14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2017 — On February 24 of next year Raul
Castro must leave the presidency of Cuba if he is to fulfill the
promise he has made several times. His announced departure from power is
looked on with suspicion by some and seen as an inescapable fact by
others, but hardly anyone argues that his departure will put an end to
six decades of the so-called historical generation.
For the first time, the political process begun in January 1959 will
have a leader who did not participate in the struggle against the
dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Nevertheless, Raul Castro can
maintain the control of the Communist Party until 2021, a position with
powers higher than the executive's and enshrined in the Constitution of
In the 365 days that remain in his position as president of the Councils
of State and of Ministers, the 85-year-old ruler is expected to push
several measures forward. Among them is the Electoral Law, which he
announced two years ago and that will determine the political landscape
he leaves behind after his retirement.
In the coming months the relations between Havana and Washington will be
defined in the context of the new presidency of Donald Trump and, in
internal terms, by the economy. Low wages, the dual currency system,
housing shortages and shortages of products are some of the most
pressing problems for which Cubans expects solutions.
Raul Castro formally assumed the presidency in February of 2008,
although in mid-2006 he took over Fidel Castro's responsibilities on a
provisional basis due to a health crisis affecting his older brother
that forced him from public life. And now, given the proximity of the
date he set for himself to leave the presidency, the leader is obliged
to accelerate the progress of his decisions and define the succession.
In 2013 Castro was confirmed as president for a second term. At that
time he limited the political positions to a maximum of ten years and
emphasized the need to give space to younger figures. One of those faces
was Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 56-year-old politician who climbed through the
party structure and now holds the vice presidency.
In the second tier of power in the Party is Jose Ramon Machado Ventura,
an octogenarian with a reputation as an orthodox who in recent months
has featured prominently in the national media. A division of power
between Díaz-Canel and Machado Ventura (one as president of the Councils
of State and of Ministers and the other as secretary general of the
Party) would be an unprecedented situation for millions of Cubans who
only know the authority being concentrated in a single man.
However, many suspect that behind the faces that hold public office, the
family clan will continue to manipulate through pulling the strings
of Alejandro Castro Espín. But the president's son, promoted to national
security adviser, is not yet a member of the Party Central Committee,
the Council of State or even a Member of Parliament.
For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies,
Raúl Castro leaves without doing his work. "There were many promises,
many pauses and little haste," he summarizes. He said that many hoped
that the "much-announced reforms would move from the superficial to the
depth of the model, the only way to update the Cuban economy, politics
Raul Castro should "at least, push until the National Assembly passes an
Electoral Law" that allows "plural participation of citizens," says
Valdés. He also believes that he should give "legal status to private
companies" and "also give legal status to other organizations of civil
The American academic Ted Henken does not believe that the current
president will leave his position at the head of the Party. For Henken,a
professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in
New York, Castro's management has been successful in "maintaining the
power of historic [generation] of the Revolution under the authoritarian
and vertical model installed more than half a century ago" and "having
established a potentially more beneficial new relationship with the US
and embarking on some significant economic reforms. "
However, Henken sees as "a great irony that the government has been more
willing to sit down and talk with the supposed enemy than with its own
people" and points out "the lack of fundamental political rights and
basic civil liberties" as "a black stain on the legacy of the Castro
Blogger Regina Coyula, who worked from 1972 to 1989 for the
Counterintelligence Directorate of the Interior Ministry, predicts that
Raul Castro will be remembered as someone "who could and did not
dare." At first she saw him as "a man more sensible than the brother and
much more pragmatic" but over time "by not doing what he had to do,
nothing turned out as it should have turned out."
Perhaps "he came with certain ideas and when it came to reality he
realized that introducing certain changes would inevitably bring a
transformation of the country's political system," says Coyula. That is
something he "is not willing to assume. He does not want to be the one
who goes down in history with that note in his biography."
Independent journalist Miriam Celaya recalls that "the glass of milk he
promised is still pending" and also "all the impetus he wanted to give
to the self-employment sector." She says that in the last year there has
been "a step back, a retreat, an excess of control" for the private sector.
With the death of Fidel Castro, his brother "has his hands untied to be
to total reformist that some believed he was going to be," Celaya
reflects. "In this last year he should release a little what the
Marxists call the productive forces," although she is "convinced… he
won't do it."
As for a successor, Celaya believes that the Cuban system is "very
cryptic and everything arrives in a sign language, we must be focusing
on every important public act to see who is who and who is not."
"The worst thing in the whole panorama is the uncertainty, the worst
legacy that Raul Castro leaves us is the magnification of the
uncertainty," she points out. "There is no direction, there is no
horizon, there is nothing." He will be remembered as "the man who lost
the opportunity to amend the course of the Revolution."
"He will not be seen as the man who knew, in the midst of turbulence,
how to redirect the nation," laments Manuel Cuesta Morua. Cuesta Morua,
a regime opponent, who belongs to the Democratic Action Roundtable
(MUAD) and to the citizen platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), reproaches
Raúl Castro for not having made the "political reforms that the country
needs to advance economically: he neither opens or closes [the country]
to capital and is unable to articulate another response to the autonomy
of society other than flight or repression."
Iliana Hernández, director of the independent Cuban Lens,
acknowledges that in recent years Raúl Castro has returned to Cubans
"some rights" such as "buying and selling houses, cars, increasing
private business and the right to travel." The activist believes that
this year the president should "call a free election, legalize
[multiple] parties and stop repressing the population."
As for the opposition, Hernandez believes that he is "doing things that
were not done before and were unthinkable to do."
Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello is very critical of Raul Castro's
management and says she did not even fulfill his promise of ending the
dual currency system. "He spoke of a new Constitution, a new economic
system, which aren't even mentioned in the Party Guidelines," he says.
"To try to make up for the bad they've done, in the first place he
should release all those who are imprisoned simply for thinking
differently under different types of sanctions," reflects Roque
Cabello. She also suggests that he sit down and talk to the opposition
so that it can tell him "how to run the country's economy, which is
Although she sees differences between Fidel's and Raul Castro's styles
of government, "he is as dictator like his brother," she said. The
dissident, convicted during the Black Spring of 2003, does not consider
Diaz-Canel as the successor. "He is a person who has been used, I do not
think he's the relief," and points to Alejandro Castro Espín or Raul
Castro's former son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, as
This newspaper tried to contact people close to the ruling party to
obtain their opinion about Raúl Castro's legacy, his succession and the
challenges he faces for the future, but all refused to respond. Rafael
Hernández, director of the magazine Temas, told the Diario de las
Américas in an interview: "There must be a renewal that includes all
those who have spent time like that [10 years]." However, not all
members of the Council of State have been there 10 years, not even all
the ministers have been there 10 years."
This is the most that the supporters of the Government dare to say.
Source: The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro's Departure From Power /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-countdown-begins-for-raul-castros-departure-from-power-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Luis Cino Alvarez
Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 9 February 2017 — Try as I might—to
avoid being a bore and accused of holding a grudge against the boy—I
cannot leave Harold Cárdenas, the ineffable blogger at La Joven Cuba, in
peace, I just can't. And the fault is his own, because the narrative he
makes out of his adventures defending his beloved Castro regime, and his
loyal candor, strikes one as a kind of masochism worse than that of
Anastasia Steele, the yielding girl in Fifty Shades of Grey.
In a post on 19 January, Harold Cardenas complained of the terrible
limbo, for a communist, in which he finds himself (not to mention that
it would be the envy of many militants who accepted the red card because
they had no other option): Harold, being past the requisite age, was
removed from the Union of Young Communists (UJC), but he is not accepted
into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) because, they explain, he is
still too young.
His situation reminds me of a 1976 song by the British rock band Jethro
Tull (which Harold probably doesn't know, because of his age, and
because I can't imagine him listening to any music other than that of
Silvio, Buena Fe and Calle 13). The song tells the story of the
disconsolate and hairy motorcyclist and failed suicide, Ray, who was
"too old to rock and roll, too young to die."
Harold Cárdenas rightly intuits, given the entrenchment recently being
displayed by the regime, that he has been given the boot—or the bat, as
his contemporaries say—from both organizations because of his
publications "in other media." And so he knocks himself out with
explanations, challenges his punishers to find one counterrevolutionary
line in his writings, "but without taking a line or a post out of its
context—conducting a serious search through the totality of the content."
As if these guys needed to go to so much trouble to suspect someone and
consider him an enemy!
The blogger, with his foolish sincerity and wild innocence (Ay, Julio
Iglesias!) has annoyed the stony big shots and their subordinate
"hard-core" little shots—always so unsympathetic towards those who, even
while remaining within the Revolution, dare to think with their own
heads and give too many opinions. This is why they consider him
undisciplined, hypercritical, and irresponsible, why they don't want him
in the UJC nor the PCC.
Overall, he came out all right, because in other times, not too long
ago, who knows what the punishment might have been…
Harold Cárdenas, with his faith intact through it all, assures us that
he does not have a single complaint about the Party, although, as he
says, it hurts him "how some dogmatists detract from the collective
intelligence of the organization."
As far as Harold is concerned, his punishers do not answer to an
official policy, but rather are dogmatic extremists who think themselves
more leftist than Stalin. He warns: "We must take care not to confuse
sectarian procedures with State or Party politics, even if they try to
disguise themselves as such. The individuals who apply them, although
they might try to justify their actions as being taken in the name of
the Revolution or some institution, are doing it for themselves. They
are trying to preserve the status quo of the known, motivated by fear,
ignorance or other interests."
Harold Cárdenas, who seems to believe himself the reincarnation of Julio
Antonio Mella (who, by the way, seems to have been assassinated by order
of his comrades and not the dictator Machado, due to his Trotskyite
connections) believes that what is happening is a "tactical struggle
among revolutionary sectors" of which he has been a victim. But he does
not despair. With the patience of a red Job, having been warned that "it
is very difficult to fight for a better society outside of the movement
that must lead the construction," Cárdenas says that he will join the
Party when he will not have to "subordinate the political struggle to a
vertical discipline… when they give me a way, there will be a will."
And one, faced with such resigned masochism, does not know whether to
pity Harold in his wait for the blessed little red card, or give him up
as incorrigible, and let him continue to self-flagellate. May Lenin Be
Author's email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Too Young for the Party and Too Old for the Communist Youth /
Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez – Translating Cuba -
https://translatingcuba.com/too-young-for-the-party-and-too-old-for-the-communist-youth-cubanet-luis-cino-alvarez/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or
family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered
by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers
who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their
rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform
opened its services in Cuba.
"There is nothing like Airbnb," said Jorge Ignacio Guillén, a student of
economics who rents out a house in the town of Soroa, Artemisa.
Surrounded by lush vegetation, orchids and birds native to the area, the
accommodation is described as "rustic" and in direct contact with nature.
The young man helps his family manage the home's profile on the
California website specializing in vacation rentals. Guillén signed up a
year ago and his family's house is now is one of the more than 4,000
rental options that Airbnb claims exist on the island.
Airbnb listings in Cuba range from exclusive mansions with pool that can
cost up to $1,000 a night depending on the number of rooms, to single
rooms with a bed or bunk for about 10 dollars
The San Francisco-based company, created nine years ago, expanded its
services to Cuba in April 2015, just months after the announcement of
the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.
The offerings on the island range from the most luxurious to the
simplest. From exclusive mansions with pools that can cost up to $1,000
a night depending on the number of rooms, to single rooms with a bed or
bunk for about 10 dollars*. Hot running water, coffee upon awakening or
a minibar are some of the options to choose from.
Of the more than 535,000 self-employed workers in the country at the end
of 2016, at least 34,000 dedicate themselves to renting homes, rooms and
spaces. An unknown number offer a house or a room "under the table,"
without a state license and without paying taxes.
On the island, entrepreneurs need to obtain a rental license, in
accordance with the regulations on self-employment implemented in the
mid-1990s. Owners of registered rentals must pay license fees and taxes
deducted from personal income. These vary depending on the location of
the property, the square footage allocated to the rental, and the
Airbnb registration is simple. The first step is to fill out a detailed
form about the accommodation you are offering and the guests you wish to
host. Within a few minutes you will receive an email welcoming you to
the platform. The last step is to attract customers, who will rate the
accommodation through the company's website.
The Guillén family has wanted to do everything legally to be able to
take advantage of the growth in tourism. Last year, the number of
foreign visitors reached 4 million, 6% more than the 3.7 million
visitors initially forecast, according to the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).
Most of the rooms offered on Airbnb are located in Havana, but other
destinations such as Trinidad, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas
are gaining prominence. The Cuban market stands out as the fastest
growing in the history of the company.
Guillén learned about the service through a friend outside the island
and as soon as he had the opportunity to connect to the internet he
posted his advertisement. "From then to now business improved a great
deal and we are finding a lot more customers," he tells 14ymedio. Also,
the new customers "are much better, more serious and more respectful,"
and "they pay more," he summarizes.
The family is offering "a simple country house," and puts its guests in
touch with a guide service and horseback riding. After the reservation,
all the information is shared via email, the most fragile part of the
operation due to the low connectivity to the internet still experienced
Rebeca Monzó, a craftswoman and blogger who has a room for rent on
Airbnb, complains of the difficulties involved in managing the service
without internet access. Although an email account on the government
Nauta service has alleviated the problem, responding immediately when
she receives a reservation message is complicated.
Monzó, who has made clear her preference for "stable, professional and
retired couples," will receive her first customer in February, "a
Mexican filmmaker who is coming with his wife." For this coming March
she already has another confirmed reservation.
The increase in the number of days of occupation per year is one of the
advantages for local entrepreneurs who have joined Airbnb. Guillen
confesses that although he still has "much to learn about the management
of the platform," he does manage, through it, to "maintain a good number
After the difficulties of eight years of construction to get their
property ready in Soroa, a beautiful natural area, the young man's
family is reaping the fruits of their labors. However, they recognize
that the most difficult thing continues to be "always having on hand the
necessary supplies to meet basic needs," because "there still is no
wholesale market in the country."
In Monzó's Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, "almost everyone who
rents to tourists has signed up for the service. The customer pays from
their own country directly to Airbnb," and then "they send an Airbnb
representative to the house who brings the money in cash," she says. It
is the same formula frequently used by Cubans abroad to send remittances
to family on the island.
But for Monzó, the business is far from a source of great profits. "When
I signed up, I wasn't thinking about being able to buy a yacht. I was
just thinking I'd like to have a well-stocked refrigerator."
*Translator's note: Looking at the listings on Airbnb's site as of
today, single room rental rates (two guests) appear to be concentrated
in the range of about $25-$35 (with many that are more and less than
that). A professional employed by the state in Cuba earns roughly $40 a
month; physicians earn roughly $60 a month.
Source: Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/airbnb-the-cuban-experience-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 1 February 2017 — The Union of Young Communists (UJC)
has joined the national blogosphere, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde
(Rebel Youth) reported on Wednesday. The Young Cuban arrives ten years
behind the world of blogs, that the opposition, independent journalism
and civic activism have successfully developed over the last decade.
The managers of the new digital site seek to turn it into "another
alternative" so that young Cuban internauts can participate in a
"scenario of debates and displays of opinions," according to the
official media. It is hosted on the free WordPress platform and is
defined as "a blog of the vanguard Cuban youth."
Asael Alonso Tirado, an official of the UJC National Committee,
clarified that the space is committed to "a fresh language that is
consistent with the codes of youth," and "stipped of all formalism."
However, he said that in the debates there should be first "respect for
and defense of the best values of the Revolution."
The official is optimistic and says that the space has 31,500 followers
and in "less than five days has achieved almost 1,000 visit, mainly from
Cuba, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile,
Namibia and Angola."
Nevertheless, the UJC's blog lands in a tangled jungle of digital spaces
that gain presence on the Island in spite of the low rate of
connectivity to the internet. Most young people consume content that
they acquire through informal distribution networks.
The Cuban Youth blog joins the most important official services and
social networks. Prominent among them is Ecured, which attempts to rival
the volunteer led Wikipedia; Reflections, similar to blog hosting
services like Blogger; The Washing Line, which tries to compete with
Facebook; and Backpack, a substitute for the informal but ubiquitous
None of these copies has achieved the popularity of the originals, so we
will have to wait to see if the new UJC blog is able to overcome the
indifference of users to official initiatives and mass organizations.
Source: Cuba's Young Communist Union Comes Late To The National
Blogosphere / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubas-young-communist-union-comes-late-to-the-national-blogosphere-14ymedio/ Continue reading
La Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC) se ha sumado a la blogósfera nacional, según informa este miércoles el diario Juventud Rebelde. El joven cubano llega con diez años de retraso al mundo de los blogs, que la oposición, el periodismo independiente y el activismo cívico han desarrollado con éxito en los últimos diez años.
Los gestores del nuevo sitio digital buscan convertirlo en "otra alternativa" para que los internautas participen en un "escenario de debates y exposiciones de criterios", asegura el medio oficial. Está alojado en la plataforma gratuita de Wordpress y se define como "un blog de la vanguardia juvenil cubana".
Asael Alonso Tirado, funcionario del Comité Nacional de la UJC, aclaró que el espacio apuesta por "un lenguaje fresco y acorde a los códigos juveniles" y "despojado de todo formalismo". No obstante, aclaró que en los debates debe primar "el respeto y la defensa de los mejores valores de la Revolución".
El funcionario se muestra optimista y asegura que el espacio cuenta con 31.500 seguidores y ha logrado "en menos de cinco días casi 1.000 visitas, principalmente desde Cuba, Estados Unidos, Brasil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Namibia y Angola".
[[QUOTE:El Joven cubano se inserta en una tendencia oficial de competir con los más importantes servicios y redes sociales de internet]]Sin embargo, el blog de la UJC aterriza en una enmarañada jungla de espacios digitales que ganan presencia en la Isla a pesar de la baja conectividad a la red de redes. La mayoría de los jóvenes consume contenido que obtiene a través de la redes informales de distribución.
El Joven cubano se inserta en una tendencia oficial de competir con los más importantes servicios y redes sociales de internet. Entre ellos destaca Ecured, que busca rivalizar con la enciclopedia participativa Wikipedia; Reflejos, similar a servicios de alojamiento de bitácoras como Blogger; La Tendedera, que intenta competir con Facebook, y el sustituto del paquete ilegal de audiovisuales, apodado la mochila.
Ninguna de esas copias ha logrado la popularidad de sus originales, por lo que habrá que esperar para comprobar si el nuevo blog de la UJC supera la indiferencia de los usuarios ante las iniciativas oficiales y de las organizaciones de masas.Continue reading
Updated December 19, 2016 11:34 AM
By Alvaro Vargas Llosa, InsideSources.com
One would think there is no doubt in anybody's mind about Fidel Castro's
horrific legacy. And yet we have heard important leaders say some
What is Castro's real political legacy? The last free election in Cuba
was in 1948; Fidel Castro turned the island into a more ruthless police
state than the one he inherited from the Batista regime. The guerrillas
he exported to Latin America gave rise to savage right-wing military
dictatorships in the 1970s. Today no country in Latin America, with the
pathetic exception of Venezuela, models itself on Cuba. The few
left-wing populists who were allies of Cuba have been defeated at the
polls (Argentina), constitutionally removed from power (Brazil), or
forced to give up their hopes of another unconstitutional re-election
(Ecuador, Bolivia), while Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega has metamorphosed
into a right-wing despot.
Soon after he took over from Fidel (first on an interim basis, then
formally), Raul Castro, who would like to copy the Vietnamese formula
(state capitalism and one-party rule), began to renounce some basic
tenets of Cuba's socialist economic model. He did not go far, but some
of his measures — those relaxing the draconian emigration rules,
allowing small businesses to operate privately, and re-establishing
diplomatic relations with the United States without the precondition of
lifting the embargo — have a counterrevolutionary whiff.
What about Fidel Castro's economic legacy? The respected Cuban economist
Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that the Soviet subsidy amounted to $65
billion over a 30-year period and that Venezuela's largesse toward the
island amounted to $10 billion annually during the reign of Hugo Chavez.
(It continues in diminished form under Nicolas Maduro.)
Castro wanted to turn Cuba into an agricultural powerhouse, but today it
imports more than 70 percent of its food, and the sugar harvest, which
reached 8 million tons a long time ago, has been reduced to about 1.4
million tons. The small industrial activity that still exists is half of
what it was at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Economics
professor and blogger Tyler Cowen thinks the country's per capita income
is below $2,000.
What now? Raul Castro announced in 2013 that he will relinquish power in
2018 and seemed to suggest he would be succeeded by Miguel Diaz Canelo,
an electrical engineer. Raul will relinquish the presidency of the
Council of State and the Council of Ministers, but real power rests in
the military and the Communist Party, where he will continue to call the
shots. His son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez, is the head of GAESA, the
holding company of the armed forces, which directly controls half of
Cuba's economy. This is the body you must partner with if you want to
invest in tourism, retail, infrastructure projects, etc.
Not to speak of the third Castro generation, already positioned for
important things. A son of Raul Castro, Alejandro, is a colonel in the
Ministry of the Interior and the head of counterintelligence.
At the age of 85, Raul will not be around to make decisions much longer.
But anyone who thinks this is the beginning of a meaningful political
transition is sorely mistaken. Fidel's brother believes in combining
limited market reforms with one-party rule — the "Vietnamization" of the
Cuban model. He may not be Fidel, but he commands enough authority to
make sure nothing funny happens under his watch.
What is much less clear is what will happen after Raul Castro is gone.
No apparatchik wields enough power to ensure the perpetuity of the
system. Although civil society is too weak at this time to rebel against
one-party rule, the cracks that might open within the structure of the
state could unleash forces of the kind we saw in Eastern Europe both
inside and outside of the Communist Party.
But that will not happen anytime soon.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and
author of "Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of
State Oppression" and "The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty."
Source: What's next for Cuba? | Newsday -
http://www.newsday.com/opinion/commentary/what-s-next-for-cuba-1.12777777 Continue reading
Two offerings coincide with strongman's death.
Glenn Garvin | December 3, 2016
HBO should get a little trophy from the television industry for giving
executives something to talk about at holiday parties besides falling
ratings and the specific level of Hell that should be reserved for
whoever invented this internet thing. Instead, they can ponder over the
question: Is HBO's documentary division the most genius outfit in
television, or just the luckiest? Months ago, HBO acquired two
unheralded documentaries on Cuba, then booked them for the very moment
when Fidel Castro would head off to the great workers' collective in the
sky. Water-cooler buzz galore, Latin American Policy Wonk Department.
And if that department had an Emmy, Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or
Death would win it right now. First-time director Olatz López Garmendia
is better known as a model and a fashion designer, but she must have had
a career in operating heavy construction equipment, too, because Patria
O Muerte takes a merciless wrecking ball to the Potemkin Village imagery
of Cuba promoted by most of the American chattering class. The
desolation and despair of Castro's Revolution—its actually existing
socialism, as Marxist theoreticians of the 1950s would have called
it—has never been on such devastating display for American audiences.
