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Church

Evangelical Churches Booming In Cuba Amid Tensions
March 27, 2017 7:47 AM

HAVANA (CBSMiami/AP) — Fidel Castro's government punished Rev. Juan
Francisco Naranjo and sent him to two years of work camp for preaching
in Cuba where atheism was law. For years, Naranjo's church was almost
abandoned, with just a handful of people daring to attend services.

Naranjo died in 2000 but on a recent Sunday, his William Carey Baptist
Church was packed and noisy. Government doctors treated disabled
children at a clinic inside. A Bible study group discussed Scripture in
one corner of the building before a service attended by 200 of the faithful.

"In the 1960s, the few brothers and sisters who came here had to hide
their Bibles in brown-paper covers," said Esther Zulueta, a 57-year-old
doctor. "It's night and day."

Trump administration officials have repeatedly said religious freedom is
one of the key demands they will make of Cuba when they finish reviewing
former President Barack Obama's opening with the island. The
administration has never been more specific, but outside groups have
accused Cuba of systematically repressing the island's growing ranks of
evangelicals and other Protestants with acts including the seizure of
hundreds of churches across the island, followed by the demolition of many.

An Associated Press examination has found a more complicated picture.
Pastors and worshippers say Cuba is in the middle of a boom in
evangelical worship, with tens of thousands of Cubans worshipping
unmolested across the island each week.

While the government now recognizes freedom of religion, it doesn't
grant the right to build churches or other religious structures. It has
demolished a handful of churches in recent years, but allowed their
members to continue meeting in makeshift home sanctuaries. And like the
Roman Catholic Church, the island's dominant denomination, evangelical
churches have begun providing social services once monopolized by the
Communist government.

"There's a revival of these churches, of the most diverse denominations
in the country, and all of them are growing, not just in the number of
members, but in their capacity to lead and act in society," said
Presbyterian pastor Joel Ortega Dopica, president of Council of Churches
of Cuba, an officially recognized association of 32 Protestant
denominations. "There is religious freedom in Cuba."

Clergy and academics say Cuba's 11 million people include some 40,000
Methodists, 100,000 Baptists and 120,000 members of the Assemblies of
God, which had roughly 10,000 members in the early 1990s, when Cuba
began easing restrictions on public expressions of religious faith. The
church council estimates there are about 25,000 evangelical and other
Protestant houses of worship across the country. About 60 percent of the
population is baptized Catholic, with many also following Afro-Cuban
syncretic traditions such as Santeria.

Naranjo was part of that opening. After the work camp, he returned to a
church whose worshippers were barred from many state jobs. A thaw began
in 1984 when visiting American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson
stunned Cuba by taking Fidel Castro to a Protestant church service. In
1990, Naranjo was among a group of pastors who met with Castro to push
for a greater freedom, and his own church worked on building ties
between religious groups and the Communist Party.

The opening culminated in the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II, which led
to new liberties for both Catholic and Protestant worshippers.

The Cuban constitution now recognizes freedom of religion, but the law
is silent on the issue of church construction. In a system where the
government has long monopolized public life, virtually all activities
are presumed illegal unless the law says otherwise. Authorities in some
areas have prohibited new churches, even as they allow worship in
religious buildings erected before Cuba's 1959 revolution.

The London-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a
report alleging the Cuban government committed 2,380 violations of
religious liberty in 2016, most linked to the declaration of 2,000
Assemblies of God churches as illegal, with 1,400 in process of
confiscation. The group says it based that information on a source
inside Cuba whom it would not name.

Juan Whitaker, the Assemblies of God's treasurer in Cuba, told The
Associated Press this month that none of its churches had been declared
illegal or were at risk of confiscation.

David Ellis, regional director for Latin America and Caribbean for world
missions of the Missouri-based General Council of the Assemblies of God,
told the AP, "We are in ongoing contact with the Cuba Assemblies of God
leadership and they have not reported any churches being confiscated.
Neither have they reported that churches have been threatened with
confiscation."

