at a subsidized price to each mother. The prices in the
free market are unaffordable for a good many families. They need at
least 50 convertible pesos (CUC) in order to get a mattress in the hard
currency market, while the average monthly salary does not exceed 20 CUC.

Many of these mothers will celebrate the first birthdays of their
children without the children having been able to enjoy a crib with a
mattress. Such is the case of one young woman who preferred to remain
anonymous and who was waiting this Wednesday in the line of the El
Atardecer industrial products store. Her daughter is about to turn a
year old, but she still has to sleep in a crib with an old mat repaired
many times and that was loaned to her by a relative.

Yamile Fonseca, resident of the Nuevo Van Van area, had a little more
luck and says that "almost when the ration book was expiring I could buy
the mattress, but that was a pure pain and a line that no one could
stand." Others simply give up and resort to the illicit market or
inherit part of the "basket" items from a sister or a cousin.

Beatriz Mena, clerk at an Industrial store, says that "they have only
brought the product twice" to the store where she works. In those cases
"they have sold to those mothers whose basket ration book is expiring
and whose babies are turning a year old," the others have had to wait
until they are resupplied, she said.

When the product arrives at one of the commercial units devoted to that
purpose, then the drama becomes the line. Jose Bonne, father of a
10-month old girl, staked out the front of the Industrial this Tuesday
from four in the morning in order to be able to be one of the first.
"When I arrived there were already more than ten people who, since
earlier hours, were marking their place in line in order not to be left
without the mattress."

The manager of the store in the Altamira suburb said that "it has come
to the unit on several occasions but the ones who have not bought are
still more than those who have left with the product." The lady says
that "the mattresses that they leave are very few, and we have a great
number of pregnant and newly post-partum women and the demand outstrips
the quantities supplied.

Another person, who preferred not to give his name, says that "when the
mattresses arrive at the industrial products stores, now the clerks in
cahoots with the management get most of them, which are sold to those
whose turn has not come up, but who pay extra money and so acquire them
ahead of time."

For her part, Yelaine Suarez said that when the mattresses arrive in the
commission stores there are people who dedicate themselves to the sale
of places in line for the amount of ten convertible pesos. "It is unfair
to see how they take advantage of the opportunity in order to do things
like that.

Cuban women point to economic problems and difficulties in materially
supporting a baby as among the main causes for the low birth rate that
the country is now experiencing; the Total Fertility Rate fell in 2012
to the worrying figure of 1.69 children per woman.

David Fernandez, resident of Alturas de Versalles, says that in the
Altamira store they got crib mattresses at 300 pesos national currency,
sold off the ration book. The resident of the place asks how it is
possible that there are stocks for that but not for those women who have
the "basket" ration book.

The complaints come and go and many babies keep waiting to sleep in a
crib with a mattress. Meanwhile, their parents improvise a little bed
and take turns standing in line in front of the store.

Translated by MLK

Source: Will the mattress arrive before the baby turns a year old? /
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/will-the-mattress-arrive-before-the-baby-turns-a-year-old-14ymedio-yosmany-mayeta/ Continue reading
Suspended or Censored? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Posted on March 28, 2015

The members of the Taliban of the Cuban official web Reflejos, offended
by the presence of an independent site like 14Ymedio should be
celebrating: after a week of putting up with such dangerous neighbors,
it withdrew the Yoani Sanchez's daily from its platform. Authorities
have demonstrated their inability to stand the test of freedom of the press.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, MIAMI, Florida, 27 March 2015 — The members of
the Taliban of Reflejos, the Cuban government-sponsored website,
offended by the presence of an independent site like 14Ymedio should be
celebrating. After a week of putting up with such dangerous neighbors,
the authorities gave censure the all clear, in virtue of which 14ymedio
has been "suspended or mothballed" because, in this era of technology
and communications, euphemisms are also updated — it will no longer be
able to be viewed on a platform which describes itself as "inclusive".

Thus, while 14ymedio, the digital newspaper, launched from Cuba and in
which several independent journalists on the Island collaborate or are
involved, has demonstrated its ability to make use of any possible
opening that facilitates access to its pages by Cubans from within Cuba,
the authorities have shown their inability to stand the test of freedom
of the press and differing opinions, particularly when participants have
the moral authority of having experienced, on a daily and firsthand
basis, the realities they narrate, report, or comment on.

We must acknowledge, however, that the kids from "Reflejos"
demonstrated, in addition to their "revolutionary intransigence" and
their combative ability — taking into account that they are soldiers and
spend their existence fighting symbolic battles — exemplary discipline
to obediently follow the chain of command, which also brings to the
surface their peculiar concept of autonomy and decision-power to manage
their own website. And they still call themselves "free".

Mercenaries at the service of the dictatorship?

Not necessarily. Or not all of them, for there are always useful idiots.
It is known that the piñata of official patronage has its gradations, is
limited, and extremely fickle. Today they take notice, tomorrow they
won't, as befits a system that has established its existence (not its
success, as some claim) on the standardization of mediocrity. That's the
reason fidelity tends to substitute for talent in Cuba, and thinking is
not only a heavy burden, but a dangerous pastime.

So let's not be too hard on the little Talibans. Perhaps the hosts of
"Reflections" are only members of a declining sect, worshipers of a
regime that soon will leave them very disappointed.

For now, we can imagine the meetings that had to be stirred up at all
levels and with "all factors" to analyze what measures would be taken
against the counterrevolutionary intruders until the anointed "at the
top" gave the censorship order… that is, the "suspension." The truth is
that those who control the dominion could not even decide for
themselves, hence 14ymedio survived for a whole week on the official
website. It is axiomatic that absence of freedom is so rooted in Cuba
that the more loyal you are to the authorities, the harder the
authorities enslave you.

But censorship is not only applied against 14ymedio, but also against
freedom of access to the same privileged members of the sect who have
the ability to establish a blog and a certain level of access to some
websites that are tolerated by the government. Who knows if, at this
point, some of the more novice and restless slaves, or the lesser
bilious readers, might be wondering whether it would be more effective
to destroy the internal counterrevolution by allowing Cubans to access
our sites, to discover for themselves the lies that the vile
"mercenaries" at the service of a foreign power – who inexplicably
continue to exercise journalism — are trying to pull the wool over their
eyes, most likely with the malicious intent of surrendering the country
to imperialism; which is just, more or less, the work that the
General-President is involved in with all his might.

Note: Miriam Celaya, a freelance Cuban journalist based in Havana, is
visiting Miami.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Suspended or Censored? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya | Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/suspended-or-censored-cubanet-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
Web Platform Reflejos Closes the '14ymedio' Blog / 14ymedio
Posted on March 27, 2015

"Esteemed user of the Platform "Blogs Reflejos": You have repeatedly
published content that is not in keeping with the objectives of the
platform Reflejos, not complying with the conditions you previously
accepted. For that reason the blog is suspended…"

14ymedio, Havana, 27 March 2015 – The new Cuban blog platform, Reflejos,
has decided to close the 14ymedio blog for "repeatedly publishing
content that does not conform to the objectives with which the platform
was created," according to an email sent this Friday by the administrators.

The daily is accused of "failing to meet [the site's] the conditions of
use" with no other details. Nevertheless, when it was launched March 18,
Kirenia Fagundo Garcia, a consultant on Reflejos, explained that there
were no "restrictions as far as topics addressed on the blogs and users
interested in the service."

The blog opened by this daily on the digital platform was designed to
bring its contents to Cuban readers since our site has been blocked on
the Island's servers since its creation in May of 2014.

During the few days in which it was active, the blog published a varied
group of texts that ranged from culture to recipes to opinion columns.
Neither verbal violence nor personal attacks were used, and the majority
of commenters were internet users very interested in the topics that the
posts covered.

The 14ymedio blog has been the object of many criticisms by bloggers
associated with the Cuban government. At the beginning of this week, the
official site for CubaSí news lamented the presence of "mercenaries in
service of the US" on Reflejos. The writer of the article, M. H.
Lagarde, accused 14ymedio in wrathful terms of having "contaminated" the
platform with "counter-revolutionary propaganda."

The digital platform is part of the Cuba Va project of the Computer and
Electronic Youth Club. Set up on the free content manager WordPress, it
has several technological deficiencies such as slow operation, low
storage capacity (barely 250 megabytes per blog) and problems with the
image upload tool. Nevertheless, in spite of these technical
difficulties, we had managed to create a functional "mirror" of
14ymedio, on a service that calls itself Reflejos (Reflections) and that
was announced from the beginning as a space for the blogs of the Cuban
family.

Translated by MLK

Source: Web Platform Reflejos Closes the '14ymedio' Blog / 14ymedio |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/web-platform-reflejos-closes-the-14ymedio-blog-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Inside Fidel Castro's hometown: What next for Cuba?
After over 50 years of isolation, Cuba may finally be 'coming in from
the cold'. But what does this mean for Fidel Castro's country - and what
do the people in his hometown make of it all?
By Georgia Birch, Biran8:00AM GMT 28 Mar 2015

Muriel Ramirez has lived her entire life in the shadow of the vast
yellow hacienda that sits on the outskirts of the Cuban village of Biran.
As a child, she heard how her parents had attended the lavish funeral of
Don Angel, the Spanish immigrant who owned the palatial home and its
25,000 acres of pine forests and sugar plantations. As a schoolgirl, she
was indoctrinated in the glories of the man who grew up in that farm.
And now, as an adult, she works at the hacienda, which has been turned
into a museum celebrating its boyhood inhabitant: Fidel Castro.
"Fidel was a rebel at the time rebellion was necessary," said Mrs
Ramirez, standing in the shade of the hacienda's adjoining wooden
amphitheatre, where cockfights were held each Sunday for the
entertainment of the labourers.
Fidel Castro visiting the house he was born in, in Biran, Cuba
But is that rebellion still relevant to modern Cuba?
She looks at her feet, and sighs deeply. Her granddaughter is turning 15
soon, she said – a huge event in Latino life, requiring an
expensively-furnished fiesta. She worries about how she can fund that,
with her minute income.
"Now we need someone to sort out our economy."
For the first time since "the triumph of the Revolution," as Cubans
refer parrot-fashion to Castro's 1959 takeover, that economic
transformation may actually be about to happen. Communist Cuba is at a
turning point.
In less than a fortnight's time, the fruit of four months of landmark
diplomatic talks with its old adversary, America, will be put on show.
President Barack Obama and Raul Castro will meet at the Summit of the
Americas in Panama – only the third time that a US president has met a
Cuban leader. Now the two men could, for the first time ever, hold a
working meeting.

For Americans it means they can at last visit the forbidden island, and
begin to do business with the 11 million people living on the largest
island in the Caribbean.
For Cubans, it means the promise of more money, in a country where the
state employs over half of the population on an average salary of $20 a
month, and where engineers, lawyers, doctors and teachers all drive
taxis for tourists to supplement their unliveable state salaries.
Full-blooded capitalism and an end to the one-party state is not
remotely on the table. But the rapprochement with the US is a still
source of delight for the majority of Cubans – and of hope for a
brighter financial future.
"I was at home, and there was an announcement that Raul was going to
make a statement," said Juan Miguel, who lives in the Castros' hometown.
"Then when he started talking, well, I couldn't believe it! It was a
split screen, Raul Castro with Obama! They had been talking!"
He gestured wildly, his eyes animated, as he sat on a bench in the
centre of the small, dusty town, recalling the emotion of the moment.
"For 50 years we don't speak – and then suddenly, this!"

In languid, steamy Biran – 500 miles to the east of Havana – there is a
sense that things have to change.
It was here that Fidel was born 88 years ago, one of seven children of a
soldier from Galicia in northern Spain. In contrast to his son, a
champion of anti-imperialist movements worldwide, Castro Senior first
came here as a soldier to help quell the nascent Cuban independence
movement in 1895. He returned to the newly-liberated country in 1899 and
built up an estate.
"By the time I was born in 1926, my father had already accumulated a
certain degree of wealth, and he was very well-to-do as a landowner,"
Fidel writes in his memoirs.
"'Don Angel Castro' they called him, a person who was very highly
respected, a man of great authority in that almost feudal area and time."
The yellow wooden mansion – built on stilts, providing both cooling
breezes for the inhabitants and space for the livestock underneath –
spawned a slew of smaller buildings to cater for the 400 residents: a
post office, a bar, a school and even a hotel for passing travellers.
Forty beehives provided honey for the family. In the fields grew papaya,
plantain, coconut, oranges.
It was a bucolic and privileged existence. But as with many Left-wing
revolutionaries, a privileged upbringing was no obstacle to embracing
radical politics. By the time the young Fidel was training as a lawyer
in Havana, he was railing against the corrupt and repressive regime of
Fulgencio Batista, whose links to the US included close business
relationships with the Mob, who controlled gambling and prostitution on
the island.
Indeed, such was Fidel's revolutionary fervour that when he finally
seized power, he even expropriated his own late father's property in the
name of the workers, sparking a family rift. Furious at her brother's
actions, Juanita Castro, his younger sister, was soon recruited by the
CIA to help overthrow the new regime, and fled the island in 1964.

In the port city of Santiago de Cuba, where the revolution begun,
81-year-old Laura Dominguez remembers those heady days with remarkable
clarity.
Living at the time in Segundo Frente, a town to the north, she was a
seamstress, and so was tasked with sewing the uniforms for the rebel army.
"We did it happily because we supported them," she said. "We all hated
Batista."

Mrs Dominguez, who now runs a guest house, remains an ardent Fidelista.
But she added: "This US deal has to be a good thing. We can't go on like
this."
This week, the historic rapprochement which exploded into life before
Christmas moves forward yet another small step, with a meeting in
Washington between Cuba and the US to discuss human rights. It follows,
last week, the first ever visit to Cuba from the EU's top foreign policy
official, currently Federica Mogherini.
On the ground, meanwhile, changes are already visible. American tourists
can now come to Cuba without seeking permission from their government,
and last week, the first direct flight in decades arrived in Havana from
New York. American companies have signed deals to bring internet access
to Cuba, where at present, only a quarter of the population has access
to the internet. Until recently, it was illegal for most people to
access the web at home.
"I think that everything is being discussed in Havana now – the
atmosphere really is changing," said Dr Emily Morris, of the
International Institute for the Study of Cuba. "There is a discussion of
electoral systems. There is maybe more space for differing opinions.
From Washington, with George W Bush, there was a hardening of the line.
But now Cubans are far more optimistic."
Others are less sure. The ultimate goal for the Cuban regime is the
lifting of the hated US embargo – described in billboards nationwide as
"the biggest genocide in history". But Mr Obama cannot do that without
approval from Congress – which its Republican majority will not grant.
"As long as the embargo remains, there will be very little shift at
all," said Antoni Kapcia, head of the Centre for Research on Cuba. "I
would absolutely say: don't hold your breath."

Fidel himself has also expressed reservations at his brother Raul's
overtures to the US.
"I shall explain my essential position in a few words," he wrote on
January 27. "I do not trust the politics of the United States, nor have
I exchanged a word with them. But this is not, in any way, a rejection
of a peaceful solution to conflicts."
Back in the town of Biran, the small café is shut. The bakery has no
bread – they offer sandwiches, but it will take a while for the boy on
horseback to fetch the goods. Shortages are rife, with the crippled
economy struggling ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the
blockade preventing many imports.
"All the pretty slogans you want," said an old man in a stetson,
laughing at The Sunday Telegraph took a photo of a giant mural of Che
Guevara. "But nothing here to eat."
On the hill above, the schoolchildren are singing Guantanamera – the
classic song about a beautiful cowgirl from neighbouring Guantánamo
province. Down the road is the town of Alto Cedro, immortalised in song
by Compay Segundo of Buena Vista Social Club in the song "Chan Chan."
Of history, culture and song there is plenty; of jobs and optimism there
is rather less.
"Everyone is asking themselves what will come next," said Mrs Ramirez.
"We hope they improve things economically, but no one knows."
Miguel, a lawyer, had brought his family to see their revolutionary
leader's birthplace.
"I respect what he's done," he said, stopping to inspect the Castro
family tomb. "But I'll celebrate when he's gone."

Source: Inside Fidel Castro's hometown: What next for Cuba? - Telegraph
-
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/fidel-castro/11500679/Inside-Fidel-Castros-hometown-What-next-for-Cuba.html Continue reading
Cuba: Artist imprisoned for painting the names "Fidel" and "Raul" on two
piglets / Laritza Diversent
Posted on March 26, 2015

After 90 days of imprisonment, there is no formal accusation against the
artist, Danilo Maldonado.

Laritza Diversent, Havana, 25 March 2015 — Authorities are still
imprisoning the artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto" (The
Sixth), who was detained arbitrarily by the police.

Maldonado, 31 years old, is an urban artist and painter who finds
himself accused of "aggravated contempt," a charge that the Cuban State
uses to incarcerate people who are critical of the Government. He
presently is serving 90 days in preventive custody in Valle Grande, on
the outskirts of the Capital.

On the afternoon of December 25, 2014, Maldonado staged a "show" in a
spot in the city of Havana, when he was detained by police operatives.
They arrested him for having two piglets in a sack. One was painted on
the back with the name "Fidel," and the other, with the name "Raul."

Both names are common; however, the authorities assumed that they
disrespected the Castro brothers, and they could impose on him a
sanction of between one and three years of prison. Cubalex presented an
appeal before the Havana tribunal for the authorities to explain the
motive for the detention, a recourse that was denied.

The prosecutor didn't even formally present the accusation before the
tribunal. Maldonado's lawyer asked the authorities several times to
allow him to await trial in liberty, which request was also denied.

In Cuban law, the crime of "contempt" is an amplified term that includes
defamation or insults toward other Government employees, and it carries
aggravated penalties when it is committed against the Head of State. The
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has said that this type of
rule goes against freedom of expression and the free demonstration of
ideas and opinions, which do not justify the imposition of sanctions.

Let's not forget that all those people who exercise public office or are
important statesman, like the Heads of State or the Government, can be
legitimate objects of criticism or political opposition. Freedom of
expression should take place without inhibition in the public debate
about Government officials.

Let's ask the Cuban State to guarantee and respect Danilo Maldonado's
right to freedom of expression, without restrictions. Furthermore, let's
ask the international community to speak up for his freedom and his
right to a fair trial.

About Cubalex:

Cubalex, the Center of Legal Information, is located in Havana, Cuba. We
are a non-profit organization founded in 2010, not recognized by the
Cuban State. We offer free legal advice on housing, migration,
inheritance, criminal appeals, constitutional procedures and defending
civil and political rights, in the national and international arena, to
Cuban citizens or foreigners who request our services.

If you want a consultation, you can find us through our email:
centrocubalex@gmail.com;

or by telephone: (537) 7 647-226 or (+535)-241-5948

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Cuba: Artist imprisoned for painting the names "Fidel" and
"Raul" on two piglets / Laritza Diversent | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-artist-imprisoned-for-painting-the-names-fidel-and-raul-on-two-piglets/ Continue reading
Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
Posted on March 27, 2015

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2015 – The family of Yamila,
age 41, is a sample of Cuban society. The father is a member of the
Communist Party, the mother a Catholic who never embraced the
Revolutionary Process, there is a brother in Miami and she herself is
working for a joint venture where she earns convertible pesos. When they
sit down to eat, they discuss the high price of food, the low salaries,
how boring the telenovela is, or how late the remittances from the
emigrants are this month.

For decades the ideological fire has stirred no passions in Yamila's
living room. The father is increasingly tempered in his political views;
the mother prays, while buying in the illegal market; the relative who
lives on the other shore and comes every now and then on vacation is an
obliging forty-something who saves every cent to bring them a flat
screen TV. These are the daily problems that concern them and hold them
together. The struggle to survive makes them set aside any differences.