Garmendia lived in Cuba as a child, when her Spaniard parents joined the
flocks of European Fidel groupies moving to Havana to stand by their
man, but she clearly didn't swallow the Kool-Aid; Patria O Muerte is not
her first demythology project on Cuba.
She also informed the sensibilities of her then-husband, Julian
Schnabel, when he was making his epic anti-Castro movie Before Night
Falls. (Garmendia worked on the film as music supervisor.) She made
Patria O Muerte as something of a samizdat work; the film was shot
without Cuban authorization, and she had a devil of a time getting the
footage off the island.
Without narration and little archival footage, Patria O Muerte makes its
points through a series of interviews of ordinary Cubans, filmed in
their seedy tenement apartments in Old Havana. The stories they tell,
with only occasional exceptions, are not of lurid torture or
persecution, but of the quiet desperation of life in a dead-end society
weighed down by decay of every type: economic, physical, mental.
There's a cadaverous old man named Julio who bluntly declares his life
useless and is clearly talking about more than his grubby apartment when
he responds to a question: "What am I missing? Everything." Or Valery, a
goth transvestite who took to the streets as a jinatera, as the island's
part-time hookers are known, after the remittances from a sister in the
United States dried up and she found herself without enough money to buy
a new toothbrush. That career ended, though, one night after she was
lectured by a tourist whose appreciation for cheap commercial sex had
not diminished his more-revolutionary-than-thou ardor for the Castro
regime. He told her that "Cubans were shameless, that Cubans said they
had problems, when there weren't any problems in Cuba." Retorted Valery:
"If that's true, then what am I doing here with you for $20?" She left
the streets, fearful that she was "about to kill [herself], or kill one
of these foreigners."
Or Mercedes, a housewife living in a tottering building built in the
1870s in which she must sleep with one eye open to avoid being hit by
chunks of falling masonry. Her young son, injured in a balcony collapse,
needs surgery, but building repairs make it impossible: "If we buy
cement, then we can't buy food or medicine." An aphorism which, oddly,
didn't make it into Sicko, Michael Moore's encomium to the Cuban
Garmendia shot some interviews with dissidents, too, including rogue
blogger Yoani Sanchez, whose contribution of an audio tape of her 2010
detention by men without uniforms or credentials is by far the most
chilling moment in the film. Unfortunately, her cameras weren't along
when one of her subjects, graffiti artist El Sexto, was arrested when
found in possession of a couple of pigs painted with the names Fidel and
Patria O Muerte's companion piece, Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT
Revolution, is a far better film than I would have guessed, given it's a
project of longtime Castro apologists Saul Landau and Jon Alpert. But it
has to be given credit as the first English-language documentary to
discuss, however briefly, the regime's brutally harsh treatment of
homosexuality during the 1960s and 1970s.
There was no shortage of official homophobia around the globe at that
time, of course, particularly in the machista world of Latin America.
But few counties took it to the extremes of Cuba, where gays were locked
up in work camps for years at a time.
"Look at me here, with bright shiny eyes," says one elderly gay man,
brandishing what looks like an old graduation photo. Then he opens the
internal passport the government issued him after two years in a work
camp: "The camp changed that for the rest of my life. ... My eyes are
vacant and sad." They would become sadder still; the passport was marked
with his sentence to the work camp, Castro's equivalent of a pink
triangle that doomed any social or professional prospects.
But that rare and valuable look at a largely unseen side of Cuban
history is over in a few short minutes. The rest of Mariela Castro's
March is about the budding movement for gay acceptance being led by the
daughter of Raul Castro. It has its oddly charming moments, including an
interview in which Cuba's first female-to-male transgender surgery
patient displays his bulging new package, which he's named Pancho, and
proclaims: "Pancho works perfectly!" Grumbles his elderly brother: "I'm
Yet too much of this documentary is suffused with the cult of
personality that colors everything about the Castros. And there's no
awareness—on the part of the filmmakers or the movement activists,
though the latter may simply be exercising reasonable prudence—of the
irony of seeking liberty in one small sphere of Cuban life while
ignoring the crushing totalitarianism of everything else. "I can shout
that I'm gay and nothing happens!" boasts one giddy man. Yeah, but
trying painting "RAUL" on a pig's butt and see what happens.
Photo Credit: 'Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death'
Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own
Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a
Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about
television for the Miami Herald.
Source: HBO Documentaries Illuminate Castro's Brutal Cuba - Reason.com -
http://reason.com/archives/2016/12/03/hbo-documentaries--castros-cuba Continue reading
How the internationally renowned dissident artist turned a performance
piece into a fight for freedom of expression.
by Carlos Manuel Alvarez
Carlos Manuel Alvarez is a Cuban journalist.
Havana, Cuba - It is December 17, 2014 and the Cuban artist Tania
Bruguera is at Pope Francis' weekly public mass at the Vatican.
As a political artist, Bruguera has developed one of the most powerful
bodies of work in installation and performance art in Latin America. She
has come to Rome to present the pope with elements from her campaign,
Dignity has no Nationality. It is part of her new project - a public
political platform called the International Immigrants' Movement.
On the train to Venice, where she'll be participating in a performance
art festival, Bruguera gets the news: after more than a year of secret
negotiations, Cuba and the United States have announced the restoration
of diplomatic relations.
"I became very anxious … fearful, hopeful, all at once," she says. "An
event like this marks a separation between the present and the past. You
wonder, what's to be done now?"
She continues: "In a way, something like this means everyone has a new
role, as if the parts are being reshuffled; the old metaphors suddenly
acquiring new meaning. Everything becomes re-contextualised."
Two days later, she publishes an open letter to Raul Castro on Facebook.
It is the first action of Yo Tambien Exijo (YTE), which means I Also
Demand, a civic platform made up of a group of friends and colleagues,
with Bruguera as its main spokeswoman.
"I found it suspicious that the government would try to sell an image to
the world that portrayed everyone in Cuba as being happy with the
agreement with the US. The government has always felt entitled to the
feelings of its citizens, and thus acted as Cubans' only legitimate
spokesperson. In my interpretation, people weren't happy. People were
shocked. They felt a certain hope, a hope that they hadn't felt for
years, the hope that something might change. But that's not the same as
happiness...," Bruguera says.
"Cuba's president simply informs us. He dictates new resolutions without
us knowing what sort of external pressures or intentions lie behind
them. That's because in Cuba, there is no institutional transparency.
"A president should navigate with its people through a political process
like this, because it is also an emotional one. I find it as much an act
of violence to say something can't be done as to say now everyone is
obliged to do it."
Bruguera announces on social media that she intends to restage her
performance on free speech, Tatlin's Whisper.
In the piece, which was last performed in Havana at the 2009
Biennial, participants are given a microphone and one minute to speak
about anything they choose.
In a country where many believe the only microphone belongs to the
state, the 2009 performance was an unprecedented event where even
dissidents had a platform.
This time, however, Bruguera says she wants to bring the performance to
a public space, preferably Plaza de la Revolucion or Revolution Square -
the government's symbolic bastion.
Revolution Square or 'Censorship Square'?
But it soon becomes evident that Bruguera's proposal isn't welcomed by
Various government-run blogs, magazines and online newspapers begin
to portray her as a peon serving those pushing for the US annexation of
Cuba or as attempting to destabilise the government.
Raul Capote, a former state security agent turned blogger, writes (link
in Spanish): "They're not interested in peace or freedom of expression,
but in sparking confrontation, provoking confusion and instability, at a
time when the fascist right in Miami is shaking before the end of its
hegemony of terror."
Her attempt at political intervention is framed as an act of political
When Bruguera arrives at Havana airport on December 26 she is met by the
political police who start filming her. Her every step is scrutinised.
In such moments, one lives in the present, Bruguera says.
"You enter this state, this state in which you are very much alert,
trying to understand the semantic consequences of your actions, and how
they are interpreted," she says. "You are trying to keep them from
sequestering your own story."
A symptom, which will dictate the events to come, begins to emerge.
Pablo Helguera, the director of adult academic programmes at New York's
Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, describes it on Facebook (link in
Spanish): "It is impossible to think of a relevant artistic action in
the second decade of the 21st century that hasn't been mediatised - or
in which such mediatisation isn't part of the work itself.
"Tania's work is precisely that - a campaign - and whatever occurs or
doesn't occur within it is part of the work. It's no surprise that the
government stumbled into it like one stumbles into a black hole."
Others criticise Bruguera, saying she has allowed political dissident
groups to usurp her performance.
Bruguera says that both government and dissident forces seized upon her
work at some point, mostly without really understanding it, after
discovering an element worth exploiting for their own political goals.
But, she tells herself, she has worked with dissidents and activists in
Europe and the United States who have used her work for various ends, so
why not let those in her own country do so?
Over the next few days, a struggle ensues between Bruguera and Cuba's
She visits the Havana police and the national police to ask about the
permits she needs for her performance. But no one knows the answer; a
regulatory limbo is imposed.
She has two meetings with Ruben del Valle, the president of the National
Council of Plastic Arts (CNAP), who suggests alternative venues, like
the National Museum of Fine Arts. For Bruguera, Revolution Square is
vital to the performance, but she nevertheless accepts del Valle's
alternative and agrees to a reduced performance of 90 minutes.
But before they finalise a deal, del Valle says the museum must choose
the show's participants.
For Bruguera, this amounts to killing the performance.
She decides that the performance belongs in Revolution Square.
Revolution Square has become Censorship Square, she argues.
A first act of political rebellion
Forty-eight-year-old Bruguera grew up in the upmarket Havana
neighbourhood of El Vedado. Her father, Miguel Brugueras, was an
underground militant during the Batista dictatorship and became a
diplomat after 1959. He was a trusted ally of the revolution's senior
Miguel Brugueras' family never knew what he did on his trips abroad.
According to Bruguera, he rarely spoke. At 18, in reaction to her
father, Bruguera dropped the last letter of her surname and along with
it lost any possible inheritance, either material or symbolic. It was
her first act of political rebellion.
Between 1980 and 1983, she studied at the Elementary School of Plastic
Arts in Havana and later attended the San Alejandro Fine Arts
School, where she was a student until 1987. In 1992 she graduated with a
degree in painting from Cuba's prestigious arts university,
the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA).
It was a time of upheaval in Cuban art.
As Cuban essayist and intellectual Rafael Rojas argues (link in
Spanish), "Between the 80s and 90s, a generation of plastic artists
carried out a renovation of Cuba's cultural life. This was a generation
that, while pertaining to the Soviet bloc, was aware of the most
groundbreaking movements taking place in Western art, and attempted to
assimilate and adapt them into the Cuban context. Among the most
emblematic artists in that transition was Tania Bruguera."
Over the next two decades, Bruguera would maintain an influential
presence in Cuba, mostly as a teacher at the ISA through her renowned
Behaviour Art programme, which she established in 2002.
She simultaneously built a powerful international career. She has dealt
with subjects such as migrants' rights, the use and proliferation of
weapons, drugs in Colombia and violence on the Mexican border. She
taught at the University of Chicago, as well as at the National School
of Fine Arts in Paris, and won distinctions like the Guggenheim
Fellowship (1998) and the Prince Claus Award (2008).
But around Christmas of 2014, things began to crumble.
"It was the first time Tania was doing a specifically political project
in direct reference to Cuba," Clara Astiasaran, an art critic, curator
and YTE member, explains.
"Her work has always been political, but this time she was directly
addressing the nation's president regarding a foreign policy decision
that was key to Cuba's nation-building efforts over the past 60 years -
the idea of anti-imperialism."
On the evening of December 29, Bruguera feels scared for the first time.
She goes for a walk, feeling confused. The performance has been
announced for 3pm the next day, but friends have warned her that she
won't be allowed to attend.
She contemplates her options: she could sleep at someone else's house,
dress up as a homeless person and show up unannounced at the square,
or she could wander around town until the show starts.
Instead, she walks to her mother's house in Vedado and starts making
phone calls, inviting artists and friends, trying her best to make the
situation appear as ordinary as possible.
The next morning at 5.30am there's a knock on the door.
From her balcony, Bruguera can see the political police surround her
building. Certain of what's about to happen, she sits down with her
mother and 94-year-old aunt and asks them to stay calm, no matter what.
It's not until noon - after picturing the reaction at Revolution
Square when people realise that she's not there and fearing a breakout
of violence - that Bruguera takes off her glasses and jewellery and
opens the door.
She doesn't see anyone so she calls out and a couple of officers appear.
Bruguera has already tried contacting her sister in Italy to ask her to
announce the performance's cancellation, but ETECSA, the state-run
telecommunications company, has cut off her landline and mobile phone.
She is charged with incitement to break the law, inciting public unrest
and resisting the authorities, which is later dropped when it becomes
apparent that she never resisted. Her Cuban passport is confiscated.
Bruguera is driven to the first of more than 30 interrogations she will
be subjected to.
Detention and interrogation
At 3pm, a calm hangs over Revolution Square. It is hard to believe that
it is at the centre of such turbulent events.
There are some international reporters, carrying their credentials, and
a few cameras on tripods, along with the usual symbols: the statue of
Jose Marti, the silhouette sculpture of Che Guevara on the facade of the
Ministry of Interior building and of Camilo Cienfuegos on the
Communications Ministry building, the Jose Marti National Library and
the National Theatre.
There are also dozens of curious bystanders, standing in groups waiting
for Bruguera to arrive. They watch the side streets and try to divine
who among them is an undercover agent. Cars and buses drive up and down
Boyeros Avenue, just as on any other afternoon. An hour later, people
start to leave.
A few days earlier, graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as
El Sexto, had spray painted the names of Fidel and Raul on two pigs. He
was arrested as he tried to release them on to the street and sent to
As Bruguera is driven to a police station, several other activists and
well known political dissidents are arrested. Some weren't even planning
on participating in Bruguera's performance.
Earlier that day, CNAP had issued an official statement: "In light of
the circumstances, it is unacceptable to carry out the performance in
the symbolic venue of Plaza de la Revolucion, particularly given the
widespread coverage and manipulation the counterrevolutionary media have
been doing of this."
At the police station, Bruguera is given an inmate's uniform to wear.
She is locked in a cell with another woman, who, she concludes, must be
a government informant because of all the questions she asks about
"It was at that moment," Bruguera says, "I learned that injustice has a
way of manifesting itself physically and isn't just a concept. I stopped
eating, not out of courage, but because I thought what was being done to
me was unfair, and I had no other way of making that clear."
A few officers interrogate her. Some are persuasive; others just shout.
She is then handed over to a psychologist who asks questions such as:
"What kind of television shows do you watch?"
She can't tell whether this is supposed to push her to the point of
desperation or to help pass the time.
Back in her windowless cell, exhausted from so much conversation, she
tries to get some sleep. The next day she is released.
Having learned that other dissidents are still in prison, she heads to
El Maine monument, on Havana's Malecon, where she makes a public appeal
for people to return to Revolution Square. She is again detained.
This time, she has another female cellmate.
"[She] looked like an undercover informant that had been planted there
to watch me," Bruguera says.
"I didn't want to speak with anyone, and she stayed relatively quiet and
polite. We didn't talk about anything, other than her asking me whether
I was planning on eating, and me telling her, No, I'm not. At some
point, she started doing her hair and I ended up helping braid her hair
Three national security officers take turns to interrogate her: Agents
Andrea, Javier and Kenia, the lead investigator in her case. Bruguera
doesn't know whether these are their real names.
Andrea is younger and the least experienced. Javier seems more seasoned.
He knows a lot about Cuban art in the 1980s, Bruguera's career and even
tries to play mind games with her by reminding her about her father.
With Kenia, whose interrogation technique involves giving revolutionary
spiels while mixing in talk about personal things, she establishes a
more systematic interaction.
"There's something interesting about Kenia; she seems like an honest
person," Bruguera says. "I don't know whether she is truly honest.
Things are not what they appear to be during interrogations."
On New Year's Eve, Bruguera is again released.
She welcomes 2015 with a court case against her, no passport, and unable
to leave town.
"The performance turned out to be not so much what didn't happen at
Plaza de la Revolucion," wrote Helguera (link in Spanish), "but the
display of hysteria and arrogance that ensued on the part of the Cuban
authorities ... Cuba lives in a perpetual state of hysterical
manipulation, and any person - whether an artist or not - who manages to
break that balance will of course be viewed with terror and indignation."
The line between empowerment and disengagement
In one of the few instances in which a Cuban artist or critic publicly
criticised Bruguera's work, National Plastic Arts Award laureate Lazaro
Saavedra wrote in an essay(link in Spanish), "Just like with Tatlin's
Whisper, in 2009, Tania will be leaving Cuba having scored yet another
'goal' for her artistic resume and amassed thousands of anecdotes.
"She will be criticised, and also celebrated for her braveness and
rebellious spirit in social media - both real and digital - and some
curator or critic will fittingly mention her in their writings about
contemporary art, etc. When she goes, she will be leaving behind her
thousands of Cubans fighting for our civil rights, and as always there
will be hundreds or thousands abroad pushing them. He who pushes doesn't
According to him, "There is more provocation in Tania Bruguera's YTE
than success or progress in regards to civil rights beyond what's
obvious and has been said over and over: the government will not allow
open microphones or all voices to be heard."
That is precisely the point some scholars might have made without the
risk of arrest: What happens when political art works within a society
but then gets recognition outside of it? What's the line between
empowerment and disengagement?
Though many critics I spoke to disagreed with Bruguera's work, they
would not publicly debate it, partly out of concern that they might be
seen as condoning the government's actions.
Some critics say that had Bruguera carried out her performance inside a
museum she would have managed to mount a challenge to the high
bureaucrats of Cuban culture. But by taking it outside, she left culture
unchallenged and undisturbed, while her work was insubstantial from a
political standpoint, receiving scant public attention.
"As a creator," Saavedra wrote, "Tania should have found an intelligent
way to circumvent censorship and formal structures of social control and
created a temporary autonomous zone where it would be possible to 'open
microphones' and let 'all voices' be heard. But she failed, and the
voices are still waiting to be heard."
The performance continues
In early January 2015, more than 2,000 figures in the international art
scene begin demanding that Bruguera's documents be returned to her after
her third arrest in 72 hours. On January 5, Bruguera returns her
National Culture Award and renounces her membership of the national
union of writers and artists. Two weeks later, she receives a case
number: No 25 for the year 2015.
Over the next month, police interrogations and citations
follow. Bruguera has to show up at the police station in Vedado, from
where she is driven around the city to various "interrogation sites".
Some question why she always seems so willing to go and be interrogated.
"In order for it to work, the performance had to stick to the law," she
says. "Since it's dealing with the issue of tolerance, the work had to
show the control mechanisms the system has and all the legal
contradictions which exist in Cuba."
At the end of January, YTE sends a letter to Raul Castro and Maria
Esther Reus Gonzalez, the justice minister, demanding they decriminalise
free expression and remove all charges against Bruguera.
In response, Kenia, the investigator, tells Bruguera that the prosecutor
hasn't yet made a decision about her case and she will have to wait for
another 60 days.
Over the following months, the wave of international solidarity grows.
Renowned artists such as Anish Kapoor and Jeremy Deller sign an open
letter published in The Guardian.
She chronicles her experiences on social media. In one piece called The
Eyes of Power, she writes: "I have looked into the eyes of power for
four months now and throughout this time, I held my gaze, beginning a
journey into another Cuba, a Cuba that belongs to those fighting for
their right to free expression.
"Today, I'm in a Cuba that neither the tourists nor the businesspeople
calculating the risks of their investments on the island will see, nor
will the artists attending the Havana Biennial, because they will be
safely inside the bubble of the art world."
On May 20, just before the Havana Biennial opens, Bruguera begins an
open-studio performance, a 100-hour reading of Hannah Arendt's The
Origins of Totalitarianism at her home in Old Havana.
This reading is the first undertaking of the Institute of Artivism
Hannah Arendt (INSTAR), founded by Bruguera.
Although Bruguera thinks her performance has several endings and may not
yet have ended, the reading could be considered the culmination of her
work: what began as Tatlin's Whisper and has continued with everything
that has happened since, the performance she has now titled
#YoTambienExijo, also the name of the platform, YTE, which she considers
part of the work.
"I think this work was quite a success, because I was able to try out
different theories I had about political art, which I had written about,
discussed at conferences, carried out separately in one or another work,
but here managed to lay out in a very clear way," she says. "For
instance, one of the concepts that is present is what I call 'doing work
for a specific political moment'. That is, when works don't emerge out
of the artist's personal, intimate desire but rather the political
conditions where they will be developed. That was very clearly the case.
"The other thing that was at play was the investigation I have been
doing for over 20 years about the limits between art and life, the
creation of moments during which those limits force you to ask a very
fruitful question - is that art you are being exposed to?
"Finally, I was able to experiment with the concept of behavioural art
in which the work becomes complete through the reaction of the audience
- their behaviour generates new content and meaning. This means there
are no right or wrong answers to the work, just honest answers."
Astiasaran, the art critic and YTE member, believes the project was
successful at the time for two reasons. "It brought alliances from the
art world into politics," she says, "and showed the path for different
agendas to become sovereign as well as politically and ideologically
On June 29, 2015, after a lengthy bureaucratic feud, the public
prosecutor's office dictates that the case against her be
discontinued. Bruguera gets her passport back and on August 21, after
taking part in several marches with the dissident group the Ladies in
White, she flies out of Cuba.
Following months of organisation overseas through YTE, and after a
successful Kickstarter campaign raising more than $100,000, INSTAR is
formally launched on April 8, 2016.
In May, Bruguera returns to Cuba.
Her house now serves as INSTAR's headquarters.
"This time of polarised feelings, of the lack of citizens' resources to
change the course of things, calls for us to reclaim public space as a
civic space rather than a venue for propaganda where above all there is
a lack of transparency and institutional tolerance. Since the
government likes to simplify things into right or wrong, I would like to
share with others the construction of complex concepts or emotions, like
forgiveness," she says.
Translated from Spanish to English by Alvaro Guzman Bastida.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Source: Al Jazeera
Source: Tania Bruguera: Cuban artist fights for free expression - News
from Al Jazeera -
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BY JUAN O. TAMAYO AND NORA GAMEZ TORRES
There are 44 years of dissidence between Cuban human rights activist
Elizardo Sánchez and street protester Sara Martha Fonseca, four and a
half decades of peaceful opposition to a communist system that jails
people for simply "disrespecting" Fidel Castro.
In between were the Ladies in White, bloggers like Yoani Sánchez,
independent groups of journalists, librarians and lawyers, Afro-Cubans,
Catholic and Protestant and gay rights activists and everyone else
struggling for human and civil rights.
The Cuban government has branded them all as "counterrevolutionaries"
and "mercenaries" on the U.S. payroll. It has thrown thousands of them
in prison, freed them, forced them into exile abroad and then jailed
thousands more again.