Kiri Kankhwende, a spokeswoman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said
its assessment hadn't changed and any statement to the contrary could be
explained by official pressure on churches in Cuba.

Christian Solidarity has also cited the case of Juan Carlos Nunez, a
minister in the Apostolic Movement in the eastern city of Las Tunas,
while other religious freedom advocates have cited the case of Bernardo
de Quesada, in the eastern city of Camaguey, as examples of religious
persecution.

Both men told the AP that churches they built in the yards of their
homes were demolished by the government because they were constructed
without permits. Both continue leading services inside their homes,
where hundreds of worshippers gather each week.

"They tolerate me, but they don't accept me," said de Quesada. "I'm not
shutting up or leaving. We have passion and no one will stop us."

Nunez said he was sentenced to a year of house arrest after neighbors
complained about speakers he set up to boost the sound of services in
his home. He blamed the situation on the vague status of new churches in
Cuban law.

"If there were a law on church activities, none of this would happen and
everything would be clear," he said.

Even so, churches are working on projects that once would have been
forbidden to them, including efforts on AIDS prevention, sustainable
agriculture, renewable energy, medicine distribution, training of farm
workers and disaster relief.

"The Cuban authorities have understood the necessity of our presence and
dialogue with the government, which still continues, even if we don't
always agree," said the Rev. Dorilin Tito, a 38-year-old pastor at
William Carey Baptist Church.

Source: Evangelical Churches Booming In Cuba Amid Tensions « CBS Miami -
http://miami.cbslocal.com/2017/03/27/evangelical-churches-booming-in-cuba-amid-tensions/ Continue reading
… previously exclusively operated by the Cuban government. 'There's … ;There is religious freedom in Cuba.' Cuba's 11 million … in a report that the Cuban government has committed 2,380 … Baptist Church, said: 'The Cuban authorities have understood the necessity … Continue reading
When Pope Benedict was in Cuba, he added a politically charged word at
the last minute
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD, KEVIN G. HALL AND FRANCO ORDOÑEZ
Miami Herald Archives

SANTIAGO, CUBA
From the Miami Herald archives: Five years ago, Pope Benedict visited
Cuba, greeting tens of thousands of Cubans on March 26, 2012 on the
first leg of his visit to the island. The last papal visit to Cuba had
been 14 years before by Pope John Paul II. Here is a look back:

Tens of thousands of Cuban well-wishers greeted Pope Benedict XVI Monday
on the first leg of his whirlwind tour of this communist island, a visit
aimed at building on the spiritual gains that his predecessor, John Paul
II, made during a historic visit 14 years ago.

Thousands lined the road from the airport to catch a glimpse of the
pontiff as he passed by in his "popemobile, " and tens of thousands more
gathered in Santiago's Plaza of the Revolution Antonio Maceo for a papal
Mass that began a half-hour late in the unrelenting afternoon sun. But
the hot weather and the delay did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm as
the crowd jumped with joy and roared its approval as a statue of Cuba's
patron saint made its way through the crowd of a Vatican-estimated
200,000 people.

"This is not political. You see, everybody here is happy, happy, happy,
" said Maria, a Santiago resident who asked that her surname not be used.

For 64-year-old Ana Cajigal and her daughter Mayra, 32, it was a chance
to hear their second pope.

"We are very emotional, happy, we want peace in the world, " said the
older Cajigal, flanked by her daughter wearing a USA cap, not common in
Cuba. Asked if she was sending a message as she posed for pictures, she
smiled coyly and said, "It's for the sun."

Politics, however, were not far away. Shortly after two white doves were
released as the Mass began, a man charged the stage, shouting in
Spanish, "Down with communism." He was quickly subdued, and none of it
was visible to television viewers. A video showed the crowd striking him
as he was hauled away.

The pope himself made little mention of politics in his homily until the
very end, when he called on Cubans to "strive to build a renewed and
open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which
better reflects the goodness of God."