This microcosm of the Cuban family today has a lot to teach those who,
from polarized positions, try to say what civil society is and isn't,
try to put limits and Manichean labels on the diversity of phenomena
that make up our reality. Any definition of the framework of this
complex tapestry that makes up a society should be constructed with the
objective of recognizing all of its parts and the right of each to exist.

Branding some as regime supporters and others as traitors only deepens
the social distances and delays the necessary transformation that this
country needs to experience. In the current social fabric there are
identifiable strands that have to be considered and that no snip of
intolerance should exclude. If we are aware of our responsibility in
this process of inclusion, then we will try not to arbitrarily cut off
any part of the fabric.

The issue heats up as we approach the Americas Summit in Panama, where
both the Government and the opposition are ready to present their own
versions of Cuban civil society. All indications are that, despite
conciliatory longings on the part of the Panamanian organizers, this
platform is only going to hear a skewed version from each side, not the
so necessary discourse of respect for the other and for plurality that
the Cuban nation needs at this moment.

While it is true that the so-called mass organizations such as the
Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small
Farmers (ANAP) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution
(CDR) behave in the ideological arena like transmission poles from the
powers-that-be, it also needs to be borne in mind that each of them
encompasses a large number of Cubans – whether as an automatic response,
the inability to choose other options, fear, or true complacency – and
every one of our families is made up, for the most part, by members of
these organizations. To ignore them is to amputate a part of our reality.

To disqualify, per se, a person because they are a part of the FMC, the
CDR or the ANAP, for example, becomes an act of sectarianism and
eliminates from the national discussion an essential area of the
citizenry. Among them are some very capable people from the professional
point of view, who will be part of those supporting the economic, social
and legal reconstruction of Cuba. Many of them will be at the Panama
Summit – subsidized by the Cuban Government and chosen for ideological
reasons – with proposals that should be heard.

Sociologists, economists, intellectuals and Cuban academics will bring
solidly supported studies that address the core theme of the meeting:
Prosperity with Equity: The challenge of cooperation in the Americas.
Instead of rejecting them because they come with directives to convert
the event into trench warfare, it would be very healthy to interact with
them and their proposals with respect. Panama could be the moment when
Cuban civil society meets and understands that no child of this land
should be excluded from the national debate.

On the other hand, the Cuban government official campaign has already
begun to vent its venom on dissident figures and groups, the opposition
and independent journalism which will also attend the event in April.
Those attacks are not directed at damaging the self-esteem of the
activists, already used to the verbal violence constantly directed at
them, but rather to avoid any possible dialogue between this part of our
civil society with that part recognized as closest to the Government,
the one that defends the current state of affairs on the island.

Non-government attendees will travel, for the most part, with tickets
and accommodation paid for by foreign institutions and entities, given
the material poverty they experience from their situation of illegality.
However, the selection process for those who will attend,
incarnated that part of Cuba that has lacked internal democracy and a
necessary transparency. Driven by improvisation and material
precariousness, these representative should know that they will also be
evaluated for the ideas and proposals they bring, not just for anecdotes
about the pain and repression they have experienced.

If the dissidence wants to show its adulthood, it must communicate in
Panama that it has a plan for the future and not only that it knows who
to survive under the heroic status of being a persecuted group, but also
that it knows how to engage in politics in an intelligent, measured and
thoughtful way for the wellbeing of all Cubans. Its agenda should
include not only calls for respect for human rights and a framework for
individual and collective freedoms, but must also address the most
pressing everyday problems of the citizens they want to represent.

It is also important for this other share of Cuban civil society that
does not feel recognized in the mass organizations, nor in the
opposition parties, understand that their role is to be a bridge, not an
island. Pointing fingers at both sides from the moral stature of those
who are neither "subsidized by the Cuban Government" nor "employees of
the empire," only adds more fuel to the fire of distrust.

The small private sector that is trying to prosper on the island, the
sectors tied to the Catholic Church and other denominations, the
academics who have tried at all costs to maintain an independent view in
their analysis, and those groups who defend the rights of minorities,
working for female emancipation, independence for artists and
filmmakers, or an end to racial discrimination, all should know that it
is not helpful to sit on the fence watching the confrontation between
the two poles. They have a responsibility to modulate and form a part of
the tapestry, not snip away at it or remain outside the conflict.

At Yamila's dinner table everyone wants to live his or her life, have
his or her own autonomy. They have managed it, in the shelter of their
home and the understanding that comes from family ties. Can we reach it
as a nation?

Source: Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez |
Translating Cuba -
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Two Types of Dissidence, Two Policies / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on March 26, 2015

Angel Santiesteban, 25 March 2015 — For the first time in the history of
the violations against the Cuban dissidence by the political police of
the totalitarian Regime, there are two lines of thought: one subdued and
the other more severe.

Those in the opposition who have publicly supported the intention of the
governments of the United States and Cuba to reconstruct diplomatic
relations have had their rights respected to travel abroad, reunite,
publish, etc.

But those who openly oppose the reestablishment of diplomatic relations,
unless the Cuban Government respects human rights and frees the
political prisoners, have been detained and had their passports take
away, like the plastic artist Tania Bruguera, who was visiting the
country, so that she now finds herself held hostage, and the activists
Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzales.

The Ladies in White, together with their leader, Berta Soler, and one of
the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring, Angel Moya, Antonio Rodiles, Ailer
Gonzalez, Claudio Fuentes and Tania Bruguera, among others, were
captured, some for several days, and, coincidentally, have all opposed
the reestablishment of relations.

It's painful that this distance exists between both factions, which,
when united, have suffered so much abuse from the dictatorship. Some who
accept relations keep quiet about the abuses committed toward those who
think differently.

In a certain way, they have to recognize that silence converts them into
accomplices of the Regime. We can't forget that in different ways,
thinking from parallel paths, is precisely what transforms us in
dissidence, because we came fleeing from belonging to that mob that
accedes to the call of the Dictator, which sometimes, even in an
indirect way, can manipulate us in its favor.

Although we think that others are wrong, we should defend their right to
be so. There is no one dissidence that is bland and another that is
extreme, only degrees that are necessary and that strive for the same thing.


Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Unidad de Guardafronteras Prison, Havana. March 2015.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Two Types of Dissidence, Two Policies / Angel Santiesteban |
Translating Cuba -
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And where did that glass of milk go?
ORLANDO PALMA, La Habana | Marzo 26, 2015

The newspaper Granma published Wednesday a comprehensive report on milk
production in the province of Camagüey. This scenario is grim and
confirms the downward trend in terms of delivery of this precious food.
Since 2012, Camagüey's milk production and sales to the industry have
declined, both in the cooperative and private sectors.

Although in the last five paragraphs it outlined with moderate optimism
the possibilities of the sector recovery program, a reading of the
article, signed by journalist Miguel Febles, reveals a problem that
extends across many sectors of the economy, which can be summed up in
the affirmation that the bureaucracy continues to be the heaviest weight
dragging down food production in Cuba.

In short, the problem is that farmers must deliver the milk they produce
to a pre-determined collection center. There samples are taken to assess
the quality of each delivery, which is tied to the price of the product.
However, instead of paying everyone according to the quality of food
they bring to the center, the quality is averaged across all deliveries
and the price paid to the farmer is derived from that average. The
result is to demotivate improvements in quality.

One of those interviewed, Alexis Gil Perez, director general of the
Provincial Dairy Company, explains that the contracts are not with
individual farmers but with "the productive base." Gil Perez argues that
this does not violate any procedure. "If there are opinions or
dissatisfactions, we would have to revise the documents that govern the
activity, and this decision can only be taken at the national level," he
adds. "Meanwhile, we must comply with the established provisions. It is
not within my powers to vary the range of what we pay for milk."

In a ceremony held in Camagüey on 26 July 2007 {commemorating the rebel
attack on the Moncada Baracks), General Raul Castro said that every
Cuban would be able to drink a glass of milk. Nearly eight years after
that desire failed, the immediate proposal is not even to improve the
distribution of what is collected, but to stop the decline in milk
production observed in that province since 2012.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the
country needs to import half of the milk consumed. Its distribution is
controlled by the government and private companies are forbidden from
trading in milk products, even in the farmer's markets.

Source: And where did that glass of milk go? -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/where-did-that-glass-milk-go-cuba_0_1749425061.html Continue reading
Kuwait invests $ 25,5 million in hydraulic networks Havana
14YMEDIO, La Habana | Marzo 26, 2015

The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development awarded $25,5 million for
the rehabilitation of water supply and sewer networks in Havana, as
reported Thursday in the official media. With the signing of three
agreements Wednesday, the second phase of the project gets underway; the
project began in 2012 when the Fund awarded a credit to work on water
resources in the capital.

The total amount of Kuwaiti aid for rehabilitation of networks amounts
to $52 million in the last three years. It is expected that the works
will be completed in all of the capital's municipalities within 14 years.

The Cuban side at the time of the signing of the agreements was headed
by Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca,
while the general director of fund development, Abdulwahab Al-Bader,
represented Kuwait.

"This is the fourth time we concluded agreements with the island and we
are committed to continuing to provide credit to support works of such
magnitude," said Al-Bader. He added that his institution is ready to
support the third stage of the capital rehabilitation and also evaluate
the potential to contribute financially to other projects related to
renewable energies.

The situation of hydraulic networks in Havana is a source of constant
complaints from the population and heavy loss of water due to leaks and
breaks. It is estimated that over 50% of the water pumped in the
country is lost due to poor distribution infrastructure.

Source: Kuwait invests $ 25,5 million in hydraulic networks Havana -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/kuwait-invests-25-million-hyddraulic-networks-havana_0_1749425062.html Continue reading
A Fraying Promise: Exploring Race And Inequality In Havana
MARCH 26, 2015 4:02 PM ET
ROBERT SIEGEL
EYDER PERALTA

Miguel Coyula points at an open door in the middle of Old Havana. The
mahogany door looks worn, but still handsome. The concrete facade has
lost most of its paint, and time has ripped parts of it open.

"That's marble," Coyula says, pointing to the treads of the staircase.
"They are the remnants of something that was very glorious."

Coyula is an architect and an economist, and as he walks through the
streets of Havana, he doesn't just see breathtaking decay. He sees how
economic policies and social circumstances have shaped this city.

The buildings in Havana tell the story of two intersecting problems: one
that everyone talks about — housing — and one that is typically
discussed with great discretion — race and inequality. Both of them have
the potential to be hugely affected by a thaw in diplomatic relations
with the United States.

"You stand in front of two buildings, one is good, the other one is
crumbling, and you wonder, why this contrast between these two buildings
standing next to each other?" Coyula says.

In simple terms, that question has a one-word answer: money.

"Suppose for a moment that the people who live in the good house
remember that they had a relative in Miami who can send them money,"
Coyula says. "If we take an example in which the neighbors are earning
the average salary, $20 a month, think about having a relative in Miami
who can send you $100 a month. That means five monthly salaries in one
round. Immediately the gap between you and your neighbor is one to five.
But sometimes the gap is one to 50 or more."

One of the promises of revolutionary Cuba was an egalitarian society. To
that end, Cuba made tenants owners of their apartments. Rent was nominal
and later forgiven. Utilities were heavily subsidized.

But people couldn't actually buy and sell their homes until two years
ago. One unintended consequence of those policies is a large class of
homeowners who can't afford to maintain or repair their homes.

Coyula says a gallon of paint costs an average Cuban 30 percent of their
monthly salary. A new toilet? That's about two years' worth of pay.

It means that Havana is literally falling down.

There's a popular joke, Coyula says, that the only way to thrive in
Havana is to have fe — faith. Except the "f" and the "e" stand for
familia en el extranjero, or family abroad.

We meet up with Yusimí Rodríguez López in the restored part of Old Havana.

It's a part of Havana that is packed with tourists. There are grand
squares like the Plaza de las Palomas, with its 16th-century basilica of
Saint Francis of Assisi. It's the one place in Havana where you see
sidewalk cafes and government-run stores with brand-new shoes in display
windows.

López, a 38-year-old writer and journalist, says she and her family can
afford to eat at one of these restaurants perhaps once a year.

"My life is more real," she says. "This is like staged for tourists. ...
I still live with my mother, and I share the bedroom with my sister and
my niece. I mean three generations living together because there are no
houses."

López has written a lot about the black and white divide in Cuba.
Honestly, it seems that everyone has it hard in Cuba, but López says
that black Cubans still face greater challenges.

"We have the same opportunities and that cannot be denied. In fact one
of the achievements of the Cuban revolution is that we Cubans have
universal access to education and health, but one of the mistakes that
our government made was to declare that that there was no more racism in
Cuba," López says. "That was a big mistake. And then they just silenced
the problem, the issue, in the name of national unity, but racism has
remained."

Statistics back her up. Up-to-date numbers are hard to come by, but
Esteban Morales Domínguez, a Cuban economist and political scientist,
published a book on the topic in 2007.

He found that the revolutionary promise of an equal society was fraying:
Blacks were unemployed at double the rates of whites; 85 percent of
those in jail were darker-skinned Cubans; and most of those who held
jobs as scientists or technicians were white.

It wasn't always like this. At the height of Soviet largesse, the
revolution did equalize society. According to research quoted by Espacio
Laical, a magazine published by the Cuban Catholic church, in the late
1980s, the Gini coefficient of income inequality was 0.24 on the island.
(Zero represents complete equality and 1 represents complete
inequality.) In recent years, according to the magazine, that number has
risen to 0.5, similar to the average for the rest of Latin America.

The prospect of deeper reform — one of a more market economy in Cuba —
presents another problem.

According to U.S. Census data, 85 percent of Cuban Americans are white.
If the economy opens up further – and even more money from overseas
Cubans flows into the island — the gap between whites and blacks in Cuba
will likely grow.

Under an intense, tropical sun we walk with López to a small ferry
terminal. It connects the restored part of the city to Regla, a poor and
largely black neighborhood across the Havana Bay.

In the 1990s, during what the regime termed the island's "Special Period
in Time of Peace," when the country was desperately trying to stay
afloat after the collapse of the Soviet Union, hijackers took over one
of these boats and navigated it to Miami.

At the same time, many of the city's black residents — hungry and
suffering — took to the streets to protest, all of this climaxing with
Fidel Castro announcing that anyone who wanted to leave the island could
do so. In the U.S., the summer of 1994 became known as the summer of the
Cuban balsero crisis, when more than 35,000 Cubans boarded rafts and
boats and tested their luck in the straits of Florida.

On the ferry, we see Cubans loading bikes and carts and many of them are
carrying flowers.

Our ride to Regla is peaceful and quick.

On this side of the bay, says López, we will get a glimpse of the real Cuba.

We disembark and start walking. Within a block, we come upon a big white
church. Many of the passengers we saw carrying flowers walk toward the
entrance and lay the flowers near an altar holding a statue of the black
Madonna. The church, Our Lady of Regla, is a place of veneration in
Cuba's blended observance of Catholicism and Santeria — the faith
brought to Cuba by Yoruba slaves.

We walk a few blocks farther, down streets with very few shops and
hardly any cars or trucks.

Then, we come upon a group of Afro-Cuban women. They are hoping for some
public attention to their plight.

They invite us in to where they live: transitional housing for people
who have been homeless, often because their homes collapsed. They can
spend years here.

The rooms are lined up, one after the other, facing the courtyard of an
old factory. Families of two, three or four live in these spaces, which
have the feel of a refugee camp.

"There are 21 apartments here and 1 million sick kids," Qurian
Betancourt, 32, tells us.

She moves through the courtyard, pushing aside some clothes that's been
hung to dry. In a corner on the first floor, she shows her room. It's
neat, but there isn't much there. It is, perhaps, 8 feet by 8 feet. She
has a small refrigerator; the tall ceilings have been dropped and
converted into a second story where she sleeps.

Betancourt says the government gave her mother this space after their
house collapsed while they were hammering something into the kitchen wall.

"It was terrible," she says. "What can I tell you? I came here as a girl
and now I'm a woman and a mother."

She points to a picture on the wall. It's of a baby girl, Betancourt's
daughter. Betancourt has been here for more than a decade, so her
daughter, who she says has breathing problems, is growing up in this
place and is now 6 years old.

Betancourt worries that Cuba is sending its doctors to help with Ebola
in Africa while Cubans are living in inhumane conditions at home.

"I'm not against Cuba," she says. "But I'm against these conditions.
They have us in a bad spot. They're just letting us die here."

When we walk out of the shelter, López is visibly moved. This couldn't
have come as a great surprise. Her first book of short stories, which
was just released, alludes to the daily struggle that Cubans face. The
title — The Cuban Dream — also alludes to the hope of a better future.

López says that she didn't expect that we would able to see the things
she had been describing earlier. She feels like her complaints — of
living with her mother and sharing a room with her niece, of the
difficulties of finding money to take a taxi — are small compared to the
conditions here.

"Compared to this, I'm privileged," she says.

But the thing in Cuba, she says, is that people have gotten used to this.

"You manage to live every day. These people manage to live every day,"
López says. "They manage to survive. I think Cubans are specialists in
surviving."

Source: A Fraying Promise: Exploring Race And Inequality In Havana :
Parallels : NPR -
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They Donate Blood for Bread with Ham / Cubanet, Pablo Gonzalez
Posted on March 25, 2015

Cubanet, Pablo Gonzalez, Havana, 20 March 2015 – Each state enterprise
has to deliver a quantity of blood donations each month in order to
comply with the rule established by the Ministry of Public Health
(MINSAP). Each clinic has to make one hundred donations per month.

The pressure that MINSAP and the Committees in Defense of the Revolution
(CDRs) put on the clinics makes their workers go out into the streets
desperately searching for donors.

Without doing any prior testing they carry out the blood extractions
with poor medical instrumentation.

Voluntary blood donation in Cuba, begun in 1962, has grown to reach and
exceed the target set by the World Health Organization for one donation
for each 20 inhabitants. According to the Granma newspaper, blood
donations exceeded what was planned in the last two years.

Donor Yasmany Machado, 27 years of age from Sancti Spiritus in the
Fomento Province, commented on this report in Granma on the web page of
the daily itself:

"Since 2005 I have been a blood donor more than 20 times for the benefit
of others. Now I ask myself the following question: Are donors
encouraged by MINSAP and the CDRs? Is it perhaps resolved with a role
for the district? Why does MINSAP not worry about the health of the donors?"

And Yasmany's commentary continues: "Why is modest help with food not
offered to those who donate blood? Saying that the blood bank is poorly
supplied (she refers to the bread with ham and cheese and the soda that
they give to the donors). It is insufficient most of the time what is
given to the donor … When the CDR wants your help and you are due, they
visit you so that you go to donate. But no one is able, not the director
of health nor the coordinator responsible for the CDRs, to see how you
are. Well, to donate and comply yes, but to see what the bank gives to
the donor, no… Why don't they give two pieces of bread in the blood
donor's snack? Because all the protein, most of it, you donate it at
that moment… I don't understand, I will not understand… Signed: A blood
donor, totally disappointed with the country's policy. I am not satisfied…"

Most donors, like almost all Cubans, are people who have nothing in
their homes for breakfast or they eat a poor breakfast. Sadly, they
donate their blood simply in order to eat the bread with ham and cheese,
and the soda that they give after each donation.

This phenomenon is understandable. In stores this same bread costs a
dollar sixty-five and the can of soda 50 cents. The average Cuban salary
being around 20 dollars a month, there are few who can give themselves
the luxury of buying bread with ham and cheese for breakfast.

Doctor Luis Enrique Perez Ulloa, chief of the National Blood Program for
MINSAP, said that the Cuban blood program is multi-faceted and that in
Cuba 340,000 people routinely donate blood.