Yet the dissidents not only survived but evolved into today's
many-headed, multi-cause movement that, while still relatively small and
little known inside Cuba, is bigger than ever and commands intense
attention and respect abroad.
Blogger Yoani Sánchez won an armful of international prizes. The
European Union awarded its Sakharov prize for human rights in 2010 to
Guillermo Fariñas and in 2005 to the Ladies in White, female relatives
of political prisoners.
Only a handful believe they can topple the system. But through sheer
defiance and persistence, they have carved out spaces once thought
impossible — for the Ladies in White the right to march down the streets
of Havana every Sunday, for others the possibility of uncensored access
to Sánchez's blog.
"The important thing is that as recently as 1987 there were only 10 of
us in Havana, and now there are thousands of us throughout the country,"
said Elizardo Sánchez, who has spent 44 of his 70 years as a human
rights activist — 8½ of them in prison.
A former professor of Marxist philosophy at the University of Havana, he
broke with Fidel Castro in 1967 and now heads the Cuban Commission for
Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which meticulously monitors
and tabulates government abuses.
Compare that with Fonseca, a 47-year-old high school dropout who staged
a string of stunningly daring protests in very public places, including
the Capitol building in central Havana, with the declared intent of
sparking a street disturbance.
Yet Fonseca sees no difference between the many generations of dissent.
"We have one same destiny, to oppose the government," she said. "Some do
it with human rights, some with technology, like the bloggers. My thing
is the streets, to take our message to the people and look for ways to
have the people join us."
Elizardo Sánchez acknowledges that he is the last of the founders of the
dissident movement still living in Cuba. Many others, like Gustavo
Arcos, have died. Dozens of others went into exile abroad after
suffering years of government persecution.
They were followed by more politically minded dissidents like Oswaldo
Payá, whose Varela Project collected 25,000 signatures demanding a
referendum on the communist system, and Héctor Palacios of the Liberal
Union. Payá died in 2012 in what the Cuban government says was a traffic
accident and what his family insists was a crash caused by state
security agents. His immediate family now lives in South Florida.
Other leaders have included hardliners like former Cuban air force MiG
pilot Vladimiro Roca and economist Martha Beatriz Roque; Catholic
activists like Dagoberto Valdés; and Oscar Elías Biscet, a physician who
started out alleging abuses in abortion procedures.
U.S. diplomats in Havana reported in 2009 that dissidents were "the
conscience of Cuba" and blamed many of their setbacks on penetrations by
Cuban government agents designed to fuel internal rivalries.
But the dispatch, made public by Wikileaks, went on to report that the
"traditional dissidents" were old, carried little weight on the island
and were unlikely to play a significant role in its future.
"We see very little evidence that the main-line dissident organizations
have much resonance among ordinary Cubans," it said. They also "have
little contact with younger Cubans and, to the extent they have a
message... it does not appeal to that segment."
The cable suggested U.S. policy should look more to "the younger
generation of nontraditional dissidents" like bloggers and artists
"likely to have a greater long term impact on post-Castro Cuba."
Fidel Castro tried to crush dissent once and for all in 2003, when his
security forces arrested 75 government critics across the island and his
courts sentenced them to up to 28 years in prison in a string of one and
two-day trials known as Cuba's Black Spring. All were declared
"prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International.
But just weeks later, wives, mothers and daughters of the prisoners who
had met while visiting their male relatives in jail began staging Sunday
marches down Havana streets dressed in white and carrying pink gladioli.
The Ladies in White eventually became the only opposition group usually
allowed by security forces to stage such street protests, and helped
push Raúl Castro into agreeing in mid-2010 to free the last of the 75
dissidents still in jail. Most were taken directly from prison to the
Havana airport to board flights to exile in Spain, and only 12 remain on
In his final years in power, Fidel Castro's repressive tactics shifted
from long prison sentences to short-term detentions — with the
dissidents sometimes dropped off in remote areas. Elizardo Sánchez
reported 8,899 such arbitrary short-term detentions in 2014, nearly
2,500 more than the previous year.
Dissidents also were subjected to verbal and physical harassment by
government-organized mobs and pressured to leave the island.
Yet the opposition movement continued to grow and evolve, along with the
Yoani Sánchez, who started out posting anonymously on the frustrations
of daily life, had by 2008 become the world-famous face of a digital
dissidence that included some 40 blogs, ranging from her Generación Y to
Cubanoconfesante, written by Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a dissident
Protestant pastor based in rural Taguayabón.
The new crop of bloggers — some prefer to be called "independent" or
"alternative" writers rather than "dissident" — now include a former
Cuban government counter-intelligence analyst, a lawyer, a photographer
and several gay-rights activists and university students. Their blogs
are based on servers abroad to get around the censorship, and are often
then emailed back to the island.
Trying to fight back, the government has deployed squads of
pro-revolution bloggers, most of them state employees, and created
Internet sites especially designed to engage in a "cyberwar" against the
Sánchez pushed on, founding a blogger's academy and opening a Twitter
account that almost immediately alerts to arrests and other government
abuses. Most recently, she launched a digital news site called 14ymedio.
In the latest evolution of the dissidence, Fonseca and other women set
out to stage protests in public places with the stated hope of getting
people to join them and sparking a street disturbance.
The strategy of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the largest and
most active dissident group on the island, especially in eastern Cuba,
is even more ambitious. Its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, one of the 75
arrested in 2003, has insisted on the opposition movement's "need to
coordinate more and more actions across the country" and work "with the
people, person by person" in order to reinvent itself.
"When we persist in maintaining the old paradigms and these demonstrate
patriotism, heroism, sacrifice, but do not attract the population, we
must modernize our strategies," Ferrer told El Nuevo Herald. With that
goal, UNPACU has developed one of the most effective media strategies
within the opposition movement by providing a steady stream of news,
videos and other content on the Internet.
Palacios, another of the so-called "75," said that the greatest
challenge facing the opposition is to establish a strong bond with the
Cuban people, "who are the only ones who can change the situation on the
island. Until the population has faith in the opposition movement and we
educate ourselves to prepare for change, it will not happen."
Said Ferrer: "Nobody will get on a boat they are told will sink 15 miles
offshore. It's the same with the Cuban people: They are eager to take
part in an expedition toward freedom and democracy but they want to make
sure they are on a sturdy ship, in this case the opposition movement,
and they want to see good captains on the bridge who know how to navigate."
Even Fonseca, the feisty protestor, acknowledged that the government's
repressive tactics could force her to reach for exile abroad — a safety
valve that has helped keep the dissident movement relatively small and
isolated over the past five decades.
"I have two roads ahead, and I know them very well," she said in 2011.
"On one road I would go to prison, and I would not come out alive. I
know that would end my life. The other is to leave. It's not what I
want. But it is one road."
Fonseca indeed went into exile in the United States on Jan. 7, 2014. She
now lives with her family in New Jersey.
Elizardo Sánchez, first arrested in 1972 on charges of "expressing
criticism of Comandante Fidel Castro," said he accepts that the road
ahead for dissidents appears to be long and hard.
Sánchez himself suffered a blow to his reputation in 2003 following the
release of a video showing a state security officer giving him a medal.
Sánchez denied the accusation and said he was set up, but dissidents
have long had to contend with infiltrations by state security agents to
promote internal conflict. Likewise, those linked to funds funneled by
the United States to pro-democracy programs in Cuba have had to fend off
accusations of being U.S. mercenaries.
Antonio Rodiles, a human rights activist who has led a demand for the
government to ratify several United Nations covenants, said that trying
to propel change without outside financial assistance is nearly
impossible because the Cuban government prevents dissidents from
generating "their own resources, especially to pay for a project that
could challenge the existing power. All that is coldly calculated. To
say that a Cuban can generate the necessary resources internally to
contribute to a regime change is totally absurd."
Rodiles also warned that dissident groups should be more selective with
their members: "The opposition movement in Cuba must have a clear
profile of the people it wants within so that it can really gain
prestige within Cuban society. Otherwise, the government will use that
to try to denigrate the opposition movement."
"The role of the dissidence has always been to present an alternative to
the totalitarian system," said Elizardo Sánchez. "So the best we can do
is to do our work, and allow the younger people to perform the role that
falls to them.
"Society will generate its next leaders," he said, adding a reference to
the Polish labor leader who helped end the communist rule of his nation.
"The Lech Walesas of Cuba are in the future."
Miami Herald staff writer Nancy San Martin contributed to this report.
Source: Prison, death, exile: Outcomes of peaceful opposition to Fidel
Castro's communist Cuba | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117201468.html Continue reading
October 27, 2016
Havana (AFP) - Abraham, Elaine and Jose are under 30, and they've pulled
off the unthinkable in Cuba -- they are producing online news, prying
open the state's half-century grip on the media.
The Castro government created a crack in the Cuban media wall, allowing
this small revolution, when it opened up internet access to the public
What followed was a progressive rollout of 200 Wi-Fi hotspots across the
Caribbean island of 11.2 million people.
Access is limited. Few Cubans can afford the sky-high connections fees
of $2 per hour and the government only rarely authorizes an internet
connection at home.
Still, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists counts about 3,000
blogs and portals dedicated to Cuba that are published on the island or
by Cubans living abroad.
Sites like The Sneeze (El estornudo), Neighborhood Journalism
(Periodismo de Barrio), El Toque and the most well-known, OnCuba, are
key voices in this flourishing cyber-media field.
Some of the journalists were educated at the University of Havana's
communications school, the traditional launch pad for careers at state
media and the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
"We all came from classes at the University of Havana, and we were kind
of left homeless, in the sense that for us, the state press isn't an
option," Abraham Jimenez, the 27-year-old who heads The Sneeze, told AFP.
Jimenez and his colleagues launched the portal in March. Like other
independent media, they chase a variety of funding sources, including
selling what they can to survive month-to-month.
"Internet access is very expensive, we don't have an office or
anything," Jimenez explained, saying that articles and photos are sent
by email abroad to be put online.
"Without state economic support, we must look for other ways to manage
finances," said Elaine Diaz, 30, director of Neighborhood Journalism.
"Some turn to paid advertising, or payment for content or a service, or
partnerships with other media or nonprofit organizations, or a
cooperative financing group," she said.
At times, like at The Sneeze, it takes another job to survive -- the
price of realizing the dream of being an independent journalist in Cuba.
- 'Honest' journalism -
With sleek homepages, full-screen photos, polished writing and reporting
that tends toward features rather than hard news, the publications for
the most part are trying to depict the reality of Cubans' everyday lives.
But unlike others, such as 14yMedio launched in 2014 by
journalist-dissident Yoani Sanchez, or independent portals published in
Spain, like Cuba Daily, or in Miami, Cubanet and CiberCuba, these new
media eschew confrontation with the authorities.
We present "very honest viewpoints, stemming from life experiences, and
we don't want to respond to the combative visions of extremists," said
Jose Nieves, 28, the editorial coordinator of El Toque.
The authorities, who block access to the main dissident portals,
tolerate these new sites. But the first rumble of a counteroffensive is
being detected in the state media and on social networks.
In Granma, official blogger Iroel Sanchez recently condemned
"journalistic bias, marked by superficiality, lack of context and
inaccuracy, which serves the media war and those who hope to dismantle
socialism in our country."
But the state's messages can be more direct, like the September firing
of a reporter for radio Sagua la Grande who collaborated with
independent media, or the one-day arrest of Diaz, the head of
She was arrested in early October because she lacked an official permit
to cover the damage from Hurricane Matthew in the far west of the island.
The law only recognizes state media and accredited foreign journalists,
and the online media operate in a legal limbo.
For now, the new media outlets present no real threat to the Communist
authorities, whether by their tone or their audience.
In Cuba, only a tiny fraction of the population goes online regularly.
And, reading the independent press generally is not a priority.
"I'm probably the only crazy one connecting by WiFi to send an article
or read the press," said The Sneeze's Jimenez.
"Everyone would rather talk to their mother who left (Cuba), with their
brother, or look for a tennis partner," he joked.
Source: In Cuba, online media pry open state grip on news -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cuba-online-media-pry-open-state-grip-news-020224243.html Continue reading
Published September 14, 2016 Associated Press
HAVANA – Guillermo "Coco" Farinas became one of Cuba's best-known
dissidents by starving himself — launching two dozen hunger strikes
demanding government concessions on human rights.
He started his 25th strike in late July with the demand that President
Raul Castro halt what Farinas called the worsening repression of
dissidents since Cuba and the United States declared detente in December
As the strike entered its second month, the dissident's backers claimed
he was close to death. On Monday those worries evaporated. Farinas
announced he was ending his protest because the European Parliament had
just voted to link improved ties with Cuba and progress on human rights.
Also on the table: naming Farinas a special parliamentary adviser on
civil society on the island.
The only problem: Not a word of it was true.
The "Farinas Amendment" was the creation of a faked website that
masqueraded as the blog of the European Parliament for nearly a week,
issuing reports widely distributed by anti-Castro Spanish-language media
including the U.S. government-funded Marti news network.
"It's really weird," said Kristof Kleemann, the chief of staff for
German member of parliament Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, whom the bogus
site described as the sponsor of the "Farinas Amendment." ''Our people
tell us that the website that published this article, that this website
is a fake website."
Farinas charged that the site was a dirty trick by the Cuban government
aimed at fooling him into ending a protest that was drawing too much
attention. There's no public evidence of a tie to the Cuban government
or, indeed, anyone else. Because it was hosted on WordPress, a widely
used blogging platform, the page's individual registration is impossible
for the public to trace.
"Creating this page was an act of espionage," Farinas said. "They were
under pressure from the hunger strike and the possibility of my dying
and they created a fake page so that I would stop."
Farinas and his camp frequently speak directly with European diplomats
based in Havana but did not check Monday's report with them before
declaring an end to the strike, according to Jorge Luis Artiles, a
dissident from the central city of Santa Clara who has served as
Farinas' spokesman during much of the protest. Artiles said Farinas'
camp had learned of the report in a call from backers in Miami. He
declined to provide further details.
The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment, but it
has long accused Farinas and fellow dissidents of being charlatans
focused on winning support from anti-Castro exiles in South Florida.
Hunger strikes have been the target of particular skepticism, with
government backers accusing strikers of secretly eating and drinking
away from the public eye.
"There's no precedent for Cuban authorities publishing false information
of this type or imitating established institutions as we see in this
case," said Iroel Sanchez, a Havana opinion columnist and blogger with
close ties to the Cuban government. "Mr. Farinas himself has been a
systematic source of false information about himself and his 'activism'
for profit, inventing all sorts of myths."
Artiles said Farinas had been on a total "hunger and thirst" strike at
home but was given intravenous nutrition and hydration after he was
rushed unconscious to the hospital five times during his strike.
Farinas said the discovery that the report was fake would not cause him
to restart his protest.
"In a hunger strike, once you start to drink water again, going back
would be madness," he said.
Farinas' strike came at a critical time for Cuba's small, factionalized
community of outspoken government opponents. Once a centerpiece of U.S.
policy on Cuba, traditional dissidents have found themselves on the
sidelines as the U.S. abandons its support for swift regime change in
favor of gradual reform. On issues from economic ties to environmental
cooperation, the Obama administration is talking directly, amicably and
frequently with Castro's government.
The fake webpage has been taken down, but at least one archived copy
remains available. The page was loaded with genuine articles taken from
the Spanish-language section of the European Parliament site, giving a
casual or inattentive reader the impression that the page was
well-established. The content that is still visible was added on Sept. 5
and Sept. 6 — suggesting the site may have been built in about 24 hours
"It looks very professional, but then they make all sort of technical
mistakes," Kleemann said. "They cite a certain report in that article
and that report is actually a report from the trade committee in the
parliament on Jordan."
The reports about the "Farinas Amendment" were shared on social media
dozens of times directly from the fake Wordpress site. The first share
appears to have been on Artiles' Facebook account.
The account appears to have been active throughout the strike, posting
articles supporting Farinas and bitterly criticizing the Castro government.
Artiles told The Associated Press Tuesday evening that he had not been
on Facebook for nearly two months. He said he only discovered in the
last week that hackers had long been in control of his account, and he
alleged that the government was responsible.
"They stole my page and it's a fraud because it's been 56 days since
I've been online," he said. "They're publishing fake news."
Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
Source: Cuba dissident: Fake site duped me into ending hunger strike |
Fox News -
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/09/14/cuba-dissident-fake-site-duped-me-into-ending-hunger-strike.html Continue reading
WRITTEN BY Ana Campoy
September 07, 2016
Cuba has been relying on Chinese technology to build up its
telecommunications network. Now it appears to have also adopted the
Asian giant's censorship techniques, according to dissident reports.
An analysis by 14 y Medio, a Cuban digital media outlet started by
well-known blogger Yoani Sánchez, found that the country's state-owned
telecom company is apparently blocking texts containing words such as
"democracy" and "human rights."
The news site had an array of users throughout the island—from
government opponents and activists to non-politically active folks—send
texts with terms that could be potentially problematic to the island's
regime. Among them (link in Spanish): "repression," "dictatorship,"
"hunger strike," "coexistence" (convivencia in Spanish, which is also
the name of an independent magazine,) and the names of several
dissidents, including Sánchez.
In all instances, texts with the offending words "were lost along the
way," 14 y Medio reported (Spanish) on Sept. 3. Reuters carried out a
similar test—with similar results. Government sources were either not
available or did not respond to requests for comment by the two news
The blocked texts highlight the uneven pace of change in Cuba. While the
government is gradually letting go of its decades-old anti-US foreign
policy, and its aversion for private enterprise, it still seems unable
to stomach any challenge to its monopoly on power.
Cubans are already limited in their communications due to the high cost
of cell phone service and spotty Internet access. But texts are a
relatively cheap and practical way to communicate—if you avoid certain
words. There are some three million cell phone users (Spanish) on the
14 y Medio's analysis was prompted by complaints from users who noticed
they were being charged for texts that were not delivered. Although
Cuba's cell phone provider Cubacel specifies in its contract that
threatening public order and state security is a motive for service
suspension, according to 14 y Medio, the customers they spoke with
reported never receiving a warning that their messages would blocked if
the content was deemed objectionable.
"How many misunderstandings between couples, domestic fights, and
unfulfilled professional tasks have been due to the filtering of words
that include last names like 'Biscet'"—the name of a well-known
government critic—"and terms like 'plebiscite?'"said the 14 y Medio
report, which was written by Sánchez and a colleague.
As frustrating as the discovery of the text monitoring is for many
Cubans, they will likely find a way around it. That's what they've been
doing to throw off government minders for years, long before electronic
media. For example, "aspirin" is used in communication of all sorts in
lieu of "police patrol car," and "red fabric" means beef, which is
highly-rationed and coveted.
Source: The Cuban government is blocking texts with words like
"democracy" and "human rights" — Quartz -
http://qz.com/775615/the-cuban-government-is-blocking-texts-with-words-like-democracy-and-human-rights/ Continue reading
By SUSAN CRABTREE (@SUSANCRABTREE) • 9/7/16 7:14 PM
Vice President Joe Biden touted the Obama administration's ability to
talk to Cuba and other Latin-American countries about human rights
"without pushback," on the same day a Senate critic of the diplomatic
thaw said the Castro regime's brutal treatment of dissidents is growing
Biden's comments also came amid reports that the government is now
blocking text messages containing words such as "democracy" and "human
Biden told a conference of Central and South American bankers and
diplomats Wednesday that President Obama decided early on in his tenure
that "we weren't going to be bound by the mistakes of the past or shaped
by an outdated ideology" toward the country.
One of the reasons the administration chose to change the Cuban policy
and lift some restrictions on travel and commerce, Biden said, was to
get rid of an "ineffective stumbling block to our bilateral relations
with other nations in the hemisphere."
Stay abreast of the latest developments from nation's capital and beyond
with curated News Alerts from the Washington Examiner news desk and
delivered to your inbox.
That, in turn, he said, "made it easier to talk to our neighbors without
pushback on human rights — everyone in the hemisphere should be talking
about human rights — whether it's in Cuba or Venezuela where they are
Earlier in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged Obama to personally
call a Cuban dissident leader who is in the middle of his 49th week of a
hunger strike over the Castro regime's efforts to crackdown on
In a letter to Obama, Rubio called on the president to speak to
Guillermo "Coco" Farinas, to express his support for his "courageous
acts." Farinas is a winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought,
an award from the European Parliament recognizing individuals and groups
who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights.
"I urge you to hear firsthand his account of the deepening repression in
Cuba since you changed longstanding U.S. policy toward the regime,"
Rubio said, noting that Obama has met with Farinas in the past. "I urge
you to listen to his demands that the Castro government cease the
violence against peaceful members of Cuba's independent civil society,
and that you discuss with him how your administration can adjust its
policies toward Cuba to bring about measurable gains regarding human
rights on the island."
Rubio spoke with Farinas on Aug. 29 to show his solidarity with his
efforts to bring democratic reforms to Cuba. Farinas been hospitalized
four times during his hunger strike.
"I sincerely pray that you do not let Guiellermo "Coco' Farinas
courageous stand continue without clear support from you," Rubio wrote
Obama. "If he dies without your clear support in both words and policy
actions, this chapter of U.S.-Cuba history will be marred by America's
failure to demonstrate moral leadership at a critical moment."
Rubio citied statistics gathered by the Havana-based Cuban Commission
for Human Rights, noting that the group says the Cuban government
arrested 845 peaceful dissidents in the month of July alone, nearly
twice as many as the month before when the government detained 498 people.
In addition, Reuters and other media outlets earlier this week confirmed
that the Cuba's communist government is now blocking text messages
containing words such as "democracy," "human rights," and "hunger
strike," citing an investigation from local dissidents which Reuters
In a report published last week, a prominent investigative blogger Yoani
Sanchez and journalist Reinaldo Escobar discovered that the Castro
regime is filtering 30 keywords and blocking the transmission of any
texts containing them.
Source: Biden: U.S. can talk human rights in Cuba 'without pushback' |
Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/biden-u.s.-can-talk-human-rights-in-cuba-without-pushback/article/2601216 Continue reading
Regina Anavy, Reykjavic, June 27, 2016 — Crossing paths with Orlando
Luis Pardo Lazo in Reykjavic, Iceland, on June 27, 2016, I had the
opportunity to have a conversation with him.
Iceland And Future Plans
Regina Anavy: I understand you are here on a special two-year grant from
ICORN [International Cities of Refuge Network].
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: Yes. ICORN is an NGO based in Norway. They make
contact with city governments. They believe that working with cities is
better than working with countries. Maybe there is a conflictive
immigration policy, but the cities are happy to have you. So in Europe
they have dozens of cities, and I think in America now Pittsburgh is
becoming an ICORN city and maybe Las Vegas. But after a year [in
Iceland], I will be going back to the U.S., to enter a Ph.D. program in
comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
RA: Are you going to be teaching or doing research?