Earlier, Benedict, 84, offered gentle criticism for both Cuba's
authoritarian government and a U.S. trade embargo on the island that's
more than 50 years old in remarks he gave when he arrived at Santiago's
airport at about 2:30 in the afternoon. He was greeted on the airport's
tarmac by Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who wore a business suit and sported
a red tie.

In his arrival remarks, Benedict said Cubans "wherever they may be" were
in his prayers. He said he prayed for guidance for "the future of this
beloved nation in the ways of justice, peace, freedom, liberty and
reconciliation."

The word liberty, a politically charged word, was not in the prepared
remarks that had been distributed to reporters in advance of the pope's
arrival and was added by the pope apparently at the last minute.

Tweaking the Castro government, Benedict said, "Greater progress can and
ought to be made" in relations between the church and state. In a
criticism of the United States and other developed countries, Benedict
said "not a few people regard" the world's current economic troubles "as
part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis" afflicting the developed
world.

For his part, Castro criticized the five-decade U.S. trade embargo on
Cuba and said Cuba was opening up and "changing all that needs to be
changed." Like his brother Fidel's welcoming speech to John Paul II in
1998, Raúl defended the pair's legacy of healthcare and education for all.

Benedict was scheduled to spend Monday night at a restored home for
retired priests in the small mining town of El Cobre, home to Cuba's
patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, where he was to sleep on a new
"memory foam" mattress donated by a furniture store in Miami. On Tuesday
morning, he'll pray at the Our Lady of Charity shrine before leaving for
Havana.

The pope's trip coincides with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of
the small, doll-like wooden statue of the Virgin Mary bobbing in the Bay
of Nipe after a violent storm. From that day forward, Catholics have
revered her as Our Lady of Charity. For centuries, the faithful have
prayed to Our Lady of Charity, now Cuba's patron saint, for her help.

"I, too, wish to go to El Cobre to kneel at the feet of the Mother of
God, " the pope said. "I want to ask her to guide the future of this
beloved nation in the ways of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation."

He added: "I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate
desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their
joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and
the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of
prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need.''

While the German-born Pope Benedict lacks the charm and charisma of his
Polish predecessor, his visit has stirred hopes among Cuban believers
and Cuban exiles in Miami and elsewhere for change in an island nation
that the Castro brothers have ruled for more than five decades, first
Fidel, and then, since 2006, Raul.

"We await the pope with much joy. The Cuban people love the pope. The
Cuban Catholic Church is very proud that the pope has shown a preference
for Cuba, because it's the second such visit in which a pope has come, "
said José Julio García, who was interviewed Sunday as his four-truck
caravan, carrying dozens of Roman Catholic worshippers from the city of
Camaguey, paused along the way to Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city.

Church leaders in Cuba and the United States are walking a fine line. On
one hand, they're trying to boost the influence of the Catholic Church
in Cuba, which has made gains in followers and charity work since John
Paul II's 1998 visit. On the other hand, they're under pressure from
staunchly Catholic Cuban exiles in the United States and Europe who
think the church should use its moral authority to pose a stronger
challenge to Cuba's autocratic regime and help bring about its end.

Even before he arrived, Pope Benedict caused a stir by suggesting during
his visit to Mexico that Cuba's Marxist ideology is outdated and the
country needs a new model. Overlooked were his comments that changes
should come slowly and in a deliberate process, not unlike the sorts of
openings already happening in a small scale under Raúl.Castro.

Raúl, 80, who assumed the presidency in 2006 when Fidel, now 85, fell
seriously ill, has expanded self-employment, shrunk government jobs and
scaled back subsidies to state enterprises. The communist government,
however, continues to have firm control over many aspects of public
life, and there are no opposition parties.

The government has been closely following the activities of the Ladies
in White, a small movement of women who wear white and gather at Masses
at Catholic churches in Cuba to protest the treatment of the island's
prisoners of conscience.

