March 2015
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Translating Cuba

[1] Eliecer Avila, 26 February 2015 — After having "conversations" like these, I always ask myself is it is worth the trouble to publish an account of them or not. I do not like even giving these people the impression that I have blabbed about everything. But I also believe not publishing such accounts only hurts me. They have cameras everywhere and have demonstrated they have no scruples. They can release a doctored video recordings and use the information to destroy someone’s life Upon entering the airport yesterday, I was approached by an immigration official. After taking my passport, he led me to a small office for "routine questioning." Since I am already familiar with these ploys, it did not surprise me to find Lieutenant Colonel "Yanes" and "Marquitos" there in the room. The latter goes by a different name when he is with other people. He was the young man who "looked after" us some time back. It was he who put me and Reinaldo into the patrol car on the day of Tania Bruguera’s performance. After my phone was taken away, the "chat" began. Though it was extensive, I am highlighting here only certain essential passages that provide some insight into the mindset of these people. Also included are some of my responses and other reflections on their points of view. State Security (SE): Get this straight: The Revolution is not going to fall apart because you or some other little dimwit want to see it happen. You are a nobody! I ask myself this: If I am so insignificant and pose no threat, why do they focus this attention on me? Wouldn’t it be better to use the gasoline they’re wasting, the time, the salaries, the clothing and all the other resources to fix the hospitals, build buildings or buy internet antennas? SE: You are quite mistaken if you believe that we are afraid of the internet. The thing is we provide it to doctors, professors and Revolutionaries. We are not going to provide it to people like you or Yoani Sanchez. And don’t get the crazy idea that the Americans are going to subvert us with the internet. We are going to have a secure internet like Russia or China. You know full well that we have thousands of technicians and cyber experts to deal with that. It seems surreal to me that someone, especially a young person, would tell me that the model for information access that he wants for Cubans, for his own people, is to be found in Russia or China. On the other hand, it comes as no surprise to me that, given this mentality, the Cuban economy is in such ruins. Here is one of thousands of young professionals in the prime of their working lives trying to put the brakes on the nation’s development. I would give anything to have this conversation in public! I would love to know what Calviño thinks about this. What intellectuals, humorists, workers, artists, students and even the police and military officials think. I invite them to discuss this subject publicly but their response is to change the subject. SE: So, tell me. How did your trip go? With whom did you meet? What did you do? It went very well. I will share the details with my family, with my friends. I don’t see why I should share them with you. SE: O.K. We see you favor diplomatic relations with the U.S., but fundamentally your position is the same as that of other Counter-Revolutionaries. You see this change as an opportunity to import that "perfect democracy" that you like so much, like what they have in the U.S. That’s the conclusion our analysts came to after watching your interview on CNN for example. I am tempted to say a lot of things but realize that doing so would be pointless, so I say nothing. SE: Look, Eliecer, since it is my duty to advise you, I suggest you don’t get involved in all these initiatives that are sprouting up, in the house of your friend Yoani, or in the the events for the summit. Remember the instructor (investigator) who took care of you in Regla on the 30th? Well, don’t be surprised if there is a knock on your door and you are arrested for breaking the law, what with all the things you peope have been up to. We have laws here, just like in the U.S., and you didn’t break any laws there. Right? Expressing oneself is not a crime in any normal country in the world. I will keep saying what I think in Cuba, in Greenland, on Mars. Wherever I am invited to engage in serious conversation, I will be there, whether it be Yoani’s house or the Council of State! When they finally let me go, they were waiting for me at Customs on the other side. They took me to another small room and conducted a thorough inspection of my luggage. They finally saw I was clean and had almost no luggage. Their focus was on analyzing a book which René Hernández Arencibia had dedicated to me: The Book of Cuba; 500 Years of History. After the young customs agents and their boss had a good long look through it, they arrived at an encouraging conclusion: "Wow, it looks like it covers everything." And then they let me go. Still fresh in my mind is the loss of thirty-six books which were confiscated for being "of inadequate literary value." Clearly, the literary training of Cuban customs officials must be a serious matter. I doubt the world’s great men of letters could arive at such a conclusion so readily. I finally left the airport and went home. Then begins the "yoga" to refresh and detoxify with the little left to us in Cuba to enjoy: family, friends... and faith in the future, which refuses to be broken. Eliecer Avila, Engineer Footnote: This post should have been published a day earlier but was a delayed due to communication difficulties arising in Cuba.   [1] Continue reading
[1] Although boat owners mostly fish, getting a boat is not as hard as people imagine. [2]Cubanet, Anddy Sierra Alvarez, Havana, 2 February 2015 -- Any Cuban can have a boat in Cuba. You just have to be authorized by the appropriate authorities. Here is the detail Those who are interested in buying a boat are investigated. If they are authorized, all that’s missing is pure bureaucracy to become owners. Miguel E. Gil, 52, fisherman and owner of a boat, said he never faced obstacles to buying it. "I just had to wait for the Cuban Vessel Register to authorize me, the rest is like buying a car," he said. But there are always some who are rejected, and this was the case for Mendoza, 30, who comments, "My request was denied, I was surprised because I’ve seen people with bad criminal records and I just I had a traffic accident. Like my friends say, I have bad luck." The price of a 12 horsepower boat (the most common) varies between five and nine thousand dollars, according to its characteristics. "A Chernera model, fiberglass with Japanese Yanmal 12 horsepower engine costs $8,000, equivalent to 32 years of work by a Cuban with average wage," said Ernesto Aguirre, 55, a fisherman. Having a boat carries costs An owner of a boat answers to the Ministry of Fisheries, Cuban Registry of Ships, Captain of the Port, Coast Guard, Fish Inspection and Ministry of Transportation. Therefore, he will pay a tax of 75 pesos per year to the Registry, and a tax of 150 pesos to the National Tax Office (ONAT), for having a 12 horsepower boat, the tax is increased if the boat has more horsepower. "I pay 150 pesos to the ONAT because of the characteristics of my boat. For having a fishing license I pay 60 pesos, 20 pesos per place (the number of people who I can carry in the boat), the professional fishing license costs 100 pesos. It allows you longline fishing. All that is annually," said Michael E. Gil. Navigation has its limits By day, the authorities allow the boat to be up to 7 miles from shore, at night 3 miles. "Not only is it limited to seven miles in the day and 3 miles at night, but you can’t be less than 50 yards from the shore, for fear of hurting a swimmer or to be planning an illegal exit from the country," he said Alain Soto, 39, fisherman. Although not controlled by GPS, if you are found more than seven miles out they will impose a fine. "Before they would sanction you to one to three months without sailing, but now they impose a fine exceeding one thousand dollars," said Gilberto Segura, 58, owner of a boat. Maintenance, the safety of the ship and the fuel are borne by the owner "Yes, everything comes out of our pockets, many of us have a contract with the Acuabana company that buys the fish supplies us with fuel, according to an agreement, which should be systematic," said Michael E. Gil. Although boat owners fully engaged in fishing, getting a boat is not as difficult as people imagine. There is a filter that will or won’t authorize you to be an owner, but from that moment you have to maintain it yourself, even though you have a contract with Acuabana. 2 February 2015 [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] CENSORSHIP WITHOUT CENSORING Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo 2003 was a deadly year for Cuba. In March, the government declared an open war on the citizens. In less than a few hours, the Police arrested over a hundred peaceful dissidents and independent journalists from all across the island. Although the international press nicknamed the most notable of the arrested men and women as the “Group of 75”, there were many others who had been repressed months before (and also after) the event that has come to be known as the “Black Spring”. Jorge Alberto Aguiar Diaz was 36 at that time and was selling books in the Centro Habana district. He had an honourable amount of books and as a post-Deleuzian idealist, he offered free literary workshops, which he called “labs”, or “clinics of writing”. He was known as JAAD (the acronym of his name) and had a large, enthusiastic fan club, to which I also belonged. We were his audience and we sometimes seemed to look at him as a kind of a generational guru. And he was one, in fact: it was as if he were a cross-breed of Charles Bukowski and Roberto Arlt, embodying the angry desires of the former with the neurotic touch of the latter. [2] I was his favourite pupil (or perhaps, the bad one). In fact, JAAD’s words gave us freedom within the increasingly prison-like, funereal atmosphere of Havana. JAAD wrote opinion columns for the dissident newspaper agency known as Decoro. That’s why his home was frequently visited by the State Security. There were always two of them, those secret little agents in plain clothes, coming on a single Suzuki motorcycle. One of such visitors was the brother of a poetess exiled in the USA, who has recently become an academician. JAAD recognized him but preferred not to say anything (and I prefer to do the same now, for the very same reason). At another battlefront, Iroel Sanchez, president of the Cuban Book Institute, was sitting on his Taliban throne. In 2001, JAAD won a short story award in the “Premio de Pinos Nuevos” literary contest with his book entitled “Adios a las almas” (Farewell to Souls). A part of the award was the publication of the book by the “Letras Cubanas” publishing house and indeed, the book came to be published in 2002. Apparently, the censorship in Cuba was gradually becoming skilled in the art of circumventing scandals, averting collateral damage and avoiding making more martyrs. Yet, JAAD began to be subject to hidden pressures and blackmailing, both from the Ministry of the Interior (Political Police sponsored by the Castro clan) and from the Ministry of Culture (literary sergeants paid by Abel Prieto and Miguel Barnet). After all, “Adios a las almas” was introduced at the International Book Fair of Havana and it seemed that it started circulating. The book immediately became a best-seller, which was both unexpected and suspicious, considering the fact that there had been no official promotion campaign. In just a few weeks, the thousand copies that had been published disappeared from the shelves of Havana book stores and nobody heard about the book’s sales volumes any more. Ahem... JAAD’s friends congratulated the author on his success, but he didn’t celebrate. He had an intuition, which later proved prophetic. The thing is, State Security always carries out its operations in the realm of the invisible. It never shows its face. That’s the sinister essence of any left-wing dictatorship. Also, JAAD couldn’t forget how much he was pressed to stop publishing his critical pieces as a member of the Decoro group on the CubaNet website. In 2004, after more than a few warnings and threats, he got a permission to travel to Spain on account of his being married to a Spanish woman. Before that he had been warned that he could be put to prison with the members of the Group of 75 on a charge of enemy propaganda. He had also been told that something unpleasant could happen to his closest family, including his daughter. The government wanted to get rid of his presence in Cuba and in the end, they succeeded. Several hours before he was to board the plane, he got an anonymous phone call: “Come immediately to this address. Bring money. It’s in your interest.” JAAD, book and adventure trafficker, couldn’t resist the temptation ant went there. I’m his witness. When he got to the address, he found a book distribution warehouse of a company belonging to the State book empire run by Iroel Sanchez. The man who was waiting for him was an old acquaintance of his from the Centro Havana district. He told JAAD: “You’d better sit down or you’ll fall back.” (Actually, that’s just my bad, self-censored transcription of what he really said, which was: “’ll shit yourself with shock.”) They entered the warehouse and in one of its large naves there were several metal containers, one of them padlocked. The boy took out a bunch of keys, chose one as if at random and opened the padlock. What JAAD saw inside was a kind of aleph – as if the whole, unique universe were condensed in a few square meters of the most populated neighbourhood of Havana. Actually, the belly of the padlocked container was filled with an intact edition of the book “Adios a las almas”. The books were not only intact, they hadn’t even been released to the public. In fact, the storybook was published only formally, to fool the public and it was withdrawn from circulation. That was the reason why the government spread rumours that “Adios a las almas” had become a best-seller and soon sold out. The boy had strict orders to sort the books out with “damaged books” and turn them to pulp for recycling. What a perverse kind of palimpsest, what a crooked demonstration of tropical despotism of an obsolete regime, which despises any form of free Cuban culture. The boy had been postponing his destructive task on the books for quite some time, but it was not for sympathy with the author. His hesitation had purely financial motives. I bet the boy had surely traded even with his soul, selling it to Death. Now, this boy, this employee of Iroel Sanchez, asked JAAD for a dollar for each copy of the book he wanted to save. A difficult dilemma for a writer, indeed. How many books of his own could he save and how many can he bear to see crushed, without being able to do anything? JAAD had saved a few euros for his journey – the currency was quite new in the island at that time, you wouldn’t see it very often. So he bought almost half a thousand copies and paid the boy about 300 euros in total. He put the books in a box and carried them away to his flat on the second floor at the corner of San Miguel and Escobar streets. He hardly managed to find a taxi and get to the airport on time. In Madrid airport, his recent wife was awaiting him (they aren’t married any more). JAAD had left half of the copies of his only book (it still is), the worst-seller entitled “Adios a las almas”, in Havana. It seems that JAAD has always been between two waters, as if he were a Christ of totalitarian scams. Caught between carnal passion and passion for literature. On the one hand there was the mendacious State ready to do something wicked, spending Cuban people’s money on a futile endeavour of printing and recycling “questionable” books, without even bothering to present them to readers. On the other hand there was the pleasure as a substitute of death and life in the truth: escaping from fossilized Fidel and pretending to be an intellectual, far away from the raw material he was made of – Havana. Almost nobody in the world knows how the Cuban State recycles published books without even releasing them. I’d like to warn all famous Cuban writers not to be so confident about the sales of their books in the island. Leonardo Padura and Pedro Juan Gutierrez, for instance, may also have been censored without censoring. A decadent decade later, JAAD is still living in Spain, displaced and abandoned by the State and by God, suffering 1959 misfortunes without complaining. The storybook “Adios a las almas” is a rare and valuable thing that almost nobody has had the luck to get hold of. Hopefully we, Cuban readers both inside and outside Cuba, will bear in mind to save this author before it is too late. One euro per book will do. 14 February 2015 [1] [2] Continue reading
Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana, December 2014 — Raúl Castro has just finished his address to the so-called Cuban “parliament” this morning, Dec. 20, 2014. For those who are familiar with the logic of the Castro brothers throughout this more than half-century since they installed themselves in power, his words do not produce the least surprise. They have been like the Second Declaration of Havana [1] and a reaffirmation of his “socialist character.” President Barack Obama’s enthusiasm, his excess of emotion and assuredness, convinced as he is of acting in the Cuban people’s best interests and, of course, most significantly and above all else, in the most beneficial way for the United States (for many reasons that we are not going to explain in this post) — for the Cuban regime, it is nothing more than a power play, a show of arrogance and contempt. Obama’s words insulted and frightened the Communists, who therefore demanded a forceful response. I can picture Fidel Castro’s aggravation upon hearing it, the insults that he must have spewed upon interpreting Obama’s remarks as insolence. Simply put, the words of the dictator quash the dreams of Obama, who enjoys the unique and unprecedented opportunity given him, and which barely hours later, already confirm for him that about which some in the dissident movement have warned him: that the more the Castros gain strength, the more they will double down on human rights violations – because a totalitarian system is diametrically opposed to independent, individual thought. In his speech, if General Castro broached the subject of the opposition, it was to label us as “mercenaries at the beck and call of the United States.” To call me that, who have never entered the U.S. Interests Section building, save for the year 2000 when I went to the common area on the ground floor to collect my visa, for my first cultural trip to the north, is effrontery of the first order. Since then, I have been given a visa without appearing in-person. Similarly, never have I received money or instruction of a political nature. I have never been face to face with a representative of the United States government. If I have had two faults since joining the dissidence, they are the suffering caused to my loved ones, and the financial drain on my sister, Mary, and my closest friends. Nonetheless, I am accused of being a “mercenary” — I who gave up receiving the government’s handouts which, because of literary prominence, others with less, live like princes attached to the dictator’s teat. There is no need to be confused. If in his first speech announcing the prisoner exchange, Raúl Castro said that “we should learn the art of coexisting, in a civilized manner, with our differences,” these are manipulative words, uttered only so that President Obama will take ownership of them. The mind of the Castros is focused on “big ideas” about projects at the U.S. and Cuba government level — never on the “ordinary understanding” with which we long for our divergent thinking to be accepted, at least on principle. The great gift in Castro’s response is that we now find ourselves at the beginning, and negotiations with the Castros are not now, nor will ever be, of any use. Would that this causes Obama to pay attention to and trust the opposition. Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison [1] Continue reading