OLPL: Mainly I will be a teaching assistant in the second year.
RA: Will you be teaching comparative literature in Spanish?
OLPL: I don't know yet. I guess in both English and Spanish.
RA: Is that a five-year commitment?
OLPL: It could be up to five years to get a Ph.D. in comparative
literature. It's a special track, like a pilot program. It's called
"International Writers Track," and writers are invited to the
department. They know that we are not academics; maybe we don't work or
think as an academic, but somehow the purpose is to give us tools to
understand the codes of literary criticism or academic essay. I write
literary criticism, but it's not with literary rigor; it's my
impressions. So it could be very interesting.
RA: So that will give you a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature?
OLPL: If I manage to get through to the end. There are several
universities there; this is the one they call "Wash U" because it's
Washington University. I was there for a conference in January 2015. It
was like a marathon. I went to an event for human rights in Chicago.
There was a lady there, a professor from Poland, who had been following
Cuban affairs, so when she found me on Facebook, she told me, "You need
to come here. It's a one-hour flight, and we will pay for you to go back
to Brown University" [in 2015, OLPD was an Adjunct Professor of Creative
Writing at Brown University]. I went there for a couple of talks, and
she asked me about my future, and somehow she had the impression that my
future was lost because I was not an American, and she said, "Maybe we
can help you here. There is a new initiative going on."
Finally they nominated me. I didn't apply for this Ph.D. I mean I sent
the documentation but only after I was nominated. Other universities had
shown interest, but always you need to start by the phone consult, then
the GRI test for mathematics, and maybe somebody assesses you there. But
this process circumvented all that, and they were very kind.
They understood that I was here [in Iceland], so there is already one
year deferred [for the Ph.D. program]. This is why I cannot defer any
longer. So everything came together for Reykjavic and St. Louis, and I
was "lost" but then suddenly had two options. I was able to manage,
talking openly, to both parties. "I have this option, can I do this?
Maybe not for two years, maybe for one; now's the time to go there [Wash
U.] and be a good student after being a bad boy." I think I will be able
to keep on with creative ideas for both these options and at the same
time add some discipline, and the writing will be good.
The Future Of Cuba
OLPL: You know I was in Arizona, in April, at the Sedona Forum, with
John McCain and the Director of National Security. I saw that they were
mainly politicians, people with different positions regarding Cuba,
people who have been traveling to Cuba. Usually you talk in front of
human rights people who agree with you in a way, but these were people
who can really change things.
I was happy to talk there on a panel with plenty of dissidents, and
there were Russian dissidents and the realities were terrible, really
terrible, and I was somehow trying to put some ideas into this "new
cake" about Cuba and how it is not about the embargo but to make sure
that we are moving into freedoms in one way or another, not just trying
to make money, or like China – the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Are we
moving into that or are we making sure from the beginning ….?
RA: Well, that's what it should be, the human rights situation.
OLPL: Sometimes I become really skeptical and sometimes I push very hard.
RA: Because it's all about business. It's all about making money. And
"Oh, the Cubans can be entrepreneurs now." Yes, as long as the
Government lets them. It could be taken away tomorrow. There's no law.
OLPL: The legal space is very limited. Technically, you are not even an
owner of your business. You have a license, and you pay a tax. But it
doesn't give you any judicial personality. You're not registered as a
trademark; you don't have a lawyer for your business, and basically you
have no rights. So you are a citizen, who maybe is making a lot of money
now, because paladares [private restaurants] in Cuba are making a lot of
money, but money is not [the same thing as] rights, and this is why when
they close a paladar, nothing happens. Nothing. You're not a person.
But, anyway, it's a process that is starting now.
RA: The other thing is that the money you earn in Cuba – where do you
spend it? It all goes back to the Regime.
OLPL: All of it. You know, even remittances. We all need to help our
relatives. We are talking of billions a year.
RA: I know. It's one of the main things keeping the Government going.
OLPL: What is the option? There is no boycott.
RA: Are there other Cubans here besides you?
OLPL: Yes. That's another story. The island has been conquered,
completely conquered. Maybe there are over 50. I haven't met them all,
but there are stories, and, of course, not all of them are good stories
about Cubans here. Legal troubles, violent troubles, our fellow
countrymen. But I have met two or three families; some of them have
family in Cuba. So there are beautiful stories. There is a young girl
here who just had a baby, and she lived 50 meters from my place in
Havana. I haven't met her but my mother knows the family.
RA: How is your mother doing?
OLPL: She's eager that I return to America so she can visit again,
because she came once last year. She has a visa now. It's a multiple
entry visa, so she only needs to buy a plane ticket. Now it seems that
shortly she will be able to buy one on American Airlines, maybe for
$200. Because the prices are going down; capitalism is bringing down the
RA: Did you request asylum in the U.S.?
OLPL: A green card. Let me mention something about that. The word
"asylum" – I have entered America twice, since I left, before the six
months, to keep the green card active, and also I have a reentry permit.
It's like a passport for non-U.S. citizens, that allows you to stay even
up to a year, but I have been reentering every six months, less than six
months, to avoid the bureaucracy.
And both times, it happens sometimes to residents, you are stopped; you
are asked more questions. It seems when I show the reentry permit there
is no problem, but suddenly something happens. Immediately they come and
say, "Come with me, please." I go to a room. That's what I'm curious
about. They ask no questions. They type all my information again.
I'm almost sure it is very governmental, like tracking a possible
political activist, and then once, more than two times, there was a
young girl there, a young officer. And I was trying to be gentle with
her; it was a little like Cuba, and then I said to her, "May I do
anything here while I am in America, because I will be reentering the
country several times? Maybe I can save your time; you can save my time,
if a document is missing…"
"No, no, no, no, no." Very Latin, maybe she was telling me a little more
than what she had to tell me. "It's very likely that you will be stopped
every time you reenter, but there is no reason; there is no problem, and
that's okay. Because you are a political refugee, no?" I said, "No, not
at all." But that was a bit of information. I am a normal cubanito. I
didn't know what to say so, I just said, "No, no, no, I'm a resident." I
was surprised, and maybe there is some kind of…"
RA: They've flagged you.
OLPL: Yes, like "This is a trouble-maker…"
RA: But why don't you just get in and…?
OLPL: Maybe. But it was not about that. When I was in America, I
obtained my residency in 2015.
RA: So you're a resident.
OLPL: Yes I am. I have a green card. I'm not requesting…
RA: But you don't want to become a citizen?
OLPL: I cannot do it until 2018. So Cuba will change; I will change.
America will change. I don't know exactly how. I haven't made up my mind.
RA: Do you think Cuba's going to change enough by 2018 that you would
want to go back?
OLPL: I don't know.
RA: I doubt it, frankly.
OLPL: Yes, but there is always a biological solution.
RA: Even so, they're still going to be in charge.
OLPL: I know, I know. It depends also on – I mean, I have been looking
for a kind of empowerment, I hate the word because it's been used now to
empower society, but, let's say I am trying to position myself, not only
as a Cuban blogger or dissident, but as something else. Let's say I'm
waiting for a book to be published or to be well-known, maybe something
like a Ph.D. or this fellowship for a Ph.D. scholarship, something that
makes my name known – a prize, a literary honor, so that when I decide
to return, their lowest price is to ban me from reentering, but if they
allow me to reenter and harass or detain me, that will have a high
political cost for them.
So I am trying. I don't know how exactly – but in my mind, the scenario
is that I think Cuba is not likely to be democratic in two or three
years, but I am thinking that the political cost will be high, and then
I will be willing to do it, to get a ticket and be stopped. I can even
do it without an entry permit. I have a passport, and my passport is
good for the next four years.
RA: But you have to keep renewing it.
OLPL: Renewing is like a stamp. Not a passport, I mean. You understand
that the expiration in my passport is 2020. But what they call renewal
is like a stamp that you pay for, a visa for two years. I need a visa
for my country with a valid passport. But even that – I can apply for
it, but I am afraid that – another consideration is that you need to
deliver the passport.
And Tania Bruguera [Cuban installation and performance artist] three
years ago delivered her passport, and they kept it for one year before
she could travel to Cuba. So when they gave the passport to her, somehow
they felt, "Now you are tamed. You are low profile." But she was one
year without a passport. So I maybe need to go without any stamp and be
stopped like that and show the Americans in line, or maybe they will
allow me to enter. And then I will be safe from Cuba. If I can do it,
every Cuban can do it.
RA: Is there a Cuban Consulate in Reykjavic?
OLPL: Fortunately, not. I feel very, very, very happy. First of all, I
met Cubans here, including the one who created a group Cubano Islandia.
When the Ambassador comes from Cuba on holidays to visit beautiful
Iceland, they prepare dinner. And one of the girls here, in one of my
talks at the University of Reykjavic, was very critical. At the end she
said, in English, "Okay, I know very well what I am talking about,
because I am Cuban!"
When I am in public I'm not completely truthful, because somehow I know
this is all about the repercussions – there were many professors there –
and I said, "I'm so happy to find you, another Cuban. I wish that we
could have this talk at Havana University. For five years I haven't been
invited; I haven't been published, and you were not claiming for that
right of a Cuban. We can have this conversation here, with all that
anger; we can quarrel here and then shake hands and go back to our
places. And nothing happens. There are no political police out there."
So that was my answer, because you are talking in English in Iceland,
and I really was surprised when she said, "I'm Cuban!" Oh my god, like
"I'm Cuban, too!" And then some other friends told me that she had been
organizing a dinner with the Ambassador. Everybody wants to be on good
terms with the Cuban authorities.
RA: Oh, I think you gave that up a long time ago. Have there been any
repercussions for your mother?
OLPL: No. Around the first year, maybe when I was making the decision to
finally stay, they went to my neighborhood, to the block. They
interviewed several neighbors but not my mother, of course, but my
mother knew. "Maria, what's going on with Orlandito? Something
happened." And my mother was very nervous that day, and they even
pressured the young man and my friends who took me to the airport in
2013, to see if he was illegally renting the car. So it was this kind of
stupid pressure; I don't know what the purpose was.
RA: To scare them.
OLPL: And that was a tough conversation that I had with my mother,
because when she called, very nervous – maybe that time they were
listening – and I said very strongly, "Even if somebody shows you a
piece of paper saying Orlando is dead, you don't believe it, because you
are in the hands of Evil. Where they print fake newspapers, where they
talk to fake friends." I was very strong, and somehow she was more
"So you say, 'If he's dead, he's in the hands of God. I don't care about
any information from the Cuban Government.' like that: 'No, thank you!'
" Because she was saying, "Something must have happened to you because
they're here asking." After that, she was happy to be in America. I took
her to conferences, and she was very happy to see a good environment and
RA: Does she understand English?
OLPL: Very little. But at the end she was talking in the supermarket.
She likes to buy stuff, food and things, and she was asking for
something, and I was buying something else, and she went to a girl and
said, "I want rice, white rice." So she was getting more courageous. She
doesn't know anything, no, but she knows the word "rice," and she said,
"I want rice." So when it comes to buying food, she was able to use English.
RA: Is there a large arts community here in Reykjavic?
OLPL: Yes, of course. And I would say everybody writes; this is crazy.
Poetry, chess, readings.
RA: Are you learning Icelandic?
OLPL: Very little. I was trying to learn more but my time…. I mean, to
read 10 hours a day and translate for a course I was taking, and then I
said, well, I will not have one year of scholarship, I will have half a
year, because I was putting a lot of energy into that, and then I quit.
Maybe if I knew that I was going to be here for two years I would make
RA: It seems like it would be a difficult language to learn.
OLPL: Once you get the rudiments and you know the codes, you understand
what is a verb and what is a noun. And then at some point you can
incorporate new words very easily. At least I bring them from English, a
lot of words. And even they don't look like language. Many words, on the
highway, the signs, because the bridges are only one-way. I don't know
the origin, the etymology.
RA: But you play with language anyway. That's one of the things you like
OLPL: Yes, I like to do that.
RA: You're very good at making up words.
OLPL: Maybe in five years I can come here and work on a farm and teach
Spanish. I wouldn't mind being more like a hermit. Once having
positioned myself in the literary field as an academic, or maybe
publishing my novel that I'm finishing here, I will be more secure, and
I wouldn't mind being here for one year helping on a farm, making a
little money. It would be like a spiritual experience, really, living
with the landscape, but in a more permanent way than now.
RA: With this fellowship you have now, from ICORN, don't you have to teach?
RA: Do you have to produce a certain amount of work?
OLPL: The "certain amount of work" can be one word. The application
deals with reference letters and why you cannot do your work in your own
country. So it is also a human rights organization. ICORN had a Congress
in Paris in March this year. Some cities seem very active and push the
writer to participate, but here, at the beginning, they told me, "No,
you can be quiet." I have been traveling in Europe because I have
arranged that myself, but mainly I am forgotten here. They tell me,
"Anything that happens, you call us; we can help." They gave me some
cards to go free to cultural centers, not all of them, but the ones that
belong to the City Hall. They facilitate things here.
But I can be here for two years, and they will not be asking me to
formally deliver 50 pages, even if it's been written before. So it's
really a space and also a responsibility, because you are taking the
place of someone else, and it's a privilege. So it's a good opportunity
to move forward, even if I know that at the beginning I will be a little
depressed, to be again in a city, surrounded by deadlines and people,
but so far I have liked the people I have met here, and there are many
reasons to remain.
RA: Is it easy to meet the local people here?
OLPL: Yes. They have a different code, but Reykjavic is really like a
small city. So they are very willing to help with anything. At the same
time they set limits. They help you and at the same time they say,
"Okay, now it's time to go."
RA: Did ICORN help you find a place to live?
OLPL: No; it was granted to me. The house belongs to the City Hall. I
like the place; it's very nice. It has one room, a living room, a dining
room, a kitchen and a bathroom, just in front of the City Hall.
The New Book
RA: I know you're leaving for Spain soon to do presentations for your
OLPL: Yes, Del clairín escuchad el silencio, a book of chronicles, some
of my writings, my blog writing during the last five years. All of them
have been published, but I rewrote every poem. I haven't seen the book
yet, because it's very expensive to buy it and ship it to Iceland. The
book costs $15 on Amazon, and then [I would] pay $30 for shipping [to
Europe]. So I've decided to wait, but I'm very eager. I want the book.
RA: Can you buy it digitally?
OLPL: Not yet, but I want to talk to the publisher about that. It's a
very small publisher. Believe it or not, I had to buy a number of books.
I managed to arrange four presentations in Spain. The publisher is Print
on Demand. I said, "Maybe very few people will show up." They said, "No,
it's vacation, maybe we can get 20 people there, maybe 30, 40." I don't
know. But we can run out of books. This is very Cuban. So, I bought more
books with my savings and forwarded them to the publisher, and those are
my books, and so now I have now a packet of books that I will be moving
from city to city.
RA: When are you leaving for Spain?
OLPL: Midnight. Tonight. And I will also be in London at the end of this
trip, because there is a literary magazine, Litro, that is publishing a
dossier of Cuban literature, and they included me. So I am little by
little trying to regain the literary spaces that I lost because of
politics and my blog. There is a short story by me, a very political
story, fiction, and the magazine includes writers from outside and
inside the island.
RA: Are you in touch with writers in Cuba?
OLPL: Many of them.
RA: I read Cuba in Splinters. Were those writers all from the island?
OLPL: There are three living mainly abroad. As time flows, that's one of
the things you can plot. You have this center of points within the
island, and as time flows, they are scattered, you know? It's a
RA: You write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and you do photography.
OLPL: What I feel like writing is fiction, even if it looks like
nonfiction. But I also like to write chronicles. Maybe sometimes I like
to fictionalize them, or put some opinions there within the chronicle,
so they are not pure chronicles.
RA: By "chronicles" you mean novels?
OLPL: No. Chronicles are like a journalistic genre, which is that you
write a story, but it should be 100 percent true. I also write here and
there some poetry but it's mainly not really poetry, more like short
stories, very small short stories, very narrative, but I don't take an
exalted or high tone. I do not pretend to become lyrical or create a
poetic image; I try to be narrative. But the beauty is that it's short,
very well-selected and sometimes has contradictory points between the
persons, and that creates an atmosphere of surprise or something that is
a little unique like, what's going on with this voice? It's a little crazy.
RA: You've been compared to Cabrera Infante.
OLPL: I hope so! You know there is a tradition of Baroque writing with
masters like Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Alejo Carpentier and José Lezama
Lima. After them, together with them but not so well known as the
Baroque writers because he wrote many things, Reinaldo Arenas, because
with his novel, El mundo alucinante, The Delirious World, he mastered
language. He was a guajirito, a country boy, who came to Havana, writing
with grammatical and orthographic mistakes, and he wrote many things. He
wrote poetry, theater; his first novels were very Baroque, and he's part
of that tradition.
So somehow my tradition is closer to those writers than to other writers
that I also love, more realistic ones. So who knows? You start by
imitation, by imitating what you love, and maybe little by little I will
find a different point. But they used to tell me, when they wanted to
criticize me, provoke me or make me nervous, "He's like Guillermo
Cabrera Infante without the talent of Guillermo Cabrera Infante." I say,
"Of course not!" What else can you say? Don't compare me to Cabrera Infante.
RA: It's because of the word play, the way you make up words.
OLPL: Yes, of course. Sometimes it's anonymous commentary, but sometimes
I receive that reference from writers in Cuba, who are not friends, and
then I say in my mind, Yes. But when Cabrera Infante was alive, and that
was until 2005, the Master was not published in Cuba. You were not
defending your Master. So it's better not to have the talent. Because if
you have the talent and you are Cabrera Infante, you are talking about
him now that he's been dead for 10 years. And that's hypocrisy. Forty
years without being published in Cuba, and he's not a genius, he's a
gusano [literally, a "worm," what the regime called Cubans who left). He
was very hated by the officials In Cuba because he was a great intellectual.
RA: I hear you have an article coming out in Smithsonian magazine.
OLPL: This is a story of the famous photo of Ché Guevara and what Ché
Guevara means for Cuba. He's become a symbol for everything, and if you
go to Havana you have to take a picture with the photo in front of the
Ministry of the Interior, like Obama did with a selfie. But I also tell
the story of the photo, and I had to find some information about it,
crazy things that happened. How Dr. Korda was not paid during decades
for the photo – he managed to get some money at the end – and also about
the discovery of the photo. The photo of Ché Guevara is a beautiful
image, but it also represents violence and hatred.
The Exile Cuban Literary Movement
RA: How do you feel about being part of the exile Cuban literary
movement? What does this mean to you?
OLPL: The last five years in Cuba, I was feeling completely exiled, and,
consequently, I was feeling completely and dangerously free. It's not
only about courage, that we were brave. We were really scared of
everything. But suddenly, as I started to be censored, not publishing
any more with the publishing houses in Cuba, not being invited any more
to publish in magazines or to be part of a literary jury, I realized
that they couldn't take anything else away from me.
And then I discovered my blog, which was like a bottle tossed into the
sea, and I thought, they're not going to read this, and I could be as
provocative as I wanted, and people would be reading me. I love to be
the center of events, but there is no Internet in Cuba. They [State
Security] will not be reading the blog. But I got into more trouble
because of the blog, thanks to the visibility that civil society and the
blogosphere was having, thanks to Yoani Sánchez, so suddenly I found
myself writing like an exile and living like an exile.
All my money came from donations or publications that I published
abroad, 100 dollars that could last for three months. So my life
depended on email, in a country without the Internet. I was trying to
find a pirate connection, trying to go to hotels. I was trained to be
part of an exile literary writing.
When I came outside I stayed for three years. It was not the original
plan. So I have been lucky enough to organize and recover a sense of
belonging that I didn't have in Cuba. The anthology, Generation Zero,
certainly needed the distance from myself in order to make the contacts,
to push, to sell the story of a non-political generation to an editor in
New York. It now has been published as Cuba: Année Zero in Paris, and
it's going to be published in German.
RA: Is any of your work getting into Cuba?
OLPL: Maybe. I tried to publish an anthology in Cuba, and they told me
that the publishing houses were not publishing "group aesthetics." If I
wanted to organize an anthology it could be an anthology of new writers,
but in many ways these anthologies, Generation Zero and Cuba in
Splinters are ghettos, barricados. It's a place were we are not
censoring anyone. We are declaring ourselves and taking a position, and
it's allowed to make war against the Castros, literary war, and so this
kind of political literary movement in Cuban cultural fields is not
Now I have been feeling I belong and am able to help my friends and be
part of this literary phenomenon much more than when I was inside the
island. And besides, when I was inside the island – and this is sad –
many writers somehow were considering me a political activist. I mean,
State Security declares me a dissident and oppresses me, and my friends
know that I am a writer.
I was even a member of the Union of Writers. Instead of saying, "Well,
Orlando, I don't know what you're doing about politics, but I consider
you a writer." No. They are subdued by the narrative of the State that
said I was a dissident, so I was feeling less close and had some hard
feelings against writers when I was on the island, and now, from
outside, everything goes better with those writers, because they feel
safe from me, and on my side I can promote their works – not only the
ones in the anthology but other writers.
RA: But can they read you in Cuba?
OLPL: No. It's difficult. I have been sending the anthology with some of
them when they travel, but it's very limited. With this new book that I
have just published, I am very proud. I think it's our little baby, and
it is not only my book but also the book of the blog, so it belongs to
all of us, including translators, although it is in Spanish.
Many of these columns are already translated, and this book, although
it's not being commercialized digitally on Amazon, is going to be sent,
free of course, to other contacts, including NeoClub Press and Hablemos
Press. It's going to be distributed in Cuba. So it's a way of putting
together my blog, with a cover, with my picture, and distributing it. My
expectations are to re-conquer the island, and more than that: My plans
are to be born again in Cuba in 2016.
There is a short story of mine in Litro, the literary magazine that is
going to be published in London, together with some short stories of
writers in Cuba, so when these writers take the literary magazine back
to Cuba, they are taking my story there. So I am trying to recover a
space that was a little lost and revive my narrative and my way of
expressing myself, and my impact or influence. I want to do it again. I
disappear for two years, a couple of years. Now I'm back. That's the
headline: He's back!
RA: So the UNEAC writers will accept you?
OLPL: No, no, no. But that's good. Let them be in conflict with me. Let
Omar Pérez, a poet, take the magazine back. "Why is Orlando in here?"
Why? Because he writes here; he belongs here. So it's a movement. I'm
dealing with a feeling of nostalgia, with pain and the feeling of loss.
I do not project that, but it's there. It's a way of easing, soothing,
like an act of a baby with a knife in my hand. I'm writing, I'm cutting
people and cutting narrative….
RA: With a pen!