But a nurse from the "Leonor Perez" clinic-hospital in Boyeros, who
preferred anonymity, says:

"We have to do wonders to meet the established standard. We go out to
the streets looking for donors. Any person will do to count one more. We
tell the workers at the clinics that they have to donate. If they do it
we give them the day off as a reward. Always looking for ways to turn
them into donors or at least get them to donate once. Many are vagrants,
hopeless ones from the streets who easily give their blood without much
prodding because of the snack that we give them afterwards, when there
is a snack, because often it is lacking."

There are others who come because they paid them – concludes the nurse –
or because they bribed them at some work center.

Not only do the clinics have to meet a monthly standard for donations.
Each state enterprise also must deliver a quantity of donations per
month to the local clinic. In order to comply with the standard set, the
administrators search for people outside of the workplace. They bribe
them with goods gotten from the workplace itself: food, money and even
drink. These bought donors present themselves at the clinic posing as
employees of the state entity that bribed them.

Enrique Gonzalez, a donor at the same hospital clinic, commented: "I
have been a donor for many years, and I am here because my work center
sent me. The doctors have told me that I have to continue doing it
because if I don't, my hemoglobin will go up. They give me the day off
every time I do it, at work they give me two pounds of chicken per
donation, and also I eat the snack that they give after the donation."

A doctor of the hospital clinic who asked that his name not be revealed
said:

"We do not worry much about who the donors are, where they come from or
the reasons for which they donate; what is important is that the most
people donate to be able to meet the established standard. It is not
always met, but we do everything possible."

There is a black market in blood. For a curettage or any kind of
operation, they do not use the blood from the bank; on the contrary,
they demand that the patient's family bring a donation of blood.
Donations cost about 20 dollars. And donors always appear for that money.

Voluntary and good faith donations are well-received, but in Cuba most
people donate blood for money, for a piece of bread with ham for breakfast.

Translated by MLK

Source: They Donate Blood for Bread with Ham / Cubanet, Pablo Gonzalez |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/they-donate-blood-for-bread-with-ham-cubanet-pablo-gonzalez/ Continue reading
Who is behind the mirror? / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar
Posted on March 24, 2015

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 March 2015 – On Wednesday, with great
fanfare, the digital site "Reflections" was launched as part of the
Cuban Youth Computer and Electronics Club's Cuba Va (Cuba Goes) project.
On its homepage you can read that this is the first Cuban blogging
platform, although DesdeCuba.com, a blog portal, was launched eight
years ago and, despite being blocked on the Cuban server, offers content
generated in Cuba, where the majority of its authors live.

According to Kirenia Fagundo Garcia, who serves as senior specialist on
Reflections, "there are no restrictions on the topics discussed on the
blogs and users interested in the service," on this platform. Each blog
has only 250 megabytes allocated to post texts, photos, videos and
sound, although Fagundo has made clear that it is planned to increase
the initial capacity.

Despite the commitment to freedom announced by the portal, "the only
condition is that the bloggers divulge the truth about Cuba, without
offenses, disrespect or denigration."Thus, several questions immediately
arise: Who gave the Youth Computer Club the power to determine what is
"the truth about Cuba"? Who is behind this project? Who is funding it?
What institution, undoubtedly State or Party, will approve the content
to be published?

To test the limits of the new platform, this daily has created a new
blog on the service, under the title 14ymedio, with the purpose of
bringing the contents of our digital portal to Cuban readers on servers
on the Island. The process was easy, although to create a new site we
had to provide the number of the user's State-issued ID card,
undoubtedly a surprise.

Moreover, the portal has several technical deficiencies, frequent error
messages and agonizing slowness. Obviously it has been opened without
having done sufficient technical tests to check its operation. The site
14ymedio.cubava.cu has been activated and the content manager that works
with the entire platform is WordPress. However, it has been impossible,
so far, to publish our first text. Technical Problems?

In the coming days we will test whether the new blogging platform is as
plural as announced, or nothing more than one more simple mirror of the
official discourse.

Source: Who is behind the mirror? / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar | Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/who-is-behind-the-mirror-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
EU Diplomat Federica Mogherini: 'There is no distancing from civil society'
14YMEDIO, La Habana | Marzo 24, 2015

On Tuesday afternoon the European Union's High Representative for
Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, held a press
conference for Cuban official media and foreign correspondents in
Havana. According to the representative, Cuba and the European Union
aspire to reach an agreement on political dialog and cooperation before
the end of the year.

At the press conference, held in the Taganana Room at the Hotel
Nacional, independent Cuban media were not allowed to enter. However,
despite the restrictions, a 14ymedio reporter managed to get some
statements from the official as she left the location.

Thanks to the collaboration of Herman Portocarero, European Union
Ambassador to Cuba, this newspaper was able to have brief contact with
Mogherini at the end of the press conference. The official regretted the
incident that blocked journalist Reinaldo Escobar from entering the area
of the press conference and agreed to answer some brief questions.

In its questions, 14ymedio, recalled that during the rift between the
Cuban authorities and the European leaders there was increased contact
with alternative civil society, whose representatives have been received
in several European Chancelleries. Thus, it's worth asking, "Does the
current approach of the European Union to the Cuban government mean that
this relationship with civil society will be reduced or eliminated?"

Mogherini replied, "No, there is no distancing from Civil Society. The
Europeans, the European Union, always talk with civil society, with
every civil society." To which this newspaper asked if she thought that
relations between Cuba and the European Union were improving. The
European head of diplomacy said, "I believe it is advancing."

The issue of the United Nations Human Rights covenants that the Cuban
government has signed but not ratified was also a subject of questions.
Mogherini responded that, "The subject was discussed, but I cannot speak
to it. I can't speak on behalf of the Cuban government."

Mogherini made an official visit to Cuba this Tuesday, the first for a
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs to the island, to
advance the dialogue seeking a normalization of relations between
Brussels and Havana.

Cuba is the only Latin American country with which the European bloc
does not have a bilateral agreement. Since 1996 relations have been
determined by the "Common Position" which has conditioned ties with
Havana to advances in democracy and human rights in Cuba.

Source: EU Diplomat Federica Mogherini: 'There is no distancing from
civil society' -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/EU-diplomat-federica-mogherini-there-is-no_distancing-civil-society_0_1748825115.html Continue reading
Japan FM eyes visit to Cuba: report
AFP
March 26, 2015, 5:01 pm

Tokyo (AFP) - Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida could visit Cuba
next month, a report said on Thursday, becoming one of the
highest-profile visitors to the isolated island since a thaw began
between Washington and Havana.

If the visit goes ahead, Kishida is expected to call for closer ties
with Cuba, where Japanese companies can invest in infrastructure
projects and mineral resource development, Japan's public broadcaster
NHK said.

Kishida may make the visit in late April when he travels to the United
States for a meeting on the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to
hold security talks with the US side there, it said.

It would make him the first Japanese foreign minister to visit the
communist island, the broadcaster added.

The move comes after Washington and Havana in December announced they
would set aside their Cold War enmity and renew diplomatic ties.

During his visit, Kishida may hold talks with Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez and other Cuban officials, NHK said. The two foreign ministers
met in Tokyo in 2013.

Japan and Cuba have maintained diplomatic ties but their channels were
limited due to the discord between Cuba and the United States, Japan's
key ally.

Asked about the reported visit, a foreign ministry official only said:
"Nothing has been decided yet."

Source: Japan FM eyes visit to Cuba: report - Yahoo7 -
https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/26808724/japan-fm-eyes-visit-to-cuba-report/ Continue reading
PayPal to pay $7.7M in sanctions violations settlement
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
03/25/2015 11:10 PM 03/25/2015 11:11 PM

WASHINGTON
PayPal Inc. has agreed to pay $7.7 million in a settlement with U.S.
regulators, who say the payments company allowed violations of U.S.
sanctions against countries including Iran.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, an agency of the Treasury
Department, announced Wednesday the civil settlement with the digital
payments processor.

The agency said PayPal, a division of eBay Inc., didn't adequately
screen transactions so it could detect those by people or entities
subject to sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan. OFAC says the lapses
occurred over several years through 2013.

PayPal, based in San Jose, California, says in a statement that it
voluntarily reported to the agency questionable payments it had
processed. The company said it has taken steps to improve compliance,
such as real-time scanning of payments.

Source: PayPal to pay $7.7M in sanctions violations settlement | Miami
Herald Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article16343303.html Continue reading
'CubaSí' accuses '14ymedio' of "contaminating" the new platform of Cuban
blogs / 14ymedio
Posted on March 24, 2015

"Mercenaries in service to the US blog on Cuban platform"

14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2015 — The government information portal
"CubaSí" regrets, this Monday, the presence of "mercenaries in the
service of the United States" on the new blogging platform
"Reflections"launched last week by the Cuban government. The author of
the article, M.H. Lagarde, angrily cites the blog opened on this
platform by 14ymedio, which has found a way to reach Cuban readers on
the Island's servers with the contents of the independent digital
newspaper since its creation in May of 2014.

In his article, Lagarde accuses 14ymedio of having "contaminated" the
platform with "counterrevolutionary propaganda," although, at the time
of its release, the government portal explained that it had no
"restrictions with regards to themes addressed in the blogs and users
interested in the service."

"The fact undoubtedly ranks as the first provocation realized by Cuban
mercenaries in the face of the Summit of the Americas to be held in
April in Panama, where by the express desire of the Government of the
United States there will be active participation of the reduced Cuban
'civil society' that responds to its interests," Lagarde writes.

"According to the imperial perspective, [Yoani Sánchez] and her team of
'journalists' of 14ymedio play an important role in the so-called war of
the fourth generation based on the use of new technologies. The function
of these groups has been, so far, to serve as media mourners who
encourage and justify sanctions and invasions against the countries that
are not liked by the United States," he adds.

Lagarde provides as "proof of the faith the current American
administration has in its puppet Yoani Sanchez," the visit of Secretary
of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson to the digital
newspaper's headquarters during her first trip to Havana this last January.

While most of the readers' comments in CubaSí support Lagarde's
diatribes, several dare to disagree. Oscar Sanchez, for example, is
blunt: "As a Cuban citizen, Yoani has the right to an opinion. No one
has the only right nor the absolute truth." And Heru added, "I believe
in respect for diversity and, if they open a blog on Reflections, they
are completely within their rights, I don't see why so much fuss and
crowing."

For his part, Rafa opens the door to dialog, in his way, "We are not
afraid, they confront our ideas with those of the adversary, traitor and
puppet of the empire." And Yosbel Marin, more combative and
intransigent, expressed his suspicions toward his co-religionist: "M.H.
Lagarde, with this article, will just publicize 14ymedio. Why? Naivety
or intentional?"

Source: 'CubaSí' accuses '14ymedio' of "contaminating" the new platform
of Cuban blogs / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubasi-accuses-14ymedio/ Continue reading
A Mutilated Civil Society
REGINA COYULA, La Habana | Marzo 23, 2015

Just try it. On the street, randomly ask: What is civil society? You'll
be lucky if you find any satisfactory answer and will have better luck
if, unlike for me, more than one person even deigns to answer you. To
speak of civil society in Cuba is like teaching new material in school.

First the concepts, then, explain which is considered more successful
according to the teacher's vision. A meticulous educator looks for good
examples. It is essential to mention the thesis of Alexis de Tocqueville
of civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the
State. Also interesting is Habermas's approximation about individual
rights that guarantee and foster free association.

Like almost all social science concepts, we find different and even
opposing views on the subject. Where the philosophers agree, regardless
of their political affiliation or their religious creed, is that civil
society exists and functions independently of the State, and in many
cases as its counterpart.

Only then, after talking about the subject enough so that the citizenry
feels informed, can we speak of the role of civil society.

It has still been less than a decade that the term civil society, along
with its close relatives, human rights and non-governmental
organizations, was either nonexistent or cursed in the Cuban press. But
with the growth of alternative civil society, which is attacked and
simplified, accused of following an agenda dictated by the enemy, has
the issue seeped into the discourse of the official press. To public
opinion, contaminated with the unhealthy idea, now trying to present as
civil society organizations that, for the most part, are created and
financed by the government itself.

The upcoming Summit of the Americas will put to the test the ability of
both – the civil society recognized by the government and the
alternative one, unrecognized and derided – to show the continental
community their projects and results. Since the constitution itself
observes the difficulty of the alternation given that, according to
Article 53, freedom of expression is only recognized in relation to the
aims of socialist society. This article makes clear that the mass media
are state or social property, and limits their use exclusively to
working people and the interests of society.

The government tries to know and represent the interests of Cuban
society but, given the deterioration of social conditions, the
boundaries become blurred between popular support for the authorities
and the desire of citizens to try another formula. Only within a
totalitarian context is it possible to control the discontent, deaf to
discordant voices and to make practically impossible the legalization of
an independent project. This lock is constitutionally established in
Article 62, that doesn't recognize the freedoms when they don't fit with
the aims of the socialist state and the decision of the Cuban people to
build communism.

I read Friday, in the newspaper Granma, the article "Our civil
society." I agree with some of the points of view of the journalist
Sergio Alejandro Gomez. In effect, domination is not always applied by
force or coercion and the powerful like to appropriate words and their
meanings. However, I disagree with the manner in which the journalist
resolves the current problem with civil society. The Cuban State
represents the interests of the great majority (while it demonstrates
the contrary), but this government has rejected the free associations
established by Cuban citizens.

It is clear that the heterogeneity of the Cuban Civil Society Forum is
circumscribed to differences in matters of religion, gender equality,
racial equality or sexual diversity. Immediately observable is the
absence of a political opposition, It's very fair that the above rights
are recognized, because bad memory can't omit the fact that minorities
were also discriminated against in Cuba. But as long as political
opinion and initiative outside the State are not present, civil society
will be incomplete, and any democratic observer immediately perceives
this anomaly.

As pointed out by the Granma journalist, the society is not
homogeneous. Homogeneity is not the personality of brothers brought up
under the same roof. However, the Cuban state wants to achieve with
these organizations of its civil society a symphony that supposedly
affirms to the writer that this is a civil society unlike any other.

Source: A Mutilated Civil Society -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/Mutilated-civil-society-cuba_0_1748225181.html Continue reading
Holguin repairs a street after a hundred residents threaten not to vote
in the elections
FERNANDO DONATE, Holguín | Marzo 23, 2015

The Holguin municipal government decided to hurriedly solve the problem
of sewage running down 8 th Street between 29 th and 35 th, in the La
Quinta neighborhood, after having received a letter signed by more than
100 people who threatened not to vote in the elections for delegates to
the Municipal Assembles of People's Power on 19 April, if their demand
for a solution was not met.

A commission composed of government functionaries went to visit the
residents, according to Lino Rubisel Almira García, one of the
signatories. "They visited us two days after they received the letter,
at the end of last October. The committee wanted to make us desist from
the decision, but when they failed to achieve their objective they
agreed to approve an investment as soon as possible.

The speed with which the work was begun surprised even those who didn't
trust in the efficacy of a letter with political content adverse to the
government to resolve a historic demand, raised since the early eighties
in every "Renditions of Accounts Assembly" of the delegates with their
constituents.

During all this time, the fetid sewage that ran along the street
endangered the health of the inhabitants of more than 60 homes,
according to the complaint of Leopoldo Peña Jiménez, another of the
signatories, resident of the place since 1979.

The fear of the critical epidemiological situation of the city since
2014 – with the increase in illness like dengue fever, cholera, and
hepatitis – resulted in a death that "forced us to use politics when we
didn't get results through established mechanisms," added Peña.

During the "Process of Renditions of Accounts" of last October, the
delegate reported that the work was not in the investment plans and that
a long-term solution was projected due to the difficult economic
situation threatening the country.

However, Peña remembers that, "When, in the eighties, the government had
available resources, the requests to representatives and officials of
the People's Power was characterized, year after year, by false promises
that, after they weren't met, were excused with absurd justifications."

Given the indolence of the authorities, the residents began to resolve
the problem with their own efforts in 2010, placing 8 plastic tubes,
each 3 yards long. The solution was insufficient, but the government
never provided the necessary resources.

The current work began mid-month last November, and the work, paralyzed
as of a month ago, is still incomplete. Those affected point out that
there is a section where the putrid waters still flow, and lament that
there are still seven open manholes in the sewer, which in addition to
blocking free flow, constitute a danger for the risk of falls,
especially at night in streets lacking good lighting.

The neighbors continue to wait for the completion of the works, and
according to Lino Rubisel, are "willing to write another letter, if
necessary."

Source: Holguin repairs a street after a hundred residents threaten not
to vote in the elections -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/holguin-repairs-street-after-hundreed-residents-threaten-not-to-vote-in-elections_0_1748225180.html Continue reading
How to Get Rich in Cuba
By Jeff Siegel
Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

I love this headline...
"Tourists Flocking to See Cuba Before the Americans Come"
Boy, if that doesn't make you feel all warm and fluffy inside.
Of course, by Americans, they're talking about U.S. companies — not
loud, fanny pack-wearing retirees from New Jersey who will be disgusted
by the lack of air conditioning and English-speaking bellmen at their
hotels.
You see, purists and romantics want to see the real Cuba. They want to
see the tobacco plantations of Pinar del Río, the lush tropical forests
of Baracoa, and the warm white sands of Santa Lucia.
They want to drive through the streets of Havana in a 1957 Chevy Bel Air
convertible. They want to smoke authentic Cuban cigars, dance in the
streets with beautiful Cuban women, and retrace the steps of a drunken
Ernest Hemingway while reciting lines from "The Old Man and the Sea."
And they want to do all of this before there's a McDonald's on every
corner and an obnoxious cruise ship in every port.
It's hard not to disagree. After all, I'm planning a trip to Cuba now,
and I'm looking forward to wandering through the "land stuck in time."
I'm looking forward to hour-long philosophical conversations with locals
while sipping real Cuban coffee. I'm looking forward to touring the
urban organic farms that kept the Cuban people well fed after a food
crisis gripped the island nation in the 1990s.
That being said, with the thawing of relations with Cuba will come an
influx of U.S. dollars, U.S. influence, and a wave of opportunities for
those who are eager to invest.

Tourism is Booming!
Once all restrictions are removed, it's estimated that 1.5 million U.S.
travelers will visit Cuba every year. Right now, it's about 600,000.
This would actually put the U.S. ahead of Canada as Cuba's top source of
tourism and result in about $2 billion a year for the Cuban economy.
New hotels, condo developments, and modern supermarkets will likely be
built quickly. New ports will also be constructed to accommodate a wave
of new cruise ship destinations, and in an effort to meet the demands of
a booming tourism industry, a lot of Cubans will find good, steady work.

Big Ag's Coming...
Agriculture giants such as Cargill, Monsanto, and DuPont have been very
aggressive in their quest to have the embargo lifted. After all, Cuba
represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity for them in both import
and export opportunities.
Sadly, this could ultimately undermine the vibrant organic agricultural
system in place right now. And it is likely that Cuba could become the
next big dumping ground for Big Ag's toxic cocktails of pesticides and
herbicides — including glyphosate, which the World Health Organization
just recently declared a probable source of cancer in humans.
But my concerns about this are irrelevant. The fact is, the Big Ag
machine has already conquered Cuba on paper. It's just a matter of time
before those plans are put into action.
And of course, there's enormous opportunity for energy investment.
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You'll also get our free report, "2015 Alternative Energy Stock
Predictions" by our resident expert Jeff Siegel.