[1] Regina Coyula, Havana, 2 March 2015 — The passing of Naty Revuelta* on Saturday has left us with a deep sense of loss. If there is anything that stands in stark contrast to her intensely social life stands it is the somewhat clandestine nature of her death. It was a death that had been expected; months earlier she had suffered a stroke. Though she seemed to have recovered fairly well, her care — medical, familial or both — left her deeply isolated. Inviting her to lunch was out of the question; visiting her became a complicated matter. For more than twenty years I entered her house with the same lack of formality with which she came into mine. Yet I suddenly felt the need to schedule a meeting after various attempts to see her failed, including one when I was at her door. When we did manage to talk, she complained about being forced into an involuntary seclusion. I cannot say that her mind was as lucid as it had been before the accident — in some conversations she often repeated herself — but she was totally coherent about what was happening and was fully aware of the wall that had been built up around her. Regardless of the quality of her medical care or the extent of her family’s devotion, I cannot help thinking that her last months would have been better if she could have relied on the closeness of her friends. I spoke with her by phone last Monday. She had fallen again and had been taken to see the doctor but it did not seem serious so she returned home. I promised that my husband and I would drop by to see her on Tuesday and she seemed very happy with that prospect. However, she was readmitted that same Monday evening and, according to what I was told, lost consciousness shortly thereafter. I hope she was still looking forward to my visit. *Translator’s note: Natalia “Naty” Revuelta was a married, well-to-do Cuban socialite when in the 1950s she met Fidel Castro, to whose cause she provided financial support. The two became romantically involved and she later gave birth to his child, Alina. This daughter later fled Cuba, settled in Florida and became of vocal critic of her father’s regime. [1] Continue reading
[1]24 February 2015 — In December 2012, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, together with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Amnesty International, U.S., created the Defending Freedoms Project, with the objective of supporting human rights and religious freedom worldwide, with a particular focus on prisoners of conscience. Specifically, the members of Congress who “adopt” prisoners of conscience, in solidarity with those brave men and women throughout the world, pledge to plead publicly for their freedom. Ángel Santiesteban-Prats and the journalist José Antonio Torres, both Cuban political prisoners, have recently been included on the list. [2]This new recognition of Ángel Santiesteban-Prats is added to what he recently received on behalf of the German Eurodeputy, Dr. Christian Ehlerquien, who assumed the political sponsorship of the imprisoned Cuban writer. Translated by Regina Anavy [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38861" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their health. Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the rigors of the Special Period [3]. In the words of a humorist, “We Havanans turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies.” The economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables. The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas. Hidden, serious problems point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas Nationwide, about 40,000 people work in urban agriculture projects on some 83,000 acres (130 square miles) that are divided into 145,000 parcels, 385,000 patios*, 6,400 intensive gardens and 4,000 urban organic gardens. These last under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, although with some autonomy for crop management. With these lands planted in populated areas, it has been the goal to reduce food insecurity, offer greater access to fresh produce and to expand green spaces in urban zones. Havana has 97 high yield urban organic gardens. One of the best known is located in the Alamar neighborhood and is currently managed by a cooperative of 180 members. The capital also has 318 intensive gardens, with crops sown directly in the ground, in addition to 38 crops that are semi-protected and in enriched soil. The soil enrichment uses a technique known as vermicomposting, which consists of transforming solid wastes by the action of earthworms and micro-organisms. The problem is that many of the urban wastes that serve as a basis for the process are gotten from residential trash and carry a big load of heavy metals that with time accumulate in greens and vegetables. The compost comes from household trash containing cadmium and lead above the maximum permissible levels A study carried out in 2012 by several researchers from the Institute of Soils and that included samples from urban organic gardens in Havana and Guantanamo brought to light that “the compost obtained from the urban solid wastes originating in household trash extracted from landfills without prior sorting, and the subsoils prepared from them, contain heavy metals, especially cadmium and lead, above the maximum permissible levels.” The lack of an effective system of trash sorting and processing works against us, because much of the waste used for compost in the urban organic gardens has had previous contact with materials like cans, paints, and batteries, thrown indiscriminately into landfills all over the country. [caption id="attachment_38862" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [4] Urban agriculture in Havana (flickr)[/caption] Furthermore, the process to achieve compost often is not carried out properly, so that the pathogens contained in the wastes are not destroyed. Although part of the material used in this process comes from the garden itself, trash from nearby settlements, market wastes and agro-industrial refuse are also added. Family gardens account for close to 90% of the greens consumed by the population, so ingestion of high doses of heavy metals could be affecting a great number of Cubans. Irrigation adds a high content of chlorine and other water purifiers  Irrigation of the urban organic gardens aggravates the problem because the water comes from the population’s supply network and affects the amount of water available for human consumption, besides also being unsuitable for crops because of the high content of chlorine and other purifying products. The proximity of streets and avenues to the crops worsens the pollution because heavy metals also arrive through the ground and the air. Add to that the use of pesticides and fungicides for control of pests in the urban organic gardens. An un-confessed but widespread practice. Most alarming is that the Ministry of Agriculture keeps silent about this matter and does not promote research into the presence of chemical agents harmful to health in produce that consumers imagine fresh and organic. Complicity or apathy? No one knows, but there are many reasons to distrust that bunch of lettuce with its attractive green leaves. *Translator’s note: “Patios” in this context refers to home gardens producing food primarily for family consumption. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38852" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Natalia Revuelta Crews[/caption] [2] 14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 2 March 2015 -- Beautiful, intelligent, affluent – as Félix de Cossío portrayed her, dressed for a party – Natalia Revuelta Clews was collaborating with the Orthodox Party when, on 10 March 1952, hearing of Batista’s coup d’etat on the way to her job as an executive at Esso Standard Oil, she ordered two sets of copies of the keys to her home in Vedado: one for Milla Ochoa, leader of the Orthodox Party, and the other for another Orthodox Party member, Fidel Castro. Giving them the keys was offering them a safe place in case of danger. Fidel and Naty didn’t know each other personally, but that action would mark the rest of her life. A university degree, fluency in three languages, and a strong culture would have allowed her to engage in any activity; but she was relegated to the mid-level bureaucracy, always under the burden of her adulterous relationship with Fidel – a petty-bourgeois prejudice of the Marxist Revolution. She went on trying to be useful. I met her through my husband, with whom she shared half a century of friendship, and we were friends despite the huge differences we had on matters of politics. Our conversations were peppered with disagreements, but we never allowed such differences to tarnish our good relationship. Many knew her as “the mother of Fidel’s daughter” and it’s easy to assume that she enjoyed the privileges of a kept woman. Quite the contrary, the personal and social cost was enormous. Among other things, Naty pawned her jewels to finance in part the Moncada Assault and, at the triumph of the Revolution, she gave her home (now a diplomatic residence) and moved to a smaller house. The society to which she belonged never forgave her; and her daughters had to suffer the breakup of the family they knew. She felt responsible for the estrangement of her daughters, and never said anything that reflected badly on them; on the contrary, she was happy with the achievements of both and especially proud of her granddaughter. It was in my house where she came to vent her humiliation of having been excluded from the celebrations for the release of the Moncada barracks attackers. They also refused her a place in the 26th of July events, despite her having been the third woman to become a “moncadista.” All this happened after her daughter Alina fled the country. Naty gave me the complete originals of the correspondence between her and Fidel Castro during the almost two years he was in prison on the Isle of Pines Life often offers substitutes. Naty was a required presence at book launches, concerts or exhibitions; she was always invited to the activities at the diplomatic sees of Spain, Netherlands or the United States; she was a supporter of the National Library or of the Fragua Martiana [3] (Marti’s Forge). In her later years she was assiduous in a history group at the Dulce Maria Loynaz Cultural Center [4] and dedicated many hours to reading and selecting what came to her by email to forward the articles and news that were of interest to her friends. This effort came to overwhelm her, but she considered it a duty to share this information, which they later thanked her for. Naty’s confidence in me became clear ten years ago when she gave me the complete originals of the correspondence between her and Fidel Castro during the almost two years he was in prison on the Isle of Pines and later when he was in Mexico, to organize chronologically and transcribe into digital format. It was weeks of work to unravel with a magnifying glass the rushed and cramped handwriting of the letters from the Presidio Modelo [5]; however Naty’s letters were very easy because they were typed. Letters that the whole world had heard of but very few had seen and that Naty, aware of the value of this collection of paper, had never given to the Council of State’s Office of Historical Affairs, nor did she want them published in her lifetime. Now, major publishers will begin the bidding with her daughter Alina, fruit of that relationship and inheritor of the correspondence. Behind all the media attention she has always sparked, Naty was a woman who paid for her decisions and who was loyal, not to Fidel Castro as many think, since over the years she learned to separate the public man from the private, but with the idea of social justice associated with the triumph of the 1959 Revolution. Like any human being, she had her defects and virtues. Everyone will have their own Naty Revuelta, a character worthy of literature. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38855" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Natalia Revuelta Crews[/caption] [2] 14ymedio, Havana, 2 March 2015 -- Natalia Revuelta Clews, Fidel Castro’s ex-lover and the mother of his daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, died last Saturday in Havana, according to the website Café Fuerte [3]. Naty, as she was popularly known, was 89-years-old and died of emphysema. Naty Revuelta's remains were cremated at the request of her daughter, who was in Havana at the time of her death. Last August, Alina Fernández Revuelta returned to Cuba after 21 years in exile in Miami, when her mother suffered a stoke from which she was recovering favorably. Since then, her trips to Havana were frequent. Naty Revuelta became a great political activist during the dictatorship of Batista. She met Fidel Castro in 1952 and three years later began a romantic relationship from which her daughter was born in 1956. Revuelta never withdrew her support for Castro and the Communist Party. [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38846" align="aligncenter" width="600"] [1] Mom with young "Pioneer"[/caption] The newspaper Granma insists that "it’s a code for the rights of women". But in 1919,  as many women proportionally graduated from the University of Havana as graduated from universities as in the U.S. And with the Revolution, Cuban women are forced to raise their children under the mores mores of socialism, with the slogan "We will become like Che." [2]Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 February 2015 -- In an extensive full-page article published on February 14th, the newspaper Granma ("Un Código de Amor para la Familia [3]"), is full of praise for the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Family Code, which – in the words of Dr. Olga Mesa Castillo, president of the Cuban Civil Rights Society and of the Family of the National Syndicate of Attorneys, and faculty professor of and consultant to the Faculty of Law of the University of Havana -- “is a code about the love and the rights of women.” Paradoxically, not even the most politically correct academic discourse of a second-hand law officer can hide certain flaws that reveal the passive role of Cuban women since, with the arrival of F. Castro to power, their autonomy was appropriated and, along with it, their ability to freely associate to defend their gender interests, issues relating to the family, the right to choose their children’s education, etc. In fact, it can be argued that the Revolution of 1959 put to rest even the last vestiges of the Cuban feminist movement. That explains why, when Dr. Mesa refers to "those who conceived and were involved in [the code’s] drafting,” she mentioned ten people’s names and only one of them was a woman, which means that the Family Code, which "enabled Cuban women to fly” was – just like the Revolution itself and all of its laws -- essentially conceived and drafted by men, though by then 16 long years had elapsed under a system of supposed gender equality. Nevertheless, we must be aware that this law, de jure, benefited the interests of minor children born in or outside marriage, it favored the allowing of divorce, and constituted a guarantee for families based on informal (or consensual) marriages, and for the right of children born from those unions. Another question would be to determine how effective the law has been in practice, if it has been applied extensively, and how the subject of civil law would be justified at a preset ideology, when sanctioning the obligation to establish a family and raise children "according to socialist standards." Cleaning up history So, beyond the official vice of collecting calendar anniversaries for whatever reason, the issue moves us to question and to calling to mind, not just because of the usual compliments to justice and female equity, achieved thanks to the Revolution, or because of the monumental tackiness of adopting the law on Valentine’s day, but for the perversity of intentionally misrepresenting the role of women in Cuban history, omitting the unquestionable legal gains made by the women's movement during the Republican period. An in-depth historical analysis of the role of women since the Cuban wars for independence in the nineteenth-century would be extensive, but it is essential to recall the Republican period because it was then that the foundations of legal conquests were seated, from a women's movement that -- while not claiming the participation of women in politics, as was happening in developed countries, such as the US -- at least was struggling for a larger share, employment opportunities, and social protection connected with maternity and family. Thus, as early as 1914, discussions began about the relevance to legislating divorce. In 1916, a legal bill was presented guaranteeing married women self-management of their assets – managed by their husbands, fathers or guardians until then – which was approved in May, 1918. That same year the divorce bill was passed. As for educational and cultural strides, by 1919 Cuban women had reached the same level of literacy as men and in the decade of the ‘20s proportionately as many women graduated from the Cuban University as did from American universities. [1] Between 1923 and 1940, Cuban feminist groups influenced the political forces in support of legislation for women’s rights and founded several associations and media publications to defend women's interests. There were also women's associations that promoted class actions, such as the Women’s Labor Union, an organization that placed the issue of working class women ahead of women's suffrage rights. [2] At the same time, there was an increase in women's activism aimed at influencing legislative decisions, partnerships were established with various influential political and economic groups – entirely controlled by men -- there were street demonstrations, ideas about women’s rights were published in newspapers and the radio, obstetric clinics were built, night schools for women were organized, women’s health programs were developed and contacts with feminist groups abroad were established. [3] It is true that women just took part in legislative debates, but the demonstrations organized by activists and the first feminist groups of the time were instrumental in modifying civil and property rights that changed the rules of property management -- a distinctly masculine role until then -- and along with them, of women within the family, thus taking a significant step forward for women's rights compared to other countries in the region over the same period. New laws favored citizenship status of women, establishing their autonomy and rights, which proved a decisive factor for the development of women's movements in the following years. In 1923, with the participation of 31 associations, the first women's national congress was held; the second one in 1925, saw the participation of 71 associations. In 1933, a strong feminine campaign claimed the right to vote (which had been proposed by Ana Betancourt since the previous century), which was formally acknowledged in the Interim Constitution of 1934 In 1939, the Third National Congress of Women was held, whose final resolutions demanded "a constitutional guarantee for women’s equal rights," a demand which was discussed in the Constituent Assembly and finally recognized in Article 97 of the 1940 Constitution: "Universal, equal, and secret suffrage is established for all Cuban citizens as their right, duty, and function.” [4] Thus, in spite of the traditionalist nature of the feminist movement in Cuba, of the shortage of legal mechanisms and limitations of our ancestral culture and idiosyncrasies, Cuban women could vote and be legally elected to public office even before many suffragists in more developed countries. To summarize, important legal strides were attained during the Republic, as important as the right to vote, full capacity to make decisions about property, the paid maternity law (though that did not include domestic or agricultural workers), recognition of the rights of "illegitimate" children and a gradual increase in protection of the rights of women workers. In fact, those gains during the Republican era were influential in a notable increase in the incorporation of women into paid jobs, especially in urban areas, a process that was becoming stronger in the years before the arrival of the Castro regime. Two readings of the same Code Now the official press and its cohorts of useful shysters, in the style of Dr. Olga Mesa, aim to score for "the Revolution" of 1959 what were legal conquests of Cubans many decades before. While it is true that those female fighters of the Republic did not free themselves of patriarchal subjection – cultural patrimony that even today has not been totally overcome -- or participate actively in national politics, they launched a new feminine social model and created favorable conditions to advance to higher levels of emancipation, compared to many countries