OLPL: Yes, a pen, but a penknife, with ink. So it's dangerous. Beware:
It's dangerous. Not like the pen of an angel or a bird. It's the pen of
a bird, but with a sharp beak, ready to be a dart at some point. So I'm
back. Not an angelic return. It's like a devilish return, in a literary
The Work In Progress
OLPL: By the way, I have been finishing my novel here.
RA: Yes, tell me about your novel.
OLPL: It's going to be brief, because I believe in brief form – the
post, the blog. I don't believe in a big work. It's about me, very
biographical. I don't believe now in the construction of characters. I
don't know what I'm going to do in the Ph.D., but I don't believe so
much in the construction of characters in literary procedure. I believe
in writing about myself, even when I fictionalize myself, so it's not
biographical in a way.
I'm talking about Fidel Castro; I'm talking about Oswaldo Payá; and
there are very delicate scenes there because I am narrating what
happened to Oswaldo Payá. Of course I don't know what happened. But I
was at the funeral, and the novel moves from that point. I was there,
and I approached the coffin only very late at night, not at the moment
of mourning and giving condolences. I didn't approach the family. At
midnight, I approached his coffin, and the moment I looked at him, he
started to bleed.
RA: It was an open coffin?
OLPL: You could see through the glass. And so the moment I approached at
midnight, the church was empty. The next day everyone went back and the
Cardinal gave a mass; so this was like a very personal moment. I was
almost sure before Rosa Maria [Oswaldo Payá's daughter] said anything. I
was almost sure that certain things had happened to that man. I didn't
And then at the moment I approached, he started to bleed, red. From
here, from the left of his face. And I understood that as a sign saying
that something unfair, something unjust has happened. I don't know what
it is. I don't believe in anything supernatural, but something has
happened, and I can see here the traces of violence.
So it starts from there. I am trying to project the vision that if a man
was killed, then a man killed him. And the man that killed him may be
alive or not and is a Cuban or a foreigner.
So there is a certain issue that goes into the novel, and then the novel
moves, and I move with the novel: Miami, New York, and it will end in
Reykjavic. So I want it to be like a large chronicle. It was going to be
entitled Alaska but now it's not going to be like that. I don't know
exactly. I was thinking of using one Icelandic letter. Guillermo Cabrera
Infante entitled once of his books "O," only "O," and I was thinking to
use the thorn, which is a letter. It's unpronounceable in Cuban. It's a
runic sign; it's not commercial.
It's almost finished. But I don't understand the ending. I don't know
what the ending is. Or maybe the point is that there is no ending. It's
a fragment, because it's not a thesis. Because I'm saying that I don't
know what happened. I don't know, but it's in my heart. So maybe I can
just make the opening and the ending more diffuse. This is one chapter
of 200 pages, of a novel that will never be written.
Aesthetically I'm interested in the fragmentary, in the unbalance, so
let's see, and it's almost finished. And the last part is about
Reykjavic and Bobby Fischer, the chess champion. I know he ended his
life very full of hatred. He was exiled here; he's buried here, so I
have been able to go to his grave. When I was five, six, maybe seven
years old in Cuba, my father talked to me about Fischer, an American
hero, who had been in Russia and here in Reykjavic, and the word
"Reykjavic" meant something to me as a child. So there is also something
I didn't apply for this city. I applied to ICORN, the NGO. You don't
know where you're going. And they were like, "Well, there aren't too
many options. There are very many applications. We have something, but I
promise you won't like it. It's at the end of the world." "What is it?
Tell me." "Well, there is an opportunity now in Reykjavic."
RA: And they didn't know that you like cold weather. Why would a Cuban
want to go to Iceland?
OLPL: When I arrived the first time from New York, at 6:00 a.m., I was
in tears. Now I think I will be returning to this country. Not to a
city, as I told you, but to a farm, to help an old family there. I will
be happy. But to do that I will need some ground under my feet to be
able to have money, to be able to have a profession, to be able to
publish more. At least that's what I think right now. It's very
beautiful, and the winter was very beautiful. Twenty hours at night. I
love it. Everybody was warning me: depression.
RA: Well, you sounded depressed.
OLPL: I was posting about depression, but it's not the same. I was sad
for a time. It was the distance. I was channeling that. But not because
the darkness was crushing me.
RA: I thought you were having seasonal affective disorder.
OLPL: It's logical, yes. But I didn't feel so much like that. I mean,
you read my posts and they're schizophrenic. It's on purpose.
RA: I won't take your posts that seriously any more.
OLPL: I spent three days without seeing the sun. I was sleeping during
the day, and I would wake up at night, but after that I felt renewed,
and I walked almost all day. I was happy, euphoric. Reykjavic is still
very new to me. I don't know the city at all. And I have been traveling
a little in the country and saving a lot of Iceland for the future. And
in America, too. It will be more repetitive in a way, but the challenge
of reading, learning, and writing will be new for me. I don't have a
humanistic education; I was trained as a biochemist. And I'm happy.
Note from Translating Cuba: Regina Anavy has been supporting this
project to translate Cubans writing from the island from its earliest
days, in 2008. She has translated well over 300 posts (including many
that appeared on earlier sites) and has supported and continues to
support the project in other ways, not least of which is hosting us in
Source: A Conversation with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo / Regina Anavy –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/a-conversation-with-orlando-luis-pardo-lazo-regina-anavy/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 15 June 2016 — The writer Angel Santiesteban was
released on Tuesday night after 30 hours of detention and having been
taken to three police stations where he received all sorts of warnings
Santiesteban told 14ymedio by phone that he was arrested around one in
the afternoon on Monday, and released at eight at night on Tuesday. The
writer was taken first to the police station at 21st and C Streets in
Vedado, then to the one at Zapata and C, and finally to Vivac de Calabazar.
As he explained, the political police were very upset by the recent post
in his blog titled "Assassins, Accomplices and Victims," in which he
called the president of Casa de las Americas, Roberto Fernandez Retamar,
an assassin. The police said the blogger showed a serious lack of
respect in speaking of the elderly poet in this way.
"As a member of what was then the Council of State," Santiesteban
explained, "Retamar signed the application for the death penalty of the
three young men who had simply tried to take a boat to Florida. Now,
when an anniversary of that horrible event came up, I recalled it publicly."
According to Angel Santiesteban, the reason given for his arrest was a
link to the crime of fraud on the Isle of Youth. "That could not be
sustained because this happened in the year 2015 when I was in prison,"
the writer said, almost laughing. In his view this was just an excuse
for the police to pick him up and detain him.
During the interrogations, the writer says, an official told him, "You
pretend you've called it quits but we know you're up to no good."
Santiesteban said that he replied, "Yes, I am up to two novels and
you're not going to like anything about them."
Source: Angel Santiesteban Released "For Now" / 14ymedio – Translating
http://translatingcuba.com/angel-santiesteban-released-for-now-14ymedio/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2016 – The writer Angel Santiesteban was
arrested on Monday afternoon shortly after he left his home. The blogger
is in a cell at the police station located at the corner of Zapata and C
in the Plaza municipality, according to the information from the police
offered by telephone.
Recently, Santiesteban received the Reinaldo Arenas Narrative Prize,
awarded by the Club of Independent Writers of Cuba and he is now in what
he called "a creative phase" that consumes all his time.
According to telephone calls made by family and friends to police
authorities, Santiesteban was arrested because "they had tracked him"
from the Isle of Youth.
The winner, also, of the Casa de las Américas Prize (2006) was on parole
awaiting the outcome of an appeal for review of his case by the Ministry
of Justice; he recently served several years in prison for "violation of
domicile and injuries." In the trial in that case, which was denounced
as a process full of irregularities, he had been sentenced to five
Since the appeal was filed for review of his case, Santiesteban has been
arrested on several occasions, including for participating in the Sunday
marches of the Ladies in White.
Source: Cuban Writer Angel Santiesteban Arrested / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-writer-angel-santiesteban-arrested-14ymedio/ Continue reading
If paradise ends where choice begins, as Arthur Miller observed, then
our digital age fantasy of paradise as a tropical island with no
Internet collapses with our choice to travel to one. The permanent
inhabitants of such an island, who live without Internet access or the
luxury of travel, would likely have a lot to tell the world about life
in paradise, if only they could get online. As of 2016, these
inhabitants represent 95% of the Cuban population.
In January of 2008, Seattle resident and transportation engineer Mary Jo
Porter set off on a trip to Cuba lugging a raised toilet seat and other
supplies for the friend of a friend on the island. She knew she wouldn't
be landing in paradise. Anything else she knew about daily life in Cuba
she had gleaned from a friend's daughter who worked there and a lone
blog she had found online called Generation Y.
When Porter visited Cuba, the author of Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, was
on the verge of international renown as a leading human rights advocate
and intellectual. Sanchez started her site in 2007, becoming one of the
first Cubans to blog about daily life on the island—an endeavor that was
complicated by the fact that she, along with most Cubans, was prohibited
from going online.
While Sanchez is now considered the pioneer of the Cuban dissident
blogger movement, Porter is the reason that Sanchez and bloggers like
her have enjoyed such an extensive readership among non-Spanish
speakers. For what Porter could not have known when she went to Cuba was
that, within months of her return to the US, she would be Sanchez's
unlikely translator. Soon after that, she would become an essential link
in an underground network of activists who support Cuban bloggers, and
the co-founder and organizer of a website called Hemos Oido [We've Heard
(You)], the first open and automated platform of its kind where
volunteers can go to translate the blogs of Cuban dissidents.
The exchange that follows took place by phone and email during the
winter of 2016.
Hillary Gulley (HG): You first came across Yoani's blog, Generation Y,
while preparing to take a trip to Cuba with a friend. What was it about
your experience on the island that compelled you to keep reading her
blog after your vacation was over?
Mary Jo Porter (MJP): Cuba grabbed me. I don't know how else to say it.
I've traveled to quite a few places and lived abroad, but only in
Ireland did I have a feeling similar to when I arrived in Cuba: that of
being home. The Cuban landscape was immediately familiar, similar to
California where I grew up and, like in Ireland, the people were deeply
familiar despite the language barrier. Cubans are like Californians:
outgoing, casual, willing to tell you their life story on a street
corner, and everyone has an opinion about everything. Cuba hadn't
settled in my consciousness since the Cuban Missile Crisis, but once I
went, I was hooked.
HG: When you visited Cuba you knew very little Spanish. How did you
overcome the language barrier?
MJP: Face-to-face you can probably communicate with anyone if you try.
In Cuba, I was often with my friend's daughter, Jenny, who was working
for an NGO there; she interpreted for me on many occasions. Other times,
I'd talk to Cubans who had some or a lot of English.
HG: Did Cubans seek you out for conversation, or did you approach them?
MJP: Both. I had a great conversation with a bookseller at a market in
Plaza de Armas. He asked if I was Canadian, and I said no, American. And
he said, in perfect English, "I have some excellent books about Che."
When I told him I had no desire to read about a psychopathic,
totalitarian murderer, I thought he was going to fall over. Really, he
almost stopped breathing. Then he couldn't stop laughing. When he got
serious again, he told me I was "different from other Americans" who
came to Cuba, and then spent a good part of the afternoon filling me in
on Cuban history, like the time Castro ordered Camilo Cienfuegos (his
former head of armed forces) to fly to Havana from Camaguey, and his
plane "crashed into the sea." Except they never found the plane—and the
route from Camaguey to Havana is over land. I learned a lot that afternoon.
One day I talked to a butcher at a ration store who didn't have any meat
or chicken or fish. He was reading the paper with nothing to sell, so he
had plenty of time to talk. Another time I walked into a tiny barbershop
and talked to the barbers and customers. And well after dark one night,
my friends and I talked to people playing dominos at a card table right
in the street. They had put the table under a streetlight and pointed
out that it was the only light working in the area.
Then we went to Viñales and stayed in a casa particular—a Cuban B&B. We
had a lot of time to sit around and work through the language barriers.
The owners had some English and a lot to say about trying to run a
private business and coming up against the Committees for the Defense of
the Revolution. I went out to fly kites I had made for the local kids,
and one of their dads came out and started fixing them to make them
better. So that was another way to connect, by playing.
Another conversation was with a cop guarding the American Interests
Section. My friends and I were walking along the Malecón late one night
and saw a huge billboard equating Bush and this unknown (to us) "evil
person" to Hitler. I wanted to know who the guy was, so I crossed the
street to ask the cop. He frantically motioned that I wasn't allowed on
his sidewalk, and he couldn't cross over to mine, so we met at the
center line. It seemed odd to stand in the middle of an arterial in the
dark, but it worked fine, because there were no cars—because they're
just weren't any. He didn't understand English, and I could hardly make
myself understood in my bad Spanish; but I did understand when he called
someone on his walkie-talkie to ask permission to tell me the "evil
guy's" name. He had to call three or four people, moving up the line,
before he got someone "high up enough" to give him permission to tell
me. Then I couldn't understand what he was saying, so he wrote it for me
on a scrap of paper.
HG: Who was the third evil person?
MJP: Luis Posada Carriles, someone who ultimately has been classified as
a terrorist by both the US and Cuba.
Along the Malécon as it passes the American Interest Section. These
kinds of anti-US government billboards are not common, although images
of the five men imprisoned in the US as Cuban spies are everywhere. The
man who, with Bush, equals Hitler, is Luis Pasado Carriles. Born in
Cuba, he is an anti-Castro terrorist charged in Panama with trying to
kill Castro, and in the US and elsewhere with other crimes. Bush
approved his release from prison in April 2007, against the advice of
the Justice Department. The New York Times headline read: "A Terrorist
HG: You also took portraits of some of the people you spoke to.
MJP: You can usually buy postcards of the sights wherever you go, so I
tend to focus on "urban-y" and transportation things—bike racks and
intersection configurations—and people. But in Cuba there were only
postcards of Che, and no mail service to the US, so there was no point
anyway. I like portraits, and if you want to get one, the person
generally has to cooperate, so, voilà, a great way to get talking to people.
HG: Do you think Yoani's blog captivated you because it brought you back
to the daily lives of the people you met while you were in Cuba?
MJP: Of course Yoani's voice, and especially then, so intimately placed
in the minutiae of her life and the lives of other Cubans on the island,
was captivating. But it might be overstating it a little to say that was
the major reason I became so engaged in it, because you have to
remember, there were almost no blogs coming out of Cuba, from the island
itself, at that time. Yoani was pretty much it. Of course if her blog
had been a lot of disengaged ranting, I probably wouldn't have continued
to read it. So yes, it was that intimate focus that really drew me in,
but I was looking hard, online, for something, anything, to read that
was written on the island.
HG: You say her writing focused on everyday life "especially then"—what
MJP: A few years ago, a journalist asked me if I thought Yoani's blog
had moved away from that immersion in daily life. This was after she
started traveling. I said she still chronicled her daily life, but that
it had changed so drastically: if she just wrote about how bad the
coffee is, and how her coffee pot exploded along with everyone else's
when the government put too many crushed peas in the coffee, it wouldn't
feel authentic anymore. Great, her coffee pot exploded (or didn't), but
the New York Times said she met with Jimmy Carter in Havana
yesterday—why isn't she telling us about that?
HG: Did you notice any connection between Yoani's blog and the narrative
that emerged from your photographs back in 2008?
MJP: Clearly everything about me and my worldview and my way of seeing,
thinking, feeling, writing, are my own and not Yoani's. But I felt a
connection to the point that I wanted to try to share her voice with
other English speakers.
But you've made me realize there is kind of an odd dissonance here,
because while my voice is not Yoani's voice and vice versa, Yoani's
voice in English is my interpretation of her voice, which cannot help
but get overlaid with my own voice and the words I choose and the way I
phrase things. So inevitably there is a distortion of her in what I do.
That is translation. It's unavoidable.
HG: Can you talk a little about this "distortion" in translating Yoani
and other Cubans?
MJP: I will say I have tried hard not to intrude, which leads to a whole
other conversation about translation and the choices of words and
phrasing that I made early on when I didn't know the language, choices I
almost certainly wouldn't have made had I understood, in a native kind
of way, what she was saying.
But I think these same choices accidentally set a pattern that was
powerful for many reasons. Cubans for whom Spanish is not their
"everyday" language—even if it is their first language—have been the
most enthusiastic about my translations, while naturally it seems they
would be the least happy, because they bring the best language skills to
it. But then I realized it isn't because the translations are so "good"
in the traditional sense—because they're not—but because, for fear of
getting it wrong, I left so much of the "castellano cubano" in the
English text. And that was a conscious decision: not to please Cubans in
exile, but to try to bring "more" of Yoani and more of Cuba and Cuban
Spanish to the English-language reader.
HG: Do you think your approach to translating Yoani's blog may have
attracted a larger readership in English? One that began with Cubans in
exile who recognized, in your translations, strains of a Spanish they
were familiar with but did not use every day?
MJP: No, not at all. Yoani's blog would have attracted a huge readership
in English with any reasonable translations. I think Cubans in exile,
and more to the point, the children and grandchildren of exiles, enjoy
seeing the words of their parents and grandparents reflected in the word
choices in the translations, but not to the extent that it generates
I have seen other translations of Yoani's writings here and there, and
with one exception, they have all been excellent.
HG: How did the exception go wrong?
MJP: There was a photo book being prepared on the architecture of the
"Cuban New School"—i.e. Socialist Brutalism. They asked Yoani to write a
short piece to accompany some photos of a boarding school in the
countryside that had been part of the "schools in the countryside"
project that her generation had attended. Yoani's response was a dark
essay titled "Concrete Forms to Forge a 'New Man.'" It opened with the
story of a fellow student who committed suicide by jumping off the roof
of the school.
The translator made Yoani sound like a Valley Girl. It was hilarious,
but horribly so. The editor asked for my help, and I retranslated it. I
did wonder what kind of impact Valley Girl-Yoani might have had if she'd
been translated that way from the start.
HG: You started translating Yoani's work shortly after you got back from
Cuba in 2008: Yoani's previous volunteer English translator stopped,
leading her to post a help-wanted ad on her blog. You answered after a
few weeks went by and no one else did. Is that right?
MJP: It was a few weeks at most, and it wasn't really a "help-wanted
ad," it was a little "by the way" at the bottom of a post. A sentence or
two. Other people did answer, but I guess she got my "translations" first.
HG: Can you describe the process of confronting Yoani's writing as a
novice translator who didn't know much of the language you were
translating from? What was your approach?
MJP: To say I was a "novice translator" at that point is a huge
overstatement. My approach was to ask for help translating by using my
computer skills and—most importantly—those of my partner-in-crime, Karen
Heffner Chun. Karen and I met when we were eight, and we've been friends
longer than we imagined we'd even be alive. She's been with me since
that first day when Yoani sent me the password to the English site and
said "it's yours now."
Along with the password, Yoani sent me "instructions" about how to use
Wordpress, which wasn't as common then as it is now. The background of
the site was all in German, because it had been set up by her friend in
Germany, and at the time there was no "change language" function. Her
accompanying instructions were in Spanish. Fortunately, little things
like foreign languages don't stop Karen, and we got it working.
That first night, we posted a "help" request in the domain's sidebar; by
morning a posse of volunteer helpers had arrived. There was also another
woman who had offered to help, Susanna Groves; Yoani gave me her email,
so she and I started off together. She quit later that year to help get
Obama elected, but by then there were already a lot of people who had
stepped up to help translate.
HG: As the demand for translators grew along with the Cuban blogosphere,
you and Karen founded an automated site called Hemos Oido, where
volunteers can access and translate Cuban blogs into English, French,
German, and Dutch; then you founded another site for English readers
called Translating Cuba. Can you talk about the process of founding the
sites and how they work?
MJP: By the time Karen and I created Hemos Oido, we were already
translating more than twenty blogs. But it was all case-by-case, with
people responding to the request for help on the sidebar; then I'd
manually send them links to blog posts. So as Cubans on the island were
writing more, and more people were offering to translate, it was getting
Karen suggested we try to put the translating online. We started using
Google Docs, which was labor-intensive in terms of manually loading
posts so multiple people could work on them; we did it for a few days
and were overwhelmed by the response.
So then Karen designed and coded Hemos Oido, a platform that
automatically picks up new posts from any blog we link to. Volunteers
can then access the posts on the site and translate them there. The site
notifies us when the posts have been translated and automatically
publishes the translations. Then, to make those translations more
accessible to readers, we created Translating Cuba, a site that
automatically pulls in all of the blogs that have been translated into
English so they can be read in one place.
HG: And Hemos Oido is an active site where volunteer translators can go
to help dissident bloggers.
MJP: It is—and it's growing. It worked great for several years, but now
it's breaking down again. The problem we're having is the result of
great things happening on the island—and I'm not referring to the "thaw"
or the regime's extremely limited reforms.
It's that the number of voices is exploding, along with the variety of
places people express themselves. So we can't just go look for good
blogs and link them in anymore. Also, many of "our" bloggers are posting
the same content on multiple sites. That's a great thing, but Hemos Oido
as a program can't search out this content, make judgments about what
should be translated, and pick it all up; that requires humans. We also
need to make sure that the same text doesn't load to our site more than
once from different sources, and that volunteers don't waste their time
translating something that's already done before we catch the overlap.
HG: Do you have any solutions on the horizon to keep up with the expansion?
MJP: We haven't figured out exactly what to do. We do have "off-line"
helpers, people I've gone back to assigning posts to. Alas, a couple of
our best translators are anonymous, and I have no idea who they are or
how to ask them if they want to help in this way.
Karen and I are still stuck with working for a living—and to support the
project—so we don't have infinite free time to do everything we would
like to do. It's already a full-time job for me, but it needs to be more
The same problem applies to people from other countries who want to do
something similar to what we're doing with Cuba. We're eager to help
them set it up, but again, no one has been able to pull it off yet. The
reality is, everyone has to work for a living, and when they realize how
much time this involves, they just can't commit.
HG: Do you think any of the skills you use in your day job as a
transportation engineer transferred to your work as a translator and
founder of Hemos Oido and Translating Cuba?
MJP: I joke about this, but yes, in a very odd way. A lot of the work
I've done in transportation is translating. I was deputy director on
Seattle's light rail project, and a lot of what I did was "translating"
all the engineering speak for elected officials and the general public,
and in some cases translating in the other direction as well.
I would say, however, that translating engineering speak to plain
English is really straightforward. On Hemos Oido, I started out
translating a language I didn't know, which is not only not
straightforward, it's impossible. So the volunteers have played an
essential role in teaching me the language and the cultural and
historical context; without them there would be no project. I value and
thank them more than I can possibly say.
HG: How did the initial support system of volunteers continue to grow
around you after you posted the help request in the sidebar? To what
extent do you know and have contact with each other?
MJP: The first Cubans who contacted me in 2008 in response to the
sidebar request eventually drifted away; I've never met any of them.
After that it just grew. In early 2009 I got in contact with Ernesto
Hernandez Busto, a Cuban living in Spain who was running Penultimos
Dias, one of the most important news sites about Cuba. The site now has
a more limited focus on the arts, but it remains active. He is also a
translator and he started helping me—and by "helping," I mean he and I
have exchanged over 900 messages. We ultimately met in New York and
remain in contact.