The Sun Shines in Cuba
U.S. oil producers, now sitting on a wealth of cheap oil and natural
gas, are eager to sell it to Cuba at a significant discount. And I
suspect Cuba is just as eager to buy it.
Cuba has also set a goal of producing 24% of its own electricity with
renewable energy by 2030. This will be a combination of biomass, hydro,
solar, and wind.
Cuba actually has very strong solar and wind resources available.
Companies like GE (NYSE: GE), SunEdison (NYSE: SUNE), SunPower (NASDAQ:
SPWR), and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) are likely to benefit. I also
wouldn't be surprised to see a well-capitalized installer/financier like
SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY) getting in on the action.

Cafe Cubano
If you're a regular reader of these pages, you also know that I see huge
opportunity in coffee.
Due to extreme weather events and geopolitical drama, African producers
of coffee are struggling to keep pace with demand. Continued drought
conditions, uncommon fluctuations in weather, and the consistent threats
and realities of war are irreparably harming centuries-old coffee
operations.
Meanwhile, the demand for coffee continues to rise.
Now, due to its climate and elevation, Cuba actually has the ability to
produce particularly good coffees. With strong demand from U.S.
consumers, Cuban coffee growers could revitalize the island's coffee trade.
Other commodities Cuba can capitalize on include cacao, coconuts,
pineapples, mangoes, papayas, plantains, and ginger. With its close
proximity to the U.S., there's a huge opportunity here for distributors
to improve margins. And what a great opportunity for job creation in Cuba.
All in all, I'm quite bullish on Cuba going forward.
I knew this ridiculous embargo would eventually be lifted and
free-market principles would ultimately facilitate a peaceful
relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. We're now at the earliest stages
of this relationship, and the opportunities for friendship and
prosperity are enormous.
I will definitely be taking part in both.
To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth...

Jeff Siegel

@JeffSiegel on Twitter
Jeff is the managing editor of Energy and Capital and contributing
analyst for the Energy Investor, an independent investment research
service focusing primarily on stocks in the oil & gas, modern energy and
infrastructure markets.

Source: Investing in Cuba -
http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/investing-in-cuba/4787 Continue reading
Submissiveness in Cuba
March 25, 2015
Kabir Vega Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — Submissiveness is something that I've been aware of in
Cuba ever since elementary school, my first social milieu. There was a
teacher who was treating us abusively, and while he was out of the room
all of us agreed to speak our minds to him. Nevertheless, when the time
came, I was the only one who was willing to act.

In middle and high school, it was exactly the same. We all spoke
terribly about the teachers; we complained, planned to rebel, but in the
end the only thing that everybody turned out to be in full agreement
with was to give up.

Several friends have recently been telling appalling stories about their
experiences in military service: the oppressive atmosphere, the hunger,
the degrading treatment and the general discontent of the young men who
are drafted against their will.

Those that can't stand it opt for extreme solutions like fleeing, which
is also useless, self-harm or even suicide.

Comparing the testimonies of those who are now undergoing this
experience with that of friends who went through it years ago, it's
evident that there have been some minimal changes, although we don't
know if it's because of these same cases or due to complaints that
reached a higher or further ear.

Nonetheless, as far as organized protests are concerned, I don't know of
anybody who has heard of such a thing. One acquaintance told me how the
level of discontent in his unit was such that it seemed impossible to
contain. They talked about rebelling, and even came up with some
strategies, but at the crucial moment, they melted into cowardice. The
most that happened was to see the energy deflected into jokes.

Perhaps one of the strangest examples is that of the state salaries.
Everybody – no exceptions – complains and suffers day by day because
they aren't enough to live on even for a week, not to mention a month.
But the same people continue on at the same jobs, waiting for a
retirement in which the only thing guaranteed them is every kind of
neediness in their old age.

Maybe this is just one more detail about how the human mind works in
this world, or perhaps it's a tendency specific to this society where
one of the first things you learn is to accept everything that doesn't
work and with which you really don't agree.

Nevertheless, I still can't understand how those affected by a situation
could decide to do absolutely nothing to try and change it.

Source: Submissiveness in Cuba - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110216 Continue reading
Havana or Bust: How U.S.-Cuba Relations Will Impact Tourism
Mar 23, 2015

When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, dozens of flights
connected the airports of Miami and Havana on a daily basis, and the
luxury hotels and glittery nightclubs of the Cuban capital were as
common a destination for middle-class Americans as the casinos of Las
Vegas are today. The U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, imposed in 1960,
put an abrupt end to all that, creating an anomaly that has long defied
geography, technology and globalization: Even as American travelers have
grown increasingly familiar with distant locations in Europe, China,
India and elsewhere, they have been legally banned from visiting the
largest island in the Caribbean, a mere 90 miles from Key West, Florida.

That is about to change. In December, the Obama administration relaxed
those travel restrictions, signaling the beginning of the end of the
travel ban — and, quite possibly, the re-emergence of a major market for
American air carriers, hotel chains, rental car firms and the like. What
impact will these changes in U.S. regulations have on short- and
longer-term U.S. travel to Cuba? And what further changes will have to
be made before Cuba re-emerges as the largest U.S. travel destination in
the Caribbean?

The good news for U.S. travelers is that the new regulations allow
Americans to visit the island for any of a dozen specific reasons,
including family visits, education and religion, without first obtaining
a special license from the U.S. government, as was previously required.
Travelers may now import up to $400 worth of goods per person from Cuba
on their return to the United States, including $100 worth of cigars and
rum. U.S. citizens can now use U.S. credit and debit cards, and U.S.
financial firms can now open accounts at Cuban banks and enroll
merchants there. As of March 1, MasterCard begin to do so in Cuba.

The bad news is that it is still illegal for a U.S. citizen to visit
Cuba with no other goal in mind but to enjoy a week of sun and surf.

A Unique Combination

To fully relax the U.S. travel ban will require the repeal by Congress
of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which extended the territorial
application of the initial embargo to apply to foreign companies trading
with Cuba, and penalized foreign companies that allegedly "trafficked"
in property formerly owned by American citizens but confiscated by Cuba.

Assuming that Congress does eventually repeal Helms-Burton, does Cuba
really have the potential to re-assert itself as a major tourist
destination for Americans?

"It is not easy to do business in a country that is in transition."–Hugo
Cancio

Stephen Kobrin, a Wharton emeritus management professor, notes that Cuba
benefits from a unique combination of advantages: It is both
geographically close to the U.S., yet exotic because of the history of
its relationship with the United States. While it's only a one-hour
flight from Miami International Airport, Cuba is considered "fascinating
… forbidden fruit" because of its long isolation from the currents of
globalization, which has left many of its landscapes suspended in time.
Over the past several decades, Cuba has developed a significant appeal
for budget-minded European and Canadian travelers attracted by this
spirit of "adventure tourism." Such travelers are willing to accept
relatively spartan facilities well below the standards demanded by
middle-tier and upscale American travelers.

"If and when Cuba opens up [completely to the United States]," Kobrin
asks, "will they have the infrastructure to handle" the coming surge of
travelers who demand more luxurious amenities Twitter ?

Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the nonprofit Cuba Study Group,
which manages such initiatives as the Cuba Study Group Microfinance
Fund, the Cuban Enterprise Fund, and the Cuba IT and Social Media
Initiative, argues that Cuban tourism should benefit not just from its
proximity to the United States, but "its cultural affinity" to the U.S.
Hispanic community, and from nostalgia about the good old days when
flying off to Cuba for a brief vacation was commonplace.

Apart from Havana, with its penchant for 1950s-era American cars, Cuba
is an island of natural beauty, endowed with "some nice beaches" and a
significant natural diversity, says Bilbao, whose organization is based
in Washington, D.C. Moreover, Cuba is "one of the safest places for an
American tourist to visit," in stark contrast to such Latin American
destinations as Brazil, Venezuela and some Caribbean islands.

Eddie Lubbers, who runs the Cuban Travel Network, an online travel
portal, agrees with that assessment. Hosted in the Netherlands, his
company's website enables travelers from the U.S. to book land-tour
reservations in Cuba, but not to buy air tickets to that country.
Although "tourism" by Americans is still illegal, if they fit into one
of the 12 authorized categories, American travelers to Cuba are not
officially considered "tourists" by the Treasury Department's Office of
Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), which oversees such travel.

The process of qualifying for such an OFAC-authorized category is
"self-censoring," says Lubbers, making it more unlikely than in the past
that anyone will be found to have been violating U.S. law. Not only has
supervision of the rules become more lax, but it's also become easier
for Americans to mix the pleasures of being a tourist in Cuba with the
business of building "people-to-people" ties. Many U.S. visitors who
travel to Cuba ostensibly for cultural, business, humanitarian and other
theoretically non-touristic goals engage in a wide range of leisure
activities. Such diversions include catamaran tours on the turquoise
waters of the Caribbean Sea; walking and driving tours of Havana seated
in vintage 1950s American vehicles, and excursions to such remote
tobacco-growing locales as the Viñales Valley, a unique landscape dotted
with gigantic "mogotes" — karst formations — "surrounding a lovely
valley with rich red earth and majestic palm trees," according to the
Cuba Travel Network site. Travel agents say that those U.S. travelers
(not to be confused with "tourists") who spend at least some of their
time on the island pursuing cultural, business or humanitarian goals are
free to enjoy dinner at a restaurant in a historic Havana fortress,
listen to salsa performers or attend a "phenomenal show at the Cabaret
Parisien" — all without violating the spirit of the waning U.S. embargo.

"It will take time for Cuba to be fully ready to take advantage of these
new conditions, but they are working on it…."–Hugo Cancio

Potholes and Incomplete Highways

Although Lubbers lauds the availability of compact European-made rental
cars, Bilbao notes that getting around Cuba can be a challenge. "The
[road] signs are nonexistent, there are large potholes and the central
highway remains incomplete." Not only do the amenities in most Cuban
hotels lag behind those in other Caribbean locations, the phones don't
work, says Bilbao. The Obama administration's recent move to allow U.S.
phone companies to do business in Cuba should help in this regard, along
with the arrival of U.S. credit card companies to provide services on
the island.

"It is not easy to do business in a country that is in transition," says
Cuba-born Hugo Cancio, chief executive of Miami-based Fuego Enterprises,
which represents U.S. companies that want to do business in Cuba. "Cuba
has built a very solid infrastructure in European tourism markets,"
Cancio notes. "While there are several 'five-star' hotels," — mostly
operated by the Sol Meliá group of Spain, which has 26 hotels in Cuba —
"there are not enough five-star hotels to accommodate an explosion of
American tourists." A lot of private homes are also being turned into
hotels — properties that Cancio described as "wonderful" because of
their unique, local charm. Giant chains such as Hilton International and
Marriott have issued statements indicating that they look forward to
opening hotels in Cuba, presumably after the embargo is lifted.

"It will take time for Cuba to be fully ready to take advantage of these
new conditions," Cancio concludes, "But they are working on it. No one
was expecting the announcements of the relaxation of controls…. There
will be gradual change. When the embargo is officially lifted, the
Cubans will be ready."

A 30% Uptick

How vast is the potential for Cuba tourism in the longer term? Lubbers
says that after President Obama relaxed controls on American travel in
Cuba in December, "our business went up 30% in January." Virtually
overnight, "the United States has become our No. 1 market," he adds,
followed by Canada, Great Britain and Germany, and other European
countries that had been his main sources of business. According to
Lubbers, even before January's announcement by President Obama, American
travelers were always among his agency's top five sources of business.
Many were flying to Cuba via stopovers through international cities that
offer scheduled flights to Havana, especially Panama City, Panama;
Cancun, Mexico, and Nassau, Bahamas. In all, some 124,000 American
travelers were authorized to travel to Cuba last year, a drop in the
bucket compared with the 20 million or so Americans who traveled to
Mexico in 2013.

Within weeks, Lubbers expects his Cuba Travel Network will be able to
offer Americans the option of purchasing tickets online for the
chartered U.S.-Cuba flights that are already licensed. Soon thereafter,
anticipates Lubbers, U.S. carriers such as Jet Blue, American Airlines
and Delta will start offering scheduled flights to Havana from U.S.
airports, especially Miami. Those airlines have already announced their
desire to provide such service. "That is now only a matter of bilateral
discussions" between U.S. and Cuban officials, he notes. For that to
happen, however, the embargo first has to be ended officially by Congress.

"Cubans are unlikely to make the instant transition to capitalism. The
Eastern Europeans were revolting against external domination, but in
Cuba, [the adoption of Communism] was an internal process."–Stephen Kobrin

How long will that take? Naturally, no one knows for sure. Cancio says
that he is "optimistic that before the end of [the Obama]
administration, the embargo will be lifted." Some observers believe that
the embargo will more likely be lifted quickly if the next president is
a Democrat, but the Congress is controlled by Republicans, Cancio notes.

Even if the next president turns out to be a Republican, Cancio is
confident that U.S.-Cuba economic ties — in the tourism sector and
elsewhere — will continue to deepen because of growing support among a
broad cross-section of the exile community in the United States. "The
majority of Cubans in Miami want to lift the embargo," he says, noting
that 90% of the businesses that are flourishing in Cuba today are
"Miami-owned by Americans." Anybody who visits the island and chats with
Cubans who live there knows that investments have been made by Cubans
who live abroad, Cancio says. "The small and medium-size private
businesses that are developing [in Cuba] are mostly doing so thanks to
capital that is being invested by those who live outside the country.
Some experts have estimated the rate of remittances to Cuba at $2
billion annually, and close to 50% of that is being invested, or planned
for investment, in small businesses."

Faquiry Diaz Cala, a Miami-based venture capitalist and private-equity
investor, says that "tourism is a great way to get dollars into the
Cuban economy. It will spur a significant number of small tour
operators" and promote further development, as well as more conversions
of small homes into European-style bed-and-breakfast establishments and
small restaurants — known as "paladares" — for travelers "looking for
history" and an authentic experience, rather than for familiar high-end
luxuries.

Kobrin wonders how quickly the Cuban government will commit itself to
opening up to foreign investment so that it can attract the large-scale
capital influx that Cuba will need in order to develop a modern
infrastructure, which in turn would attract a higher volume of
travelers, including upscale travelers.

Unlike the peoples of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the
Berlin Wall, "the Cubans are unlikely to make the instant transition to
capitalism," Kobrin suggests. "The Eastern Europeans were revolting
against external domination" — that is to say, against the communism
imposed on them by the Soviet Union shortly after World War II. "But in
Cuba, it was an internal process." Moreover, despite the hardships
suffered by the Cuban people over the decades, the Cuban state has not
entirely lost the support of its population, and "they are not likely to
ditch the state-controlled system" in its entirety. In addition, the
normalization of Cuba's economic relationship with the U.S. will require
the two countries to settle all claims for properties expropriated by
the Cuban regime in defiance of international law. More positively,
despite their pride in going it alone for decades, the Cuban people have
"very mixed feelings about the United States," including affection for
such emblematic symbols of American culture as baseball and classic cars.

Cancio advises the travel industry in other Caribbean countries not to
be afraid of the coming wave of tourism to Cuba. For Puerto Rico and the
smaller islands of the Caribbean, the key to survival, he advises, will
be to promote Cuba as one of several multiple destinations in the travel
packages of the future. One example might be to market trips that
comprise two or three nights in San Juan, Puerto Rico, followed by a few
nights in Havana and then another few nights at a third nearby
destination. Rather than struggle against the tide of Cuba's resurgence,
he says, the other islands of the Caribbean would do better to embrace
Cuba as a partner in their joint efforts to expand the appeal of the
entire region.

Source: What the Changes in U.S.-Cuba Relations Mean for Tourism -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/what-the-changes-in-us-cuba-relations-mean-for-caribbean-tourism/ Continue reading
How a Miami business incubator, and a hashtag, helped thaw U.S.-Cuba
relations
By Francisco AlvaradoPublished March 25, 2015 Fox News Latino

At LabMiami, a technology business incubator located in Miami's trendy
Wynwood neighborhood, Ric Herrero wages a national campaign using
traditional and social media that has played a significant role in
thawing frosty relations between the United States and Cuba. As
executive director of #CubaNow, Herrero is the public face of an
organization backed by prominent Cuban-American businessmen in Miami who
want to end the embargo.

"Several individuals, myself included, thought it was time to make an
aggressive move to change the U.S. policy toward Cuba during Obama's
second term," Herrero said. "We launched last April to send a clear
message to the White House."

That message was first delivered via posters on Washington, D.C., subway
cars showing Obama and blaring the headline, "Stop Waiting."

#CubaNow followed up by sending the president a letter on May 15, 2014,
urging him to use his executive powers to lift travel restrictions,
allow American businesses to support independent Cuban entrepreneurs and
expand the country's telecommunications infrastructure, among a slew of
other reforms.

Signed by 78 individuals from the Republican and the Democratic parties,
the letter included several heavyweight Cuban-American players such as
former Miami City Manager Joe Arriola, former U.S. Ambassador Paul
Cejas, sugar barons Alfonso and Andres Fanjul and healthcare executive
and longtime Bush family ally Mike Fernandez.

The goal, Herrero said, was to drive home a new narrative that a
majority of Cuban-Americans oppose the last 51 years of isolationism.
"Change will only come from within Cuba," Herrero said. "By expanding
the flow of commerce between U.S. businesses and the Cuban people, they
can be in a better position to demand greater changes from the Cuban
government."

The letter helped convince the Obama administration that Cuban-Americans
were onboard with his plan to start discussions with Cuban President
Raúl Castro, said Ralph Patino, a lawyer based in Coral Gables who is
one of #CubaNow's founding members.

"This notion that the president didn't consult with Cuban-Americans in
Miami is not true," Patino said. "The administration had boots on the
ground, talking to individuals like myself and getting feedback from us."

During his first trip to the island in early 2014, Patino recalled, he
realized it was time to end the exile hardliner approach.

"Living in Miami, you are conditioned into thinking you are going to
find extreme oppression and extreme misery in Cuba," Patino said. "To
the contrary, I found people to be optimistic about a future
relationship with the U.S. To make change possible, we have to open up
our trade borders and allow for the free exchange of ideas."

Over the summer, #CubaNow gained momentum. Herrero met twice with
officials from the Obama administration in Washington, D.C., and Miami.

During both encounters, Herrero said, he discussed three objectives:
Empowering the Cuban people, applying pressure on the Cuban government
to embrace greater democratic reforms and advancing the interests of the
U.S.

However, Herrero said, he was not privy to the negotiations between
Obama and Castro that led to the historic agreement in December to swap
political prisoners and begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic
relations.

"We knew as far back as September that something was in the works,"
Herrero said. "But we had no idea of the breadth and scope of what Obama
laid out in December. We were surprised by how bold the president's move
was."

As U.S. state department officials have continued talks with the Cuban
government, Patino said he wants to see #CubaNow stay on the offensive.
"We need to keep pushing back the old dogmatic thought process that we
should maintain the embargo," he said. "I'd like to see #CubaNow become
the go-to organization for congressional delegations that want to visit
Cuba."

To that end, #CubaNow is establishing relationships with members of
Congress who want to end the embargo, Herrero said.

"Most of the resistance is from the Cuban-American members of the south
Florida caucus who have never really been challenged about their
opposition," he said. "However, we are looking forward to working with
other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who want to change
U.S. policy toward Cuba."


Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.

Source: How a Miami business incubator, and a hashtag, helped thaw
U.S.-Cuba relations | Fox News Latino -
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2015/03/25/how-miami-business-incubator-and-hashtag-helped-thaw-us-cuba-relations/ Continue reading
Cuba specialists optimistic US trade embargo will end
Alan M. Field, Contributing Editor | Mar 25, 2015 10:50AM EDT

Phil Peters, president of Cuba Research Center, a nonprofit organization
in Alexandria, Virginia, says the U.S. and Cuba have been making
progress in normalizing their diplomatic and trade ties, and overcoming
political opposition within the United States to the Obama
administration's clear desire to end the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. "I
choose to be optimistic," Peters said. After all, we are talking about a
relationship with 50 years of some pretty heavy baggage on both sides.
The first step is taking a while, but that doesn't particularly
discourage me."