They're expected to protest sometime during the papal visit to Santiago,
and the dissident group is still holding out hope that it will be able
to speak with the pope when he arrives in Havana on Tuesday.

After a protest march Sunday outside the Santa Rita church in Havana's
Miramar neighborhood, the group's leader, Berta Soler, said that all
they wanted was "just a moment" with the pope to discuss human rights.
The Castro government doesn't want the Ladies in White to attend the
pope's Mass in Havana's José Martí Revolution Square, but Soler vowed
that the women will make their presence known.

"We will be there, all of us, dressed in white, " she said. "We won't
stop until human rights are respected."

Whitefield and McClatchy News Service correspondent Hall reported from
Santiago, and Ordonez of McClatchy reported from Havana.

Source: Miami Herald archive: Pope Benedict visited Cuba five years ago
| Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article140873393.html Continue reading
Cuba's secret negotiator with US was president's son: cardinal
AFP March 24, 2017

Havana (AFP) - Cuban President Raul Castro's son, Alejandro, was the
communist island's envoy for secret negotiations with the United States
that led to the countries' historic rapprochement, a cardinal close to
the talks said.

Speculation had long swirled that Alejandro Castro Espin, the
president's 51-year-old son, headed up the secret talks.

But the confirmation from Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the former archbishop
of Havana, is the most official namedrop to date -- and further boosts
the profile of Castro Espin, who is touted as a possible future
president of Cuba.

Castro Espin was "at the head of the Cuban delegation," Ortega said in a
speech to a conference in the United States that was published in the
latest issue of Cuban Catholic magazine Secular Space (Espacio Laical).

Ortega, who recently stepped down as head of the Cuban Church,
represented the Vatican at the talks, which Pope Francis played a key
part in brokering.

The US delegation was led by Ricardo Zuniga, a top adviser to then US
president Barack Obama.

The negotiations led to the announcement of a rapprochement in December
2014 after more than half a century of Cold War hostility.

Castro Espin, an army colonel, is an international relations expert.

The president's only son, he kept a low profile for years. But he was
present when his father and Obama held their first-ever talks in Panama
in April 2015.

Many observers now tip him to be a major player in the power transition
due next February, when Castro is due to step down.

Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56, is seen as Castro's heir apparent.
But Castro Espin is increasingly viewed as a president-in-waiting.

Ortega also unveiled another mystery of the US-Cuba talks, saying the
date of the rapprochement announcement -- December 17 -- was chosen
because it is Pope Francis's birthday.

Source: Cuba's secret negotiator with US was president's son: cardinal -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cubas-secret-negotiator-us-presidents-son-cardinal-212705806.html Continue reading
"San Lazaro Has Been My Savior" / Cubanet

San Lázaro has been my savior. I've been through some very hard times
and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way.
Many people don't understand why I do this. I left school in ninth
grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little
money. How was she going to raise my ailing brother and me, if the money
was never enough, not even for food?

They always called us 'poorly dressed', and to top it off we lived in a
house cramped with people. (…) Since 2007 I've been making my
pilgrimage. I remember the first time, I did the whole trip in
somersaults. My brother went with me. I swear that one was the most
exhausting trip. I passed through many villages, but I was told that was
how it was supposed to be, I had to prove my faith. And I did.

Once I got to El Rincón they took pictures of me, movies… I felt that
San Lázaro was with me. It was my first time at the Santuario del Rincón
[the church dedicated to San Lázaro in the village of El Rincón to the
south of Havna], and when I came in the door it was something amazing.
Seeing the photographers and the people shouting, giving me water, it
felt good. (…)

Today I'm alone, my brother feels better. I start my trajectory in
November and I go around the streets of Havana collecting alms. Everyone
stops, even the children. I see fear in their little faces, but one day
they will understand.