Norma Whiting emailed me in 2009 or earlier (2000+ messages to date) and
started helping on everything. Eventually she became Miriam Celaya's
translator, and we became great friends. She is a cousin, by the way, of
Adolfo Sainz, one of the prisoners of the Black Spring.
Also in 2009, I got an email from Raul Garcia Jr., a young Cuban
American living in Miami. He wrote (in Spanish) "for some time I've
wanted to help the blogger movement in Cuba. The problem is I don't know
how." From that first email he basically devoted his life to helping
people on the island. His own motivation was a desire to support and
honor his father, who had been imprisoned in Cuba at age 17 for joining
the movement against the Revolution. In addition to another million
things, Raul became a key member of the support network abroad for the
political prisoners from Cuba's Black Spring, who were driving the
regime crazy blogging "Behind the Bars." He also helped them when they
were finally released; most of them were forced into exile.
Isbel Alba, a Cuban exile who I eventually met in Quebec, contacted me
maybe in 2010 or possibly earlier. She also had a very influential
website about human rights in Cuba, and she introduced me to Alexis
Romay, a Cuban novelist, poet, musician, and teacher living in New
Jersey, and Ernesto Ariel Suarez, a Cuban writer and translator living
in Kansas City. Those two can tell me the entire cultural background of
all things Cuba starting with Columbus's landing and continuing up to
last week—not to mention explain how Cuban Spanish works in ways that I
finally "get it."
And most critically, a couple in Canada—a Cuban and a Chilean—who posted
Yoani's blog posts for her for years when she couldn't even see her own
blog from the island. They have been my most important help of every
kind: learning the language, managing the blog, expanding to lots of
blogs. They pretty much fly under the radar, so I won't mention their
names, but we basically just connected through chat programs and stayed
in touch all day, every day for a few years.
A non-Cuban I can't fail to mention is Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch
College. There is a series of something like ten or fourteen
three-minute videos he made of an interview with Yoani, back when you
could only record and post videos of that length on YouTube. He has
supported Translating Cuba and me personally in every possible way.
The "posse" eventually grew to include Cubans on the island who spoke
English and managed to finagle reasonable Internet access. The most
important of these is Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. I first needed his help
translating his own work, because he makes up words and mixes languages
and puns. So we were close before I met him in NYC on the same day I met
Yoani. He invited me to participate in a photo contest for Cubans on the
island, and to submit an article to a digital magazine he was
publishing, Voces (Voices). And now, though he's living in exile in
Iceland, I still translate for him and he for me.
HG: Internet access was largely off-limits to Cubans until last summer.
Now, the public Internet lounges that have popped up around Havana
charge $4.50/hour, or about one-fifth of a Cuban's monthly wages. Those
lucky enough to own a device can buy Wi-Fi access for $2/hour at the new
public hotspots. How has the enhancement of telecommunications in Cuba
affected the bloggers and your work with them?
MJP: It hasn't had that great of an effect yet. It's a little easier for
me to communicate with people in Cuba, because they are more likely to
see my emails in less than a week and more able to respond. Previously,
that might have taken a few weeks. But still, service is so bad and so
expensive that it's nothing like having broadband at home.
There continue to be a lot of ways Cubans get access to the Internet.
Several embassies offer Internet access to Cubans; I know a few bloggers
who have a weekly time slot at an embassy to get online for an hour.
Also, because home internet there is dial-up (though they're supposedly
starting an experiment in home broadband in Central Havana), people who
do have it—almost entirely people on the government's good side—can
"sell" their dial-up phone number with their log-in and password by the
hour. So you might buy 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., and you agree to log on at 3:01
a.m. and log off at 3:59 a.m., and not one second later, because someone
else has bought 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.; and you agree not to go to "bad"
websites, like politics or porn, that would get the account holder in
trouble. Others might have access only at work, but they can send and
receive emails for themselves and for friends, or for people who pay them.
It's important for people to understand that the bloggers—at least in
the earlier years—didn't just sit in their homes or embassies or hotels
and blog. They relied on a network of volunteers from all over the
world—very informal, set up by Cuban-to-Cuban contacts—who would create
and manage the actual blogs, hosted abroad, and they would post by email
through these intermediaries. The bloggers didn't see their own blogs.
And I know this way of working continues for many today. It's more
reliable, and cheaper. And there are a couple of million Cubans outside
of Cuba (and more every day), so it's not that hard to find someone
willing to help you.
HG: Were you ever afraid to trust any of the help you received,
translation-related or otherwise, given the political stakes inherent to
the writing of these bloggers?
MJP: It never occurred to me to distrust advice on political grounds, my
own naïveté showing I guess. Speaking of Yoani's writing in particular,
it would have been hard to distort it politically. For example, she'd
write articles like, "I live on a tropical island. I have a cold. Why
are there no lemons here?" When she wrote about days of "incredible
swaps" to get suture thread so that her friend's mother could have
surgery, and having to bring sheets, food, and cleaning supplies to the
hospital, it tells us more than all the rants and statistics ever could
about the current state of Cuba's highly vaunted healthcare system. It
was that approach, and her lack of political rants, that made her such a
powerful voice from the beginning.
I was led astray more than once, however, by translations in good
English that I assumed were perfect that were far from it, but not for
nefarious reasons—simply because I assumed the volunteers spoke Spanish
and it turned out some of them, not so much.
But the worst mistakes have been my own, and there were some doozies.
One of my "favorites" was a post where the first word was "Leo." I
couldn't figure out the grammar of how this Leo guy fit into the
sentence, but I made it work; he appeared two or three more times in the
text. It was maybe the Dutch translator who asked, "Who the hell is
Leo?" It turns out "Leo" means "I read"; it wasn't a man's name. Another
time the Dutch translator saved me from translating "umbrella" as "wool
socks"; I do remember thinking, Who in Cuba owns wool socks?
HG: It's possible to imagine what demographics might be reading the
blogs in Spanish, if it isn't Cubans on the island, but who is reading
MJP: I wish I knew precisely. We have a stats program that gives us the
usual information: how many readers, where they come from
geographically, what they search on, what posts they read the most. But
it doesn't really tell us who they are.
Encouraging, however, is how many quotes and links we're getting to our
articles from the mainstream press. I'll read articles in the New York
Times, the Washington Post, and Foreign Policy and see "our" words—which
means the voices of Cubans on the island—in these sources of influence.
HG: How has normalization affected the Cuban blogosphere? Has it
increased the number or reach of bloggers within Cuba?
MJP: "Normalization" is very young, and certainly in Cuba the physical
attacks on and arrests of human rights activists seem to have
intensified. I don't think we've seen changes in freedom of expression
and the press. Opposition blogs, websites, and Yoani's digital paper are
still censored on the island. Miriam Celaya wrote a great article on the
Probably the most significant "transition point" from there being just a
couple bloggers to lots of bloggers was the Blogger Academy project,
which is when Yoani and her colleagues started offering workshops to
aspiring bloggers on how to use social media tools and WordPress.
And of course when the government dropped the exit permit requirement,
and Yoani and other human rights activists on the island started
traveling the world, everything changed enormously.
HG: As early as 2008, Yoani had been named one of Time magazine's "100
Most Influential People in the World" and listed among Foreign Policy
magazine's "Ten Most Influential Latin American Intellectuals." But
because the Cuban government didn't drop their exit permit requirement
until 2012, Yoani wasn't able to leave the island until 2013. You
accompanied her on her first trip to the US that year. What was your
experience? Was it the first time you met her?
MJP: It was March 2013, and yes, it was the first time we met after five
years of working together. Before that I'd had one or two brief calls
with her, but with a price of US$ 1.00 per minute to call Cuba, I
couldn't afford it; and with my lack of Spanish and her lack of English,
there wasn't much point in our trying to talk on the phone. Also, the
few times I did call, we kept getting cut off. State security? Bad phone
service? I have no idea.
So what can I say? Meeting her in person, getting to hug her, was
fantastic. Who she is didn't surprise me, but it made me very happy,
because she is the person I thought she was, only happier, more
cheerful, and funnier. At the end of grueling days of being on, with
events and interviews nonstop, she never flagged or lost her sense of
humor. We shared a hotel room, so we were together 24/7; and when she
finally had quiet time, she was still smiling and laughing.
There were many high points, but one that really sticks out for me was
her press conference at the United Nations. Basically, the Cuban
government went nuts about the idea of Yoani being allowed to step foot
in the building or use any of the official facilities for a press
conference. They wrote a formal complaint, saying it would be an
"anti-Cuban action" and "grave attack" on the spirit of the United
Nations. So she wasn't allowed to use the "official" press conference
room. But she'd been invited by the UN Correspondents Association, which
has its own little space in some far corner of the building; they said
no one could tell them what to do in their own space. But the only place
they had that was "big enough" to set up in was a wide spot in the
hallway next to the copy machine; some of the reporters had chairs, many
were standing, and some were sitting on the floor. And Yoani was just so
articulate, so elegant, in making the case for the basic human rights of
the Cuban people.
HG: A protest erupted during one of Yoani's US appearances and you were
there. People shouted and unveiled signs in support of Castro and
against Yoani, which caused another group within the auditorium to start
chanting Yoani's name in support of her. Why do you think Yoani's
writing poses such a threat?
MJP: In New York City, there was an incident with some old white people
(like me) who (unlike me) never got over how "fun" it was to protest for
civil rights and against the Vietnam War, and who want to reprise that
"success." They totally ignore that despite some significant gains on
all fronts, we now have Black Lives Matter, making it clear we haven't
come nearly far enough on civil rights, active troops still in
Afghanistan, our longest involvement in any war ever, and a minimum wage
that isn't enough to live on. In the United States, these are perhaps
the most important causes of our time, along with global warming.
These old white people, apparently unwilling to take responsibility for
how much we have all failed to achieve in our own country, like to
believe there's some fairy tale paradise ninety miles offshore, and that
the rest of us are all too deluded—by CIA propaganda? I don't know, I
really don't know what these people believe—to admit it.
So for the people who didn't manage to create their own paradise, Yoani
is killing a lifetime of dreams that there really is a better world
someplace, right here on earth, rooted in freedom and equality,
brotherly and sisterly love, kindness and human understanding. As for
the threat to the Cuban so-called communists, aka the power elite, I
won't pretend to speak for them. But it's not hard to imagine their
HG: Protesters also accused Yoani of being translated by the CIA.
MJP: The one time I was in the room when people accused Yoani of being
translated by the CIA, she looked at me rather amused and asked me to
take the microphone. The old white people screaming away did shut up
when they saw this other old white person saying, "It's me, I'm 'the
CIA,' and is my check lost in the mail or what?!"
HG: Do you think Yoani is used to the protests yet?
MJP: One large event I attended was nearly shut down by the pro-paradise
versus it's-not-paradise-it's-a-totalitarian-hell crowds shouting at
each other. Yoani couldn't have gotten a word in if she'd wanted to.
Basically she watches this stuff in a sort of delighted amazement at
what happens in a free society where people are allowed to express
HG: Have you gone back to Cuba since your initial trip there in 2008?
MJP: Alas, no, and I really want to. I was planning to go a few years
ago, but was advised by some foreign journalists stationed there not to
do it for my own safety. But I think now, with the thaw, I probably
could, and I'm hoping to find a way to do that.
HG: Has your work with Yoani changed the way you reflect on that first trip?
MJP: Only slightly. The introduction I got to the country through Jenny
and the Cubans I talked to was totally consistent with what I read in
Yoani's blog then and later. Clearly a future trip would be very
different, and I really want to go back to meet all the people there who
are now my friends. I desperately want to hug them and share a laugh . .
. about anything . . . my horrible Spanish . . . anything.
But certainly my work with all the Cubans we translate has changed the
way I reflect on the whole world, past, present, and future. I see
things through a different lens—a clearer lens, I hope—and I'm more
tolerant of people I strongly disagree with, much less judgmental. I can
now understand how a totalitarian state can sustain itself over so many
decades and I find it completely inexplicable at the same time. So I've
learned to hold completely contradictory viewpoints in my mind. Maybe
I'm becoming a little Cuban!
HG: Has your relationship with language changed over the years since you
started your work with the Cuban bloggers?
MJP: Oh, of course. I still have problems with the small things—did the
man bite the dog or did the dog bite the man—but I now have a whole new
language, a culture, a history, a present, hopefully a future. It makes
me wish I spoke every language in the world, living and dead. I wish I
could talk to anyone anywhere, and I wish I not only had the words, but
the whole cultural understanding to really communicate.
I was telling a friend I hadn't seen for decades about translating
Cubans, and she nailed it: "You always were obsessed with words," she
said. The words are great fun, but context is even more so. It's all
been a gift to me in a way I can't even describe. I guess it's obvious,
because I'm now embarking on my ninth year of this. I'm not motivated by
a bleeding heart, but more by a happy, engaged heart, always excited by
new voices and new perspectives—though that's not to say I don't
sometimes get depressed to the point of tears by it all.
HG: You are reluctant to say you were a novice translator when you
embarked on this adventure. Would you call yourself a seasoned
translator by now?
MJP: Alas, absolutely not! Again, it's the simple stuff that still trips
me up, and it really, really bothers me that I have such a hard time
fluently understanding spoken Spanish and speaking it. My increasingly
deaf ears (too many rock concerts in the sixties, literally) are always
playing catch-up in English, and so much more so in Spanish.
But there are moments, more moments than not now, when I'm translating
and I just feel like I'm flying. There's a certain writing style we like
to call "Cuban baroque," which is basically making the structure of
every thought and sentence as complicated and arcane as possible. That
can be trying. But there are others who write with a fluidity and
clarity and whose thinking is so interesting, and who can frame an idea
and phrase it in way that it carries you along; you can feel your brain
cells lighting up. And I will say, when I feel I'm getting that
right—well, it is a very deep pleasure.
Source: Interview with Mary Jo Porter - Words Without Borders -
http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article/may-2016-feature-nonfiction-about-cuba-interview-with-mary-jo-porter Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 19 April 2016 — The 7th Congress of the Communist
Party of Cuba has confirmed the suspicions of the opposition. Despite
the changes in the socio-political context of the island, the Party is
not open to the possibility a multi-party political system, nor will
there be new "forms of privatization" or "shock therapies" for the
economy, as announced by President Raul Castro. But the disappointment
transcends the ranks of the opposition and comes from their own
membership. Some militants have opened friendly fire against the Party
leadership and used their space on the web to express their opposition
to the stagnation of the elites.
"The documents that will be put to the consideration and approval of the
VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (…) will not be discussed
with the membership at the grassroots," reflected Francisco Rodriguez
Cruz, known as "Paquito el de Cuba" and author of the blog of the same
name. Rodriguez Cruz published an article before the Party Congress
titled, "1,000 People Decide the Fate of the Nation?" "As a communist
militant I think that is not enough," he wrote.
Paquito el de Cuba considers appropriate mechanisms such as regional
meetings with leaders of various sectors of society, evaluation
assemblies and municipal elections, but considers them insufficient.
"Undoubtedly, these are valid ways. But pale (…) now that these
decisions are already signed. I repeat in public, I believe I have the
right (…) The changes underway and to come for Cuban society need much
more discussion," he claimed.
Yohan Gonzalez, from the official blog "From My Island," begins a post
titled "The Militant Who Wanted To Be," by explaining how it was his
dream as a young person to belong to the PCC. "I believe that only
through membership could I be a good revolutionary and good Cuban," he
recalls. Gonzalez, who confesses he is a socialist and not a communist,
returned his membership card to the Union of Young Communists (UJC) and
abandoned his aspiration, because he says he would have liked to be a
half-militant – "a person committed but realistic, disciplined but
critical" – like Paquito el de Cuba, to whom he refers directly.
"The Congress (…) opens having failed to push the popular debate of its
documents. I'm sure there are half-militants among the delegates,
helpful people, with a capacity to represent. But the future of the
country can not be in the hands of a few," he says.
González regrets the lack of transparency and that Cubans can not access
the documents the delegates have, that they don't address social issues
such as emigration, LGBTI rights or racism, and that there are no
younger people among the Party elite. "I did not convert myself into
this militant, but I have no regrets. Today I am more revolutionary than
I wanted to be and more Cuban. I am an equal of that half-militant who
will go along with everything that passes in the Congress but in the end
will still have the sensation they he could have done much more," he
"The time when the fate of Cuba it could be decided by a handful of men
is over." Thus begins the text entitled "The National Plan" by Harold
Cardenas Lema, blogger on La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba).
The author gives a good overview of the collective intelligence of the
Cuban people, who he considers the best educated in the region, to
reproach the not taking into account of this human capital.
"Our country has a thousand and one problems to resolve, some products
of the blockade and others very much our own," he says, before offering
a review of the reasons why the citizenry has given "a blank check to
the country's leadership." Cardenas shows that the bad governments prior
to 1959 and the popularity of the Revolution led to a faith in the
leadership of the PCC that has no foundation.
"It happens that this consensus was formed more than half a century ago,
with a generation that knew capitalism, who experienced the Agrarian
Reform Law, the Literacy Campaign. My generation knows only the Special
Period, the vicissitudes and the breakdown of values. Can the same
consensus work with us? I think not," he says.
Nevertheless, the blogger proposes an exercise of understanding with the
elites with those who think they have a plan. However, his belief that
politicians live in a bubble that separates them from reality leads him
to doubt the current capacity of the Party to solve Cubans' problems.
"By now we should have learned to be inclusive and not exclusive when
the time comes for collective construction. (…) This nation can
temporarily engage in politics with the people or against the people,
but permanently without the people is not possible," he says.
Source: Communist Militancy Expresses Its Disenchantment On The Web /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/communist-militancy-expresses-its-disenchantment-on-the-web-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Posted on April 3, 2015
The potential complications of the renewed diplomatic relations
between the U.S. and Cuba.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
It was about time. Uber taxi drives agree. Academics agree. Minority
leaders agree. American social activists agree. Radio, TV and press
editors agree. Even comedians agree. It's the only point of consensus in
the polarized US politics. No need to argue anymore. The left was right
and the right was wrong. Time to move forward. At least in this issue:
Yes, We Can (a cloned slogan from the socialist Sí Se Puede in the
posters and parades of La Habana). After 50-plus years of US diplomatic
stalemate and economic sanctions against Cuba, with Fidel Castro almost
a nonagenarian and his brother Raul to step down from presidency in
2018, the road to transitions on the Island, as in 1898, starts in
A secret agenda had been held for 18 months, unbeknownst to the US
Congress and the Cuban Parliament, but sanctified by the first Latin
American pope. In a reenactment of the US-China ping-pong engagement,
even the sperm of a Castro's spy was gently exported from a US federal
prison to beget a new life in Revolution Square. The long-sought family
reunification as the libidinous metaphor of the national reconciliation
about to come.
The climactic hallmark was on December 17th, as a fulfilled promise on
the day of San Lázaro Babalú Ayé, with two simultaneous speeches running
in parallel windows of millions of web-connected computers all around
the world except in Cuba: in one, the democratically-elected American
president Barack Obama; in the other, the dynastically-appointed Cuban
general Raul Castro. The former wearing the civil elegance of his suit
and a hi-tech reading device; the latter in military uniform, rescuing a
picture from his violent years before the Revolution in the fabulous
fifties, and reading from pile of paper. Quite a pluribus duo, without
liberty but with diplomacy for all.
Calls immediately exhausted the batteries of my Chinese mobile.
Everybody rushed for a quote about the end of the Castrozoic Cold War
Era. Only The New York Times was involved enough as to bet on a series
of op-eds published weeks in advance (by the way, for over a decade now
they also have prêt-à-porter the obituary of Fidel Castro by Anthony De
Palma). Some American Cubanologists, like Peter Kornbluh and David E.
Guggenheim were conveniently located on the Island that noon. The
popular reaction was overwhelming, they claimed. Tears should have come
to my eyes, according to the emotional interrogation imposed to me until
my smartphone was silenced.
A silence that lasts until today.
Barack Obama told the truth in his allocution: "The United States will
reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit
Cuba." Raul Castro lied with impassive impunity: "We have also agreed to
renew diplomatic relations." But this is still not the case.
It's too early to pretend to demonstrate my skepticism. Or cynicism. As
a good Castro subject I know that time on the Island means not money,
but more system's status quo. To keep begging for US bank credits, the
Revolution first needs to buy time. This is what biopolitics is all
about. A family fighting to secure a second Castro generation in
complete control after Fidel's and Raul's eventual deaths. Necropolitics.
Obama's hope was to reopen an embassy in Havana ahead of the Americas
summit on April 10th, as he declared to Reuters on March 2nd. In fact,
the US Interests Section in Havana has been for years the largest
diplomatic mission in Cuba, and no special budget needs to be considered
to reestablish the formal status lost in 1961.
Yet, Castro's hope might be to push back the US engagement to an
intolerable limit of stagnation. Havana insists now that the term
"normalization" will remain an absurdity while the US keeps Cuba on the
list of states that sponsor terrorism. A list currently under expedited
revision, as to the State Department to please the Cuban demands. The
Democratic White House cannot afford to welcome a Republican president
without having its job done —with or without Gitmo, for or against Radio
Martí, plus or less the billions requested by Cuba as a historical
compensation for decades of US embargo.
As the good-spirited Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
Affairs Roberta Jacobson flies to and from Havana, she's been forced to
smile for a selfie with Josefina Vidal and Gustavo Machín, her
counterparts of the Cuban foreign ministry. Technically, her company is
sign of prepotency in the time of appeasement, since in November 2002
Machín was expelled from the US in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes
case —a Castro top-level spy at the Pentagon— while in May 2003 Vidal
voluntarily left the US, when her husband Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera
—First Secretary of the Cuban consulate in DC— was also expelled for
After the mass media catharsis of the first round of talks last January,
the third one ended in a hermetic "professional atmosphere" according to
the Cuban official report, as abruptly as it was announced, and "with no
breakthrough on sticking points in an atmosphere of rising tension over
Venezuela", as recognized with concern by the The New York Times.
The State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to explain why she
announced "positive and constructive" progress in the discussions. She
has now renounced to setting any "timeline or a deadline." Again,
totalitarianism is as much about tyranny as about manipulation of time.
The last speech of Raul Castro in Caracas in support of the regime of
Nicolás Maduro came as an ice bucket water challenge: "The United States
should understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce or
buy Cuba nor intimidate Venezuela" [APPLAUSE] and "we won't concede one
iota in the defense of our sovereignty and independence, nor tolerate
any interference or conditioning in our internal affairs" [OVATION].
With their monologic belligerency in the Summit of the Americas in
Panama, they will "expose the mercenaries who present themselves as
Cuban civil society as well as their employers."