Peters, a Cuba specialist who spent most of February on the island, told
a March 23 webinar on the U.S.-Cuba relationships, sponsored by the
Inter-American Dialogue, that the Cuban government is now managing
expectations about what comes next, following the sweeping, surprising
announcements made by the Obama administration last December. The Cuban
government is now "taking great pains to explain exactly what was done
and what was not done," including the "reach of the change in the travel
regulations and the change in the trade regulations" in order "to
enumerate all the parts of the embargo that are still in place."

"I think the Cuban people are delighted with what has happened" over the
past few months," Peters said.

The Cuban people appreciate the fact that President Obama in his speech
last December made it clear the U.S. wants "prosperity" for the Cuban
people; that the U.S. doesn't want Cuba to be a "failed state," Peters
said. Obama invited the U.S. Congress to end the embargo. Although his
executive actions are limited by his executive authority, "he made it
clear that he disagrees with the animating idea about the embargo, which
is to weaken the Cuban economy and force political change," rather than
make Cuba wealthy enough to become a full-fledged member of the global
trading community. "So it is quite a departure."

Peters added, "The regulations President Obama issued a month ago are, I
think, very well done. They're clearly written by a president who would
like to see the embargo go. He took his authority as far as it could go
to make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba; and to make it easier
for American businesses to involve themselves in the travel business.
And in every instance to do so without having to write the Treasury
Department and wait for them to mail you a license back. It is all by
what Treasury calls a 'general license' — and in trade relations to
[enable] the exports that are permitted [to be] done under what the
Commerce Department calls 'license exceptions,' which allow exporters to
self-execute.

"The first step is going to wind up being two steps, I believe. We are
going to get full diplomatic relations, and the Obama administration
will have completed its process of notifying congress that Cuba is no
longer on the list of state sponsors of terrorism — another long overdue
thing. Like any opportunity, this is what we make of it. For those of us
who'd like to see the relationship with Cuba prosper — for many reasons,
including that Cuba is approaching a period of great change and
generational leadership — the opportunity is in front of us, and we have
an opportunity to engage" with Cuba. "I hope we'll seize the opportunity."

Devry Boughner Vorwerk, vice president, corporate affairs at Cargill,
the global agribusiness giant, said Cargill has "always been against
unilateral sanctions in agricultural trade." In 2000, Cargill and other
firms worked hard to "make sure that there was an opening for
humanitarian food trade to Cuba, and we shipped one of the first [such]
vessels to the port of Havana. Since then, Cuba has been a customer of
Cargill."

Nevertheless, "I have realized that it is very challenging in Cuba,
given some of the credit restrictions that we have placed on U.S.
farmers and U.S. exporters. We hit a peak in 2008 with about $700
million in U.S. exports that year. This year, we're down to $300
million." Vorwerk said she thinks the Cuban market has the potential to
be "about a $2 billion market."

However, because of the self-imposed U.S. trade embargo, Vorwerk said,
"We've seen that countries like Brazil, and countries from the European
Union and even Vietnam have been taking that market share away from U.S.
farmers. We think that it is quite a shame that U.S. farmers have their
hands tied behind their backs." The U.S. is trading barely any meat —
and there's no rice — into Cuba. "But we have great hopes that at some
point we'll be able to do what we do best: to ship U.S. commodities and
high-value food products to Cuba."

Vorwerk added, "We recognized that there is a great need for initial
investment. The Cubans see that "it is in their best interests to
diversify the FDI that is coming in. And charting their own course." On
Jan. 8, 2015, Cargill helped launch the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for
Cuba. "People said that we launched it because of the president's
announcement, but that was not true. It was planned long in advance [in
May 2014]. We started it with about 20 organizations as members, but
since the president's announcement, we are up to well over 80
organizations."

Vorwerk said the president's announcement has made the U.S. farm and
agricultural community aware that Cuba could return to being a
significant market for U.S. agriculture exports. Companies are saying,
"We want to do the right thing; we want to end the embargo."

Although it was very clear since last May that forming this coalition
was aimed at ending the embargo, the members had no idea that the
president was going to "make such an expansive announcement. We made the
decision that we weren't just going to go for fixing the credit issue,
or for one-way trade with Cuba." There is great potential for two-way
trade, she said. "It doesn't make any sense to ship [American] food to
people who can't afford it. We'd like to see development take place" in
Cuba, so that people can increase their choices "as opposed to being
stuck in the situation they are in.

"We believe that even on the Hill [in Congress], there is broad
bipartisan support for what we are trying to achieve," Vorwerk said.
"There are some important people who believe the opposite of us. We know
that not everyone agrees with us, but for the most part, if you look at
opinion polls across the United States, the majority of Americans agree
with what we are trying to achieve, which is to end the embargo."

John Epstein, a partner at the law firm Holland and Knight, said that
"the flood gates have opened." Although "the actual changes in
regulations are not that big" yet, his firm has been contacted by a wide
range of firms – including in such sectors as aviation, hotels, and
cruise lines – who are newly interested in preparing the way to invest
in and/or trade with Cuba. Epstein, who has assisted both U.S. and
non-U.S. clients with compliance issues related to the embargo with Cuba
since the late 1990s, said that "the Obama administration has been very
good at using the gradual relaxation of sanctions as a foreign policy
tool" — not just with respect to Cuba, but with countries such as Iran
and Burma (Myanmar).

Contact Alan M. Field at alanfield0@gmail.com.

Source: Cuba specialists optimistic US trade embargo will end | JOC.com
-
http://www.joc.com/international-trade-news/cuba-specialists-optimistic-us-trade-embargo-will-end_20150325.html Continue reading
An Object Of Desire: Hope And Yearning For The Internet In Cuba
MARCH 23, 201511:57 AM ET
ROBERT SIEGEL

After the sun sets on Havana on weekends, G Street turns into a kind of
runway.

Blocks of the promenade — which is very colonial with its big, beautiful
statues and impeccable topiaries — swell with crowds of young Cubans.
For the most part, they just walk up and down, greeting each other with
kisses.

It's a spectacle: Everyone, it seems, is here to impress. They're
perfectly coiffed, perfectly matched; they're splayed on benches, arms
wrapped around each other.

We stop to talk to Tatiana, 17, and her group of friends. We ask her
what she hopes will come of a new relationship with the U.S.

"We're going to be able to travel. We're going to have Internet," she
says, growing excited. "Unlimited Internet. Finally."

What you quickly find out here in Cuba is that the Internet has become
an object of desire: something as rare and valuable as strawberries that
everybody wants.

By any measure, Cuba's Internet penetration rate is dismal. The
government says that about 25 percent of Cubans have access to the
Internet. But Freedom House, a watchdog that promotes freedom globally,
says that number refers to Cubans who have access to a government-run
intranet. According to Freedom House's experts, only about 5 percent of
Cubans have access to the open Internet.

That's why Facebook and the World Wide Web have become a kind of
promised land.

As we walk through G Street, we notice that many of the kids clutch
smartphones. Out here, they're essentially useless, because the only
real way to get on a Wi-Fi network is to pay $5 an hour at a tourist hotel.

We ask the group why they think Cuba doesn't have widely available
Internet — and if they accept the government explanation that the lack
of infrastructure is the result of the U.S. embargo.

They laugh. Christian, an 18-year-old drummer, answers. He looks like a
typical teenage skater with long hair, baggy pants and Vans shoes.

"Cuba does not want us to know the things that happen in other
countries," he says.

Daniel, 18, interjects: "Only they," he says, making epaulets on his
shoulder with his fingers, "can have Internet." Then he tugs at an
imaginary beard, Cuba's universal symbol for Fidel.

"Only Fifo can have Internet access," he says.

We point out that what's going on here on G Street is actually kind of
nice: a bunch of kids talking to one another, without having their heads
buried in a screen. If indeed there is new openness in Cuba and the
island is flooded with foreign investment, and with it Internet
connectivity, this scene would probably cease to exist.

The moment they hear that, they erupt with giddy laughter, imagining a
future in which they would lie on their beds and still be able to
connect with friends and the world.

"I'm already an expert texter," Tatiana says.

A Limited Internet

For years, Cuba accessed the Internet using satellites. It meant that
the connection was slow and sluggish and had severe limitations on the
amount of data that moved in and out of the island.

At the beginning of 2013, Doug Madory, of Dyn, an Internet performance
company, noticed that the Internet speed on the island had become
significantly better. He figured out that Cuba had turned on a huge
underwater fiber optic cable that Venezuela had run from its shores to
the eastern end of Cuba. Madory says the cable — called the ALBA-1 — has
the capacity to move a huge amount of data to and from Cuba.

He says that right now, Cuba's lack of Internet has little if nothing to
do with the embargo.

"We've been making the case that if Cubans really want to do this, they
have a good model in Myanmar," Madory says.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, turned its ruling military junta into a
nominally civilian government in 2011. That's given rise to a more open
society and an improved relationship with the United States.

Madory says that shortly thereafter international telecoms lined up to
provide Myanmar with the infrastructure to access the Internet. Because
of the advancement in mobile Internet, the deployment has happened rapidly.

Madory says Cuba could follow suit even if the U.S. embargo against it
continues.

Non-American "telecoms would be lining up around the block to work in
Cuba if they were allowed," Madory says. "Not only that but they would
be willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for that right and
Cuba could probably use that money."

Long Waits To Get Online

One of the ways to get online in Havana is to visit the offices of the
state-owned telecom monopoly, ETECSA.

We find an office, painted blue and white, in a leafy neighborhood
called Miramar. Two priests from the Ecumenical Catholic Church of
Christ, Monsignor Stefanos and Father Fanurios, are sitting on the porch.

This is their second time in line. Earlier in the day, they had traveled
45 minutes to the office and then waited outside for another 45 minutes,
only to be told finally that the connection was down.

Stefanos says that he comes to ETECSA to check his email every few days.
That's the only way he can keep in touch with his leadership in Central
America.

So, they sit patiently as people are called by the police officers to
walk inside the air-conditioned building and use one of the four
computers connected to the Internet.

At the end of the day, the clerics will have accomplished one thing:
checking their email.

"We're Cuban," says Fanurios, resigned. "We're Cuban and with needs."

A Special Case

Without a doubt, the Internet in Cuba is tough. But there is an oasis in
the midst of this digital desert.

It's in a poor neighborhood in Havana called El Romerillo. That's where
the artist Kcho (pronounced "CAH-cho") built his studio.

Kcho is a bear of a man, bearded and wearing a Rolex watch. As he walked
through his vast complex, which also houses a cafe, a library and a
gallery, a group of young girls followed, giggling as he expounded on
being a son of the Cuban revolution.

He's a superstar; his paintings and sculptures, often made with pieces
of boats, have been exhibited worldwide — in Spain, in Italy and even at
the Marlborough Gallery in New York City.

Because he's an artist, the Culture Ministry allowed him to have an
Internet connection. He told us that when he first moved into this
space, a 2-megabit Internet connection was too broad just for him to
use. So, in 2013, he connected a few computers to the Internet and made
them public, and in January, he installed wireless routers to share the
connection more widely.

"The Internet was invented for it to be used," he says. "There's this
big kerfuffle here in Havana that Kcho has Internet at his place.
There's nothing to it. It's just me, who is willing to pay the cost and
give it to the people. It's about sharing something with people, the
same way my country does. I've always worried that people have what they
need, just like the revolution did, and so I'm trying to give people a
place to grow spiritually. A library, an art studio — all those things
are important."

Kcho says that bringing Internet to the masses is not the responsibility
of the government. It is, he says, an "entrepreneurial responsibility."

"And if it's so important for young people to have Internet, my dream is
to bring more of it to them and to have a space here where they can
travel the world without spending a dime, a place where they can travel
from India to Burundi, to Antarctica, to the Library of Congress," he says.

When asked if the Internet could be detrimental to the revolution, he
says that a shift away from socialism is simply not on the table.

"But it's also not an option for me to renounce what I'm doing," he
says. "It's not an option for me to take back what I've already given to
Cubans."

The Internet at Kcho's place is Cuba's first free hot spot, and it's on
24 hours a day.

That means that the place is a hive of activity: There are people
leaning on the outside walls, staring at their smartphones. In the
library, people get on a waiting list to watch funny videos on Yahoo.

Yoan Istameyer, 29, is sitting along a concrete retaining wall. He is
with his friend Yendy Rodriguez, 20, but they aren't talking. They're
glued to a screen.

Istameyer says he has been there since the night before.

"I never leave," he says. The Web and especially Facebook keep him hooked.

He says that there are only two places in Havana with free Internet:
Kcho's place and the U.S. Interests Section along the Malecon. He'd gone
to the Interests Section twice before, he says, but he decided to stop
because of the political baggage that comes with stepping foot inside a
U.S. installation.

Rodriguez says that he had just heard of this place and is thrilled. We
ask him if the Internet had changed his life in any way. Rodriguez
shakes his head: not really.

Then Istameyer cuts in. He's young. He's brash. He'll hand you his email
address as soon as he can.

"I even left my girlfriend for Wi-Fi," he says, eliciting laughter from
his friend.

The Internet — and the social connections across the world that it gave
him the freedom to make — had drawn Istameyer in so much that his
girlfriend gave him an ultimatum: Wi-Fi, which Cubans pronounce
"wee-fee," or me.

Istameyer chose the Internet.

Source: An Object Of Desire: Hope And Yearning For The Internet In Cuba
: Parallels : NPR -
http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2015/03/23/394276385/an-object-of-desire-hope-and-yearning-for-the-internet-in-cuba Continue reading
Florida Senate votes to oppose U.S.-Cuba relations
Kathleen McGrory, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 1:27pm

TALLAHASSEE — In an emotional speech Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores,
R-Miami, asked her fellow lawmakers to oppose President Barack Obama's
recent decision to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba.

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All but one agreed.

The measure, which also discourages the federal government from allowing
a Cuban consulate in Florida, is largely symbolic. But it was important
for the Cuban-American members of the state Senate, Flores said.

"A lot of my friends and colleagues have asked why we care so deeply,"
she said on the Senate floor.

Flores told the story of how her mother had fled the island nation as a
girl.

She spoke about the "hundreds of thousands (who) sit in prison every day
for having the gall to stand up and say something." And she showed
photographs of the Ladies in White, the wives and family members of
imprisoned Cuban dissidents who hold regular protests in Havana.

"They are spit upon, they are beat up, they are harassed," Flores said.

Flores said the Obama administration's decision to ease travel
restrictions to Cuba would allow American visitors to "have it all,"
while Cuban residents would continue to suffer.

"I know you've seen the pictures of the beautiful beaches were the
tourists can go," she said. "No one who is a Cuban citizen can go to
those places."

Her call was echoed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami
Republican who said members of his family had been imprisoned and killed
for speaking out against the government.

Diaz de la Portilla said the new Cuba policy would "do nothing but
ensure that the (Castro) regime stays in power."

"To think that by spending American cash, so Americans can buy Cuban
cigars and Cuban rum and stay at hotels on stolen land, that these two
obstinate octogenarian dictators and their cronies are going to change
anything is naive at best," he said.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, urged his colleagues to "send a message to
this administration that we understand the plight and the problems
(Cubans) are facing, and that we must continue to put the pressure on
the Castro regime to open up and be transparent."

The measure passed on a voice vote, with Senate President Andy Gardiner,
R-Orlando, saying he was proud to stand with the members of the
Miami-Dade legislative delegation.

Only one senator opposed the proposal.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, said she
understood the Cuban-American senators' "passion and pain." But she
defended the Obama administration's "historic steps to chart a new
course" in Cuba.

"I know in my heart that there was no malice intended by the
promulgation of this policy by the Obama administration, and I know that
his moving this forward is an effort to bring freedom to the Cuban
nation," Joyner said.

A similar proposal, sponsored by South Florida Republican Reps. Manny
Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Núñez, is moving through the House of Representatives.

Source: Florida Senate votes to oppose U.S.-Cuba relations | Tampa Bay
Times -
http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/florida-senate-votes-to-oppose-us-cuba-relations/2222619 Continue reading
Cuba: Potatoes from the Ration Book (When Available) / Ivan Garcia
Posted on March 22, 2015

Ivan Garcia, 15 March 2015 — The dirty, dilapidated produce market — its
floor covered with red dirt and its shelving rusty — in Cerro's crowded
El Pilar neighborhood is ten minutes by car from the center of Havana.
Sandra, a housewife, has spent two nights in line here waiting for potatoes.

"At three in the afternoon the truck arrived. It took an hour to unload
them and, when they went on sale, the line was a block long. The
commotion was incredible. The police had to come to restore order. There
was a ton of people in line and I ended up not being able to buy
potatoes. The manager and his employees kept a lot of bags for
themselves to sell on the side," Sandra says, who was able to buy twenty
pounds of potatoes two days later after spending another night in line.

Neither American comedian Conan O'Brien's show in Havana nor the selfies
of Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell with the local playboys nor the
predicaments of President Nicolas Maduro have kept the average Cuban
from attending to her pressing daily needs.

Especially when it comes to finding food. With spring upon us, the
potato has returned to the Cuban kitchen. It is a food that has acquired
special status since 1959.

Marta, a retired teacher, has been waiting in line for four hours under
a scorching sun to buy potatoes. "The Cuban diet is very poor so it
helps round things out. You've got rice, sometimes soup, chicken from
time to time, a lot of egg and — most commonly when it comes to meat —
pork. The potato is the perfect filler," she points out. "It stretches
your meals. If you make meat and potatoes or add it to chicken
fricassee, you can feed more people. It adds substance to omelettes. And
if you run out of rice before the end of the month, you can make mashed
potatoes to fill you up," she points out.
Until 2009 potatoes were sold through the ration book, but Fidel Castro
came up with a plan that was supposed to keep produce markets stocked
with potatoes all year long.

Castro ordered the construction of dozens of hub markets with
refrigerators for preservation. He said everyone would be able to buy a
certain quantity of potatoes every month through the ration book.

On November 1, 2009, potatoes and peas went on sale through the book
throughout the island. The potato, a peso a pound. Within three years,
the tuber had become an exotic product.

"You have to wait for the winter and spring harvests to buy potatoes,
which leads to long lines. Or you have to buy them on the black market,
where a three to five pound bag of potatoes costs 25 pesos,"
say Agustín, a laborer.

"I get there, dead tired from work, and have to wait in line all
afternoon in the hot sun or at dawn. I prefer fries but, when I have
potatoes, I don't have the oil to fry them," he laments.

Those who receive remittances or who own private businesses do not have
to wait in line. "For 70 pesos a guy delivers potatoes to my doorstep.
If I had to wait in line, I wouldn't eat them. Luckily, I have a
daughter overseas who sends me money every month. When potatoes
disappear from store shelves, I buy a package of ready-cut frozen
fries," explains Samuel.

Osmelio, the owner of a café offering food and sandwiches in Havana's La
Víbora neighborhood, bought twenty sacks of potatoes at 50 pesos each.
"I'm selling a plate of fries for 15 pesos. After going so long without
potatoes, " he says, "people with the means buy them at any price."

After fifty-six years of military dictatorship, traditional Cuban dishes
have increasingly become distant memories. Beef, shrimp, snapper and
fruits such as anón (sugar-apple) and guanábana (soursop) are now luxury
items in the national diet. The potato is on the waiting list.

Iván García

Photo: The police monitoring the line to buy potatoes at El Milagro, a
market owned by the Youth Work Army (EJT), located in the Tenth of
October district. Photo by Manuel Guerra Pérez, Cubanet.