Translated by: Beverly James, Aliya Kreisberg, Aracelys Pichardo-Bonilla

Source: "San Lazaro Has Been My Savior" / Cubanet – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/san-lazaro-has-been-my-savior-cubanet/ Continue reading
As Cuba's economy flat-lines, retirement has become notional
Tiny pensions must be supplemented by whatever work is available
Mar 23rd 2017 | HAVANA

NORBERTO MESA, a 66-year-old grandfather, stands in the hot sun 11 hours
a day, six days a week, guiding cars in and out of the parking spaces in
front of a bustling farm stand. The 4,000 Cuban pesos ($170 at the
official exchange rate) he earns each month in tips is more than ten
times his monthly old-age pension of 340 pesos. Without it, the retired
animal geneticist could not afford fruit and meat, or help his children,
who work for low salaries, to feed his four grandchildren.

Though revolutionary Cuba had one of the region's earliest and most
comprehensive pension systems, in recent years retirement has almost
vanished. Without further economic reform, and the cheap oil that used
to come from Venezuela, the economy has stalled. Pensions have been
frozen, and their value eaten up by inflation. According to the most
recent government statistics, from 2010, a third of men past retirement
age are working. Three-fifths of older people say they often have to go
without necessities.

The insular socialist paradise supposedly offers a social safety-net,
cradle to grave. But it is full of holes. Medical care is free, but most
medicine is not. Retirement homes are scarce, and rules that mean
residents must give up their pensions and homes put off many, since
these are often a lifeline for younger relatives in equally distressed
circumstances.

So old people can be seen on the streets of Havana selling newspapers
and peanuts, or recycling cans. They are scrubbing floors in affluent
homes or cooking for a growing number of private restaurants and
bakeries. Ernesto Alpízar, an 89-year-old former agronomist, goes
door-to-door selling strawberries and flowers. Even so, he remains an
ardent "Fidelista", grateful to the island's late dictator for the free
cataract surgery that saved his eyesight.

For even as the island's old and infirm must hustle to survive, they
have benefited from its success at providing health care. Life
expectancy at birth is 79, not far short of most developed countries,
and widely available birth control helps explain why family size has
fallen further and faster than in most other countries (see chart). The
flip side, though, has been a breakneck demographic
transition—exacerbated by the large share of young and middle-aged
Cubans who have fled to America. Over-65s now make up 14% of the
population. The national statistical office estimates that the total
number of pensioners will overtake the number of state-sector workers by
2025.

A few churches and charities, mostly funded from abroad, are trying to
fill the gap. Rodolfo Juárez, a pastor of the International Community
Church, a Protestant congregation, helps 60 indigent elderly people in
Havana. His scheme provides fruit, vegetables and beans to supplement
government rations of a daily piece of bread; and 7lb of rice, 2lb of
sugar, five eggs and a piece of chicken a month. Although running it
costs just 18,000 pesos a month, funding is a constant problem.

Mr Juárez and his wife, at 80 and 75, are older than many of those they
help. Between their church duties and his teaching at a seminary, they
make 3,600 pesos a month. Though that does not go far, it dwarfs Mr
Juarez's pension. As long as Cuba's economy flat-lines, its elderly will
have no rest till they drop.

Source: Hustling, cradle to grave: As Cuba's economy flat-lines,
retirement has become notional | The Economist -
http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21719482-tiny-pensions-must-be-supplemented-whatever-work-available-cubas-economy-flat-lines Continue reading
San Lázaro has been my savior. I’ve been through some very hard times and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way. Many people don’t understand why I do this. I left school in ninth grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little … Continue reading "“San Lazaro Has Been My Savior” / Cubanet" Continue reading
"The LGBT community in Cuba is going through a transition"
Daniel Abma, director of 'Transit Havana' says the regime is now
integrating gays into society
IÑAKI MAKAZAGA
Bilbao 20 MAR 2017 - 15:50 CET

"El colectivo LGTB de Cuba vive un momento de apertura y transición"
A meeting with a Belgian surgeon gave the Dutch documentary filmmaker
and human rights activist Daniel Abma the story he was looking for:
every year, Cuba invites this surgeon along with a Dutch colleague to
carry out sex reassignment surgery on five of the island's residents.
Between November 2013 and January 2015, Abma documented the lives of
three transsexuals hoping to be among the lucky five. Then, as relations
between the US and Cuba warmed, he was given a newsworthy peg on which
to hang his film.