in the world. In the years following 1959, the ideology that hijacked the power quickly appropriated all spheres of socio-economic and political life of the nation, including domestic areas. Thus, the full potential and aspirations of feminine equality became subordinate to the service of regime. The rich tradition of the struggle of Cuban women was finally limited to "a present" on Valentine's Day of this outdated and anachronistic law called "Family Code," mechanically repeated in every marriage ceremony… as long as the ceremony takes place between Cubans. I was able to evidence this these last few days, when I had the opportunity to attend the wedding in Cuba of a young Cuban woman, residing abroad for more than a decade, and her Spanish boyfriend. So, here is where "the Family Code" which -- microphone in hand -- was read by the celebrant before the spouses and guests, had been mutilated in its essence: the legal imposition of "educating children on the principles of socialist morality." Since this was the case of spouses who do not reside in Cuba, they were released from such a legal aberration. As an additional detail, there was no Cuban flag or Cuban coat or arms presiding over the ceremony. Perhaps what happens in these cases is that the services are paid for in foreign currency, and we already know that socialism takes a step back in the face of capital. Or perhaps it is just that, in family matters, capitalism really is “clueless.” [1] K. LYNN STONER. De la casa a la calle, p. 184 [2] CASTELLANOS, DIMAS CECILIO. Desentrañando claves (inédito), Havana, 2011 [3] CASTELLANOS, DIMAS CECILIO. Desentrañando claves (inédito), Havana, 2011 [4] PICHARDO, HORTENSIA. Documentos para la historia de Cuba. Volume IV, Part 2, p.349 Translated by Norma Whiting [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[1] Iván García, 24 February 2015 — One summer during a stay in Camaguey — a province 340 miles east of Havana — the owner of a house where I was staying listened from early morning to Radio Marti, a network created in 1985 under the administration of Ronald Reagan with the goal of providing Cubans with information uncensored or manipulated by the Castro government. The woman told me that since 1985 she has been listening to radio soap operas, news and a morning program geared to a rural audience. When I travelled to other provinces, nearly all the people with whom I spoke said they got their information from or followed big league baseball on Radio Marti, which is probably heard more in the countryside than in the capital. There is a logical explanation: the regime jams the station’s broadcasts less here. In Varadero, located on the Hicacos Peninsula and along the northern coast of Cuba, Radio Marti’s programming can be clearly heard. Given the new geo-political dynamic between Cuba and the United States — two Cold War adversaries — various voices within the U.S. Congress are questioning the effectiveness and impact of the “Martis,” as they refer to an entity that includes a radio station, a television channel and a website. Among the conditions for normalizing relations with the United States, Raul Castro asked that the media conglomerate be dismantled. Since the first broadcast in 1985 the government in Havana has used electronic jamming to block its radio and television signals. And readers cannot access the Marti Noticias website from Cuba. Using the radio as a vehicle for informing citizens in totalitarian countries, where news, films and books are controlled by a dictatorship, is nothing new. During the Soviet era, the United States created Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, broadcasters which disseminated information the Kremlin was trying to suppress. The so-called “asymmetrical war,” which according to the regime is an attempt by the United States to destabilize Cuba, is something of an exaggeration. With Fidel Castro’s arrival in power in January 1959, revolutionary propaganda became a powerful instrument of social control. One year earlier, in February 1958, Radio Rebelde (Rebel Radio) had already begun broadcasting from the Sierra Maestre, which contributed to the dissemination of the insurgents’ message. A few months after becoming president, Fidel Castro completely did away with a free press, nationalizing newspapers and magazines, and establishing Prensa Latina and Radio Havana Cuba — media outlets that would later have the task of selling the world on the alleged benefits of the Cuban system, alternating between true and false propaganda. Official radio networks in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Spain often make use of these tools to their advantage too, but the storyline is different. In spite of being government entities, Voice of America, BBC, Radio France International and Radio Exterior de España air dissenting opinions. I speak from personal experience. I have been a regular contributor to Radio Marti since 1996. I have been a guest on its radio shows and have had articles published in which I criticized both Cuban dissidents and the government of the United States without any form of censorship. If Radio Marti were shut down, dissidents and independent journalists would not have a feedback channel to reach those living in Cuba. If the government allowed dissident voices to be heard in the media, the station nestled in Florida would lose its reason for being. Before returning home after attending a workshop on investigative journalism in San Diego in November 2014, I spent a few days in Miami. There I met producers, directors and journalists who work for the Martis. I have had frank conversations with Karen Caballero, a presenter on TV Marti. I have debated with Alvaro Alba, Ofelia Oviedo, Hector Carrillo, Amado Gil, Jose Luis Ramos, Rolando Cartaya, Margarita Rojo, Omar Montenegro, Luis Felipe Rojas and Juan Juan Almeida about the future of network. I had a very productive meeting with Carlos Garcia Perez, director of both Radio Marti and Television Marti, and with officials Humberto Castello and Natalia Crujeiras. I argued that this broadcaster’s radio programs are crucial in providing a platform for the opposition and an outlet for articles by Cuba’s independent journalists. It is a shame that jamming by the regime prevents TV Marti from being seen on the island. Ideally, it should have a wider audience. We all know the power of images. In my opinion any reorganization that the Martis might go through should be for the better. Giving a broader platform to independent journalists and alternative bloggers is something that should be considered. Programs on leisure and recreation could be improved. International news programs could be made more attractive, especially in regards to Venezuela, a country of great interest to some sectors within Cuba. Thousands of housewives are regular listeners of soap operas. The variety of programming could be increased to offer more shows for women. Sports shows always gets high ratings so it should be given more air time. Independent journalists in Cuba surely have entertaining stories. This is the 21st century. Never before have humans had access to so many sources of information as today. To reach them means having to be innovative. The government of Raul Castro prohibits the free flow of news and information. It fears Radio Marti. That’s why it is censored. Travel Notebook VIII Photo: Cuba Day, a Radio Marti news show that airs Monday through Friday from 3 to 4 PM. Produced by Ofelia Oviedo, it is directed by Tomás Cardoso, Omar Lopez Montenegro and journalist Cary Roque. Freelance journalist Iván García is often invited to report from Havana. In his last appearance on Friday, February 6, he talked about what Cubans can expect from talks between Cuba and the United States (TQ). [1] Continue reading
At this point in the historic events that have taken place in recent days between Cuba and the United States, it is not worthwhile to have regrets, but rather to understand the reasons for these events, and try to find a positive view of them. I dare say that President Obama has passed the ball to the Cuban rulers. Now they have in their court what they have been long been clamoring for. We shall see what they are capable of doing with it. Most likely, the Castro brothers will not know what to do with the new possibility that can only lead to the path of liberty and democracy. This is something that they are unwilling to concede, albeit knowing of the great chance that the Republicans will assume power in the next U.S. elections and will revoke a good part or all that Obama has given them – which as a policy matter is never possible. Barack Obama knows that he can play with these possibilities for another year and, in a certain way, it is his personal vengeance against the opposition party. Although in his speech he mentioned relations with China and Vietnam, the question is whether the U.S. is willing to tolerate human rights violations in a country so historically and geographically close. I do not accord to Cuba the same status as those other two communist countries. I am of the view that Cuba will demonstrate to the world its inability to allow individual freedoms, even though the Castro brothers will be unable to return to power – the older one due to physical limitations, the younger because of the very legislation that he himself approved [1]. Of course, we are all more than certain that the president who will be installed will be no more than a puppet whose strings will be in the hands of the Castro family if, by then, one of their own offspring is not put in power so that the cycle of history can repeat itself. Ángel Santiesteban-Prats December, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana. Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison [1] Continue reading
[1] Iván García, 26 February 2015 — José lives with his wife and five kids, crammed into a nine by twelve foot space with a wooden platform, in a shack in Santos Suárez, a slum south of Havana. The tenement is a precarious spot where the electric cables hang from the roof,  water runs down the narrow central passage from the plumbing leaks, and a disgusting smell of sewage hangs in your nose for hours. That shack forms part of a group of ramshackle settlements where more than 90 thousand Havanans live, according to Joel, a housing official in the 10 de Octubre municipality. There are worse places. On the outskirts of the capital, shantytowns are spreading like the invasive marabou weed. There are more than 50 of them. Houses made of sections of aluminium and cardboard, without any sanitation, where the occupants get their electricity supply by “informal” means. But, going back to Santos Suárez. José says he is forty, but his sickly pale skin and his face puffed up from excessive drink, not enough to eat and poor quality of life make him look like an old man. José is in that part of the population which doesn’t receive remittances and can’t get convertible pesos. He works at anything. Looking after flowerbeds, carrying debris, or ice cubes. On a good day, he makes 70 pesos, about $3. “All of it goes on food. And the rest on alcohol”, he says. His family’s typical diet consists of two spoons of white rice, and a large spoon of stew once a week, a boiled egg and a quarter chicken or chopped beef mixed with soya which is distributed once a month via his ration book. “I just have a coffee for breakfast. My bread from the ration book I give to my kids.” Ten years ago, he was imprisoned for stealing light bulbs and armchairs from houses in his area. “I stole from pure necessity. I sold the light bulbs or daylight colour tubes for 30 pesos. The iron chairs went for 10 CUC. I once got 25 chavitos (CUC)  for a wooden chair. I was able to buy a cot for my daughter with that money”, José remembers, sitting in the doorway of a pharmacy in Serrano Street. When you ask him about Raúl Castro’s economic reforms, or what he hopes for from the new diplomatic change of direction between Cuba and the United States, he puts on a poker face. “What changes? With Raúl we poor people are even poorer. Here anyone who hasn’t any connections with the system or a family in Miami is in a difficult situation. I don’t even want to talk about the old people. There are a lot of things wrong about Fidel, but when he was in charge, the social services and what you could get through your ration book allowed you to live better. Not now. Every day Cubans like me get less from the government. Many people are happy to be on better terms with the Americans, but what can Obama do? He isn’t the president of Cuba,” he points out, while he takes a long swig of the worst possible alcohol out of a plastic bottle. The streets of Havana swarm with hundreds of people like José asking for change, pulling out scraps from rubbish bins, or sleeping on cardboard boxes in uninhabitable buildings. In the entrance of a building in Carmen Street, on the corner of 10th of October, about 10 people are there selling second-hand books, old shoes and junk. Nelson, a gay man about 60 years old, suffers from chronic diabetes. He sells old magazines. As far as he is concerned, the revolution can be summed up in a word: “shit”. “It’s all just speeches. They said it was a revolution of humble people and for humble people, but it was a lie. Poor people were always badly off, but now we are more fucked than ever. What Raúl has brought us has been capitalism, of the worst kind. Fidel didn’t tolerate many things, including the homosexuals, but we lived a little better. The poor will always be poor, in a dictatorship or in a democracy”, asserts Nelson. Like in the film Goodbye Lenin, directed by Wolfgang Becker, where the East Germans feel nostalgic about the Communist era, in Cuba, those whose lives are stuck in a tale of poverty, feel longing for the decade from 1970 to 1980, when the state gave you every nine days a pound of beef per person, through your ration book, a can of condensed milk cost 20 centavos and the shelves in the stores were full of Russian jams. For Havanans like Nelson and José, you can’t eat democracy. Photo: The conditions Yumila Lora Castillo, who is 8 years old and has a malignant tumor, is living in. Marelis Castillo, her mother, told Jorge Bello Domínguez, from the Cuban Community Communicators Network (who took the photo), that they haven’t even authorised the diet of meat and milk that people with cancer in Cuba are entitled to. A mother of two other children, Marelis lives in this inhuman situation in El Gabriel, in the municipality of Güira de Melena, Artemisa province, some 85 kilometers southwest of Havana. Translated by GH [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38819" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2015 – The Cuban Civil Society Open Forum held its third meeting this Wednesday with 25 people attending, among them activists, opponents and members of civic groups. The first point on the agenda was the approval of a document titled “Ethical Path for Cuban Civil Society [3],” which lays out the basic principles that should be supported. Also under discussion were internal organizational issues relative to the inclusion and representation of the participants. A motion of solidarity with Venezuela (see below) was passed during the day and important agreements were made with regards to the attendance of Cuban civil society at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, to be held this coming April 10-11. Finally, those present were invited to make proposals about the elements and improvements that should be included in the next Elections Act, announced last Monday in an official note after the Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. On this occasion there were new faces around the table, while other activists weren’t present as they were participating events abroad or for other reasons. As has already been seen, a characteristic of the Open Forum is that discussion are of a frank character, marked by precise arguments and a thorough knowledge of the national reality. Among those attending (see below), the idea prevailed that Open Forum is emerging as a good opportunity for civil society to find new points of consensus, but without the intention of becoming a political coalition. The horizontality in which everyone keeps their own individual personality is one of the most notable strengths of this organization, which resists being considered a group to which people belong, because it prefers to define itself as a place where people participate. The participants confirmed that the Open Forum is “without hierarchies, or party discipline, but moved by a common denominator, love of Cuba and the stubborn will to seek solutions to the problems of the country.” Motion of Solidarity with Venezuela The independent Cuban Civil Society Open Forum meeting in Havana on 25 February 2015, has a approved a motion of solidarity with Venezuelan civil society and opposition victims of the repression unleashed by the government of that nation. We emphasize our support for the former member of the National Assembly María Corina Machado; opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has already served a year in prison; and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, elected by the popular will, recently imprisoned. Attendees José Díaz Silva (UNPACU) José Daniel Ferrer García (UNPACU) José Conrado Rodríguez (Diócesis de Cienfuegos) José A. Fornaris (Asociación por la Libertad de Prensa) Guillermo Fariñas Hernández (FANTU) Fernando Palacio Nogar (Partido Solidaridad Liberal Cubano) Félix Navarro Rodríguez (Partido por la Democracia Pedro Luis Boitel) Ernesto García Pérez(Unión Social Comunitaria Cubana) Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz (CCDHRN) Eliécer Lázaro Ávila Cicilia (Somos +) Eduardo Díaz Fleitas (UNPACU) Dagoberto Valdés Hernández (Director de Convivencia) Belkis Cantillo (CXD) Ciudadanas por la Democracia) Karina Gálvez Chiu (Proyecto Convivencia) Laritza Diversent Cámbara (Cubalex) Lázaro Báez (Movimiento ONR) Librado Linares García (Movimiento Cubano Reflexión) Mario Félix Lleonart (Instituto Patmos) Miriam Celaya González (Periodista Independiente) Pedro Campos Santos (Boletín SPD) Reinaldo Escobar Casas (periodista) René Gómez Manzano (Corriente Agramontista de Abogados Independientes) Saúl Raúl Quiala Velázquez (PSC-Fundación Sucesores) Yoaxis Macheco Suárez (Instituto Patmos) Yusmila Reyna Ferrera (Periodista independiente) [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[1] Orlando Zapata Tamayo Luis Felipe Rojas — I published this post a few days after that needless death. Now I again denounce the death and express the same ideas about it. It’s my homage to my brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. I am still experiencing the pain caused by that avoidable death, and I feel impotent because I didn’t attend the funeral honoring him due to political impediments, but that hasn’t stopped me from saying that in any case, what I present here seem to be the seven final steps that advanced the repressive machinery used to kill Zapata. 1. Setting up that para-judicial theater that imposed a sentence of 63 years on him for contempt. 2. The continuous beatings accompanied by obscene words and insults about his race and the region where he lived (shitty negro, shitty peasant). 3. Putting him in prisons that were located far away from his mother’s home (Prison Kilo Cinco y Medio in Pinar del Rio, Prison Kilo 8 in Camaguey). 4. The beatings in November 2009 in the Holguin jail when they knocked him down smashing his leg with a steel bar, on his knee cap, and that his mother saw again when she opened the coffin in her house in Banes and also discovered that there were other marks of the beating with clubs that he surely received months before. 5. The forced removal to Camaguey and the robbery of his belongings on December 3 when they confiscated the only food he was eating in prison. This was the fact that made in declare a hunger strike. 6. Taking away water for the 18 days in the middle of the strike even when he had said that he was declaring a hunger strike but would drink small amounts of water. 7. The maneuver of taking him to a hospital for prisoners in Camaguey, west of Havana, and putting him in a room that was not set up for treating prisoners in a grave condition. I lack the power of analysis in this case, but please don’t keep saying that the government didn’t have a hand in his death. The execution order was given from the office of General Raul Castro Ruz. Translated by Regina Anavy 23 February 2015 [1] Continue reading