I won't travel to Panama this time, but I am worried of what could
happen to my colleague and friends there, faces with the para-civil
society that the regime is organizing as platoons of governmental NGOs,
as we all know that on this Island to "expose the mercenaries" means
routine repression by the political police: family harassment (Omni Zona
Franca Community Poetry Festival), censorship (Hip Hop Rotilla Annual
Festival), defamation (independent blogger Ernesto Morales), job
dismissal (intellectual Boris Gonzalez Arenas), imprisonment for years
with or without charges or trial (Sonia Garro), not paramilitary but
paracivil beatings (Roberto de Jesus Guerra, director of Hablemos Press
free-lance agency), temporary or permanent invalidation of travel
documents (activist Antonio Rodiles and performer artist Tania
Bruguera), repudiation mobs with or without throwing red paint (Mercedes
La Guardia Hernandez) or tar (Digna Rodríguez Ibañez) on the dissidents,
most of the time women —despite pro-Revolution feminists worldwide— and
Afro Cubans —despite pro-Castro race activists worldwide, and selective
extrajudicial killing (Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero from the Christian
Liberation Movement in July 2012).
Besides, after the nth resurrection of Fidel Castro last month he left
an untimely text for the record: against "the eccentric politics" and
"brutal plans of US government" Cubans and Venezuelans are united and
"ready to shed the last drop of their blood for their country". It was
not only the senile nightmare of a García-Márquez caudillo, because a
Cuban government official note denounced the executive order to consider
Venezuela a US national security threat as an "arbitrary,
interventionist and aggressive" move from President Obama.
Maybe we'll see in Cuba the masquerade of new investments and markets
and local licenses for businesses and more access to the internet and
even an electoral reform after the migratory reform, but each and every
one understood as concessions, with no fundamental freedoms guaranteed
as long as one and only one Communist Party keeps monopolizing all
political life, with State Security from the Ministry of the Interior as
the real source of governance of a model based on coercion more than in
a responsible citizenry, able to self-organize to participate in life
Is the Cuban self-transition from dictatorship to dictatocracy under way
with the US as a new geopolitical ally? Time will tell. It will not be
the first example of authoritarian regimes mutating into Socialist State
capitalism for the sake of regional stability. As the assassinated
leader Oswaldo Payá stated many times, we Cubans have the right to have
all of our rights recognized beyond any dispute or complicity among
power elites. Why what has been good for Americans since the Eighteenth
Century is not good for Cubans today? Is it too impolite to peacefully
demand that the Cuban people be consulted in a free and safe referendum
about the destiny of our nation?
Democracies seem guilty of their duty to foster democracy worldwide, but
Castroism is more than proud to Castrify democratic countries and still
play the victim. Anyway, even if this is a small step for democracy,
it's also a giant leap against decency, since Cuban sovereignty is
sequestered by a government that cannot be held accountable by our own
people. Maybe this is another victory for 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
at the end.
Certainly it is good news for America that the cry of "Yankees, come
home" echoes for the first time in our continent. In fact, as we keep on
leaving in migratory waves to the US —both legal and illegal— Cubans are
making space for Americans to reforest the Island. Since the nuclear
missile crisis of October 1962, these "human missiles" have been used as
a pressuring position by Havana in its undiplomatic relations with
Washington, DC, at least while the Cuban Adjustment Act, which
privileges Cubans to apply for a permanent resident status after one
year and a day in America, remains in place.
Unfortunately we Cubans got accustomed to voting with our feet in a sort
of pedestrian's plebiscite. Let's see what the US embassy will imply in
terms of profits and principles for the labyrinth of Cuban liberty.
31 March 2015
Source: Diplomacy, yes. Democracy, what for? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/diplomacy-yes-democracy-what-for-orlando-luis-pardo-lazo/ Continue reading
Posted: 04/01/2015 2:24 pm
Yoani Sanchez Award-winning Cuban blogger
Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 April 2015 -- Imagine that, after
a flight of more than nine hours, you arrive at your destination but
they don't let you get off the plane. Your legs are numb from the
journey, your relatives are waiting for you out there, and your
suitcases are full of gifts for friends, but an immigration official
informs you that you will not be allowed to enter the country of your
birth. You have to stay in your seat, tired and frustrated, while they
clean the plane for the next passengers. In the time you wait for it to
return to the airport whence you came, you can't stop asking yourself,
"How could this happen to me in my own country?"
That nightmare was just experienced by the artist Aldo "Maldito"
Menendez -- whose nickname means "cursed" -- as he tried to visit Cuba
to participate in the Cervantes Alternate Lives Festival of Camagüey
(FIVAC). The Cuban consulate in Spain had already warned him that he was
not welcome on the island and had even stamped his passport with an
authoritarian "annulled" on the so-called "empowerment" that Cuban
emigrants need to enter their own country. But the truly maldito was not
satisfied and wanted to experience firsthand whether they really
wouldn't let him cross the border.
Like any artist, Maldito is daring and irreverent. His works are
provocative, and even the title of his blog, Castor Jaboa, is an anagram
that, when we reorder its letters, delivers its message loud and clear.*
However, beyond his art, this young man, who studied at the San
Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts in Havana, is a real cubanazo
who boasts the talent, mischievousness and humor that so characterize
us.** So how is it possible that, for political reasons, he is prevented
from being in the place where he's from, the site from which flows much
of his art and his world of reference?
Maldito's is not a new story, but that is no reason that we should get
used to such abuse and cease to denounce it. After more than two years
of immigration reform, its implementation has not eliminated the
blackmail that Cuban emigrants are subjected to in order to enter the
island. The punishment of those who criticize the Cuban government from
their residence abroad remains a denial of their right to return.
A few, protected by their power, decide who can once again walk these
streets, embrace their friends, be in the house where they spent their
childhood. And they do it from the arrogance of believing that they,
with their ideology and their military uniforms, represent the essence
of Cuba, when in realty they only manage to deform it, to restrict it,
to kill it.
*"Castor Jaboa" is an anagram for "Abajo Castro" ("Down With Castro").
**A cubanazo is a boisterous, shamelessly stereotypical Cuban man (a
woman would be a cubanaza) who dresses, walks, speaks and thinks in
uniquely Cuban ways.
Source: In Cuba the Regime Decides Who Can, and Can't, Go Home Again |
Yoani Sanchez -
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yoani-sanchez/in-cuba-the-regime-decide_b_6986992.html Continue reading
The biggest change to the island's economy isn't the thaw in U.S.-Cuba
April 1, 2015
by Patrick Symmes
The currency crisis starts about 75 feet into Cuba. I land in the late
afternoon and, after clearing customs, step into the busy arrivals hall
of Havana's airport looking for help. I ask a woman in a gray,
military-like uniform where I can change money. "Follow me," she says.
But she doesn't turn left, toward the airport's exchange kiosk. Called
cadecas, these government-run currency shops are the only legal way,
along with banks, to swap your foreign money for Cuba's tourist tender,
the CUC. Instead, my guide turns right and only comes clean when we
reach a quiet area at the top of an escalator. "The official rate is 87
for a hundred," she whispers, meaning CUCs to dollars. "I'm giving you
90. So it's a good deal for you."
I want to convert $500, and she doesn't blink an eye. "Go in the men's
room and count your money out," she instructs. "I'll do the same in the
The bathroom is crowded, with not one but two staff and the usual
traffic of an airport in the evening. There's no toilet paper. In an
unlit stall I try counting to 25 while laying $20 bills on my knees.
There's an urgent knock, and under the door I see high heels. "I'm still
counting," I say.
She's back two minutes later and pushes her way into my stall. We trade
stacks, count, and the tryst is over. For my $500, I get 450 CUCs, the
currency that's been required for the purchase of almost anything
important in Cuba since 1994. CUCs aren't paid to Cubans; islanders
receive their wages in a different currency, the grubby national peso
that features Che Guevara's face, among others, but is worth just 1/25th
as much as a CUC. Issued in shades of citrus and berry, the
CUC—dollarized, tourist-friendly money—has for 21 years been the key to
a better life in Cuba, as well as a stinging reminder of the difference
between the haves and the have-nots. But that's about to change: Cuba is
going to kill the CUC. Described as a matter of fairness by President
Raúl Castro, the end of the two-currency system is also the key to
overhauling the uniquely incompetent and centrally planned chaos machine
that is the Cuban economy.
Even in Cuba there are markets, and the effects of Castro's October
announcement of a five-step plan for phasing out the CUC are already
rippling out to every wallet in the country. The government has issued
notifications and price conversion charts, and introduced new, larger
bills to supplement the low-value national peso. Over the next year, the
CUC will be invalidated—what Cuban economists call Day Zero—and then, in
steps four and five, the regular Cuban peso will become exchangeable and
be floated against a basket of five currencies: the yuan, the euro, the
U.S. dollar, and two others to be named later.
Thanks to the expected normalization of relations with the U.S.,
tourism, already the engine of Cuba's current economic boom, is expected
to grow enormously—though by this time next year foreigners will be
required to negotiate their visits with mounds of regular pesos. Raúl
Castro is effectively gambling that he can release some control over the
economy in exchange for growth, ensuring the regime's survival.
The reality, however, may be anything but orderly. During my visit, I
witness the hoarding of dollars, an unstable black market, and a deep
distrust of the government's financial speculations. Get out of CUCs,
the rumors urge, and into dollars. For a 3 percent spread, a woman will
even follow you into a bathroom stall.
In January 1961, a cargo ship arrived in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba
bearing a load of freshly minted cash. Cuba's pre-revolutionary peso had
been stable and valuable for decades, a source of patriotic pride.
Overnight, the Cuban revolution invalidated the old peso and replaced it
with new bills, signed by Che Guevara and worth what the government said
they were worth. The gesture sidelined opponents, reduced the
independence of the professional and middle classes, and effectively
seized the island's remaining wealth in one gesture. In 1967, when Che
died, it was his face that went on the currency, memorably gracing a
3-peso note that would get you lunch and a drink. Today that same bill
is worth 12¢.
The end of Soviet subsidies in 1991 brought real economic desperation to
Cuba. Dollars were traded on the black market. (In a dark Havana alley,
I once got 125 pesos for a single greenback in a hurried transaction
with a frightened man.) By 1994, in an effort to co-opt the black
markets and once again take hold of the island's resources, the
government introduced the CUC. Initially this was strictly for tourists,
the only legal tender for all those mojitos and langoustines. The CUC
was pegged at 1:1 with the U.S. dollar, and just the commissions on
exchanging it—up to 20 percent—earned the Cuban government billions a year.
The CUC turned tourism into a lucrative lifeline during the 1990s, and
at first only a few essential imports—shoes, soap, tires—were sold to
Cubans in CUCs, at a few, heavily guarded stores. Today those misnamed
"dollar stores" exist in every neighborhood, and the CUC, first intended
to insulate Cubans from capitalism, is the only way to buy the majority
of consumer goods.
This is the Cuban dilemma: Salaries are paid in ordinary pesos, and
average just $20 a month, even though the cost of survival runs around
$50 a month, and must be paid for with CUCs at government stores that,
until now, accepted nothing else. As crazily inefficient as the existing
two-currency system appears, it has allowed the government to maintain
near-total dominance of the economy. The Cuban revolution has always
viewed money as a problem, not a solution. That's why the peso of the
old republic had to be destroyed overnight in 1961. Having money let
people be independent and operate outside the system. "It's part of the
DNA that Fidel imprinted on the revolution," notes Ted Henken, a
sociologist at Baruch College who has specialized in the island.
What the government has finally grasped is that the two-currency system
has become economically and politically unsustainable. To get around it,
Cubans steal state resources, work black market jobs, and even arbitrage
the price differential between mangoes at opposite ends of the country.
"Those in the peso-only economy are completely dependent on the
government, which is in control of more than 85 percent of the total
economy," says John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and
Economic Council in New York. For the citizenry to "have a legitimate
stake in the economy," he notes, there should be one currency, used for
salaries and all stores, and traded openly. "It needs to happen,"
No política. That's what Yamil Alvarez Torres says as he settles onto a
hotel sofa in Old Havana, his Under Armour socks showing a fashionable
amount of ankle from beneath pressed jeans and a striped dress shirt.
Alvarez looks the part of the new Cuban entrepreneur, a successful
restaurant owner who has bourgeois hobbies—dogs and free diving—and an
almost unlimited confidence in the future. But no politics. Like most
Cubans, he avoids talking or even thinking about the nation's closed and
secretive political system too much.
Havana today is in physical bloom. A gallon of paint costs 30 percent of
a typical monthly salary, yet half the houses in the city seem freshly
painted. The once-ubiquitous and fuming thunder chariots of old Detroit
are either shined up with new chrome and paint or, more often, sidelined
by more recent and reliable Korean and Chinese vehicles. The people I'd
known on the edge of starvation over the last 20 years of visiting are
now fighting the creep of their waistlines and the return of pastries
and deep-fried everything at street-corner kiosks. Even in 1991, Cuba
seemed more open than it was, an island without barbed wire or machine
guns, the friendly blue ocean serving as its Berlin Wall. Now the
openness is tangible: In December, Cuba and the U.S. announced that the
two intend to reestablish relations after more than four decades of
enmity. On Havana's streets, there's a charge of anticipation, and one
senses a people eager to embrace the world.
Until a few years ago, Cubans were not allowed to open private businesses.
"It's getting easier and easier to do business in Havana," Alvarez tells
me. "If you get your logistics worked out, you can do it." I'd first
visited his restaurant, Los Mercaderes, two years before, when he'd
opened it as a paladar, or home restaurant, and the place had an empty,
tentative feel. Now he has 50 employees and full tables every night,
with musicians treading out jazz and Buena Vista Social Club hits from a
tiny balcony; he and his wife have moved to another property.
He's nonplussed about the currency change: "If you are running a
business and doing well, you are going to do well with one currency or
two. ... Honestly, I believe that anything you do efficiently and
professionally is going to succeed in Cuba."
Efficiency and professionalism require reversing decades of perverse
Cuban incentives, however. Most waiters are state-trained and paid in
worthless pesos: They often spend more time on break, or talking to
friends in the street, than attending to diners. "They expect to have
their job forever," Alvarez says. "They get used to being bad." So he
hires blank slates: English-speaking college grads, many of whom have
never seen the inside of a nice restaurant before. "The main thing,"
Alvarez says, "is we want zero experience."
He sounds optimistic. "Very," he says. "There are over 250,000
entrepreneurs in Cuba since the new opportunities. … This is a door
opening that isn't going to close."
If the opening has an official advocate, it's Omar Everleny, the lead
economist at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy. The center
is in a onetime private residence in an elegant Havana neighborhood,
surrounded by embassies. Despite arriving at the building with an
appointment at 4 p.m., I find it empty; the next morning Everleny meets
me in the library, amid the smell of decaying paper, to walk through the
slow death of the CUC and the likely benefits for Cuba.
Everleny, like many Cubans, can recite the exact date economic reforms
began: Sept. 9, 2010. Raúl Castro had assumed control in 2006, during
his brother's gastrointestinal illness. But his official promotion to
leadership took two more years, and not till the fall of 2010 did he
spell out reforms that expanded self-employment, removed limits on
hiring by small businesses, and protected foreign investors from
expropriation. Joint-venture hotels are routine now, with 60,000 rooms
available. A new container port at Mariel, built by the Brazilian
government, has created export capacity for a country that exports very
little. More important, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has gambled
that pharmaceutical production and other tightly controlled businesses
can thrive here.
The most probable scenario is that Cuba will reluctantly follow the
China model. Cuba isn't embracing freewheeling capitalism—Cubans are
still allowed only one business each and are hemmed in on all sides by
monopoly controls—but the back streets of Havana reminded me of no place
more than the grim but awakening Beijing of 1987, when the People's
Republic also had two currencies. Cuba limits self-employment to 201
categories, like Doll and Toy Repair (No. 128) and Breeder/Seller of
Pets (No. 26). Even so, the number of licensed entrepreneurs has grown
from 140,000 in 2010 to more than half a million today. Unlike a
previous wave of self-employment in the 1990s, which was limited to
survival-oriented trades like knife-sharpening (No. 6) or tire repair
(No. 113), about half of today's licensed businesspeople are real
entrepreneurs, concentrated heavily in tourism and restaurants but
including taxi drivers, transport companies, clothing shops,
cooperatives producing baby clothes, and lots of construction.
Raúl Castro has meanwhile removed a series of prohibitions that
infuriated Cubans: They can now own cell phones, buy and sell their
houses, and even stay in the hard-currency hotels (817,000 did last
year) that were once the symbol of foreign privilege. Raúl has also
loosened, if not released, his grip on expression. Dissidents and regime
opponents who were long blocked from leaving the country are now
routinely seen at conferences in Miami, New York, and Brussels. In the
1970s, Cuba had some 15,000 political prisoners; today that number is
between 50 and 60, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation.
The currency change is already happening, Everleny notes. Step one was
to tell people, to prepare them psychologically for the coming
transition. Step two, which began a week before my February arrival, was
to roll out new, larger-denomination peso bills, so that people could
pay higher prices without carrying a backpack.
The timing of the remaining three steps remains vague, in the Cuban way.
Raúl had said in his speech that the two currencies had to be reconciled
before the next Communist Party congress. That's scheduled for April 16,
2016. The only thing known was that Day Zero would come before then.
To see how Raúl's changes and the looming currency conversion are
playing out, I travel to Sancti Spíritus, a colonial town in central
Cuba I hadn't seen for 24 years. I'd hitchhiked there in 1991, a two-day
epic that required waiting under bridges with crowds of kind but needy
Cubans and a return trip on a dilapidated train that stopped randomly
for hours. This time I buy a seat in an unmarked Moscovich, a legal
private taxi that roars inland, stopping only to slip behind a barn to
buy black-market gasoline, fuel that was manually cranked into our tank.
"Sorry about the smell," my driver says, "but this is the only way."
Six hours of driving sweep me into the flat, colonnaded city. Many
things are still as I remember them. The streets are sleepy, the bars
bleak, and the local bus network consists of eight-person carts towed by
horse. Yet even here there's fresh paint, a computer repair business,
and private furniture shops. I try to pay for ice cream with CUCs,
making the woman laugh; the price is in pesos, 1/25th as much. The
reverse happens at night, in the town's best restaurant. Because
everyone in the place is Cuban, I expect grim portions and pesos. But
the shrimp are superb, a sommelier shows off a genuine wine cellar, and
the Cubans all pay hard-currency prices, half a month's salary on beer,
beef, and watching baseball. In two decades of visiting, this is the
first time I've shared a real restaurant with Cubans.
In the morning I go to buy a refrigerator. Home appliances are one of
the most desirable items in Cuba, but their sale is restricted to a
narrow range of state stores called electrohogars, and Sancti Spíritus
has two of them off the town plaza. One is shut, the other sleepy and
small, with more floor space given over to selling ice cream and soda
than consumer durables. But in one corner are hair curlers, electric
frying pans, all-in-one laundry machines, and a few Daewoo
refrigerators. Many Cubans are eager to replace their 1950s fridges, but
buying a full-size model means coming up with 910.65 CUC. At the
bathroom-stall conversion rate, that's $1,001, or twice the price of a
similar model on Amazon.com. It's also—as a new price tag says—22,675
pesos, or about four years' worth of the average Cuban salary. "If
you're going to buy a refrigerator," Everleny tells me, "you're not
going to pay for it with 20s. You'd have to carry a trunk." The release
of new, larger denominations of standard peso bills is meant to smooth
such transactions, but a year from now, with the peso possibly floating
against a basket of currencies, there's a risk that hidden inflation and
exaggerated purchasing power could surface. Many people are hoarding
hundred-dollar bills simply to be safe.
On the way back to Havana, I ride on a CUC bus. In the past, regular
people had no choice but to ride peso buses that were scarce, slow, and
crowded. For 23 CUCs I get a seat on a punctual express that fills up
mainly with foreign tourists but also some Cubans, the kind who have
more than an average month's salary to spend on a bus ticket. We pass
quickly through a string of grim cities—Colón, Cárdenas, Matanzas—all
poor and unvarnished yet bustling with shops and commerce I've never
seen before in Cuba. Like a vacuum, the unmet demand of Cubans is
pulling reform to the farthest corners of the island.
Cuba has had a mixed economy for a long time: socialist until the food
ran out, free-market thereafter. Critically, some of those markets are
now legal and enriching, like the new real estate market that has seen
houses in prime parts of Havana trade for hundreds of thousands of
dollars (or CUCs, actually). There are also smaller, more clandestine
markets, even for things like data. Many thousands of Cubans pay a fee
to get what's called el paquete, an assortment of films, TV shows, video
games, glossy magazines, and books from inside and outside the country.
Cuba is ranked alongside Iran and North Korea for Internet censorship,
with only a heavily filtered intranet available at an hourly price. El
paquete is therefore a black-market delivery system, full of
inefficiencies. The information is hand-carried into the country once a
month, and the collection of American, Spanish, Mexican, and even Cuban
media is passed around Havana on a terabyte-sized drive, or shared via
illegal Wi-Fi networks in private homes.
The blogger Yoani Sanchez points out that this black market in
information sticks to a familiar Cuban rule—nothing in el paquete should
be explicitly political, to avoid drawing attention. But even the
apolitical is subversive here, she says; when Cuban readers flock to
lifestyle articles and glossy celebrity magazine covers, they're
imagining themselves in a different country. Everything they see in this
digital realm—churros recipes, listicles on the secrets of
entrepreneurial thinking—is part of a different state of mind, a
terabyte of autonomy and desire.
Even though the economy looks better than at any time since 1991, Cuba
remains deeply, dangerously reliant on Venezuela's collapsing economy.
The heirs of Hugo Chávez have kept the lights on in Havana by granting
Cuba 100,000 barrels of oil a day at about half the market price. That
effectively hides 45 percent of the island's trade deficit. Venezuela
also pays $5.5 billion a year for the almost 40,000 Cuban medical
professionals who now make up half of its health-care personnel. Neither
support can endure unchanged.
When MasterCard announced it would begin accepting charges from Cuba on
March 1, the Cuban government slapped that down. U.S. airlines can now
start flying directly to Cuba, or so Washington says—but there will
likely be years of negotiations over safety, landing fees, and the
reciprocal right of Cubana, a state-controlled, military-operated
airline, to land its planes in Miami. The last thing on the Cuban list
of reforms is sharing power. The Communist Party reflexively insists
that nothing will change in Cuba, ever, but Obama's rapprochement is
certain to have an effect. Dissidents, the politically ambitious, and
human-rights activists believe that some day they'll be legally allowed
to exist and their now-secretive work can become routine. The death of
the CUC may turn out to be Day Zero for more than funny money.
Source: Cuba's New Money - Bloomberg Business -
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-04-01/cuba-s-new-money Continue reading
Posted on March 31, 2015
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 30 March 2015 — The Surprised
Pupil is a program whose first mistake is the name. With quite mediocre
staging, presentation and content, really this television program has
nothing surprising to see. But to hear, maybe some viewer or another was
hoping that its most recent on-air output would tackle seriously a very
thorny topic: censorship.