Note: In response to the perennial shortage of agricultural products on
an island with good soil and a tropical climate, a friend told me,
"People in Cuba complain about shortages, but it doesn't occur to them
to solve the problem by planting tomatoes or other vegetables, even if
it's in pots and small beds. Or bananas, potatoes and garlic in plastic
buckets like we used to do at home in Havana. I will never forget how a
neighbor mocked my mother, telling her she didn't do this because she
wasn't a peasant. She was not one to stand up to the dictatorship, so
gardening would have helped her to eat."

And he's right. In many countries, some more developed than others,
people yearn for a piece of land to grow vegetables and flowers. Monday
through Friday, I watch a BBC program called Escape to the Country in
which they show three houses in the countryside to city residents of the
UK. In the end, the guests settle on one based upon what they can
afford. Not all of their guests are retirees or people about to retire.
There are young couples who are not only looking for the peace and
beauty of the country, but also want the chance to have a garden,
orchard and even a chicken coop. All this love of nature is being lost
in Cuba, along with jobs for seamstresses, tailors and shoemakers among
others. —Tania Quintero

Translated by W

Source: Cuba: Potatoes from the Ration Book (When Available) / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-potatoes-from-the-ration-book-when-available-ivan-garcia/ Continue reading
In Cuba Drought Wreaks Havoc on World Water Day / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez
Posted on March 22, 2015

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 22 March 2015 — Spring has officially
arrived, but without the rain. Every day the drama worsens in the Cuban
countryside, especially in the East. Throughout the length and breadth
of the country, the private agricultural sector is experiencing a very
difficult situation, because of the precariousness of resources and the
lack of methods to transport water.

While the world celebrates International Water Day many farmers look to
the sky to try to predict when the rains will come. The year has begun
with negative omens. Between November 2014 and the end of January an
accumulated shortage of rain has affected 52% of the country. Among the
provinces most affected are Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Cienfuegos, Villa
Clara, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.

Camagüey, which provides a quarter of the country's production of milk
and meat, is in a state of emergency because of the rainfall deficit and
the low level of its reservoirs. Keeping the livestock fed and the crops
irrigated has become an almost impossible task. The problems do not stop
there. The region's weather center has warned of the danger of forest
fires in the coming weeks.

In the city of tinajones (claypots), families who have a well feel
fortunate, while others depend on water trucks and buy drinking water
from street merchants who trade in different quantities such as jars,
jugs and buckets.

The Government and the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH) call
to increase saving measures and better organize distribution
cycles. However the poor condition of the supply networks, with millions
of leaks, means that a high percentage of pumped water is lost.

The province of Sancti Spiritus faces a similar situation. At least 25
water supply sources are below minimum capacity and 43,000 people depend
on water trucks for cooking, washing, domestic hygiene and irrigating
the fields. Experts agree that the worst is yet to come, when
temperatures rise along with consumption of the precious liquid.

The city of Trinidad is also going through a difficult time dealing with
an increase in tourism while its water systems are virtually empty. Its
main source of supply, the San Juan de Letrán Springs, located in the
Escambray Mountains, are only supplying 25 quarts per second right now,
versus the 110 that normally occurs for these dates.

Maurilio Gonzalez, who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de
Ávila, shows his emaciated cattle surrounded by flies. He complains that
the pastures aren't providing the food needed to sustain the dairy herd.
"I have to leave very early every morning to see from what center I
might get byproducts from sugar-making so that at least my cattle don't
die." Pointing to the land around him, he says, "There is no grass
anywhere, it is all burned up by the sun."

Havana does not escape the problems associated with drought. Antonio
Castillo, deputy director of operations for Havana Water (AH), told the
state media that at the end of April the supply sources for the
capital's water will be at levels between normal and unfavorable. If
rain is not abundant in May, the city will face serious problems with
distribution.

Josefina Iriarte lives in a part of Old Havana that only receives water
through so-called pipes. "A few weeks ago the supply became more regular
and prices went up," says this resident of Cuba Street, whose sons are
experts at dragging water tanks from hundreds of yards away. The whole
house is designed to store every drop. "But you can't get it if there
isn't any and the longer it doesn't rain the harder it gets."

The reservoirs of Santiago de Cuba only store 255,769,000 cubic meters
right now, 37% of their capacity and one of the lowest levels in recent
years. Dams showing alarming situations are the Protesta de Baraguá Dam
and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Dam, the largest in the country which are
responsible for supplying water to the neighboring provinces of Holguin,
Granma and Guantanamo, on the eastern end of the island.

Cuba has 242 dams, dozens of micro dams and about 2,420 aqueducts. The
networks run over 37,000 miles with 70 water treatment plants and 3,200
miles of sewers. But most of that infrastructure shows some
deterioration and in some cases is in a calamitous state. Millions of
quarts a year are wasted due to damaged taps and pipes that spill the
water before it reaches residences and farms.

Last February, the Director of Organization, Planning and Information of
the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), Bladimir Matos, called
for "a culture of conservation among users" to try to mitigate the
effects of the current drought and to confront the challenges for the
country and around the globe with regards to water reserves.

The United Nations has put out a call to think about how to distribute
water resources more efficiently and equitably in the future. In other
words, don't just look up and hope that the rains fall; we must rethink
our models of water consumption.

Source: In Cuba Drought Wreaks Havoc on World Water Day / 14ymedio, Rosa
Lopez | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/in-cuba-drought-wreaks-havoc-on-world-water-day-14ymedio-rosa-lopez/ Continue reading
Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers / 14ymedio,
Yosmany Mayeta Labrada
Posted on March 22, 2015

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 —
Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective
self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago
de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported
that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer's markets
and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks.

Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira
suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first
hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for
engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation
was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of
pesos in fines.

Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined
700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed.
Nevertheless, he affirmed that "they came prepared in case one refused."
The operation included special forces known as "black berets" who
surrounded the area's markets and the main streets of both suburbs.

Alexander Benitez was among merchants who suffered the seizure of his
products. "The found me selling pork meat at 27 pesos a pound in the
doorway of my house and they came and demanded the license," recounts
this Santiago native. "When they saw that I had no license they
confiscated the meat, the scales and also fined me 1,500 pesos." Benitez
says that he approached the police to get the scales back "because they
were borrowed" but "they handcuffed me and put me in the police car."

One of the covert sellers, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed
that it was true that "many self-employed workers have very expensive
meat and a pound of potatoes for seven pesos, but the government in the
state markets has none at any price." The residents of the province
complain that the tuber has still not been distributed to the people
through the network of state markets, although in other cities its sale
has already begun.

Not only sellers of meat and agricultural products were the objective of
the police operation, but also drivers of cars and motorcycles were
investigated. Among them the driver of a private transportation truck
who was fined 2,500 pesos and had his license plate taken away. One
motorcyclist for a state enterprise also was sanctioned 30 pesos for not
having changed the license plate to the new system that has been
implemented in the country.

By the beginning of the afternoon, many merchants and carriers in the
Venceremos and Altamira suburbs were fined, but once the police began to
withdraw their forces, the areas around the farmer's markets started
slowly to fill again with vendors and drivers.

Translated by MLK

Source: Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers /
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/heavy-police-operation-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Internet in Cuba, I'll believe it when I see it / Jeovany Jimenez Vega
Posted on March 22, 2015

"If you want to free a country, give it the internet." Wael Gonium

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 25 February 2015 — A vice president who gives an
assurance that the country "… is committed to social information" but
who then automatically sees it as being led by the communist party, and
who sees it as "…a key weapon for the revolutionaries to get
participation in the social project we desire": who at the same time
emphasises that "… everyone's right to the internet presupposes the duty
to use it properly and in accordance with the law, and also presupposes
the responsibility to be vigilant about the defence of the country and
its integrity", and a Deputy Minister of Communications assuring us that
along with the economic development of this sector there must also be
running in parallel the "political and ideological strengthening of the
society," are indications that we will not see anything different
anytime soon after the recent Information and Biosecurity workshop ends.

The underhand warning which indicates the presence in the front row of
Col. Alejandro Castro — implied candidate to inherit the family throne —
and the silence whenever the subject turns to his father, President Raúl
Castro; Comandante Ramiro Valdés' permanent position in charge of the
Ministry of Communications — twice ex-Minister of the Interior, the most
rancid relic from Cuba's historic establishment and the chief
implementer of current repressive methods — all reciting together the
same refried speech and the repeated ignoring by the Cuban government of
the latest offers of the US telecommunication companies for when the
embargo controls are relaxed, are factors which make us think that
nothing is about to change in Cuba in relation to the internet, and that
we are only starting a new chapter in this soap opera of demagogy and
cynicism.

The Cuban-in-the-street can't see it any other way, living under a
government which, up to now, has charged him a quarter of his monthly
basic salary for every hour on the internet; for him, every word heard
at the end of the workshop referred to continues to smell of bad omens,
sounds like more of the same, especially when we bear in mind that this
shameless tariff is not for any high quality high-speed service, in the
comfort of our homes, as you might expect, but which they have
characterised in the worst way, only available in cyber rooms of the
dual-monopoly ETECSA-SEGURIDAD DEL ESTADO, and, because of that limited
to their opening hours, at a 2 Mb/second speed, and using PCs with
restricted copy-paste and often with disabled USB connections, with all
keystrokes tracked and with more than one "problematic" page blocked. In
fact, nothing you wouldn't expect from a government which recently
created a brand-new Cyberspace Security Centre, presumably intended to
become a virtual equivalent to the notorious Section 22 of its police
policy.

Meanwhile, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I repress my swearwords every time I
stop in front of a cyber room's poster offering me three hours of
internet for a dollar!, in a country with an average monthly salary of
about $500, a country which is also third world, but which offers free
wi-fi in many public places, including bus stations, in restaurants and
malls, where internet and TV satellite dishes are a common urban sight
even in the poorest neighbourhoods. There couldn't be a more obvious
contrast between this reality and what we Cubans have to live with in Cuba.

All the above confirms for me every day more strongly my ongoing
conviction that information control will be the last card in the deck
that the Cuban dictatorship is going to give up. Nothing will have
changed in Cuba for so long as all Cubans don't have open unconditional
uncensored access to the internet from our homes. This is such an
obvious truth, and would represent such a decisive step forward toward
the real opening-up of Cuban society, that only on that day will I
believe that change has started. It's as simple as that.

Translated by GH

Source: Internet in Cuba, I'll believe it when I see it / Jeovany
Jimenez Vega | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/internet-in-cuba-ill-believe-it-when-i-see-it-jeovany-jimenez-vega/ Continue reading
Guanabo, Cuba, a Ghost Town
March 22, 2015
By Danay Riesgo Diaz (Café Fuerte)

HAVANA TIMES — It was the beach town where I lived most of my childhood;
few people in the Cuban winter and many in summer. Even in hard times it
doesn't cease to be fascinating, magical and provocative. Friendships
remain, even though they are no longer there. The type of friends you
can count on without asking. Those who know what how you feel by just
looking into your eyes.

My Guanabo is no longer what it was. It gets lost between the shadows of
the past and the uncertainty of the future. The unhealthiness is
frightening. Today I see the kids swim among the bacteria, viruses and
parasites of all the septic tanks, which are now in name only. They flow
into the sea like the Nile into the Mediterranean. From afar you notice
the change in color and from a little closer you smell the stench. It's
no longer safe to take that refreshing afternoon dip of yesteryear. The
children in the water risk getting a amoebas, cholera, gastroenteritis,
or other illnesses.

The stones, glass, paper and waste of all kinds adorn the little sand
left. The only thing that remains unchanged is the placid horizon to
lose oneself in its nuances.

The passage of time

The playgrounds in Guanabo are oxidized and broken by the passage of
time and lack of maintenance, but they are still standing, surviving
life along with the houses with children. In those parks I played
soccer, baseball and hide-and-seek and laughed to no end. Specifically,
484th Street Park, one of the best in Guanabo, seems to have been bombed
and left in oblivion, but still has the luxury of having a guard. Small
local kids still go play there because it's the only place they can.

The Guanabo movie theater, which was the first movie theater of my life,
then a local with air conditioning and first run movies, no longer casts
even a shadow of its former self. Now it's nothing. Now we have to buy
movies for 1 CUC on the main street (5th. Avenue) and the idea of
??"going to the movies" died or it remains among the ruins that lie
there. If the Lumiere brothers entered the remains of the Guanabo
cinema, they would repent their invention.

I was curious to approach a library that seemed to float or worse,
sinking like the Titanic. I remember it was on the same street as the
cinema. Some old books, which for old would not stop being interesting-
can be seen through the broken wooden windows. I couldn't go in because
the entrance was flooded, but at first glance you could see the
desolation, the smell of oblivion, the poverty, chaos, depression,
despondency and discouragement.

A general sadness

I walked away and I started thinking about how children can live in a
ghost town, in a town mortally wounded from neglect and abandonment.
Then I felt fear, fear for the future that awaits many of my former
neighbors -above all- the smallest and defenseless.

Source: Guanabo, Cuba, a Ghost Town - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110150 Continue reading
Havana's La Cuevita: From Illegal to Official Market
March 20, 2015
Regina Cano (Photos: Juan Suarez)

HAVANA TIMES — Months ago, a licensed crafts and assorted products
market was opened in the municipality of San Miguel del Padron, very
close to the location of an informal market that used to be set up in
the area. The new, official market is meant to absorb the vast majority
of vendors that once made up the previous, illegal market, known as La
Cuevita.

The new market, also named La Cuevita, is located a few blocks away from
the area taken up by the previous market, one of the largest underground
sales points the outskirts of Havana has seen since 1959. While many
such illegal markets emerged and proliferated in the city over the
years, most have disappeared quickly or been set up only sporadically.
La Cuevita, in contrast, had been in operation for close to 7 years.

Now that self-employment has been authorized and sale licenses have been
made available, new business opportunities have emerged and those
willing to pay taxes have been grouped in an open and fenced-in area
prepared by the authorities, where anything whose origins can be
accounted for may be sold – anything from products made through
recycling processes to crafts or "homemade" items using a broad range of
materials, such as plastic, glass and certain metals.

The fact of the matter is that, when someone in Havana is in need of any
one crucial product (for personal or domestic use), a product they
cannot fix or replace because of their low wages or the fact these
products are not readily available at State and private stores, they
invariably start to think and plan their next trip to La Cuevita.

I recently visited the market to get up to speed on these new
developments. The first thing I noticed is that, despite the
government's intention of making the informal sales points disappear,
people who need to put food on their tables still manage to maintain
their black market activities.

The black market area began at an alley surrounded by makeshift and
ramshackle homes and spilled into a neighboring street, extending into
what was once a small urban settlement and is today a sprawling shanty,
spreading along the length of the river that cuts through the area.

Before, this black market was stocked by a series of tiny, illegal
assembly plants and products brought from abroad or stolen from State
factories (which, incidentally, are currently stocking the new market).
There, one could find just about anything, even a coffin.

Word on the street has it that some plastic items that have strange and
rather ugly colors are made from recycled garbage bins, the ones that
are disappearing from Havana's street corners.

Whatever we may think about the risks involved in buying "stuff" without
knowing where it came from or what harm its use may cause us (in Cuba,
one can never be 100 percent sure as to the effects of things we
frequently buy), people tend to take their families shopping to places
where prices match their wages, as is probably the case in other parts
of the world, as poverty tends to be the same the world over.

The police tend to crack down on these illegal sale points, or to deploy
inspectors and officers on a regular basis to keep an eye on them. This
may help fill the State coffers with fines and confiscated items and
increase the number of locals who are summoned to trials or incarcerated
for breaking the law, but the market is always reborn – sometimes within
seconds – rising from the ashes like the Phoenix.

Source: Havana's La Cuevita: From Illegal to Official Market - Havana
Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110117 Continue reading
Cuba: Being Educated So As Not To Be Free
March 23, 2015
Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — A recent debate among friends stirred up something of a
thorny issue: did the crusade against illiteracy and the founding of
free schools and hospitals justify the sacrifices involved in the Cuban
revolution?

Was an educational system that dished out "culture" for the masses,
omitting much of our national and universal heritage, a system that told
(and tells) us what to think and what to say worth our efforts?

I would love to be able to say that, at school, no sooner than we had
become politically mature, they told us and stressed that the fact of
having been born in the "first free country in the Americas" granted us:

- The right to life, liberty and personal integrity

- The right to travel freely around Cuba and choose our place of
residence anywhere in the country

- The right to leave this or any other country and return, without being
arbitrarily deprived of our nationality

- The right to be spared inhumane or degrading treatment

- The right not to be arbitrarily detained, imprisoned or banished

- The right to be free from attacks on our integrity or reputation

- The right to individual and collective property

- The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

- The right to assembly and to form peaceful associations

- The right not to be harassed over our opinions

- The right to seek and receive information and opinions, and to divulge
these without any restrictions and through any form of communication.

But I can only attest to the fact they would repeat that we had to be
good students, loyal to the revolution and grateful to the socialist
homeland.

Three decades later, when my son started going to school, his school was
repaired, like many others in the neighborhood of Alamar, and a large
sign reading "Thank you, Fidel!" was inscribed on all of their
freshly-painted facades.

This kind of forced gratefulness and collectivism, characterized by
unchanging (and sometimes aggressive) adjectives and slogans, moved by
an underlying paranoia and made up of half-truths, full-fledged lies and
whispered criticisms, was the world of my childhood.

When, in 2011, I walked by the offices of Paris' Le Monde journal, I
felt the kind of ease and freedom I have never felt at home, whenever I
pass by the offices of Granma newspaper, where guards in olive-green
uniforms keep watch over the entrance.

That what we are taught should be called "culture" is something quite
debatable. That the knowledge we received was worth giving up our right
to question and demand answers is also questionable. The price of free
education for all was a people able to read and write but illiterate
when it comes to the law, vastly unaware of its civil rights and afraid
to demand these.

Personally, I am unable to blot out the bad and see the good on its own.
I believe the intention behind an action determines its result in the
long run. Awakening, tearing the gag from our mouths (be it in public or
in the privacy of our homes), has been far too long and painful a
process, and it has disemboweled the country.

When I converse with young university students, I am surprised at their
lack of commitment towards Cuba. Trained in the art of the double
standard, they can justify their apathy with sophisticated arguments,
barely able to cover up their indifference towards the society they live
in and do not identify with. Their maxim is to get the most out of the
educational options at hand, in order to practice their profession
abroad. Many of those who chose careers such as medicine (having a
calling for it or not) aspire only to go work abroad and leave the country.

Like previous generations, who, thanks to the education received, became
professionals in the field of survival, they have only learned one thing
well: that, in the world where culture and health are offered us free of
charge, freedom tends to be the most expensive thing.

Source: Cuba: Being Educated So As Not To Be Free - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110165 Continue reading
Cubalex states that its work is in 'danger' / 14ymedio
Posted on March 23, 2015

14ymedio, 22 March 2015 – Last Friday the Cubalex Center for Legal
Information circulated a statement in which they report that their work
is in "danger." The independent entity said that after their
presentation of "a report about Cuban prisons, the campaigns of
defamation and harassment increased" toward their members.

In the text there is reference to a robbery that occurred in Cubalex's
offices on March 12, when "unidentified people broke in and (…) stole a
laptop, a tablet, an iPod, a modem, an external hard disk, several flash
memories and computer parts."

The statement goes on to say that "the fact that no other objects of
value were stolen, only those that could contain information about the
work of the organization, leads one to assume (…) that the aggressors
came on the part of the state authorities."

In recent months Cubalex has reported being a "target of a smear
campaign that includes libelous notes accusing the organization of
corruption." The texts are published on the Internet, most of the time
anonymously or without specifying the source of the complaint.