[youtube] Fifty-plus years of US diplomatic stalemate and economic sanctions have failed to bring freedom to the Cuban people because they were not designed to bring freedom to the Cuban people, but to penalize a regime that started by sequestering Cuban sovereignty by violent and anti-democratic procedures (reestablishment of death penalty, radical hatred speech, citizen apartheid), by the illegalization of civil society and all forms of property (both private and public, including the press), and by tyrannizing every institutional power into a despotic State, plus the militarization of the nation to the point of demanding a nuclear attack against the United States from Cuban territory. The 50-plus years to come of US diplomatic relations and capitalist engagement with Cuba can neither guarantee the advance of fundamental freedoms in my country, nor our liberation from the successive Castro generations, because a market economy is not a redemptive formula and it has already been implemented by authoritarian systems as a tool for tyrannical control of all basic rights. And this is a wicked word that President Obama, Pope Francis and General Castro have secretly agreed to postpone: the rights of the Cuban people. As the pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Payá stated many times until he was extrajudicially executed in Cuba on July 22nd 2012: Why not the recognition of all our rights now? What is good for Americans since the 18th century is still not good enough for Cubans in the 21st century? Is this about US interference, as in the hegemonic past times when the capitol of DC was the capital of the continent? Or this is only about insulting the intellectual capacity of my people, wise enough to escape in a pedestrian’s plebiscite in search for a real “normalization” of their lives far from an abnormal socialism? Democracies seem guilty of their duty to foster democracy worldwide, but Castroism has been more than proud to Castrify democratic countries (Venezuela is the most tragic example today), as the recently liberated 5 Cuban spies in US have declared when ordered as National Heroes back on the Island: we are ready to commit our crimes again if we are ordered to do so. Sic semper tyrannis. Why not the effective solidarity and the pressure of the international community, so that the legal claims that have already mobilized tens of thousands of Cubans be respected by our non-elected authorities? Why not take advantage of these US-Cuba negotiations to seat in the same table the historical gerontocracy with the alternative civil leaders, after we have risked so much to conquer freedom of speech and to raise awareness on human rights violations and the anthropological damage in Cuba? In moral terms, the unpopularity of US policies given the popularity of the Cuban Revolution worldwide should be less important than the unpopularity of the retrograde regime within the Island, if a true transition is to take place in Cuba today. Unless, of course, advancing American interests in the Western Hemisphere now means advancing American interests in Western Union. Did Cuba win? Cuba cannot win because perpetuation in power is always a failure and the best approach to endure a fossil past, despite the faith in the future expressed by Nancy Pelosi, as the US executive branch enforces resolution after resolution, involving exclusively those congressmen and NGOs and think-tanks and press magnates and corporations’ tycoons that hurry to shake Raul Castro’s hand without asking him a single uncomfortable question, thus legitimizing he who abolished the Cuban Congress and Cuban Chamber of Commerce and Cuban think-tanks and Cuban NGOs, as well as the exercise of free press. By the way, convenient Cuban dissidents are also called into play, not for the rule of law, but for the rule of loyalty. The rationale seems to be that, as it is impossible to hold the Cuban government accountable, the appeasement of the dictatorship into a dictatorcracy is now the lesser evil, mentioning “Cuban civil society” only for political correctness in presidential speeches, while in fact excluding us from the new status quo. I am not sure about “what everybody needs to know about Cuba” (as in Julia Sweig’s book) but I am certain of what nobody dares to know about Cuba. Milan Kundera, maybe the best of Cuban novelists who is a Czech who writes in French and lives in Switzerland (a perfect mixture for freedom), knew that “the old dead make way for the young dead” for “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. Therefore, even if this is a small step for democracy, it’s also a giant leap against independency. And decency. The Cuban policy of the US is the ironic victory of The End of History: from our War against Spain to the anti-Imperialist Revolution, the growing “Common Marketization” of international relations is what really counts. That’s why for the first time in the history of our hemiplegic hemisphere it’s paradoxically in a Communist country where the cry of “Yankees, come home” echoes. In fact, you are more than welcome to try to fool our terminal tyrant with US dollars. But having dwelt in the entrails of said terminal tyranny during never-ending decades, my only remaining resistance is a sour skepticism to soothe our soul. (Original in English) Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38807" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum (Photo: Luz Escobar)[/caption] [2]Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2015 -- This Wednesday, February 25th, 2015, a new meeting of the members Espacio Abierto [Cuban Civil Society Open Forum] of the independent civil society took place with a broad representation of members of various pro-democracy projects throughout the Island, as well as independent journalists. A total of 25 participants took part in the symposium, where, in addition, views on issues of interest to the Cuban reality were exchanged. On this occasion, among the most important points of the discussion adopted by full consensus was the document "An ethical roadway for Cuban civil society" which -- as its name suggests -- provides a guide for the basic principles governing the conclave, and a Motion of Solidarity with civil society and the Venezuelan opposition at a time when the repression tends to flare up with a statement that emphasizes leaders like Leopoldo López, who recently served a year in prison; Maria Corina Machado, a former deputy who was attacked and removed from office by the Chavista authoritarianism; and the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, elected at the polls by popular will, violently arrested in recent days by the repressive forces of the government of that nation. Whereas the document adopted at the conclave should be made known to the public, especially Cubans from all shores, its contents are reproduced here in their entirety: An Ethical Path for Cuban Civil Society As part of the independent Cuban civil society, we believe that every moral choice is a strictly non-transferable decision, absent from all imposition. We also recognize that, because of its relational character, citizens seek to socialize and get incorporated into communities that have received an established humus solidified with values and virtues known as community ethos, whether family, group, national or international. By agreeing to an ethical path, we reject a dogmatic moral, prohibitive in itself, of frivolity and debauchery. We opt for dialogical ethics against an authoritarian moral, ethics that intrinsically link freedom and responsibility. We propose to educate ourselves to assume, in our principles and in our attitudes, the following ethical path, rooted in the best of our Cuban heritage: We acknowledge that a human being is the central character of his own story. Thus, the person must be the beginning, the middle and the end of any institution or historical process. Human beings are not the means, nor can they be an object in the hands of others, therefore they should not be manipulated for scientific, social, political or economic experiments.We believe that all human beings are equal before the law and diverse in their abilities and personal choices. We must encourage consistency between what we believe, what we say and what we do. Any personal, civic and political engagement must be inextricably supported by ethical behavior without which all individual or community action loses value and meaning. Cuba, that is, the nation known as the community of all its citizens on the Island and in the Diaspora, its wellbeing, its freedom, its progress and common good, is the inspiration and the end of all civic and political action, banishing spurious interests.We consider that the meaning and purpose of our ethical commitment to Cuba is to build a peaceful, fruitful and prosperous coexistence in our country, rather than a simple coexistence with those who are different or adversarial. We opt for peaceful methods and for seeking nonviolent solutions to both national and international conflicts and our interpersonal relationships. We opt for the absolute respect for human life and declare ourselves against all violence and the death penalty. The discrepancy of opinions and political debate should leave no room for personal or group attacks, insults or denigrating exclusions, or defamation. We believe that property, knowledge, and power are to serve and that without agile and honest institutions there is no possible governance. We believe that without civil sovereignty there is no progress, articulation, or primacy of the governance of civil society as a valid participant. Corruption, lies and excessive material interest are the main enemies of civility in the world today, so, as part of the independent Cuban civil society, we reject these evils and opt for transparency, favor truth and the primacy of spiritual values. We seek a modicum of ethics agreed to through a consensus building process. We differentiate the processes of dialogue and negotiation. Therefore, we believe that an ethical minimum must surface from a dialogue leading to consensus agreements, while specific covenants should surface from negotiations, which must be observed and followed by the parties. A civic ethic of minimums agreed to by consensus is an achievement of pluralist humanity. Its basis is the full and utmost dignity of the human person, achieved through acknowledgment, education and defense of all rights for everyone, proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights resolved by the U.N. in 1948, which we fully embrace as our inspiration and ethics program. We adhere to the three fundamental values summarized by the best aspirations of humanity: freedom, equality, fraternity and their corresponding rights. First generation rights extol the value of freedom, they are civil and political rights. Second generation rights commend the value of equality, they are economic, social and cultural rights. Third generation rights endorse the value of universal brotherhood as ecological rights for a healthy environmental balance and the right to a peaceful world. Consequently, we wish to opt for inclusion and democratic participation; moral authority, not authoritarianism; proposals, not prescriptions; what ideas are expressed, rather than who speaks them; programs and not just leaders. Unity in diversity, not uniformity. Rational convictions, not fanaticism. The decriminalization of differences, not intolerance. Decentralization and subsidiarity should replace centralism and totalitarianism. Ethics must take precedence over technique and science. Commitment must win over indifference. We opt for the ethics of politics and economics, of national coexistence and of international relations. This ethical commitment should translate into attitudes and proactive actions to heal the anthropological damage and overcome civic and political illiteracy with the systematic labor of citizen empowerment. Since we reject any moral imposition, we believe that education is the only valid way. So we direct our efforts towards an education liberating of ourselves and of all alienation, in order to be able to contribute to the ethical and civic education of all Cuban people, inspired by Human Rights and their corresponding Civic Duties. Civic and political activists or intellectuals should not be society’s moralizers. Being chosen to represent does not confer moral authority, but political commitment, subject to scrutiny and public willpower. We believe in representation as a service to society. This representation must be the product of popular choice, limited by time and succession.  Civic ethics is forged by each person, and it is the community’s responsibility to establish, educate, promote and safeguard the humus of the ethics of the nation open to the world, based on the great values of truth and freedom, justice and love. By adopting this ethical pathway, we want to identify its roots in the ethics of our founding fathers. The teaching of the Apostle José Martí reminds us that: "For love we see, with love we see, it is love that sees.” We believe in civic friendship and in the reconciliation where that righteousness should flow, which Maestro José de la Luz y Caballero called the "sun of the moral world.” Finally, we share Father Félix Varela’s philosophy that taught us that "There is no Motherland without virtue or virtue without piety". 162nd anniversary of the death of Father Félix Varela Translated by Norma Whiting [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38788" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] A man talks on a pay phone in Havana (photo Alejandro Ernesto/EFE)[/caption] [2] 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 28 February 2015 -- A topic that is raised for discussion these days is the obsolete argument that some official voices never stop repeating at every opportunity they have to strain relations between Cuba and the United States or rather between Cuba and the Outside World. I am referring to the supposed “need” of implementing “appropriate measures designed to avoid the penetration that the enemy hopes to make into Cuban society.” Just a few days ago, in the context of the first National Workshop on Computing and Cyber-Security held in Havana, with the physical or virtual presence of thousands of computer engineers, really absurd speeches were heard that, far from inviting the use of emerging opportunities to propel development, called for “being on guard” in the face of new “maneuvers” by the enemy to “penetrate” Cuban society. I would like for some of these birds of ill omen really to explain, with what does the United States want to penetrate us? Or at least, with what negative thing? Maybe a virus? For that there are anti-viruses. With information about our own reality? We, the people, are screaming for that on our own. Our youth (...) already think about the world and conceive their aspirations in the same way as do the youth of New York  With capitalist propaganda? Our youth do not need it, they already think about the world and conceive their aspirations in the same way as do the youth of New York, sometimes even a little more capitalistic than those. With TV series, soap operas, shows? That is what the Cuban family watches every night, just a week behind. With vice and prostitution? Please, those are fields of enormous potential for replacing imports. The more I think about it, I do not really find the harmful impact about which these things of which gentlemen speak. Could it be rather that they are preparing the terrain in order to justify the excessive and paranoid control that is planned for the future Cuban web surfer? I believe that the old scheme of being able to try to survive at all costs, defending its privilege of being the only one that can “penetrate” the minds, every day, 24 hours a day, of all Cubans and many others out there. . . The reality is that we do not need the Cuban government to “protect” us from any external influence. We are millions of Cuba adults responsible enough to make own decisions in the physical world as well as in the virtual one, who want for our country the same access to the Internet that is widespread on the planet. With all its risks and infinite possibilities. Do not defend us anymore; no one has asked you to. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] Rebeca Monzo, 8 February 2015 — After reading an article from the January 31, 2015 issue of the newspaper Granma  about Cuba and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) entitled “Cooperation Leads the Way,” a ton of questions came to mind about the subject at hand. It has been forty years since a UNDP office was established in our country with the objective to collaborate with the island’s government on the promotion of social development and public well-being. From my meager understanding, the only party to have benefited from this has been the government itself, especially in terms of the favorable publicity it has received. They make up a negligible part of the population but the Cubans who work for this and other UN organizations are paid in CUC (Cuban convertible peso), which surpass by leaps and bounds the highest salaries of the most qualified professionals in our society, who are paid in CUP (Cuban pesos). According to the aforementioned article, Granma “chatted” with Mrs. Jessica Faieta, Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, who discussed the improvement of the quality of life of our citizens. She recognized the efforts of the Cuban government in regards to food security and the strengthening of the agricultural and non-agricultural cooperatives, pointing out, in addition, that the Cuban healthcare system has been strengthened. With all due respect, it strikes me that this official had only a limited view of the situation, as is the case with everyone who visits us. Guests are taken only to those organizations that have been prepared in advance by the government and which serve as “display windows” for foreigners. Perhaps if she had to depend on the ration book for a while or to seek medical help at one of our clinics — those  used by the average citizen — it is quite possible she might think differently. I do not understand how UNDP, based in our country for four decades, has not been given the task of investigating on their own — in closer contact with the population — to verify the “wonderful statistics” provided by the government, which does not at all reflect our reality. One need only take a stroll through Central Havana, Old Havana (provided one ventures beyond the historic center), Cerro, Tenth of October Arroyo Naranjo, San Miguel del Padron and even Vedadao and other neighborhhoods to see the poor sanitation conditions and overcrowding in which the Cuban people must live. and the lack of specialists in our health centers, for being these missions abroad, being replaced mostly by students, many of them foreigners. There is also the issue of a shortage of specialists in our health system due to the large number of them serving abroad in medical missions. They are being replaced mainly by medical students, many of them foreigners. In terms of our society’s standard of living, it should be pointed out that the disappearance of the middle class — the very mark of a country’s wealth — has led to the emergence of an impoverished class (with equality for all) with salaries that do not cover even the most basic necessities. The contrast is made even more striking by the emergence of a leadership class with an affluent lifestyle which only accentuates the differences. However, Mrs. Faieta and I are in full agreement when it comes to the positive steps taken towards normalization of diplomatic relations between the governments of the United States of America and Cuba. Once there is a successful outcome — one hopes sooner rather than later — it will be to the benefit of all Cubans. I believe that it is time to end once and for all the blindness that until now has led the way. [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38782" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Meeting of the National Assembly (NeoClubPress)[/caption] [2] After the Tenth Assembly of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) the news about the next "enactment of a new electoral law; and the subsequent holding of general elections” has begun to circulate in the official media. Such an important announcement in a country where, for more than 60 years ago no general election has taken place, is mentioned almost tangentially, just nine words in an informational note on the above Assembly, whose "focal point" had to do with issues related to the preparations for the celebration of the April 2016 Sixth Congress of the single party. So this is how the casual style of the announcement turns out so very misleading, downplaying a code whose nature