However, that viewer with high expectations was soon disappointed.
Censorship is a problem that affects every Cuban producer today, but The
Pupil did not worry about that. It was foreign censorship, that which
nations supposedly suffer "under the dominion of big corporations," that
occupied the program.
There was even a segment dedicated to McCarthyism, that period of
"repressive delirium" in the United States in which "great artists lived
through times of accusations, interrogations, trials and torture," said
the program's host. Not even hinted at were the anti-intellectual raids
undertaken by the Cuban government, those whose spirit was defined by
Fidel Castro in his phrase reminiscent of Mussolini: "Within the
Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing."
It would be too much to ask that they openly address chapters as
regrettable as the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the
university purification processes, or the repudiation rallies. Or to
remember how less than 40 years ago listening to The Beatles could lead
to suspicion. Those pages of the national history have been forgotten by
the official media.
If, after all, few know who Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas or Heberto
Padilla were; and if the ghosts of Pinero or Lezama Lima have suffered
exorcisms of posthumous atonement, then what sense does it make to speak
of censorship in Cuba?
Maybe none for those guests who lent their words to The Surprised Pupil.
They used, for example, statements by the actor Enrique Molina to a
Spanish speaking chain for a digression about the financing of projects.
As "there exists no state budget for filmmaking, [Cuban] directors have
to seek financing abroad," said he who played Silvestre Canizo on the
popular soap opera Tierra Brava.
Molina, who obviously does not have any intention of demanding anything
from the Ministry of Culture, blamed the lack of money on the lack of
foreign producers "with good intentions and honesty" who seek something
different than reflecting "the ugly things of Havana" or "everything
challenging the politics of the country." That, together with the
difficulties that the "blockade" involves in bringing Cuban cinema
abroad, constitutes censorship for this artist.
For the musician Fidel Diaz Castro, "the censors of the contemporary
world have turned into diplomats" because they say: "My fellow, I would
like to place your work, but that doesn't sell." Here he referred to the
censorship imposed by marketplace preferences, although it could well be
an attempt to justify his own incompetence.
Another of the guests was Iroel Sanchez, a key figure in the official
blogosphere in a country without the Internet. The blogger spoke of a
documentary that criticizes the media groups owned by financial
conglomerates. "In the United States one can speak ill of a Democratic
or a Republican president," said Sanchez, "but (…) you cannot speak
badly of the owners of those big finance groups that control the means
Iroel Sanchez did not cite the example in which the governing party and
the owner of the means of communication are the same. This is precisely
the Cuban case where the Communist Party is the exclusive owner of the
The common denominator throughout The Pupil was the American topic.
Judging by the final message, there persists in that country a fierce
repression of transnational reach. And as Cuban television said it,
doubting it is strictly prohibited. There was no time to mention those
on the Island who seek to issue a critical judgment outside of the given
guidelines. Is that also the fault of an external enemy?
The Surprised Pupil is indeed very badly named. The greater error is
having conceived as a surprise, and not as an insult, that the official
discourse goes unpunished yet again. That is what happens when censors
have no one to censor them.
Translated by MLK
Source: The Censors Talk about Censorship / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel
Gonzalez | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-censors-talk-about-censorship-14ymedio-victor-ariel-gonzalez/ Continue reading
Posted on March 29, 2015
No blogger, no cry.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
1 In the beginning was the Blog. 2 But blogs were formless and empty. 3
Repression was all over the blogosphere. 4 And the citizens saw the
blogs were good. 5 So that lacking other channels of expression, the
Cuban civil society occupied blogosphere as a tool for dissent. 6 Won't
you help to share these blogs of freedom? 7 Redemption blogs, redemption
blogs to emancipate ourselves from the State.
As early as in the summer of 2005, I opened a blog for publishing a
literary and opinion magazine that three Cuban writers decide to edit in
Havana: Cacharro(s) —in English, Junk(s).
Lizabel Monica, Jorge Alberto Aguiar and I were posting our texts in
cyberspace, hoping for a reader abroad to save us from the silence
within. We couldn't imagine that in a couple of years our initial
experiment was to be ignored in the history of Cuban blogosphere, when
our efforts to escape not only censorship, but also the mass media
mediocrity of the Revolution, were displaced by new voices with high
public impact both from the cultural and political fields.
This happened when the Consenso —Consensus— digital magazine became
Contodos —With All— and opened the website Desdecuba.com, directed by
Reinaldo Escobar, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Miriam Celaya, Dimas Castellanos,
among others, including a webmaster who, in April 2007, started a very
simple WordPress blog called Generation Y. The trademark Yoani Sánchez
was born, as well as the first virtual revolution in the time of Castro.
This was the genesis of an independent movement of citizen journalism
which challenged the lack of transparency of the public sphere in Cuba,
a country still without private Internet today.
Cuban top-level intelligence commanders like Ramiro Valdes have stated
that the Internet is a "wild horse" that "must be tamed" before offering
it to the people. After many promises and postpositions, including a
submarine fiber-optic cable that connects us with Venezuela since 2011,
Cubans are still waiting for a miracle.cu, although the vice-president
Miguel Diaz Canel has warned our press not to be objective but "loyal to
Fidel, Raul, and the Revolution", while Fidel himself determined that
the "internet is a revolutionary tool".
Elaine Diaz, blogger of La Polemica Digital —The Digital Polemics— known
as critical of certain official measures, but at the same time a
professor of journalism at Havana University and now a Nieman Fellow at
Harvard University, in her degree thesis about the Cuban blogosphere
"scientifically" established in terms of topics and chronology that none
of the renowned dissident bloggers were pioneers at all, thus diluting
this phenomenon in an ocean of other blogs practically discovered by
her, up to nearly 3,000 today, which outnumbers by far the dozens of
local independent bloggers.
Diaz quotes only those blogs that can be quoted in Cuba without risking
her research position, like Patria y Humanidad —Homeland and Mankind—
since 2006 administered by Luis Sexto, a winner of the National
Journalism Prize; and La Isla y la Espina —The Island and the Thorn—
since 2007 administered by Reinaldo Cedeño, both defined as open to
"foreign authors" and to "hot heated debates" but, of course, within the
temperature limits of political discipline on the Island.
Diaz recognizes that the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and no less
than the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban
Communist Party, authorized more than 1,000 official journalists to open
blogs from their workplaces or privileged home connections, in order to
—as Milena Recio wrote in her article "Cuban blogs: an entrenched
identity"— reproduce in cyberspace the same battlefield logic of the
street propaganda, to "counteract the distorted and opposite speeches
from hegemonic mass media" against the Revolution.
The very Code of Ethics of UPEC rejects "hyper-criticism" in its article
7, while in articles 8 and 9 reminds their members to "maintain a social
and moral behavior in accordance with the principles and norms of our
society […] to promote the best of our national values and the constant
improvement of our socialist society". And after paternalism comes a
large list of punishments, which includes imprisonment, as happened to a
journalist from the Communist Party newspaper Granma, Jose Antonio
Torres, accused of espionage after one of his official reports.
Diaz also proposes the "emancipatory and anti-capitalist usefulness of
the new media and technology" in Cuba, and the need of "virtual symbols"
for a country where it is "possible" the "horizontal dialogue", beyond
power hierarchies and all kinds of social exclusion: by race, by gender,
by sexual preference, by economic status, etc. Although she omits to
mention the cause of all discriminations in Cuba: the political
intolerance and hate speech of the revolutionary government, summarized
by Fidel Castro in his speech to Cuban intellectuals in 1961: "Within
the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing."
Recently, this "dialogue" approach has been updated by the web Cuba
Posible of Lenier Gonzalez and Roberto Veiga, former editors of a
Catholic Church magazine that published some civil debates, where
certain civil society activists managed to participate. Cuba
Posible claims for the complicit concept of "loyal opposition" to the
regime, if critics are to be considered legitimate. Besides, Gonzalez
and Veiga urge the Cuban dissidence to commit suicide and stop all the
support they receive from foreign NGOs, despite the detail that they
both defended this viewpoint from Washington DC, invited in January 2015
by a compendium of US pro-Castro NGOs, like the Cuba Research Center of
During the last decade, the Cuban alternative blogosphere has expanded
and contracted like the cycles of a claustrophobic universe. Its main
communication strategies and activists have renovated only to remain
With my blog of fictionalized chronicles Lunes de Post-Revolution —Post
Revolution Mondays— and my photoblog Boring Home Utopics, I have
witnessed most of this Cuban digital e-volution, with its pro-human
rights achievements and, unfortunately, with today´s drawbacks in front
of a State involved in a self-transition to capitalism without
capitalists, but with accomplices of Castros' agenda.
Most of free-lance Cubans' blogs are linked in the websites
HavanaTimes.org and VocesCubanas.com, where can be found the
famous Generation Y of Yoani Sanchez, blogs from visual artists like the
graffiti performer Danilo Maldonado El Sexto (in jail since last
December) and the photographer Claudio Fuentes, blogs dedicated to new
media and technologies like the one by Walfrido Lopez, blogs from
independent lawyers to give legal advice like the unregistered Cuban
Juridical Association of Wilfredo Vallin, blogs from religious leaders
like the Baptist minister Mario Felix Lleonart, blogs of digital
publications like Plural Thinking Notebooks, Notebooks for the
Transition, and the magazine Voices edited by me, community
participation initiatives like Pais de Pixeles photo-contest, blogs of
filmed debate projects which then are uploaded to the web to impact on
public opinion, like Razones Ciudadanas/Citizens' Quests.
Thanks to the volunteer amateur projects TranslatingCuba.com and
HemosOido.com many of these blogs are distributed beyond geographical
isolation and the barriers of language.
Mainly in Havana, much closer to the www than Cuban pre-technological
countryside, events have been held to shift from the cyberspace to
citizen mobilization, like the Blogger Academy where we teach the
technical rudiments of self-publication, as well as the primitive option
of tweeting by an international SMS sent from the Island, as local
mobiles have no internet service in Cuba. Other events also held in
private houses, like the two annual editions of Click Festival 2012 and
2013, had the privilege to count on international experts on blogs, and
consequently they were stigmatized by the governmental blogosphere as
being part of a subversive conspiracy to disrupt social stability.
Indeed, cyber-bullying is the less brutal answer of Castro's political
police to Cubans exercising our right to freedom of expression.
Two inflexion points in this abusive battle of the government against
their own citizenry, occurred in 2011. First, the Cuban TV showed a
weekly series on Cyber-mercenaries where all independent activists were
severely threatened to be prosecuted (coincidentally, Elaine Diaz was
used an example of blogging correctly). Then a suspicious video leak
occurred from State Security, where an officer later identified by the
social media as Eduardo "Tato" Fontes Suarez, delivers a conference for
the Ministry of the Interior to teach them how to manipulate the
internet in the era of an American president "much worse the Bush",
implementing a clone blogosphere to reproduce Cuban official press and
saturate the web with convenient contents. This includes the logic of
creating authorized local versions of Wikipedia (like Ecured), Facebook
(like La Tendedera), Twitter (like El Pitazo), etc.
This should remind us of the theories of Evgeny Morozov on how
disappointing is the excess of web optimism, because repressors also
learn how to take advantage of the interconnected world to
channelize and control social discontent to their own convenience.
Unfortunately, after the 2013 migratory reform that for the first time
in decades allowed Cubans to travel abroad without the humiliating "exit
permit" or "definitive departure", international recognition of Cuban
civil society leadership has meant a national weakening of our networks
and the dispersion of our already limited impact on the Island.
All the peaceful movements and prominent personalities of Cuban civil
society, that in the good old days of 2008-2011 seemed about to
integrate in a unified opposition front with political implications, are
now splintered in their respective personal initiatives among
themselves. The more successful their international projections, the
more isolated among themselves are their national projects. We Cubans
are still lacking a culture of open polemics and understanding of
differences. After more than half a century, Castroism has castrified
even their opponents.
Here are some sad examples, as they all are my dear friends and have
been fighting quite a long time for a better future in Cuba:
The Ladies in White split one more time, in a fractal procedure that
keeps the movement stagnated in number of members, and with an
exponential increase of refugees fleeing to the US. Once in exile, most
Cuban dissidents quit social activism or, in the best cases, end up as
secretaries in Cuban American NGOs. The legacy of their founding leader
Laura Pollán is at risk for the benefit of the Ministry of the Interior,
now that their new leader Berta Soler carried out a shameful repudiation
against one of its former members, and then had to hold a referendum to
ratify her life-long leadership. But Soler was expelled anyway by the
daughter of Laura Pollán from her home headquarters in Neptuno Street in
Central Havana, where Laura Pollán junior expects to direct a new
foundation that will monopolize exclusive use of her mother's name.
The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) is headless after the 2012
extrajudicial killing in Cuba of their leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold
Cepero. Internal rearrangements have displaced from any position even
the daughter and the widow of Oswaldo Payá, in a dispute for the
redemptive legacy of the martyr, as well as the strategies that should
be implemented by this now virtually an exiled movement.
The Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) always has nearly half of their
activists in jail. On one hand, UNPACU fostered the creation of an
independent branch that broke out of the Ladies in White, the Lady
Citizens for Democracy. On the other hand, they are obsessed with
detecting and denouncing —and sometimes converting to the cause of
freedom— Castro's secret agents, like the infamous case of Ernesto Vera,
but they lack a citizen mobilization strategy beyond their
self-extinguishable street protests, partly because the Cuban people
are unfortunately unmovable.
The Somos Mas movement launched by Eliécer Avila relies only on his face
and voice as a charismatic character, once himself a digital soldier
that conducted the Operation Truth at the University of Information
Sciences (UCI), a platoon of trolls devoted to defaming activists
worldwide, distorting online forums and surveys dealing with Cuba, and
hacking websites that expose the violations and fallacies of continental
The bitter debate of mutual distrust and discredit between those close
to blogger Yoani Sanchez and her brand-new 14yMedio.com digital outlet
—prone to take advantage of the US-Cuba new engagement to push the
limits of censorship in Cuba—, and other previous digital citizen
journalists, like the staff of Primavera Digital (who in turn last year
publicly despised their Swedish funding partners), and also with the
well-known Antonio Rodiles from the very active audiovisual discussion
project Estado de Sats, who practically accused 14yMedio and colleagues
of collaborating with the regime's surviving agenda of allowing foreign
investments with no guarantee for human rights, in a Putin-like or
Chinese or Vietnamese or Burma post-totalitarian model.
On the official part, in the monolithic digital headquarter
of Cubadebate, general Raul Castro with his speech at the ALBA Summit in
Caracas this month, and many other op-eds published in tandem, has
warned that the "international ultraconservative right" is again
deploying its "mass media weapons" to use the "concept of civil society
in order to attack all the progressive governments from the hemispheric
left, with the purpose to deceive and manipulate all the peoples of the
Cubadebate has even announced the popular repudiation that Cuban
dissidents —namely, "mercenaries"— will receive in the Summit of the
Americas in Panama next week, because we all are "conceived, paid and
directed as drones from the US and the EU, through NGOs supposedly for
the promotion of human rights, but in fact having met with confessed
terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles in Miami, and besides being
directly financed by secret institutions of the American imperialism,
including the Pentagon and the CIA".
In March 2015 the Castro regime still proudly calls Cuban social
activist leaders "Washington's puppets, in the line of the dictators
Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela, and Augusto
Pinochet in Chile, whose mission if ever we attain power is to surrender
the wealth of our nation to the US monopolies", and a white elite that
cares not about the "black, aboriginal, farmer and workers minorities".
Although, paradoxically, it was Fidel Castro who dollarized the Cuban
economy for over 20 years now, while his brother Raul Castro is
demanding financial credit from American banks and corporations.
Furthermore, Afro Cubans suffer much more than other dissidents in Cuba
in the hands of the mostly white State Security top-officers, who assume
that blacks owe more gratitude to them the rest of the Cuban people.
These are only some tragic examples:
The death of the Afro Cuban opposition activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo in
a jail, after a long hunger strike in 2010 to stop torture against him.
The 33 months that the Afro Cuban member of the Ladies in White Sonia
Garro and her husband spent in prison without charges and with no trial.
The harassment and beatings against of Afro Cuban leader Jorge Luis
Garcia (Antunez), usually prevented from stepping out of his own house
in Placetas town. The arbitrary political police arrests, plus the
temporary or permanent invalidation of the passports of Cuban Afro Cuban
intellectuals and activists Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Ivan Hernandez
Carrillo. The fascist-like mobs conducted by the government against the
residences of Berta Soler and other Afro Cuban peaceful women of the
Ladies in White, including throwing tar —yes, tar— with impunity against
their bodies, like recently happened to Digna Rodríguez Ibañez. Or
staining them by force with red paint to resemble human blood, like they
did to Mercedes La Guardia Hernandez.
The White House and the remains of the US economic embargo should not
ignore that a market economy is not a tropical liberation formula, since
it has already been implemented by authoritarian systems as a tool for
despotic control. The secret negotiations to appease our tired tyranny
should remember that what has been good for free Americans since the
Eighteenth Century is also good for Cubans citizens today.
The rationale that, after waiting for so long, Cuban democracy can wait
a little longer is a discriminatory concept implicitly legitimized by
the US press and academics in their search of a lost Latin American Left.
Maybe the hope of the White House is that the New Man will stop being a
soldier and become the New Salesman, but bringing down the wall should
mean more than opening up the wallet. In the urgency of Google, Amazon,
Delta, Netflix, Coca-Cola, and even Bacardi to re-conquer their Pearl of
the Antilles, they shouldn't forget that we "Cubans have the right to
have rights," as preached by Oswaldo Payá before the gerontocracy and
their international accomplices took his life.
In any case, according to the migratory statistics, Cubans are certainly
making a lot of space for the Yankees to come home to our Island, as we
keep escaping by legal or lethal means, in a kind of pedestrians'
plebiscite, voting with our fleeing feet instead of with electoral ballots.
For the funerals of Fidel, the commander-in-chief will have achieved all
the glories of history —which is the mother of all horrors— but also the
frantic farewell of his own people —almost one-fourth of our population.
This migratory crisis is what the US is really trying to stop by
stabilizing the Communist dynastic succession to the Castros 2.0
generation: namely, Alejandro and Mariela Castro Espin, among other
relatives, whether dandies or despots, many of them holding high level
positions in the Cuban establishment while receiving privileged visitor
status in the US.
The hope would be in convoking a national referendum with international
observers so that the Cuban people can freely and safely express our
will for the first time since 1948. Otherwise, Cuba will become a
Castro-centralized capitalist condominium, economically annexed to the
US but with a hyper-nationalist speech to justify impunity on the Island.
Now President Barack Obama can choose to extend his helping hand to the
oldest Latin American dictatorship. Or he can consider if the Cuban
people deserves to endure our apartheid until the last of the Castros
manages to remain in power without consulting anyone (except maybe Obama
1 Fidelism 1959, the temperature at which fundamental freedoms burn. 2
As time blogs by. 3 As I lay blogging. 4 The blogger in the ryevolution.
5 From dictatorship to dictocracy. 5 Blogged the Raven: nevermore. 6
Castrobamacare as the measure of all things. 7Won't you help to share
these blogs of freedom? 8 Redemption blogs, redemption blogs to
emancipate ourselves from the States.
29 March 2015
Source: No blogger, no Obama / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo | Translating
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Posted on March 29, 2015
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 March 2015 – As part of the campaign to demand
freedom for the artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," several
artistic activities took place this Saturday at la Paja Recold, the
studio of the band Porno para Ricardo.
On the walls of the place were works by the graffiti artist who has been
incarcerated since last December 25. El Sexto was arrested shortly
before carrying out a performance that consisted of releasing in a
public square two pigs with the names of "Fidel and Raul." The crime
that has been charged against him is contempt.
Several friends from all over the world and human rights organizations
have demanded his immediate release. Yesterday's activities joined those
demands for his freedom. Among the most important moments of the
afternoon was the performance by Tania Bruguera of The Whisper of Tatlin
which opened the studio's microphones to the fifty attendees of the
encounter to ask for – in a minute each – Danilo Maldonado's liberty.
The host band Porno para Ricardo, played the lead musical part with
several songs from their repertoire. Subsequently rappers including El
Opuesto, Maikel Extremo, Rapper Isaac and Lazaro Farise Noise appeared
on stage. All demanded the release of the artist and demonstrated
solidarity with his cause. Also a book was opened in order to gather
signatures of support for the #FreeElSexto campaign. An option
paralleling that already implemented on the digital platform Change.org
and that is intended for those who do not have access to the Internet.
The artist Tania Bruguera told 14ymedio she had attended the event,
"Because I think this is a case of the violation of the artist's
rights." "It is not right that an artist who did not even carry out the
work should be made a prisoner," she stressed. Bruguera is precluded
from leaving Cuba and is in the midst of legal proceedings because of
events arising from her attempt to organize a performance last December
30 in the Plaza of the Revolution.
In spite of her delicate legal situation, the artist attended the event
in order to offer her support to El Sexto's cause. Because she says that
"An artist that is in jail just for imagining a work and trying to make
it, it is an injustice." About the performance that the graffiti artist
would have carried out, Bruguera points out that, "Public figures,
whether politicians or celebrities, are likely to be criticized (…) they
have to assume that people who do not have that power, they are able to
make them aware of their discontent through humor and satire."
Bruguera quipped that, "If they made prisoners of everyone who makes
jokes about Fidel and Raul Castro, half the people would be
incarcerated." And she concluded, "The artist's freedom lies in having
the right to say symbolically whatever he wants."
Gorki Aguila, meanwhile, explained that, "It is important that artists
join together among themselves (…) art has an incredible power to
summon." El Sexto's grandmother, attending the event, said that, "The
right of a man to live as he wants to live must be respected, Danilo
does not harm anyone, he respects everyone, but he also asks for respect
for himself, that they let him do what he wants."
With respect to the prison conditions in which this artist has lived,
the grandmother says that, "He was sleeping on the floor for two months
because for him, as for many other prisoners, there was no bed. They
don't let even an aspirin in. Danilo is chronically asthmatic, he had
pneumonia, and they denied him antibiotics."
The lady also told of the continuing threats by State Security to many
of the invitees so that they would not go this Saturday to the tribute
to El Sexto. The pressure included the visit of two officers to the home
of Gorki Aguila in order to deliver to him a police citation that
required him to appear at the police station that same afternoon. The
musician refused to go on grounds that a citizen must be given at least
24 hours notice of such an action.
Lia Villares said that during the next Havana Biennial, which will get
underway at the end of May, "We are going to do something." The blogger
anticipates that it will be, "A work by El Sexto that was not displayed
Translated by MLK
Source: An Afternoon for Danilo (El Sexto) / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar |
Translating Cuba -
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