Laritza Diversent, attorney and member of Cubalex, reports that since
2013 there has been "increased surveillance, harassment and threats
against members of the team." The lawyer explained that the pressure on
the group increased after the presentation of the report on the
detainees in Cuba, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The harassment includes "threats to prosecute the family members of the
Cubalex team and to confiscate the building where the office is located."

Given this context, in its statement Cubalex demands that the Cuban
government "guarantee and protect the work of organizations and leaders
engaged civil society of in defense of human rights." In addition, it
asks "the international community to rule in favor of the guarantees of
our work."

The Cubalex Center for Legal Information is headquartered in Havana and
is considered a non-profit organization not recognized by the Cuban
state. It has offered free legal advice since 2010, concerning the
legalization of housing, immigration procedures, inheritance, labor,
criminal review processes, constitutional procedures and the defense of
civil and political rights of Cuban or foreign citizens who ask them.

Source: Cubalex states that its work is in 'danger' / 14ymedio |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubalex-states-that-its-work-is-in-danger-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Is Cuba On the Verge of a Technology Revolution?
By Robert Schoon (r.schoon@latinpost.com)First Posted: Mar 23, 2015
03:50 AM EDT

Last week, Cuba got its first free, public WiFi hub. But as significant
as that is for the formerly hermetic island nation that's in the process
of normalizing relations with the U.S. and others, it may just be the
beginning of a much larger coming technology revolution in the country.

Early Cautious Stages
The free public WiFi hub in Cuba, however, wasn't exactly the
government's initiative. It exists courtesy of Kcho, a famed Cuban
artist who set up a modest three-megabit connection at his cultural
center, as we previously reported.
That Cuba allowed the relatively decent connection with the outside
world to persist is definitely progress, as ComputerWorld noted that
heretofore, the Cuban government restricted official Internet access for
select purposes and, for general use, to the total of about five percent
of the population that can afford to pay $4.50 per hour for online
access through the state-run and content-filtered Internet cafes that
were set up only a couple of years ago.
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And the political normalization between Cuba and the U.S. appears to be
a slow process. As The Atlantic noted, despite the public attention
given to President Obama and Raul Castro's careful advances, the U.S.
government still currently enforces a trade embargo on the country.
But despite the cautious pace of policy, easing economic sanctions has
whetted investors' appetite and set their sites on the island nation,
especially when it comes to technology.

Challenges and Opportunities:

Cuba's Undeveloped Infrastructure
Besides the political process, Cuba faces several practical challenges
when it comes to investing in and developing Internet technology in the
country. For one, there's the physical infrastructure -- outdated
electrical grids, inadequate for sustaining growth in technology need to
be replaced, and the same goes for the telephone grid and (nearly)
nonexistent wireless network.
And that's not even to mention Cuba's telecommunications connection with
the outside -- essentially an old coaxial cable that runs underwater to
Jamaica and the wider world.
Such a huge lack of physical infrastructure means development of an
Internet-powered economy will come slowly, in fits and starts. But it
also means something close to a blank slate for investors.
As venture capitalist and co-founder of startup networking organization
Mindchemy Ramphis Castro recently put it in his essay for Re/Code,
Seeding a Silicon Valley in Cuba, the island nation's dearth of almost
all things IT "makes it especially exciting to be a venture capitalist
pondering the possibilities for funding companies in Cuba today and
tomorrow."
"If VCs, particularly angel investors, can become involved soon, they
will be getting in not at the proverbial ground floor but while the
blueprints are being drafted."
Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of tech industry trade group CompTIA,
shared a similar excitement with ComputerWorld for the
once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity an open Cuba could present:
"Markets like Cuba, which will require a wholesale construction of new
infrastructure, don't come along often, if ever," said Thibodeaux. "The
flood of companies lining up to get in should be quite substantial."
Such companies, early on, would likely be core IT firms from the U.S.,
such as AT&T, HP, Verizon and Cisco, which would develop the larger
infrastructure; the basics required for any further IT-based economic
development.

A New, Untapped Market
Assuming a continued, relatively smooth political evolution -- which is
still an assumption -- after the infrastructure is in place, the human
capital and still untapped market potential inherent in Cuba is equally
attractive to the tech industry.
IT education would be an immediate priority, as "near-sourcing" services
for technology and business would likely be the first steps for industry
investment in the country, along with all of the technology aspects
associated with modern tourism.
And while technology spending market data for Cuba is nonexistent, a
population of about 11 million, mixed with a "real hunger for
technology" in the population -- according to U.C. Berkeley Center for
Latin American Studies chairman Harley Shaiken, also speaking to
ComputerWorld -- would inevitably lead to an incredibly high growth rate
for the PC and mobile device market, after initial jobs based on the new
IT economy raised incomes to a point where more than the current 10
percent who own mobile phones can afford to buy consumer tech.

Still a Long, Tricky Road
Don't expect Cuba to become the next Silicon Valley just yet. While the
Cuban government is appealing for more investment by international
companies, and businesses are chomping at the bit, economic development
from essentially scratch takes time. And that's assuming that the
political climate in both the U.S. and Cuba stays stable, which is not a
guarantee.
But progress has been made, and even in the early opening stages, Cuba
is now on Silicon Valley's map -- not nearly the final frontier of, or
so far even a certainty for the next generation of tech growth -- but
more as an undiscovered country worth exploring, now that for the first
time in decades, economic first contact has been established with an
official political nemesis.

Source: Is Cuba On the Verge of a Technology Revolution? : US News :
Latin Post -
http://www.latinpost.com/articles/44019/20150323/is-cuba-on-the-verge-of-a-technology-revolution.htm Continue reading
A Vote for a Good Appearance / Fernando Damaso
Posted on March 20, 2015

Fernando Damaso, 25 February 2015 — A journalist has written in a
government daily about good appearance — not to demand it, but to
question it. She focuses her question on advertisements by certain
private businesses, which read: "In search of a young trabajadora
[female worker] of good appearance." (I will add that there also are ads
which ask for "young trabajadores [male or non-gender-specific workers]
of good appearance.") In any event, the request is not as limited as the
writer describes it, but let us get to the point.

Upon this weak foundation begins her argument regarding discrimination
by gender, age, skin color, whether a certain type of figure is
required, whether women are objectified for commercial purposes, etc.
These are well-known claims, being repeated as they are in the
government jargon.

Standards of beauty have always existed. They change with the times, but
they do not disappear. Today, as yesterday, they exist, and it is valid
to take them into account, especially when it comes to individuals who
will be dealing directly with the public. Throughout too many years we
have had to suffer male and female clerks and waiters in stores,
restaurants, cafeterias and other services who lack a good appearance,
who should never have been chosen for those positions.

A good appearance, although it includes primarily the physical aspect,
is complemented by upbringing, good manners, correct speech, personal
hygiene, and many other factors.

I consider it healthy for the owners of private businesses to first
require a good appearance. After that, I am sure they will analyze a
candidate's overall suitability for the position, his/her
professionalism, etc., and then, among those of good appearance, they
will select the most capable applicants. The State should imitate these
business owners.

It always turns out to be a much more pleasant experience to be helped
by someone with a good appearance, be it a man or woman, than by someone
who does not have it. Besides, we pay for it!

This preference, although it may appear so, is not a division between
"inhumane capitalism" and "paternal socialism," but rather between what
is beautiful and what is ugly.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: A Vote for a Good Appearance / Fernando Damaso | Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/a-vote-for-a-good-appearance-fernando-damaso/ Continue reading
Cuba's Cold War charm has D.R. wary about losing U.S. tourists to
next-door neighbor
By Andrew O'ReillyPublished March 20, 2015 Fox News Latino

Both have miles of white sand beaches surrounded by crystal-clear blue
seas and are gently rocked by calming Caribbean breezes.

One, however, has been a major vacation destination for tourists from
the United States for decades, while the other has been closed to anyone
holding an American passport for over 50 years and is just starting to
open up to U.S. travelers.

As the U.S. moves to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba – a change
that has many adventurous Americans salivating at the opportunity to
travel to the so-called pearl of the Antilles – hotel owners and tourism
officials on the nearby Dominican Republic are warily watching the
events to see how it will affect the travel industry in their country.

"We are closely monitoring the process," Simón Suárez, the president of
the Dominican Hotel and Restaurant Association told Fox News Latino. "We
can already see that there will be an effect on the Dominican Republic
because of the demand by Americans who want to go to Cuba."

With the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana
creeping forward, U.S. citizens actually freely traveling to Cuba for
vacation purposes may be a long way away, but that doesn't mean that
Americans aren't trying to get down there.

When CheapAir.com became the first major booking site to offer flights
to Cuba (albeit with some caveats) the company received 10,000 search
requests for flights to Cuba in the first two hours they were offered.
Cheapflights.com, another search site, also saw a spike in interest in
Cuba immediately after Obama announced an easing of travel and trade
restrictions, with the island jumping to fourth on the list of most
searched Caribbean destinations, behind Puerto Rico, the Dominican
Republic and Jamaica.

Michael Zuccato, of California-based Cuba Travel Services, told Fortune
Magazine recently that he expects his business to increase 50 percent to
200 percent over the next several years and Michael Sykes, founder of
Cuba Cultural Travel, has already made moves to sure up around 10,000
rooms in anticipation of increased visits from the U.S.

While there may not be an easy route yet for Americans to get to Havana,
some U.S. citizens could get there by using one of the 12 legal reasons
– including visiting family, professional research, attending
educational or religious activities or participating in performances,
exhibitions or competitions – and then enjoy some R&R on the side.

"There's an ongoing and growing interest in Cuba," said Emily Fisher,
the head of North American Communications for Cheapflights.com, to Fox
News Latino earlier this month. "The people who are interested in going
are interested in getting a snapshot of Cuba before it changes."

This idea of Cuba – the beat-up 1950s Chevrolets, crumbling
post-colonial architecture and anti-imperialist propaganda – poses a
bigger threat to the Dominican tourism industry trying to attract U.S.
visitors than its neighbor's beaches and weather. For decades, U.S.
travelers have been denied these iconic, Cold War-era relics and now
many want to see them for themselves before outside investment turns the
island into a more traditional tourist destination like the Dominican
Republic, Puerto Rico and the slew of other islands dotting the
Caribbean basin.

"We run head to head in the sun and sand departments with Cuba," Suárez
said. "But the Cuban charm that is something we have to compete with."

Cuban charm – or Cuban decay, depending on who you ask - may be a major
attraction to some American travelers, but Dominican hoteliers and
travel businesses are betting that in the long run their well-founded
tourism sector, value and easy access to a number of major U.S.
metropolitan areas will win out over the exoticism that Cuba offers.

Dominican destinations like Punta Cana, La Romana and Samana – home to
some of the country's most well-known all-inclusive resorts – all offer
the modern amenities and luxuries lacking in many parts of Cuba. Even
with the opening up of Cuban to foreign investors from countries like
Spain and Russia – and soon possibly the U.S. – experts in the Dominican
Republic say it will take years for Cuba to catch up with their country
in terms of these luxury amenities.

"The Dominican Republic today has better suited infrastructure for the
U.S. market, particularly related to five-star resorts," Alex Zozaya,
the CEO of Apple Leisure Group, the largest U.S. tour operator in the
Caribbean. "It will take a few years for Cuba to catch up with the
infrastructure, but it will happen as the opportunity is there."

Still, Zozaya admitted that "Cuba has all the ingredients to be a great
destination for Americans as it has been for years for the European,
Canadian and Latin American market."

The opening of Cuba to U.S. tourists – whenever that happens – is
certainly on the minds of the Dominican tourism sector, but until that
actually occurs most local travel experts seem secure in their country's
place as the leader of tourism in the Caribbean.

Cuba in 2014, with only the U.S. restricting travel to the island, saw 3
million foreigners visit the island, while the Dominican Republic
recorded more than 5 million visitors, which helped the $61 billion
country's economy expand 7.1 percent last year -- compared to Cuba's 0.8
economic expansion.

"We are not concerned that there is something in Cuba that we cannot
compete with, either in the short term or in the long term," Suárez
said. "The Dominican Republic exceeds Cuba's performance in almost every
aspect of the market."


Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

Source: Cuba's Cold War charm has D.R. wary about losing U.S. tourists
to next-door neighbor | Fox News Latino -
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/money/2015/03/20/cuba-cold-war-charm-has-dr-wary-about-losing-us-tourists-to-next-door-neighbor/ Continue reading
Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on March 22, 2015

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the
illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or
leftovers from the dump

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La
Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the
Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of
plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the
economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is
scarcity.

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license
and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the
articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales
stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand
extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500
pesos on whoever has skipped the State's rules of the game.

There are many manufacturers who have no license. In the Cotorro
township flip-flops are manufactured and in La Guinera, a settlement
located in San Miguel del Padron, there are producers of household
goods. The toys, with twisted forms and faded colors, are brought from
the eastern part of the country.

The first step is gathering the recyclable plastic among the wastes of
industrial smelting and rummaging through the garbage in search of
plastic items that can be exploited, without discarding the possibility
of melting the trash cans themselves. In order to improve the quality of
the final product, the manufacturers add virgin plastic. This granulated
raw material is bought under the table, gotten directly from state
warehouses.

The mishmash is heated. When the material is quite melted it is injected
under pressure into various molds. The injecting machines as well as the
molds are produced by hand. When it liquefies, the homogenized paste
takes on an earthy color, but artisans save the day using different
colored dyes.

According to one of these artisans, who allows no photos on his patio,
in many neighborhoods of the capital the police would have to search
patio by patio and house by house because "reality is stubborn," as he
learned many years ago in a Communist Party school. "Even beer can be
canned clandestinely," he says. "Such machines are all over Havana.
Where you least imagine it, there is one. The problem is to make the
product and get it immediately out so that the chain is not discovered."

The bowls and plates, funnels or any other object resulting from this
mix of materials are not completely safe for storage of food intended
for human consumption. "I don't use any of the bowls that I buy in the
candonga for keeping food from one day to the other. But they are
cheaper than those made in China which are sold in the hard currency
stores and cost a third of a worker's salary," says Morena, a housewife
who frequents the market.

The vendors place themselves at the entrance to the market. Some offer
strings of onion and garlic, others little nylon bags. An old lady sells
a bag of potatoes that she has just bought after a long line, and a teen
carries a box of ice where he keeps popsicles that sell for 15 Cuban
pesos. They often have to go running. A patrol passes every twenty minutes.

"If you resist arrest, they beat you. Then they take you to the 11th
Police Station, and railroad you and you don't know if you'll come out
with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos or go directly to the Valle Grande
prison," says the popsicle salesman.

A man in his forties recounts how the police detained him once, accusing
him of retailing without any proof, and they asked him for his identity
card just because he was carrying a briefcase full of plastic plates
that he had just bought. "It would be of no use to say it is my hobby to
throw them in the air to practice my slingshot aim. Just like if they
want to they seize everything and give you a fine. The police do not act
for the benefit of the people," he laments.

Mireya, almost seventy years of age, is the last link in the productive
chain of plastic products. While others work in little brigades for a
particular producer, authorized or not, she does it alone. She has put
together brooms and brushes manually, with production wastes from state
industry, for more than 20 years. "If they catch me doing this I can
have serious problems with the authorities. I don't do it to get rich. I
have to assemble 100 brushes to earn 400 Cuban pesos [about $16 U.S.],
and from that I have to invest part in order to buy the materials," she
explains.

Mireya does not want to get a license because she thinks the taxes are
too high. Besides, she could not justify the materials that she uses to
fabricate her brooms because, in spite of dealing with industrial waste,
there exists no legal way of acquiring them. The bases and the bristles
she buys from someone who, like her, has no license either and sells
them more cheaply.

"What I would have left after paying for the license and the taxes would
be more or less the same as the wage of a state worker. With that, added
to my pension of 270 pesos, I can't even live ten days. If you don't
believe what I am saying, take the rice and beans from the store, divide
it into 30 piles to see how you eat and how you live. Then necessarily
you have to live wheeling and dealing," she concludes without ceasing to
close the plastic threads with wire pincers.

Translated by MLK

Source: Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/wheeling-and-dealing-with-plastic-14ymedio-lilianne-ruiz/ Continue reading
Intransigence at Any Cost / Fernando Damazo
Posted on March 21, 2015

Fernando Damaso, 16 March 2015 — When a phenomenon is analyzed, or a
historical occurrence or any important matter, this analysis should be
done objectively evaluating all its components, be they internal or
external, without a priori positions, keeping in mind their positive or
negative aspects.

Yesterday marked another anniversary of the events which occurred at
Mangos de Baraguá on March 15, 1878.

The Baraguá Protest, mounted by General Antonio Maceo and other generals
and officials of the Cuban Army of Independence [in the 19th Century
against Spain], as a response to the Pact of Zanjón, has been included
by history as a symbol of intransigence for Cubans. The virile gesture
by Maceo and his comrades deserves the greatest respect — even though it
did not correspond to the actual status of the struggle which, except
for within the jurisdictions of Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo, had
waned, primarily because of the exhaustion of the Mambí forces, the
internal divisions within the Army of Independence, and the rupture
between it and the Cuban Government-in-Arms.

Besides, the Camagüey and Las Villas forces, as well as those of Bayamo,
plus General Máximo Gómez and other important military leaders, had
accepted the Pact and, since February, there were no longer an
insurrectionist Executive Power nor Chamber. As a result of the Protest,
General Vicente García remained at the helm of the district composed of
Las Tunas and Holguín, while Maceo headed the zones of Santiago de Cuba
and Guantánamo.

Once the hostilities were broken off on March 23, they failed and
Antonio Maceo had to lay down arms and, with his family, depart for
Jamaica on May 9 (55 days after Baraguá), aboard the gunboat Fernando el
Católico ["Ferdinand the Catholic"], which the Spanish Chief
General Arsenio Martínez Campos had placed at Maceo's disposal. On May
28, 74 days after Baraguá, the veterans of that skirmish were laying
down arms and acceptingthe Pact of Zanjón. Only Limbano Sánchez in
Oriente, and the brigadier Ramón Leocadio Bonachea in the zones
of Camagüey and Las Villas — the latter for 11 months — prolonged the
resistance, but their efforts proved futile: the Ten Years' War had ended.

These adverse results do not detract from the protesters of Baraguá, but
the days and months that followed demonstrated that they had erred in
their assessment of the situation and what needed to be done: they put
their libertarian desires ahead of good judgement. In this matter, the
perjoratively-named "zanjonerians" (so called for having accepted the
Pact) — among them General Máximo Gómez and other important military
leaders — proved to have had the greater capacity for analysis.

Unfortunately, this is not what is said and written when
recalling Baraguá. Were it to be recognized, however, would perhaps help
us to more intelligently confront the various situations we face today,
in a complex and changing world. Intransigence at any cost, as history
shows, is not always the best option. It behooves us to remember that
"Neverland" only exists in children's stories.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison


Source: Intransigence at Any Cost / Fernando Damazo | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/intransigence-at-any-cost-fernando-damazo/ Continue reading
Cargill's Vorwerk makes case for ending Cuba embargo
Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune Updated: March 21, 2015 - 5:15

A trade mission with 95 agriculture leaders from 12 states visited Cuba
earlier this month. Many were members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition
for Cuba, formed early this year and chaired by Devry Boughner Vorwerk,
vice president of corporate affairs for Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc.
The group spent a full day with Cuban import, trade and investment
officials in Havana, Vorwerk said. Another day the delegation broke into
groups to visit Cuban farms growing and processing sugar, rice, cattle,
fruits and vegetables, fish, tobacco and other products. Vorwerk's
comments have been edited for space and clarity.

Q: What experiences did you have on the trip?