would be essential in any minimally democratic society. It is unknown what motivates this renewal of the law in a country whose government, until recently, boasted of having the most fair, transparent and participatory electoral process in the world, able to summon an overwhelming majority of voters to the polls. The case provokes many questions, some very basic: Why change a law that is supposedly a paradigm of democracy even for the most civilized nations on the planet? Why does the proposal arise from the central committee and not from the higher authorities of the People’s Power, as might be expected? What reason is there for the urgency in enacting a new Electoral Law? Once again, we only have speculation in the face of official secrecy and conspiracy. In fact, this time they have not announced the completion of an extensive process of "popular consultation", though it was conducted – at least in a formal manner -- for several months in 2013, before the creation of the new Work Code currently in effect. The time span between the April 2015 “partial elections” and the enactment of the new Electoral Law was not clearly established either, though judging from the official information that was disclosed we can assume it will be brief. In this society, alien to all politics and stripped of every right to elect its leaders, the news has not caused the least impression In principle, the announcement has accomplished the government’s purpose: to not awaken dangerous expectations among Cubans, especially after the wave of enthusiasm that seized many with the December 17th announcement about the restoration of relations between Cuba and the U.S. In that vein, subsequent statements by the General-President during the last meeting of CELAC cooled the wildest fires, and, at the same time, they have widened the gap between the Government and citizens. No doubt that the olive green tower has proven that the hope for effective changes for Cubans focuses more in the future steps of the “enemy” government than in the “actualization of the model” endorsed by mediocre Raulista reforms. The Revolution has become a succession of failures, and today the old Sierra Maestra combatants and their side troops sense that the smallest of openings could end in a loss of control. For now, it seems impossible to imagine what "new" democratic clauses the same dictatorship that has dominated life and property for 56 years might have in store for us It is fair to say that the fears of those in power are well founded. Wouldn’t it be right to expect that the multiparty system requirements or, at least, a strong controversy about the one-party system would emerge from an extensive debate by Cuban society? Are we not in a favorable scenario for claiming genuine democratic participation and transparent general elections to replace the electoral farce practiced for the past 40 years? Obviously, the elderly leaders will not want to take too many risks. For now, it seems impossible to imagine what "new" democratic clauses the same dictatorship that has dominated life and property for 56 years has in store for us. In any case, the sacred scriptures say that you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins. Everything indicates that the new electoral law will yet another plot of the power and its claque, just a hasty move to bolster up the makeup that minimally covers the dictatorial nature of the regime, and to silence the scruples and demands of the nations gathered at the Americas Summit this fast approaching April. Presumably, the olive green cohort – who might do away with uniforms and decorations and dress impeccably in civil garb for the occasion -- will brag about the partial election results and offer the new electoral code as irrefutable proof of his willingness to change and his democratic calling. If it weren’t so twisted, such a pathetic pantomime would be laughable. However, we could be facing a dangerous move here that would entail a high cost for the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people. Civic orphan-hood and generalized apathy are the best cards the Havana regime is counting on. It is urgent that public opinion be alerted about a possible ploy that – in the style of “eternal socialism” style -- would only want to artificially postpone the end of the most persistent and pernicious dictatorship of the many that have blossomed in this Hemisphere. [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones, Guantanamo, 16 February 2015 — A rumor is keeping  the medical sector in Guantanamo euphoric, and it provokes immediate outbursts of joy in hospital corridors, in homes and in every place the supposedly good news is known. No one knows the origin of the rumor nor its hidden intent. According to those who are in charge of spreading it, very soon the government will increase the salary for doctors. And, as happens with every rumor, there are always those who know everything about it and affirm that the new increase will be put into force to try to contain the exodus of physicians abroad by way of a 30-day exit permit, a type of safe conduct that helps them flee. These experts assure that the new increase will raise physicians’ salaries to 5,000 pesos per month (200 dollars), an astronomical pay in Cuba, but that they’ll only receive it if they agree to sign a document saying they will remain in the country for five or ten years without asking for the exit permit. However, a few days after the rumor appeared, the voices of others begin to be heard. They speak clearly, affirming that not even with this increase, which would place the doctors in the vanguard of the Castro Communist labor aristocracy -- now made up of Party and governmental bureaucracy along with the sportsmen of high performance and the high officials of the armed forces and the Ministry of the Interior -- would they be able to contain the massive exodus of these professionals abroad. Above all to Ecuador, a country that doesn’t request visas and where there already exists a developing but prosperous Cuban medical community that has taken care of communicating to its colleagues on the Island the high lifestyle that is rapidly achieved in the land of Eloy Alfaro [2]. Because 5,000 Cuban pesos are around 200 dollars, a sum very inferior to what any Cuban doctor could earn abroad. [3] Between the well-being within reach and the promises of a prosperous and sustainable socialism, which no one knows when it will arrive nor if also there is another rumor or a new feverish chimera of the Cuban leaders, you don’t have to rack your brains to decide. Stupid people are more scarce every day, and the ideological teque* has been in intensive care for some time. I don’t know what the government will do to stop this flight of doctors, which has a direct effect on one of its most trumpeted social accomplishments -- currently in a very precarious state, among other things because of the lack of specialists -- and on the export of health services, which is perhaps, together with tourism, the most lucrative activity of the Cuban economy at this time. In case the rumor becomes a certainty, let’s see what happens with the other professionals, because the flight of qualified personnel is not limited to the medical sector. Pandora’s Box is open, and the government doesn’t give any signs that will let us believe it is possible to close it and, above all, to convince us. *Translator’s note: "Teque" is literally a spinning top, and is used in Cuba to mean old, worn out, political harangues. Translated by Regina Anavy [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Continue reading
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] [1] Photo from the internet[/caption]   Imagine you are at a party where a suckling pig is being roasted and all of a sudden, at the height of the festivities, Raúl Castro comes along with a bucket of water and douses out the fire. I cannot conjure a more apt image to illustrate the effect the army general’s speech at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit had on the spirits of Cuba’s dissidents. What Raul said was a recycling of what the secretary of state was saying. It was the spitting image, cut to size, to summarize the state of affairs. While the inhospitable bucket of water was being filled, he left it to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) to release the statement by the American government indicating that the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between that country and ours did not include a lifting of the embargo, the closure of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo or permission for American tourists to travel to Cuba. "So the Americas have not had to hang their heads as low as TV and newspapers have been telling us," noted one party stalwart while waiting in line at a pharmacy. With the PCC not being terribly secretive on this issue, one dissident was heard to express the following words of despair: "Rather than making our work for democracy easier, this could make it more difficult. The United States and the Soviet Union had diplomatic relations and even then it was a cat and mouse game. Given that experience, if up till now they have imprisoned us, in the future they could execute dissidents for being American spies, which is what happened to Russian democracy advocates in Soviet times." Other dissidents are less pessimistic. After the initial impact of the unwelcome bucket of water that Raul used to dampen the festivities, some began to look at the glass and realized it was not half empty but rather half full. Times have changed. No matter how much Raul might like to resurrect the tactics of the USSR, he cannot. According to Marx every organism contains the seeds of its own destruction, as I heard said to a proverbially enthusiastic dissident and learned man. Such is the case with socialism, to which Raul Castro must ever increasingly apply capitalist remedies in order to survive. The now almost five-hundred thousand self-employed workers — an army that just keeps growing — will be the gravediggers of the system. Clearly, they are not politicians; they are merchants. They are in the business of making money and, not surprisingly, would prefer not to court problems with the government that might stand in the way of their making even more money. The great paradox, however, is that, by choosing to be economically independent, they have become a potent political force. Behold a people, a sector of workers, with initiative but with no knowledge of their rights, as the dissident scholar of my story keeps saying. For example, the "botero" still does not know that, by paying taxes, he has the right to demand streets without potholes. The same applies case by case, sector by sector, to the restaurant owner, to the mechanic. Before you know it, you have created a public with intentions similar to the multitudes who stormed the Bastille. Based on what they have told me, other dissidents more optimistic than the one mentioned above are betting on the perhaps exaggerated notion that Raul and his few remaining cohorts from the old days do not have many civilians from which to choose. And with perhaps even more exaggerated optimism, they do not see anyone in the Council of State with the status to command respect in their homes much less, they claim, under circumstances in which a fixty-six-year-old government has shown that socialism is no more than a fantasy dreamt up by Karl Marx. Havana, the Cuban city from where I am gauging the pulse of the political situation, is experiencing a period of forecasting comparable to that of the Institute of Meteorology during hurricane season. Except that, unlike cyclones, no one knows when or where things will happen. Meanwhile, the public — the frowning general public — is dying from trying to catch a bus while waiting for remittances from overseas, as if the guy with the bucket is not on their side. Neither the divinations of dissenters nor the enthusiastic forecasts of the governement’s new economic model matters to them. Trying to interpret this feeling, a seasoned retired teacher who sells empanadas in hospitals told me the following: "Don’t waste your time listening to them. It’s not going to happen here. And they can stop talking about Raul and his opponents. What happens will be what God wants." 20 February 2015 [1] Continue reading
[1] A ROSE IN YOUR HAIR PERISHES [2] Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo There aren’t enough of the stupid-ass songs. Because those same songs, the ones we joked stupid-assedly about in our rage-filled adolescence, are now the only thing left that allows us to know what we were, what we are, what we will be. With those songs, we can forget about everything and everybody. It seems like we have it all if we have them, these jingles from our bad memory. And then we don’t feel that malady we carry that weighs us down, that ruins this life we have and can’t live.  Much less do confront destiny, that deviation that destabilizes us from despotism to despotism, and from corpse to corpse, without their ever sparking in our breast that semi-magical, semi-mendacious flame of love, always so hesitant. A rose in your hair would be redundant. Not stars in the sky nor medals hanging from the neck would give off more light than that which illumines the nights on our long trek — which in the wind seems the accent of a musical voice sounding at the least movement of our body as we walk. This is the danger of rheumatic rhymes. They entwine themselves ridiculously around our heart until one day we realize that our blood pump is no more than that: a mortal wound that we endeavor to heal until now all we know is what we were not, what we are not, and what we will not be. Today the YouTube dawn of the United States is tenuous, tender and so troubled that it knocks us down.  In that word millions and millions of us Cubans will perish here. Into a countryless grave we will enter without peace a number much greater than the statistics of the Island and of Exile, because each one will die multiple times the death of his memories, but without ever coming across Eternity. Archaeology in the United States is also a digital discovery. We click on sound tunnels that hardly fit into the interactivity of an internet navigator. They and we are hollow echoes, echoes of bones. We reproduce those miracles of bits and their intact state of preservation is incredible after having been abandoned so long after the stampede. In our escape we have spinelessly left behind the music, fossilized notes confiscated by the dictator’s delirious marshalls and his hymns at the level of history (the level history). However, it was not the Tyrant of Pentagrams, but rather ourselves, the ones without history, who sacrificed the sonorous band of our biographies under the resentful boot of the Revolution. This is why God, who supposedly was mysterious music for the sicknesses of the soul, such as love, took revenge on us by inflicting an atrocious amnesia, with an emotional arrhythmia that makes us cry like stupid-asses at the first chords of decrepit songs from our other life. The United States, for Cubans, are the silent states of the spirit of that other nation, so stuffed with bad verses, dreadful versifiers, decadent melodies, as is right for a real life that has made us more implausible with each new performance of those fossilized clips recorded in another Cuba just a few decades ago. Exile is this: the betrayal of the eardrum. Totalitarianism never dreamed of converting us to socialism, but rather to deafness. He who does not hear gives his consent by not speaking. And the more we desire it amidst the decency of any country lost in common, the less we hear ourselves now among Cubans. Oh, Love, a rose in your hair doesn’t even know what it looks like. Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 12 January 2015 [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38758" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 -- Short-duration detentions increased considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of human rights. The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of repression, although Amnesty International also mentions the arrests produced at the end of 2014 on the occasion of the Community Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The annual report, which offers an overview of the human rights situation in 160 countries and forecasts trends in this arena for the next year, addresses the issue of the control that Raul Castro’s government exercises over all means of communication and the difficulties of accessing information on the Internet. Among the harassments that independent journalists have suffered, the organization cites the case of 14ymedio, which, on the day of its launch last May 21, suffered an attack on its web page. Since then this digital daily has been blocked on the Island. The report dedicates a special section to prisoners of conscience and notes that laws that classify “dangerousness” and the likelihood of future offense as crimes have been used frequently to incarcerate citizens critical of the Government. Also, they point to the restriction on travel outside of Cuba imposed on the 12 prisoners of the Black Spring who were released without a clarification of their legal status. Amnesty International appreciates the immigration reform of 2013 which has permitted Cubans to travel abroad but points out that the government has confiscated materials and documents from opponents and critics on their return to the Island. The international organization complains that Cuba has not yet ratified the International Treaty of Civil and Human Rights or the International Treaty of Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, both signed in February 2008. Also, the Government has not responded to the petition made in October by the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments and punishments. Cuban authorities have denied Amnesty International access to the country since 1990. A “cruel” year on a regional scale Amnesty International stresses that 2014 was a “cruel” year in all of the Americas, characterized by outbreaks of protests and impunity for criminal networks. “Last year, insecurity and conflicts grew on the American continent. Protests exploded in several countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and the United States, often violently repressed by state forces. We also were witness to the tragic increase in violence by criminal networks that acted with total impunity,” Erika Guevara Rosas, director of the organization’s program for the Americas, asserts. “From the disappeared students in Mexico through the revelations about torture at the hands of CIA agents in the United States and the shooting of protesters by Brazilian police, 2014 was a shameful year in the whole region,” she adds. Amnesty International warns that, if significant structural changes are not put in place, the region will see an increase of protests and demonstrations, while organized crime and violence will continue devastating countries like Mexico, El Salvador and the English-speaking Caribbean. The organization notes as positive the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the purpose of putting a definitive end to the continent’s oldest armed internal conflict. Nevertheless, the report stresses that at the end of last year both parties continued abuses and violations of human rights. As for Venezuela, the report insists that security organizations employed excessive force to disperse protests and emphasizes that dozens of people were detained arbitrarily and denied access to doctors and lawyers. Amnesty International nevertheless harbors a certain hope that movements in defense of human rights in the Americas may improve their form of organization thanks to the help of new technologies and social networks. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] [2]While the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had never before been seen on the Island. Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days, Maritza thought that her four-year-old son’s persistent cough was due to a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer running a fever. The pediatrician’s diagnosis confirmed Maritza’s suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him, give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms -- could be treated with oxygen. Almost by happenstance, an experienced doctor who heard the child cough took an interest in the case, and, after a more detailed examination, made her diagnosis as whooping cough, a disease Maritza had never heard of and against which – at least in theory -- all Cuban children are protected, thanks to subsidized national health system vaccination programs. Furthermore, according to official statistical records, whooping cough (pertussis) was eradicated from Cuba many years ago. Thanks to that doctor’s providential presence, Alain was treated with the appropriate antibiotics and, following the advice of the doctor, Maritza asked a relative who resides abroad for an emergency shipment of a medication that does not exist in Cuba, pertussis suppositories, used in the treatment to lessen the child’s coughing crisis. Alain is recovering now, but his convalescence may take up to three months or more. Maritza has overcome her anxiety, but wonders how many children will be in the same predicament, considering that this highly infectious disease is circulating around the Island, and health authorities have not sounded the alarm. In fact, she recently found out that in the past several years the incidence of whooping cough has been on the rise, not only among children, but also among adults. The lack of information in the official media results in the population not having a clear perception of the risk, and turns Article 50 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba into meaningless babble. The article establishes the right of all Cubans to medical care and health protection, and points to the State as guarantor of that right. Turning back the clock Dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya*, cholera ... With the reappearance of old diseases, the introduction of others that did not exist on the Island and the lack of effective drugs, it would seem that Cuba has regressed to the nineteenth century. However, the Cuban national health system remains a prestigious benchmark for international agencies, particularly since lending Cuban medical services abroad has become the most important source of the government’s capital income and a powerful political tool, given that it allows displaying as example of solidarity and altruism what is actually a poorly disguised form of modern slavery. So, while the government exports the service of tens of thousands of medical professionals at the expense of a loss of attention to Cubans, and the exposure of the Cuban population to multiple imported diseases, the institutional bureaucracy of international organizations congratulates itself on being able to count on a whole army of doctors mobilized by the regime to deal with epidemics and other pathologies. The government of any moderately democratic nation would never be able to recruit doctors as if they were mercenaries. The truth is that Cuba currently has two opposing systems: one of "health", which only exists in theory and today is a sad imitation of what it once was; and the other of "unhealth", much more efficient, endorsed in a completely dismal hospital and services infrastructure, and in the continuing incursion of exotic diseases, imported by our doctors from the most infected corners of the globe, since, upon their return home to Cuba, the practice of a rigorous quarantine plan and infection risk control is not followed. All this in a nation that, in the late 50s of the last century, stood out among the top in terms of health care at the regional and global levels, with a respectable hospital network in addition to membership clinics, emergency clinics, maternity hospitals and other health services, both free and private. At this rate, it is likely that, when the Castro regime finally ends, we may have to request emergency services from the World Health Organization itself and from the International Red Cross in order to address Cubans’ health crisis, as occurred during the US occupation after the 1898 War of Independence, which created the basis for what would become, during the Republic, one of the most enviable health systems of its time. *A viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Translated by Norma Whiting [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] Iván García, 4 February 2015 — For the prolific and noteworthy Cuban composer, Jorge Luis Piloto Alsar, born in the winter of 1955 in Cárdenas in the town of Matanzas, some 145 kilometers north of Havana, not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that his songs would achieve international fame. Let’s get into the time machine. An ordinary day in the ’70’s. Culturally speaking, Cuba was going through a rough period. Writers, poets and composers are being administered by the state, following Fidel Castro’s decree. The cinema, novels, la guaracha [2], and sound must highlight the exploits of the revolution. The government controls all of it. In your profile, you have to indicate how many marches you have been on and how much voluntary work you have participated in, if you want to pass the summer in a house on the beach, have a Russian fridge, or reserve a table in a restaurant. The Communist party membership card and loyalty to the “bearded one” [Fidel] are more important than talent. In the middle of all this greyness, where ideas, and the future, are whispers from on high, Jorge Luis Piloto was a social misfit. He arrived in the capital at the age of 15, his cajón [3] over his shoulder, and plans for the future. With his mother, Beba, he ended up in a room in an old apartment building in Romay 67 between Monte and Zequeira, in Pilar, in the Cerro district of Havana. Looking like a long-haired freak, devoted to rock and caring nothing about Castro’s lengthy speeches. He took refuge among his friends, like the black man William (may God rest his soul) or his girl friend, who suspected that Cuba was not the place for them. He distracted himself by going to Latino Stadium to watch his baseball team, the Industriales, play. Or by sitting in a corner or on the Malecón, dreaming of a different future. 1980 was an amazing year. One hundred and twenty-five thousand Cubans, including Piloto, took advantage of the opportunity to leave their country. Before they left, they had to put up with the regime’s vendettas, camouflaged in fascist-style acts of repudiation. Or personal humiliations. Before getting on the boat to go to Florida, they had to sign a document in which they admitted that they were delinquents, prostitutes or homosexuals. The government owes a public apology to the honest Cubans who emigrated in the Mariel Boatlift Piloto arrived in Miami on a rainy day in May 1980. Without either his guitar or any money. He only had his wishes. He worked very hard doing different things, not much of it playing music. One morning his wife reminded him that he hadn’t left Cuba to live as a labourer. “Where is the Jorge who dreamed of being a composer?” she asked him. With his next wage he bought a cajón. His first song, La Noche, co-written with Ricardo Eddy Martínez, was recorded with Lissette Álvarez [4] in 1983. Jorge Luis Piloto was A & R with Sony Music (1988 – 1996) and was nominated nine times for Grammy Latino. He gained the first one with his song Yo no sé mañana, co-written with Jorge Villamizar and recorded by the Nicaraguan Luis Enrique. In 2010, the Society of American Authors, ASCAP, awarded him the Golden Note prize for his 25 years of work and his musical contribution to the Hispano-American repertory. His ballads have been interpreted by singers of the calibre of Gilberto Santa Rosa, Christina Aguilera and the incomparable Celia Cruz. In 2012 he wrote a song for the Damas de Blanco which was played when they marched through the streets of the island. [embed][/embed] On Monday, November 17, after 34 years, I met Jorge, my neighbour from the Pilar neighbourhood, in Miami. We chatted for seven hours. He still had a youthful physique, although he was almost 60. “There is no way I can put on any weight”, he says. He remembers his past in Cárdenas and Havana and his friends from that time. But he is fond of Miami. His pride in this south Florida city is apparent. We drive along in his car, through every space, residential development, and places of interest, like the Marlins Stadium, the cruise ship port, the Ermita de la Caridad and the tunnel which goes under the port. He showed me the only statue there is in the city and we ate in a tourist cafe on the banks of the Miami River. I asked him if he has thought about returning to Cuba the democratic future which we are all hoping for. “No, I belong here, with my son, my wife, and my mother. I could contribute to whatever needs doing. But Miami is my home now,” he points out, while he talks in English  to his son on his cellphone about Giancarlo Stanton’s fabulous contract with the Marlins. The Industriales aren’t his team any more. Travel journal (VII) Translated by GH 4 February 2015 [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38743" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park. A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists. The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency. “When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash. The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services. The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing  Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing. In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar. In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity. The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.  “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall. “We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived. Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade. In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba. “We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” “We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line. The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.” The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash. Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] [2] [3] Rebeca Monzo, 23 February 2015 — In the Plaza de San Francisco in the historic center of Old Havana there is a traveling art installation, United Buddy Bear, made up of huge bears that surround the square. Each of them represents a country in the western hemisphere and they are decorated by an artist from each nation. Representing Cuba is the work of painter Nancy Torres. The exhibition is like a cry, like a hymn to tolerance, which has captured the attention of both the Cuban public and tourists alike. Sometimes people even line up to be photographed in front of their favorite bears, especially those of Cuba and the United States, perhaps due to the historic moment in which we now find ourselves. Besides these beautiful multi-colored artworks, a lovely bronze sculpture recently appeared in the square at the entrance to the Lonja del Comercio building. The sculptor, Vittorio Perotta, has given it a very evocative title: The Conversation. Something that also caught my attention is the restoration work being done in this area and along the waterfront. It is being carried out by the Office of the City Historian and includes large potted plants, outdoor lighting and date palms, all of which give the place a touch of freshness and elegance. Upon seeing this, there was one thought I could not get out of my head: “When this whole of fifty-six-year nightmare of destruction is over, the only government official whose name will not be on the blacklist will be Eusebio Leal [4](Havana City Historian).” 23 January 2015 [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[embed][/embed] The video above was published on the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Testimony from Abel Lopez Perez can be read here [1]. A few days before the 3rd of December, Abel was transferred from the Provincial Prison of Guantanamo (in his native city and where he served a political prison sentence) to the horrid dungeons of a prison in Camaguey, where Orlando Zapata was also taken. The post linked to here talks about the removal of his body from Cuba [2]. "Not content with deporting the recently released political prisoners, the Cuban government is now expelling from his land the exhumed remains of Orlando Zapata Tamayo." 23 February 2015 [1] [2] Continue reading
[1] Ivan Garcia, 20 February 2015 — Fifty Cuban and foreign journalists attended the press conference that a delegation of congressional Democrats headed by Nancy Pelosi held on the afternoon of Thursday, February 19 outside the residence of Lynn Roche, the U.S. Interest Section’s public affairs officer. Nancy Pelosi, born in Maryland in 1940, traveled to Havana with representatives Eliot Engel, Nydia Velazquez and Steve Israel (New York), David Ciciline (Rhode Island), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Anna Eshoo (California ) and Jim McGovern (Massachusetts). Pelosi and members of her delegation support removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and permanently lifting the U.S. embargo. Other issues of mutual interest discussed at the conference included increased access to telecommunications, empowering small businesses, agricultural development and human rights. Jim McGoven believes reconciliation between the two governments is the best way to reach an agreement on human rights. “I think that we can probably accomplish a lot more if we have a relationship based on mutual respect,” said McGovern. Pelosi agreed with her colleague, adding, “Both countries need to rebuild mutual trust.” During their three-day visit to Havana, the U.S. delegation stayed at the centrally located Hotel Saratoga and held meetings with chancellor Bruno Rodriguez, National Assembly president Ana Maria Machado and about twenty deputies, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, a group small private-sector business owners and Josefina Vida, Cuba’s lead negotiator in talks with the United States. As of this writing, neither Nancy Pelosi nor any members of her delegation have met with Cuban dissidents. The new political landscape has divided the opposition. Activists such as Elizardo Sanchez and Jose Daniel Ferrer approve of the approach taken by President Obama. On the other hand, dissidents such as Antonio Rodiles and Berto Soler disagree with the White House policy. The exchange with congressional Democrats was attended foreign correspondents as well as official and independent Cuban journalists. It was the third time that representatives of state and independent media outlets met at a press conference since December 17, when a historic diplomatic development was announced between two governments whose differences seemed irreconcilable. The visit led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took place a week before officials from Cuba and the United States begin a second round of negotiations on Friday, February 27 in Washington. The first round took place in Havana in January. Meanwhile, average Cubans have lowered any expectations they may have had over the improvement in relations between the two countries. To Yosuan, a Havana taxi driver, “it all sounds very nice but it’s unrelated to the needs of people on the street.” Ivan Garcia and Celeste Matos reporting from Havana. Photo: Marti Noticias. [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38713" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Cy Tokmakjian (Photo: Tokmakjian Group)[/caption] [2]The Canadian entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian [3] was released from prison in Cuba and is now back in Canada [4], his lawyer Barry Papazian informed the Canadian media on Saturday. The businessman was imprisoned in Cuba for more than three years and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for various crimes, including bribery and corruption. The digital site Martinoticias also echoed the information and statements by Papazian, in which he says that, "Cy returns home in good health, fantastic sprits, and is looking forward to spending time with his family which includes three loving children and seven excited grandchildren." The lawyer asked that that the privacy of his employer and his relatives be respected. Tokmakjian operated business in Cuba for more than two decades, with a value estimated to have reached 80 billion dollars annually. His company specialized in the import and sale of equipment for transport, mining and construction. In 2011 Tokmakjian was arrested and was made to wait two and a half years in prison, before charges against him were formally filed. In September 2014 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bribery and other economic crimes. Tried in the same case were fourteen Cuban officials as well as two senior executives of the Canadian company, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, who were sentenced to 12 and eight years' imprisonment respectively on charges of fraud, bribery, currency trafficking, counterfeiting bank documents and tax evasion. The release of Tokmakjian occurs a few months after the new Law on Foreign Investment in Cuba went into effect; through this law the government hopes to attract capital to various sectors of the national economy. [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
Angel Santiesteban, 7 January 2015 — To know that there is a Cuban who knew how to work against the dictatorship [1] makes it easier to bear that the regime’s five spies  [2]are now back on Cuban soil. I rejoiced when it was revealed that this Cuban — responding not to the North American government but against the dictatorship of the Castros — was the cause, having passed information to United States intelligence agencies about the enemy network [3] that was operating in its territory. He is a free man today, having been exchanged for the last three of those spies who were still in prison in the US]. In turn, the fact that Alan Gross is now back with his family also means relief for those of us who harbor good feelings — especially those of us who know firsthand the suffering of incarceration. [4] I believe the Castros will win any arm wrestling match in which their arms are supported by feelings. They do not care about keeping innocent people in jail, at least for the crimes with which they are charged. In the Gross case, the regime’s own reports affirm that this is about “a North American subcontractor who intended to smuggle into Cuba equipment which is not authorized by the government of the Island.” If his crime is one of “smuggling,” then of what espionage is he accused? The government’s legal action was forced in the exchange for its spies, as has recently occurred. There are good reason that it has an espionage and repression machine, lubricated by the oil of experience over more than half a century. The most important thing, to my understanding, is that the Communists in power have, for the moment, been left without a carrot to mobilize social media. Throughout their more than 50 years in power, the Castros have been characterized by public “yearnings” — which they use to keep the Cuban people distracted. Nobody can forget the months of intense, manipulative propaganda regarding the return of the boy Elián [5] Gonzalez, later replaced with an even more intense campaign for the return of the spies. [6] I suppose that at this moment, the ideologues of the regime must be finding themselves in a forced march in search of a new carrot to dangle, as well as a new objective to achieve. In the meantime, they will find entertainment in the embargo, which they like to call a “blockade” in order to produce maximum solidarity effect. Starting with Obama’s announcement of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, an interesting chapter is opening that could end up, for the regime, being even more destructive than the embargo. [7] Ángel Santiesteban-Prats December, 2014. Border Patrol Prison Unit, Jaimanitas, Havana. Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison [1] [2] [3];_ylt=A0SO8z2qGulU0lsAhU1XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBya2cwZmh2BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwM1BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg-- [4] [5] [6] [7] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38717" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Berta Soler during Sunday's press conference (Photo: 14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2015 -- During a press conference this afternoon, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White [3], announced that a recall referendum would be held within the organization to define her continuity at the head of this Human Rights movement. Surrounded fifty Ladies in White, Soler read a statement to several foreign correspondents and independent media gathered near the Church of Santa Rita, in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar. According to the activist, she will submit her leadership at the head of the organization to a recall referendum. The date of the consultation will be this coming March 16, but she did not detail how the procedure would be carried out. In her statement, Berta Soler also invited the Ladies in White living in Miami who signed a letter last week asking for her resignation to “return to Cuba to fight.” In a letter published last Wednesday by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald, several founders of the Ladies in White in exile felt that the group needed a new direction and requested the resignation of Soler. According to the newspaper, 16 members of the organization in the United States defended Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, another member of the group in disagreement with Soler. At the conclusion of the press conference on Sunday, the Ladies in White cheered Berta Soler and chanted her name. Soler explained that today's march was dedicated to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an activist who died in February 2010 after a prolonged hunger strike. The leader of the Ladies in White also said that once the press conference ended, the women would continue their pilgrimage beyond Avenida Quintera towards the neighborhood of Vedado. This newspaper was able to confirm that minutes after crossing the Calle Linea tunnel, an act of repudiation was carried out against the Ladies in White who, for fifteen minutes, were surrounded by people carrying posters with official slogans and screaming out against them. The women were then forced into several buses waiting near the site and driven off to a unknown destination. [caption id="attachment_38716" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [4] Act of repudiation against Ladies in White near the Calle Linea tunnel (14ymedio)[/caption] [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[1] Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2015 — Fidel Castro appeared. The bearded old man spoke in an elliptical address that sowed fear of future relations between the two Cold War enemies. The message was meant to cool the enthusiasm of the young. The old guerrilla, bellicose as ever, gummed up the works and dampened the festive atmosphere of a large segment of the island’s population who want to see an end to the longstanding dispute between Cuba and the United States. You need not be a code breaker to decipher the meaning. It was a storm warning: The Yankees are still at the gate, only now with different weapons. The hackneyed theory of ripe fruit. The gringos want to clog us with McDonald’s, broadband internet and smartphones. This time the Trojan horse is not a missile; it’s a computer. Then it’s back to the trenches. The “barbarians from the North” want to take your money, apply their technology and do business, but only with the state. Castro I is sounding the alarm. We do not yet know — perhaps we will in the future — if this was a concerted media offensive or if the old comandante is acting on his own. What we do know is that his brother Raul put on his boxing gloves at a summit in Costa Rica and made an offer. The demands could have filled a basket. Some were unrealistic and over-the-top. Castro II was probably bluffing but it was an audacious move. The trick was knowing how far to test the limits of President Obama’s patience. White House eagerness to arrive in April at Summit of the Americas in Panama with negotiations well underway, embassies reopened and an ongoing dialogue taking the burden of Cuba off its relationship with the rest of the continent is the Castro brothers’ secret weapon. The playing field is uncertain. Venezuela is taking on water and Cuba’s finances are in the red. But in its favor the military regime has managed to maintain social and political control over an anesthetized nation. However, they are stretched to the limit. In spite of being octogenarian, the Castros have more time to spare than Obama. Almost two months after the surprising diplomatic turn of events on December 17, Cuban authorities have decided to dampen the enthusiasm of Afro-Cubans. The party propaganda machine is working at full speed. Editorials in government-run newspapers tell us the enemy is still out there. Negotiating with the Castros is an exercise in pure abstraction. They are always playing with marked cards. Or with nothing. But this time they have slipped up. Times have changed. People are tired of all the mess, of the embargo, of a system that does not work, of the fear-mongering speeches. The narrative is no longer having its effect. When you ask eighteen- to thirty-year-old Cubans to where they would most like to emigrate, most say the United States. The Castros’ policies have boomeranged. Never before in Cuba have so many people idolized the United States’ culture, consumerism and lifestyle as today. It is a trivialized version of American society. Due to a lack of information — or simply because they suspect that the regime is lying — adolescents, young people and even many adults believe that in the United States dollars fall from the sky in parachutes. Private sector workers think applying for a micro-credit loan from a New York bank is as easy as ordering a lemonade in Pinar del Rio or Cienfuegos. Since December 17 many Cubans have come to believe in political science fiction. The Castro brothers have not outlined a strategy in which a street vendor or a private farmer can get a small loan from the United States. Obama has also been blowing smoke. After eighteen months of secret negotiations and with information provided by the CIA, the White House should have foreseen that — as has always been the case — the Cuban regime would defend itself by going on the attack. The philosophy of survival is a favorite for the brothers from Biran. From the perspective of the average Cuban, however, Obama is the winner. On the streets of Havana it is Fidel and Raul who are blamed for slowing down negotiations. But the Castros are only interested in holding onto power and controlling every future diplomatic move. President Obama’s roadmap was merely a shovel for digging his own grave. They are no fools. They have pulled the emergency brake. 18 February 2015 [1] Continue reading
[1] Juan Juan Almeida, 18 February 2015 — The horse — like the language and guitar — were brought to Cuba from Spain and are today a part of the national culture. It is impossible to forget the role the animal has played in Cuban literature, music and the economy. And history discussions would be incomplete without some mention of Mambisa horsemanship. The Cuban Revolution, however, marked a turning point in the development of equine culture. Shortly after 1959 Isidious (Fidel Castro’s white horse), Azbache (the same owner’s black horse) and other thoroughbreds which were beautiful regardless of color were shipped to the Managua breeding facility located next to a tank base of the same name on the outskirts of Havana. The rationale was that on their backs the animals bore the symbolic sweat of their owners’ buttocks and, therefore, had to be protected with the same vigilance as any national treasure. But as we now know, these national treasures perished. Insidious died of a heart attack and Azabache (either because he was beautiful or because he was black) had his image stamped onto a photograph which, like a majordomo, greets generals and tourists at the entrance to the above-mentioned facility. It was then that the historic, aesthetic and hysterical leader, saddened by the loss of his steed, authorized the importing of twelve different breeds of horses from which to select his Bucefalo, encourage the breeding of horses, export them overseas either as animals or semen, and crossbreed them with local stock. As a result, horse breeding took off and today the country can boast of more than 300,000 thoroughbreds scattered among various farms. Most are managed by a state conglomerate, Flora and Fauna, under the direction of the Revolutionary commandant Guillermo García Frías. Some are raised on Cuban plantations such as El Alacazar — located in Contrammaestre, Santiago de Cuba — which is owned by Señora María Antonia Puyol Bravo (known as La Doña). Horses are exported in a prescribed manner. From El Alcazar, come purebred Spanish horses. From Escaleras de Jaruco (in Mayabeque province), there are also Spanish thoroughbreds. From the Belen farm an American breed, Morgan, is exported. From Rancho San Vicente (20 kilometers south of the city of Camaguey) they are Arabian purebreds. From Guatiba (Matanzas province) there are Creole pintos. From Escambray come Appaloosas. And from Rancho Azucacero (Artemesia province) come jumping and show horses that have been imported from Holland since 2005. These are auctioned off at the Equestrian Club in Lenin Park’s riding school during the Remate Élite Habana, which takes place every year in the Cuban capital. There is talk of a trail of tainted money behind the scenes at the auction, but no one has been able to prove it much less conduct an audit. Cuba’s problem is not corruption but the immunity of certain corrupt officials who — as one might expect — are so high up that they are beyond the judicial reach of the comptroller general. Every January more and more foreigners attend this event, which this year attracted exiled Cuban businessmen, who were much more interested in showing off their lifestyles than indulging their newfound passion for horses. Far be it from me to judge but I know that — as my grandmother used to say — “crises are moments of great opportunity” and these compatriots travelled to Cuba to defend, in their own way, the right of every Cuban to own his or her own horse. 18 February 2015 [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38705" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Treaty of Paris 1898 (CC)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 21 February 2015 -- With the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded or sold the last pieces of its former empire where, in the time of Carlos V, “the sun never set.” This treaty, as has already been proven by Pedro Albizu Campos, had several legal defects that made it invalid. Curiously, no Spanish politician has used these arguments to challenge it outright. This is due to two main factors: The first, ignorance, and the second, of equal weight, reality. Spain today, as it has been for the last 115 years, is not in any shape to oppose the “Pax Americana.” However, today this legal fissure acquires an unexpected dimension. Spain, through various laws, decrees and circulars, has decided to re-establish the rights of nationality for many of its former citizens who lost their nationality for different reasons in the last century (and even earlier, as is the case of the Sephardic Jews). Over time this worthwhile path is going to turn out partial and incomplete because unfathomable depths of injustice are appearing. We are going to neither allude to the notorious inequality of conceding nationality only to descendants of male immigrants or detail the numerous legal ploys that officials abroad use in order to retard or delay the petitions of the interested parties, who could not always access to the documents necessary for validating their rights. The Treaty of Paris completely dispossessed Cubans and Puerto Ricans born overseas of their status as Spaniards, leaving them to the disposition of the new authorities as if it were dealing with material property of the Crown ceded or sold by virtue of that agreement. Something that was in frank contradiction of the rights of peoples and is one of the reasons that the said treaty was never ratified by The Cortes – the Spanish Parliament – until today. Few rose then to denounce such injustice, carried to The Cortes by Admiral Cevera, among others. Later a royal decree was published in the Manual of Military and Civil Classes, which declared them foreigners. Nevertheless, according to the current Constitution, the Civil Registry of the Kingdom was the only agency authorized legally to recognize (once registration had proceeded) the loss of nationality of those Spaniards, and this never occurred. By not duly settling in the Kingdom of Spain’s civil registry the new administrative status of the natives of the island of Cuba, they continued to maintain de facto Spanish nationality. The creation of the Republic of Cuba did not resolve this legal problem either, given that the Cuban Constitution established that those people had to “opt” for the new Cuban nationality, something that in practice – and from all the evidence – also turned out difficult to put into practice. Those who did not do it, as well as their descendants, kept their de facto status as Spaniards at least until 1940. As a result, their descendants continue to be Spanish and could demand that status currently in Spain’s civil registries. In 1940, the new Constitution decreed by ius solis (birthright through parentage) Cuban status to those born in Cuba so that Spaniards who did not “opt” at that moment to keep their Spanish nationality ended up losing it as did their descendants. However, Spanish nationality does not depend on Cuban nationality or vice versa. Each sovereign state decides for itself who are its citizens. Spain cannot impugn the Treaty of Paris but it can do justice to the descendants of those Spaniards, recognizing their right to nationality. Nothing prevents it and it would be an act of basic justice. The recent decisions by the Supreme Court denying Spanish status to those born in overseas territories are a disgrace and a legal aberration. Given the current international political environment, offering nationality to all those descendants of Spaniards who seek it opens unusual prospects – transcendental – for the cause of Hispanic heritage. Only a blind man would not know how to see them. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] [1] Raul Castro's daughter Mariela Castro Espin[/caption] [2] Cubanet, Tania Díaz Castro, Havana, February 19, 2015 — Homosexuality has been around longer than humans have been walking upright. But Fidel Casto — working through State Security, an organization he founded and of which he has always been in charge — has done everything possible to banish it from Cuban soil. He once looked upon it as a cancer capable of eating away his dictatorship. In an August 2010 interview with the journalist Carmen Lira for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the Cuban leader for the first time confessed feeling guilty for the emergence of homophobia in Cuba, an attitude that is still prevalent in the country’s top leadership. In the interview he acknowledged that "there were moments of great injustice" and noted that he personally had no such prejudices. On this particular occasion the Comandante was not lying. Several of his friends in positions of power were widely known to be homosexuals, including Alfredo Guevara and Pastorita Nuñez. To the guerrilla leader, they were neither "twisted trees" nor "a byproduct not found in the field," as everyone else used to describe them. The thousands who were identified by State Security suffered imprisonment, harsh treatment and were forced to do hard labor in the notorious Military Units to Aid Production [3] (UMAP). Half a century has passed. The Castro dictatorship is still in power. The same problems still exist, only to a lesser degree. It is perhaps for this reason that the current president’s daughter, Mariela Castro, spends her free time on a campaign of sorts against homophobia and discrimination in general. It seems that she may have been inadvertently criticizing her uncle, Fidel Castro, when in an interview with the ANSA news agency she said, "There is no doubt that in their creation in 1965 and in their operations, the UMAPs were arbitrary." Arbitrary is another term for unjust, despotic, abusive and tyrannical. Mariela’s current silence is curious given what recently happened on the TV soap opera La Otra Esquina (The Other Corner), which can be seen on Cuban television’s Channel 6. As is now public knowledge, this soap opera — written by Yamila Suarez — was apparently forced to conceal a storyline concerning the characters Oscar and Esteban, a gay couple played by two wonderful veteran actors. Changes involving episodes being edited and brief blackouts occurring during the broadcast strongly suggest that, since the show could not be cancelled — its schedule had already been announced and there was no available replacement — it was censored on orders from the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. So what has the defender of gay rights done in response in the months since? Nothing. She has not said if she participated in the heated discussions at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) in an attempt to fend off eliminating the love story between the elderly Oscar and Esteban in favor of more filial relationships that had nothing to do with the plotline In last week’s episode a photo of the two lovers could be seen on a table. They were standing with their heads pressed together, a classic and tender expression of love. The censors forgot to remove from the set this and other props that revealed what was going on. On February 9 the independent journalist Frank Correa denounced the action in an editorial published on CubaNet, thus bringing to public attention the difficulties La Otra Esquina had to go through to get on the air. In this production Mariela exited stage left. She was not looking to create more problems with her little old uncle. The way the show has been changed is evidence that in Cuba homophobia is still with us. 20 February 2015 [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[1]Iván García, 2 February 2015 — It is half past noon and Saul is collecting bets for the clandestine Cuban lottery known as  bolita (little ball) or charada, (charade) which was legal before 1959 and has always been very popular. Under a scorching sun that provides a tint of summer to what passes for winter on the island, he walks along the steep backstreets of La Víbora, a neighborhood south of Havana. At seventy-six he has found no better way of making money than as a bookie. “It didn’t matter that I fought at the Bay of Pigs and Escambray. I retired with a monthly pension of 207 pesos (around eight dollars). I make twice that amount taking bets for the bolita every day,” he says as he records a wager by the manager of a farmers’ market in a school notebook. Around noon he collects the bets of his best clients. It is a varied group that includes the owner of a private restaurant, business directors, a police academy instructor and the manager of state-owned cafe that charges in hard currency. “They are big players, from 150 to 500 pesos. And since I make two runs a day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — some of them bet twice a day. I get ten percent of the take, which on a normal day is more that two-thousand pesos,” says Saul. Although it is illegal, with convictions carrying sentences of two to five years in prison,  the game has been played with increasing openness in cities and towns across the island since the 1980s. In Cuba’s heartland, organized clandestine cock fights bring in a lot of money. In the capital there are a dozen such organized fight rings, each with three bouts a week. Cock fighting has become an industry. There are people who buy and train aggressive roosters, veterinarians who care for the birds, the owners of rings and others. Dog fights have also been increasing. It is a bloody and horrific spectacle that generates thousands of convertible pesos at every event. Houses are routinely being converted into illegal gaming parlors known as burles. Another form of gambling involves car and motorcycle racing on the outskirts of Havana. Often the lookouts for these races are the police themselves. But the oldest and most popular betting game is the bolita, a system that operates like a Swiss watch. Modesto has been a bookie since the 1980s, when times were hard. “I was arrested a couple of times,” he says. “The police used to pester you a lot. If the bolita were legal, there wouldn’t be so much police corruption. If they catch you, they fine you. But if you want your operation running at full steam, you have to pay money under the table to a police chief or a tidy sum to the institution itself. People who run illegal operations make friends with the military and police in order to protect their business.” There are many forms of the illegal lottery known as the bolita, from serious, established operations to impromptu scams. The range of payouts varies. Modesto’s operation pays out 90 pesos for every winning first number, 25 for the straight and 900 for the “parlé,” a combination of two numbers. It’s simple. The numbers run from 1 to a 100, each with a corresponding symbol. The Cuban operations are based on the Florida Lottery. Other bolita operators such as Rodolfo, a resident of Old Havana, pay out 1,000 pesos for the parlé and 100 pesos for winning first numbers. According to Saul there are three types of clients: “The regulars are housewives or low-income people who play every day with the hope of landing a parlé to help pay for a daughter’s fifteenth birthday party or to renovate a bathroom. Then there are the people with some extra dough who like to gamble and hope to make a lot of money. The third types are those who play occasionally, who have had a dream or a hunch and bet a wad of money on those numbers.” The Bolita or “charada” has 100 numbers. Each has its own meaning; some have two or more. For example, 2 is a butterfly or money, 5 is a nun or the sea, 15 is a dog or a pretty girl, 37 is a witch, a hen or an ant and 100 is a toilet or a car. Sometime after 3 PM Josuan arrives at his neighborhood butcher shop to find out the results of the drawing. “For two months I have been betting on #45, the president, and #14, the cemetery, because of rumors about the death of Fidel. If those two are the winning numbers and I land a parlé, I will throw a party,” he says. Maria Luisa, a housewife, prefers to bet on #64, big death, and #1, the horse, since “we have always said Fidel was the horse.” At the moment the bolita is a national obsession, even though the odds are not favorable. It will never be a good business proposition to bet money on a list of one-hundred numbers from which there is a payout on only three. But people keep trying. The last thing to go is hope. 2 February 2015 [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38686" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 -- Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity. Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry that links the two shores has resurfaced as a result of talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States. This week, the entrepreneur Brian Hall, who leads the company KonaCat with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, made public his interest in operating ferry trips to Cuba from Marathon’s yachting marina on 11th Street. Hall told the daily digital KeysInfoNet that he was confident of getting available space for his 200-passenger capacity catamaran with which he plans to travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba twice daily. The news has barely reached the Island, but since last December 17 when Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the process for reestablishment of relations between the two countries, the return of the ferry has become a matter of importance for many nostalgic people. In addition to the economic concessions and the political détente that this reconciliation would bring between the two governments, connecting both countries with a maritime route would have, besides its practical effects, a strong symbolism, many assert. All great human endeavors have something to do with madness, say the elders. The ferry service that connected Florida with the Cuban capital started with the efforts of a man. Henry M. Flagler, an oil magnate who in 1886 founded the Florida Faster East Coast Railway for railway construction and exploitation of Florida’s east coast. In spite of the great obstacles imposed by the geography of the keys and the constant danger of hurricanes, Flagler’s madness led him to trace the rail lines to Cayo Hueso, where the service was inaugurated in January 1912. That work would be considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world, besides being the boldest infrastructure built exclusively with private funds. Once the railway was in Cayo Hueso, some way was needed to overcome the distance to Cuba. So was born “the train moving over the waters” as the ferry was also called and whose Havana-Cayo Hueso service was inaugurated January 5, 1915. The first shipment consisted of a batch of refrigerated cars, and the boat received the name of Henry M. Flagler, in homage to the visionary entrepreneur who had died two years earlier. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” The dispatch of products between both shores grew like wildfire after that moment. In 1957 it came to more than half a million tons of merchandise in both directions, to which was added the transport of passengers and cars. The sea connection between the two shores lasted 46 years, and some remember it as if it were yesterday that the last boat had sailed. “My grandmother frequently travelled to Florida on the ferry,” explains Jose Manuel, who has had a bad day for fishing. “We were poor, but part of my family went there to work and sometimes would return the same day,” he says wistfully. Near the fishing pole, seated on the wall of the Malecon, a teenager listens to the conversation and smiles with incredulity. He is of the generation that cannot conceive that at some point the Malecon was not a barrier that separated Cuba from the world but a point of connection with the neighbor to the north. The line tightens, and it seems that something has bit. Jose Manuel concentrates on recovering from the water what is going to be his supper tonight, but in spite of his concentration he manages to say, “The day that I see that ferry arriving here again I will be able to die in peace.” Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38679" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama spoke about the Summit of the Americas in their meeting last January 6 in Washington. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 8 February 2105 -- One of the most controversial issues facing both the Cuban government and Cuban independent civil society is one stemming from President Barack Obama’s December 17th speech when he stated: "Next April, we will be ready for Cuba to join the other nations in the hemisphere at the Americas Summit, but we will insist that Cuban civil society joins us so that it will not only be the leaders, but the citizens who will shape our future." Immediately after, Obama added: "And I urge all my colleagues and leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights, which is the essence of the Inter-American Charter. Let's leave behind the legacy of colonization and communism and the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and electoral farces." After the first moments of surprise and with each other’s positions set out on the table about the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, most Cubans are sure that the regime is not prepared to face, in a satisfactorily manner, an honest debate on democracy and human rights, and much less is willing to compromise on its stubborn refusal to recognize areas of rights which would inevitably lead to the end of its power. But, with the same certainty and for the sake of honesty, we must recognize that we still have major obstacles to overcome in the independent civil society, starting with the one that will be, without a doubt, an essential premise: to agree on our consensus, leaving aside our differences – derived from political partisanships, ideologies, autocratic individuals and other personal agendas -- that have divided us and prevented further progress over decades. In politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation. To leave behind political adolescence and suddenly attain adulthood to achieve a common front that amplifies the democratic demands of Cubans which several generations have been struggling for under difficult conditions is not impossible, as evidenced by debate and consensus forums in the past two years. However, achieving a single agenda capable of meeting the essential requirements of all sectors of the civil society will not be easy, particularly for those who are more reluctant to dialogue and have opted instead for a confrontational stance. It may seem premature to put on the table an issue that depends, in the first place, on the combination and coordination of many as yet unknown issues. But in politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation. Obviously, President Obama’s willingness to support civil society does not imply -- or at least it should not imply -- the government’s direct intervention in financing or selecting the actors who participate in the hemispheric conclave. Presumably, taking as a sign his own statements when he recognized that Cuban issues belong first of all to Cubans, his government’s commitment should be to support the proposals we make, and should include those who do not live in Cuba but who are part of the nation’s heartbeat. In that case, it would be advisable to start a process of discussion and consultation now with participants in the independent civil society groups and leaders of opinion, journalists, activists of all existing projects, and those individuals or organizations -- whether from the opposition or any civic venue -- who may have ideas to contribute to the agenda. It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies. We should not be seeking unanimity, but trying to consolidate unity in those essential points we agree on, and readying our proposals, both in a plausible memo to present at the Americas Summit and in a representation that could encompass, more inclusively and justly, the whole range of organizations and trends of the independent civil society. At the same time, we must give up our presumptions and embrace modesty for the common good. Unfortunately, we have witnessed the persistence of intolerant positions in recent events, verbal violence and contempt for those ideas different to our own, something that is inherent to a society that has been, for a long time, tense and controlled by a regime that has sown totalitarianism and intimidation as valid methods to prevail, which a handful of democrats seem to want to perpetuate. These actions, which have been carried out against the public image of a dissidence characterized mainly by its posture of peaceful struggle and respect for differing views, should be banished from the discussions if we wish to strengthen and achieve standing and recognition inside and outside Cuba. It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies. In short, what is truly important is, after all, to be prepared for the occasion that is politically being offered to us. It is a matter of commitment, not a easy ride, and whoever will end up representing us in this or any other international forum should feel the great historical responsibility they assume, and be worthy of the trust of all those who have committed their forces and pinned their hopes on the future of democracy in Cuba. Translated by Norma Whiting [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_3878" align="aligncenter" width="584"] [1] Nicolas Maduro[/caption] Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 20 February 2015 -- I never thought I'd get to say this, but Venezuela is worse than Cuba. It is true that the South American country has not surpassed in number nor in intensity the shortages of basic products, the economic collapse, nor the police surveillance that we suffer; but Venezuela is worse than Cuba. Its seriousness reflects its repeating of the failed past that we Cubans are trying to escape. In the case of both nations, the fiasco has been determined largely by improper and harmful leadership. Cuba, with a Fidel Castro who tried to mold the country in his image and likeness, taking on his marked tendency to authoritarianism, intolerance, obsession for power, and the leader’s inability to deal with others’ success. To which must be added a paranoia so fierce it made him distrust his own shadow, which he seems to have transmitted to his disciple Nicolas Maduro. So when I heard about the arrest of the opposition mayor Antonio Ledezma, accused of a supposed link with violent acts against the government, I couldn’t help but remember all the times that the fears of our “Maximum Leader” ended the professional, political and even the physical life of some Cuban. How many times did they justify a turn of the political screw under the pretext of an attempt against the Commander and Chief? Which of these assassinations were invented by the official propaganda itself, just to divert attention from other issues? The scheme of “here comes the wolf” is already so hackneyed that it would be laughable if it weren’t for the dire implications for the people. Maduro theatrically – and before the cameras – plays the role of victim about to succumb to an international conspiracy. The seams of the farce are clear to see, but he is still dangerous. He believes he embodies the nation, so he denounces the plots and machinations to kill him, trying to obtain the benefits of a nationalism and trashy as it is fleeting. His presidency has been a sequence of supposed coups, conspiracies that develop outside the borders, and enemies who are trying to destabilize the country Chavez’s successor does not know how to deal with the normal, nor how to lead in a balanced way, nor how to offer Venezuelans a national project where everyone is included. Such that he can only fall back on fear. His presidency has been a sequence of supposed coups, conspiracies that develop outside the borders, and enemies who are trying to destabilize the country. He doesn’t know any method of leadership other than perennial tension. Ledezma is the latest victim of this political paranoia. Leopoldo Lopez just completed a year in prison and in the coming months is very likely to be joined by other opponents added to the list of the arrested and prosecuted. Nicolas Maduro with again denounce plots against him, pointing out those presumed guilty of some attempt and directing the accusing finger at the White House. All this to hide that he doesn’t know how to govern and can only imitate the dismal model he’s inherited from his mentors of the Plaza of the Revolution. The result is a bad copy of the Cuban model, a crude replica in which ideology has ceded its entire terrain to the ravings of a man. [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38665" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 February 2015 -- On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led a press conference in which she provided a summary of her visit to Cuba, in addition to answering questions from foreign journalists and independent press. The meeting was held on the outside of the residence of Lynn Roche, Head of the Public Affairs Section of the US Interests Section in Havana (ISIS). During the conference, Pelosi was accompanied by Congressmen Eliot Engel (NY), Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Nydia Velázquez (New York), Anna Eshoo (California), Steve Israel (New York) and David Cicilline (Rhode Island). Prior to the meeting with journalists, the delegation had met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino the highest authority of the Catholic Church in Cuba, as well as holding "a meeting with members of civil society," although no names or groups were detailed. During the press conference, Congressman Eliot Engel emphasized that "now the ball is in the Cuban government’s corner… We want to see a flourishing civil society," he said. Engel also highlighted his hope of "seeing part of free civil society at the Summit of the Americas," although he acknowledged being "very concerned about the issue of human rights" on the island. Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said she was "excited" and "proud" of the work that his delegation undertook in Cuba. The Democrat had arrived with the rest of Congressional Democrats Tuesday and on Thursday also met with the Vice President of the National Assembly, Ana Maria Mari Machado, along with twenty members of the controversial Cuban parliament. Pelosi also expressed her pride in President Barack Obama for "the audacity to make such a shift in policy towards Cuba." According to what the members of congress explained to the press, both sides in the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States recognize that “this is a time to look more toward the future than the past.” For his part, Steve Israel said that “for this process to succeed both countries have to focus more on the future and less on the past. December 17th was an historic moment for the two countries, but the real story is making the changes.” Jim McGovern said that "if the embassies open" it could improve the negotiation process because both governments are speaking directly. "We have a more mature relationship. We can not agree on everything, but I think possibly we can achieve much more if we base our relationship on mutual respect… We will continue talking about human rights," he said, but stressed that it must first a policy "that has proved to be a failure" should be changed. Finally, he supported "establishing formal diplomatic relations, rather than trading accusations and pointing fingers at each other.” Later Israel himself speculated on how this ongoing process will be looked back on, and "how those who embraced the future of those who embraced the past will differ." At the end of the press conference, the delegation of Democratic members of congress met with First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. To a question from 14ymedio regarding whether they had noticed any desire on the part of the Cuban government to cooperate on the issue of computerizing Cuban society and access to new technologies, Anna Eshoo stressed that “younger people in Cuba, in particular, are hungry for this, and recognize the empowerment that access to broadband would bring.” Congresswoman Eshoo said that she “had the pleasure of sitting at lunch” with the blogger Harold Cardenas from La Joven Cuba blog, and had “a wonderful discussion.” As for the “preservation of values” that has so concerned the Cuban ruling class lately, the congresswoman said she let them know she understood their position. Nydia Velázquez conveyed to the those present that they "would like to share [their] experience in promoting economic development," especially in the field of small private businesses, which in the case of the US are "the backbone of the economy." This would help the economic growth of many Cuban families, said the congresswoman. [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38661" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Lines in front of Etecsa (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, 18 February 2015 -- These days the line outside the State-run Nauta Internet “cafés” all over the country are much longer than usual. The reduction, to half price for Internet connection cards is the reason for such an influx. The special offering, put into effect by the State-run Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) this last 10 February, will remain in effect until this coming 10 April. Users not have to pay 2.50 CUC (convertible pesos) for one hour of Internet access, instead of the usual 5.00 CUC. The measure has caused some excitement among customers, hoping that the special offering will be maintained to the end of the year. “It’s still expensive, but if now I have to pay half the price it means I can do twice the work when I connect,” says Liudmila Muñoz, an entrepreneur who coordinates tourist trips to the Island, for which she arranges accommodating, dance classes and transportation. In front of the Nauta Internet room in the centrally located Focsa Building [3], people spread the word of the new prices. “I have to come a lot. I’m a sailor and I’m looking for a contract to work on a cruise, so I shouldn’t have to pay so much,” explained José Antonio Romero who, nevertheless, believes that “it’s still armed robbery, to pay so much for Internet.” The Nauta Internet rooms opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. In statements to the official press, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communication, Luis Maneul Díaz Narajo, said that during the first quarter of 2015, another 136 rooms with 538 computer stations will be added in the Youth Computing Clubs. Local navigation Nauta opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. Speaking to the official press, the director of Institutional Communication ETECSA, Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, said that during the first quarter of 2015 136 other rooms with 538 points will be added in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing). Despite the high prices of the connection rooms, the demand is very high. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 Cuba had only a 25 percent Internet penetration with a population of 11.2 million inhabitants. [1] [2] [3] Continue reading