"The regime has gone from persecuting homosexuality to using all its
propaganda machinery to promote integration," says Abma who has just
watched his documentary, Transit Havana, premiere at the LGTBI Zinegoak
2017 Film Festival in Bilbao. " But Cuban homosexuals still have to deal
with religious intolerance, poverty, discrimination and often prostitution."

Many Cuban transsexuals have no alternative than to turn to prostitution

Cuban-trained doctors do not possess the necessary know-how to perform
sex reassignment procedures, which is why the Cuban government seeks out
experts in Europe. Through him, Abma was able to get permission to
document the new transgender residents' program, headed by President
Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela.

"Mariela Castro supported us in every way. There was no control over
what we filmed and it became clear that she is a sort of mother figure
for the community," says the director, who visited the island four times
over the course of two years.

Mariela Castro is a member of Cuba's National Assembly and Director of
the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), whose push for
integration is giving the community a great deal of positive exposure
while, at the same time, making socialism a priority – the program
financing the sex reassignment surgery has adopted as its slogan:
homophobia no, socialism yes.

But it wasn't all plain sailing for Abma's project. While he was offered
unprecedented access to certain aspects of life in Cuba, some of his
footage was thought to give the wrong image of the island. "Without
Mariela's support, it would have been impossible to move so easily
around the island but when the authorities saw the results, they wanted
several changes that we didn't make," says the director, who regrets
that Mariela Castro did not show up for the premiere.

The Cuban authorities wanted some cuts to the documentary, which were
refused

Along with Abma, the documentary's three protagonists, Odette, Malú and
Juani – three generations of different sexes facing different challenges
– were at the premiere in Bilbao. "At 64, Juani has a good life," says
Abma. "She was one of the first transsexual women and her new identity
as a man has not caused her problems."

This is not the case for Odette, who at the age of 38, has had to deal
with rejection from her family due to their religious beliefs, while
Malú, 28, was forced at times to turn to prostitution to make a living.
"Each of the three highlights the challenges that still face
transsexuals: religious prejudice, the lack of job opportunities and
social stigma," says Abma.

The director adds that Cubans are aware discrimination is wrong and
that, in the spirit of the revolution, they accept in theory that all
people are equal. But in practice traditional attitudes, combined with
Catholic convictions, mean that prejudice is widespread.

"The Church is a big problem for Odette," says Abma. "Her mother insists
that she can't be transsexual because it goes against Creation. Malú's
fight for transsexual rights has become her life and made her the leader
of the TransCuba Association. The older generation has reservations
about the country opening up, and finds it hard to understand
transsexuals. The young people are pushing for change and see the
community as normal."

The making of Transit Havana also prompted Abma to consider issues such
as how countries can implement radical change and how the most
traditional governments can turn their propaganda tools to good use. "In
Cuba, tradition exists side-by-side quite comfortably with movements
keen to open up," says Abma. "And it's Mariela Castro who is promoting
integration within the National Assembly. It's a shift that fills the
LGBTI community in many Eastern European countries with hope.
Communities can take strength from my documentary and governments can
reinforce their campaigns."

In Georgia, a transsexual was murdered on the street just days after
Transit Havana was released. But as he embarks on his next project,
these kinds of brutal responses only make the director more determined
to use cinema as a platform to bring about change and equality.

English version by Heather Galloway.