A: One of the groups went out to the Bay of Pigs to see the aquaculture
production taking place out there, with the support of the Norwegian
government. That team was surprised by the sophistication and the
absolute modern aquaculture infrastructure. My group visited a farm, and
we were able to see tobacco, sorghum, rice and dry beans. I was
impressed by the way they set up their management team. We also learned
a lot about differences in co-ops, and how they voluntarily organize
themselves and provide services to different farmers.

Q: Was there an overall impression that you had?

A: I would use one word, and that is potential. Potential on both sides.
Certainly the Cuban farmers need access to technology, inputs, capital
and services. They pretty much need access to what any modern
agricultural industry could provide. People on the sugar tour saw
brand-new International Harvester equipment being used that was supplied
by Brazilians. I saw farmers still using oxen and having wooden plows to
draw the rows for tobacco planting. So there's inconsistency in terms of
access to technology.

Another finding is that there's a real market. A market could
potentially exist in greater form for U.S. agricultural products. The
Cuban citizens need these products. They're in a net food deficit right
now, so they are importing products. If they are intended to grow and
leverage one of their main industries, which would be tourism, they're
especially going to need additional support. That may come from
increased yields, but certainly that's also going to come from outside
sources.

Q: What could we offer Cuba and what could Cuba sell to us in terms of
commodities?

A: There's clearly potential for U.S. exports across the value chain.
Soybeans, wheat, corn, rice, dried beans, and we also had individuals
from the U.S. meat industry. I think it's limitless in terms of our
ability as the U.S. food and ag sector to supply products whether it's
at the commodity level or higher value food products.

On the Cuban side, we just got a taste of their export potential.
Certainly one of their mainstay products is tobacco: cigars. Cuba is
also incredibly well-positioned to grow an outdoor aquaculture industry
because their water is pristine and they've got a lot of it. There could
be a play for high-value organic products like fruits and vegetables.
This would all require investment in their ag infrastructure. It's going
to be a journey for the Cuban farmers to figure out what their
comparative advantage is, and what they can export.

Q: How's the competition?

A: There are investors flocking in and dipping their toe in [the] water
to figure out whether they have a play there. But the most compelling
that we saw is the Brazilians in the agro sector. They're eating our
lunch in terms of market share for commodities. On top of that they have
competitive financing. The U.S. farmers' hands are tied behind their
backs because of the complex financing requirements that are set up at
the moment. But in addition what we saw was some actual investment,
which means competitors are seeing something. It's only a matter of time
until the U.S. ends the embargo, but other countries have first mover
advantage right now, and we're sitting on the sidelines.

Q: What are the chances of ending the embargo, especially since many
members of Congress and most of the Republican presidential hopefuls are
opposed to doing that?

A: One of the trip's main goals was to raise the level of consciousness
of the current U.S.-Cuba policy situation and help make the case to end
the embargo. We know that not everyone agrees with us. But the more we
can share the importance of Cuba as a natural market for U.S.
agriculture, hopefully we will be able to change minds. We and others
need to make the case to Congress, which has a lot on its plate.
Ultimately, it's in the hands of Congress to decide whether we get the
chance to trade and invest, or whether we sit on the sidelines while our
competitors engage more strategically than we're able to. We left Cuba
inspired to make 2015 our year. Maybe we're optimists, but unless you're
an optimist, you can't stay in this game. What we're talking about is
unraveling 54 years of a policy.

Source: Cargill's Vorwerk makes case for ending Cuba embargo | Star
Tribune - http://www.startribune.com/business/297064811.html Continue reading
Children who left Cuba over 50 years ago reunited in Jacksonville
Saturday night
By Joe Daraskevich Sat, Mar 21, 2015 @ 10:47 pm
joe.daraskevich@jacksonville.com

When Oscar Candelaria got on a plane in Cuba in 1962 he thought he was
on his way to see his sister who had already moved to the United States.
The plane landed in Miami and the 8-year-old boy's sister was nowhere to
be found.

He said his parents couldn't say too much about where he was going or
what he could expect because it was a time of change in Cuba.

He was one of over 14,000 children who were sent by their parents from
Cuba to the United States from 1960 to 1962.

Over 50 years later, he was a part of a group of people who were
involved in "Operation Pedro Pan," who gathered Saturday night at the
University Club of Jacksonville on the 27th floor of the Riverplace Tower.

Candelaria was eventually reunited with his sister in Chicago, although
the two weren't able to live in the same house because the family she
was with already had 12 children. Their parents moved to the country two
years later and the family was reunited at last.

But the stories of the people involved in "Operation Pedro Pan" are all
different.

"I was Cinderella," said Nancy Mudry.

She said her parents told her she was going to America to live with a
loving family in Miami.

When she got to the family, it turned out the woman responsible was a
"witch."

Her stepsisters stole her clothes and her stepmother put a lock on the
rotary phone so she couldn't get in touch with anyone to explain the
harsh conditions.

"The mailman saved me," Mudry said.

She spoke to the man through the mail slot in the front door and he
helped her send letters to her best friend Maria in Havana.

Maria obtained a visa, flew to Miami and the two friends were reunited
at the airport.

They returned to the house, packed a bag and left, Mudry said. They
spent three days sleeping in a park in downtown Miami before both
eventually found work and parted ways.

The Catholic Welfare Bureau worked with the United States to coordinate
transportation for the children to move from Cuba to Miami.

The children of all ages were scattered throughout the country after
they landed.

Some grew up with relatives, others grew up in group homes or with
foster families, but none of them knew if they would ever see their
parents again.

Candelaria, 61, now lives in Gainesville and is part of the Million
Bibles for Cuba Project.

Mudry, 71, moved to New York and has been married to her husband for
over 40 years.

She was 14 when she came to the country and now she's about to retire
from a job in the Florida school system.

They both shared their stories over dinner with fellow "Pedro Pans" in
Jacksonville, looking out over the skyline.

Far from where they were born, but in the place their parents wanted
them to be.

Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308

Source: Children who left Cuba over 50 years ago reunited in
Jacksonville Saturday night | jacksonville.com -
http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2015-03-21/story/children-who-left-cuba-over-50-years-ago-reunited-jacksonville-saturday Continue reading
La Mesa Redonda secuestra a los negros
JORGE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ | La Habana | 21 Mar 2015 - 1:13 pm.

El espacio de la televisión nacional dedica un programa al tema racial.

La Mesa Redonda trasmitida en la noche de ayer viernes 20 de marzo, bien
puede pasar a la historia como el secuestro público de la realidad de
los negros en Cuba. Bajo el titular: El tema del Racismo será puesto
este viernes sobre la Mesa con la participación de reconocidos
intelectuales cubanos, los allí presentes asumieron "el asunto" desde
una perspectiva bodeguera.

Con la desabrida moderación de Arleen Rodríguez, los "intelectuales"
Heriberto Feraudy, Jesús Guanche (presidente y miembro de la Comisión
Aponte respectivamente), Rodrigo Espino (jefe de investigación del
Instituto Juan Marinello) y José Luis Estrada (jefe de redacción del
periódico Juventud Rebelde), protagonizaron lo que durante 60 minutos
insistirían en llamar "debate", pero que terminaría siendo un juego
malabar para decidir "cómo llamarían a los negros" sin emplear, según el
consenso de los cinco conjurados, "un lenguaje colonial racista heredado".

El primer indicio del secuestro, en todo caso la voz del negro cubano y
con ella su realidad, se planteó en la composición misma del panel. Es
decir, en las ausencias del panel. Allí no estuvieron quienes en los
últimos 15 años, para fijar un punto de partida cualquiera, han sido más
que activistas, pensadores y propiciadores de espacios, criterios
polémicos y abundante literatura sobre raza y género. Allí no se
incluyeron, por citar solo tres ejemplos intelectuales, a Tomás
Fernández Robaina, a Víctor Fowler o Roberto Zurbano.

Las pautas que concretaron el secuestro fueron trazadas por Arleen
Rodríguez: llamar a José Luis Estrada "no blanco" significó el toque a
degüello. Pero su guinda al pastel, sin dudas, la aportó con una
advertencia: "aunque el Comité Central del Partido tiene que ser una
representación del pueblo, allí se llega por las condiciones de la
persona". La fórmula es simple; si los negros cargamos con la peor parte
de la desventaja social acumulada, criterio consensuado por los sentados
en torno a la mesa de ayer, no es difícil concluir que los negros se las
verán negras para acceder a cualquier forma de poder político en pos de
transformar sus realidades socioeconómicas. Es decir; el capítulo
continuará.

La perpetuidad del secuestro llegó de la mano de Heriberto Feraudy,
cuando lamentó que "en Cuba no existe cultura de la denuncia sobre
prácticas racistas". La indignación del movimiento rapero debió ser
descomunal en tanto su discurso, en casi dos décadas, no solo ha
practicado una "cultura de la denuncia" sobre la discriminación racial,
sino también sobre la violencia de género, la ausencia de libertad de
expresión, la violencia policial y un sinfín de atropellos gubernamentales.

Vender a la Comisión Aponte como paradigma de "activar cátedras y planes
de acciones pedagógicas" para ventilar el tema del racismo fue el clímax
del secuestro. El espacio de pensamiento Shankofa, el activismo de los
gestores de Grupo Uno y La Fabrik, y los espacios teóricos de los
Simposios Internacionales de Hip Hop (ejemplos) fueron pioneros de
verdaderas acciones ciudadanas, desde las comunidades, para visibilizar
el problema negro. Ninguno de estos espacios existe en la actualidad.
Con eficacia, las autoridades gubernamentales se encargaron de su
desarticulación. No pocos textos se han ocupado (y se ocuparán), con
lujo de detalles, a develar los trasfondos y contextos que conllevaron a
la desaparición de espacios públicos en torno a estas acciones cívicas.

El supuesto "diálogo no separado", en palabras de Arleen Rodríguez,
servido ayer en la Mesa, no merece siquiera ser extendido más allá de
significar la evidencia de que el Estado sí lo controla todo y que no se
permitirá, mientras dure su concepción del mundo, ceder un ápice de su
monopolio sobre los espacios públicos.

Que Díaz Canel "se halla encargado personalmente [narró Feraudy] de
monitorear mensualmente el plan de acciones de la Comisión Aponte, entre
ellas, la inclusión de un programa en los contenidos del Ministerio de
Educación Superior", es a todas luces indicativo de que no habrá
autonomía de pensamiento crítico.

Aun así, hubo que reconocer el "optimismo", como refería Arleen
Rodríguez, "y la buena vibra" del conclave. Aunque al final nunca se
supo cómo nos llamarán en lo adelante a los negros, ni cuál será el
precio exigido por los captores. Tal vez esas respuestas hubiesen
llegado a través de las llamadas telefónicas de ciudadanos al programa,
pero que, lamentablemente, se disculpó Rodríguez, "no fue posible por no
saber yo manejar el tiempo".

Source: La Mesa Redonda secuestra a los negros | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1426939988_13524.html Continue reading
Raul Castro, you fear being unmasked / Antonio Rodiles
Posted on March 20, 2015

Your speech at the extraordinary ALBA summit reconfirms that you and
your group are going to try to hold onto power at all costs. It doesn't
matter if the Cuban people are sunk in misery and desperation, it
doesn't matter if your children continue to escape this disaster, you
people intend to remain and to demolish everything.

Your speech said that Cuban "civil society" will unmask the mercenaries
and their bosses, I again remind you, your brother and your group are
the greatest traitors and anti-Cubans and your spokespeople and
repressors are the real mercenaries.

You have imprisoned, executed, expelled, punished, harassed and
humiliated great Cubans, you and your brother will go down in history as
the worst sons of this land.

If you are so sure of your pathetic spokespeople, why do you block an
important group of Cubans who want to travel to Panama? Why impose
limits on our freedom of movement? Why have you cancelled passports? If
you and your band weren't so sinister, your false discourse would be
laughable.

You won't allow ex-prisoners from the Group of 75 to travel, people
like: Ángel Juan Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzarique, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas,
Félix Navarro, Héctor Fernando Maseda, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Jorge
Olivera, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, José Daniel Ferrer, Oscar Elías
Bicet. And artists like: Ailer González Mena and Tania Bruguera. And
activists like: Egberto Escobedo, Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco and Antonio
G. Rodiles, among others.

You fear being face to face with worthy Cubans, you tremble at the mere
thought that you will hear sharp and direct truths face-to-face. You and
your brother, you are nothing more than dark dictators whom we will
manage to throw out so that our people, once and for all, can live in
freedom, peace and prosperity.

Antonio G. Rodiles, 17 March 2015

Source: Raul Castro, you fear being unmasked / Antonio Rodiles |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/raul-castro-you-fear-being-unmasked-antonio-rodiles/ Continue reading
The Ladies in White Should Change Their Political Profile / Ivan Garcia
Posted on March 20, 2015

Ivan Garcia, 11 March 2015 — During the hot summer of 2013 I remember
Blanca Reyes, wife of the poet and journalist Raul Rivero, writing
letters to the pope in the Vatican, to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
in Argentina and to Nelson Mandela in South Africa, reminding them that
Fidel Castro had sentenced Rivero to twenty years behind bars for
writing without approval.

Reyes was speaking on behalf her husband and seventy-four other
prisoners of conscience detained in March 2003. I saw up close the
suffering of these women. At mid-morning, armed with baskets of food and
toiletries, they traveled hundreds of kilometers to visit their
husbands, fathers, sons and brothers in jail.

They were also prisoners of the system. Later they decided to organize.
They were like a clan. Laura Pollán was a natural leader who began
acting as the spokesperson for the group.

Never before in the history of Cuba's peaceful dissident movement has
there been an organization with as much international reach as the
Ladies in White. They have compelling reasons for marching gladiolas in
hand, demanding freedom for their loved ones.

They were subjected to physical assaults, humiliations and verbal abuse
by paramilitaries. Their symbolism and courage were key considerations
in leading the Castro regime to ask the Catholic church to act as
intermediary with the women after the death of Orlando Zapata in prison
from a hunger strike.

With participation of Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Spain's
Chancellor Miguel Ángel Moratinos the Ladies in White forced the
government to negotiate the release of prisoners arrested during the
2003 crackdown on dissidents known as the Black Spring.

They wrangled another concession from the regime: the right to march on
Sundays through an area of Fifth Avenue in Havana's Miramar district.
But with most of the prisoners of conscience having gone into exile, the
time has come for the Ladies in White to refocus and reorganize themselves.

There are several options available. One would be to form a political
party and focus their efforts on addressing other issues. In today's
society it is not only those who are imprisoned for criticizing the
regime who suffer. Prostitution and violence in general have increased.

In Cuba working women are paid poverty-level wages. They, like
housewives, have to struggle daily just to survive, especially when it
comes to looking for food. Besides handling domestic chores and seeing
to their children's education, they must also care for elderly and sick
parents and relatives.

The Ladies in White might become an advocacy organization for Cuban
women by trying to address the many problems they have today.

Their current platform includes a demand for democracy and freedom for
so-called prisoners of conscience. This is something that should be
better defined since it is not at all clear whether a former
counter-intelligence official and someone who hijacks a boat belong in
the same category. Nevertheless, there are already groups within the
dissident movement who fulfill this function.

What is lacking are organizations which can serve as voices of the
community. Dilapidated and dark streets, poor public transportation,
water and food shortages, low salaries, and health care and educational
systems in free fall affect both supporters and critics of the regime.

These are areas in which the Ladies in White might focus their efforts.
In the regime's farsical elections scheduled April 19 to select
municipal and neighborhood delegates, the Ladies in White could
encourage citizens to vote blank ballots.

Under the current election law any citizen can monitor the vote count.
The day that the number of citizens voting blank ballots reaches a high
percentage is the day that we have the potential to gain real power to
foster change.

These days the dissident movement is all smoke and mirrors. It is more
media-savvy than effective. It cannot expect to play a role in future
negotiations if it is not capable of mobilizing people in the thousands.
Given their ability to organize, the ideal situation would be for the
Ladies in White to concentrate their efforts in neighborhoods.

I do not believe focusing on conversations between Cuba and the United
States is the right strategy. Political lobbying should left to those
dissidents who are better prepared.

Berta Soler is a woman to be reckoned with. She is not, however,
comfortable in front of a microphone. Engaging in politics, travelling
overseas and riding the information wave are more rewarding.

But what is needed on the island are boots on the ground working at the
grassroots level. Raising awareness of issues among the large silent
majority of non-conformists who prefer to sit on the sidelines is what
is required. This is something the Ladies in White and other dissident
organizations could do.

The row between Berta Soler and Alejandrina García was badly handled.*
Using an act of repudiation to undercut García was unfortunate. I
applaud Soler's decision to hold internal elections within the group.

It is a healthy practice and the rest of the dissident movement should
take note. If they want credibility, the political opposition should
adopt bylaws and practice transparency.

Most conflicts within the Cuban opposition are results of nepotism,
trafficking in favors and corruption. There are opposition leaders who
talk like democrats but who act quite differently. Meanwhile, their
followers often serve as a chorus of extras whose only purpose is to
provide applause and adulation.

The genesis of the Damas de Blanco was collectivism and authenticity.
Without a strategic change course, the movement — founded twelve years
ago — may simply peter out. That would be a shame.

*Translator's note: A video from December 16 was released showing a
group of Ladies in White surrounding Garcia, a founder of the
organization, and shouting "down with traitors" at the movement's
headquarters. As a result, sixteen exiled founders of the movement
signed a letter asking Soler to resign and hold elections to give the
group a new direction. They called the incident "an abominable act of
repudiation" and described it as a "communist" and "fascist" reaction.
Source: Miami Herald

Source: The Ladies in White Should Change Their Political Profile / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba -
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Summit of the Americas: Fear of Others' Ideas and Little Faith in Their Own
ELIECER AVILA, La Habana | Marzo 19, 2015

In less than a month the Summit of the Americas will be held in Panama,
on April 10-11. A good part of the world will focus its attention this
time on Cuba and the United States, the two countries that have
announced their intention to reestablish bilateral relations, ruptured
more than 50 years ago.

Many hope that this summit will not be like so many others, but rather a
milestone in history, embracing the essential discussion about the only
non-democratic state in the hemisphere, a discussion that has been
unreasonably postponed for more than half a century.

Before the imminent possibility of no control over all the variables of
the meeting, the Cuban government is ever more nervous. One of the plays
already seen backstage, is accusing the dissidents of wanting to
"undermine" the ALBA alternative summit and other absurdities of this
style launched by their opinion agents on the Internet.

Anyone who knows how these mechanisms operate is aware that these
opinion matrices are not injected for fun, but rather in pursuit of
creating an adequate framework for other moves that can range from
preventing some people from leaving Cuba to organizing acts of
repudiation and their other usual activities in their actions in Panama.

Still fresh in our memories are the spectacles orchestrated by the Cuban
embassies on Yoani Sanchez's first tour, especially in Latin America.
Also, more recently, in Guadalajara as a part of the cultural summit in
which the sympathizers of the Cuban government grabbed the microphones,
spit and offended those who, with much effort, were trying to speak in a
civilized manner.

Why so afraid of words? Should America forever endure the rudeness of a
government that believes itself superior, divine and unquestionable?
This time, in addition to the external shock troops, they will bring
their own civil society. Civil because they will not be put in uniform,
civil although they have cars with official plates, official budgets,
official sites and, best of all, a discourse more official than that of
the government itself.

But none of this matters if the hosts manage to create a decent and safe
space for all voices to be heard. Hopefully, a little bit of political
decency will surprise us. It's high time.

Source: Summit of the Americas: Fear of Others' Ideas and Little Faith
in Their Own -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/smmit-of-the-americas-fear-others-ideas-little-faith-own_0_1745825414.html Continue reading