Source: Gender issues in Cuba: "The LGBT community in Cuba is going
through a transition" | In English | EL PAÍS -
http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/03/20/inenglish/1490015070_027498.html Continue reading
… , and two residents from Bolondron, Cuba, who enjoyed trying out skateboarding … another Christian church in a Cuban city not much larger than … , about 90 minutes southeast of Havana, were pressured to be more … and happy,” Lewis said of Cubans. During the weeklong visit, Steamboat … Continue reading
Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel

In memory of Oswaldo Payá
Video:
https://youtu.be/TB0m5Euv1Ag

14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 9 March 2017 – We take as a given that all
people aspire to be free, but the idea of ​​individual freedoms is not
universally accepted.

Defenders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes argue that a
dictatorial approach to government is moral, just, and necessary. Some
preach that a developing nation needs a strong man to effectively
promote economic growth without the complications of democracy.

Others feel that an authoritarian government is necessary to ensure law
and order. Others prefer monarchies and other hereditary forms of
government to protect the traditions and customs of their people. Others
believe that their church and government are one and the same, and that
their religious beliefs are about selfish desires for freedom. Marxists
sacrifice individual freedoms on the altar of collectivism.

If that is their decision, those believers in the permanent dominion of
a single party should be free not to be free, preferably on another
planet. But this implies the question of how a society should decide its
form of government. The dictatorial response is to remain in power
indefinitely, as we can see in totalitarian states such as North Korea
and Cuba. The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive,
multiparty and frequent elections.

That is why the Cuba Decide plebiscite project, headed by Rosa Maria
Payá Acevedo, seems to me to be a refreshing proposal after nearly six
decades of Castro rule in Cuba. Rosa María is the young and eloquent
daughter of the late democratic activist Oswaldo Payá, winner of the
prestigious European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of
Thought. Rosa María, as president of the Latin American Youth for
Democracy Network, continues her father's work to promote democracy on
the tragic island.

The Cuban Decide initiative proposes that voters respond with a simple
"Yes" or "No," to a basic but transcendental question:

Do you agree with free, fair and plural elections, exercising freedom of
expression and of the press; and organizing freely in political parties
and social organizations with total plurality? Yes or No?

It would be naive to expect the Castro regime to accept such a
plebiscite. But, at the very least, promoting the plebiscite provides a
strategic tool to stimulate in Cuba and in international forums a
solidly focused political debate and public dialogue. The plebiscite
focuses attention on the fact that deciding how to be governed is the
prerogative of the people, and no one else.

Few would reject the central postulate of the plebiscite that Cubans
should be free to decide their future. Even sympathizers of the Castro
regime would find it ideologically difficult to refuse to ask such a
simple question to the Cuban people.

The only intellectually honest way to oppose a plebiscite that empowers
the people in this way would be to argue that the people have nothing to
say about their future, and that dictatorships are the preferable forms
of government. Not many international leaders would be willing to
publicly proclaim that preference.

The Cuba Decide Plebiscite is not a political platform, but rather a
tool to begin the change that would be justified if the Cuban people
decide, by a "Yes" vote, and that offers the possibility of
alternatives. The "No" vote would legitimize the one-party permanent
mandate. To some extent the idea of ​​the plebiscite offers the
leadership of Raúl Castro's successors an elegant and accepted way of
changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing one-party rule. In
post-Castro Cuba, the initiative of the Cuba Decide plebiscite promoted
by young people can become a key component of a legitimate transition.

Freedom has consequences, not all of them useful, but it is immoral to
deprive the people of their liberties, as dictators do. Our rational
approach is our basic way of living. If we cannot act according to our
free opinions we can not live fully as human beings. And we need freedom
to act according to our reasons.

After decades of living without freedom under a totalitarian government,
the Cuba Decide Plebiscite is an initiative promoted by citizens
presenting to the Cuban people a question with rational criteria: Do you
want to be free? "Yes or No." Who could oppose such a question? The
answer should enlighten us all.

____________

Editor's Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute of
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author
of the book Mañana in Cuba.

Source: Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel – Translating Cuba
- http://translatingcuba.com/do-you-want-to-be-free-14ymedio-jose-azel/ Continue reading
Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in Syracuse
mgreenlar@syracuse.com
Michael Greenlar | mgreenlar@syracuse.com

on March 09, 2017 at 1:54 PM, updated March 09, 2017 at 2:11 PM
Syracuse, N.Y. -- Alejandro Cobus would leave his apartment in Syracuse
for his ballet class three hours early. He'd walk nearly six miles in
the snow and cold in sneakers. Then he'd warm up, dance for the next
three hours, and walk the same route home in the dark.

He never complained.

"We had no idea," Kathleen Rathbun said. Rathbun is the artistic
director of the Syracuse City Ballet and its school, Ballet & Dance of
Upstate NY. When they found out, the parents of other dancers and
Rathbun began giving Cobus rides.

Until December, Cobus and Jose Carlos Pino were dancers with the elite
national ballet company of Cuba, Ballet de Camaguey. The men, 20, began
their careers at the age of 8 in Cuba. The government program in the
communist country chooses the dancers. They leave their families for school.

"This is your career," Cobus said through an interpreter.

Getting into the program, and staying in, is a tremendous
accomplishment. Cuba, like Russia, trains some of the best ballet
dancers in the world. Now, fate and circumstance have dropped the two
young men in Syracuse where they are dancing with the Syracuse City
Ballet in its production of Snow White.

In Cuba, Cobus and Pino found little opportunity and meager pay. Dancers
were given a place to live and paid $10 a month, they said. They were
given small rations of meat and rice, they said, but it was not nearly
enough to fuel their constant movement. Both men said they often went
hungry.

Beyond those practical struggles, they saw, stretched before them, a
world of little opportunity. There are only a few good roles for men in
the company. And that company was the only company available to them in
a world where the government controls every choice.

In December, when the company was touring in Mexico, the two men walked
away from everything they knew. They defected from Cuba, crossing the
border into Texas, legally, as political refugees.

They left behind their families. The mothers of both young men are
school teachers who make about $20 a month. The pay is so meager that in
all of their years of dancing, neither man's mother has seen him on stage.

The road to Syracuse for both men has been accidental in the way fate
sometimes seems. At first, Pino and Cobus split up. Pino had relatives
in Houston, so he stayed there for a while. Cobus had no one and no money.

Cobus got a job driving a van until he saved up enough money to make it
to Miami. When he was in Miami, Cobus said, he found help at a church.
There, someone made a connection for him with InterFaith Works in
Syracuse, which brought him to Syracuse and helped him find an
apartment. They also helped him find the ballet and are continuing to
help him learn English.

On the surface, Syracuse seems like a place that couldn't be farther
from Cobus' tropical home. But when he found a place to dance, he found
a new home. Ballet, after all, is the same in every tongue. And he found
warmth, family even, in Rathbun and her ballet company.

Cobus called Pino to tell him he found a place where they could both
live and dance.

Pino arrived two weeks ago. He and Cobus are sharing the small apartment
in Syracuse. They are friends, but more like "hermanos," brothers. And
opposite in so many ways.

Cobus leans forward as they talk, pointing and unpointing his toes. The
men are paid a little by the ballet, but they need other work, Cobus
says. He tries to think what he could do with his meager English -
cleaning during the day maybe, so he can dance at night?

Pino leans back in his chair, he legs outstretched. He smiles and tells
Cobus he worries too much. All will be fine.

They bicker, in a friendly way. Cobus gets up too early, Pino says.
Cobus says Pino sleeps too late.

Rathbun smiles at them and laughs before their words are even
translated. She calls them, "the boys." She and dance moms from the
school have clothed them, driven them. A dance mom, Erica Stark,
translates for them. As they talk before rehearsal, another mother
brings sandwiches for them.

When asked what their ultimate goal is, Rathbun already knows the answer
for Cobus: Basilio in Don Quixote.

"He is always doing it in the studio," Rathbun says. The role is full of
dramatic leaps, including a spiraling, dangerous one that Cobus adds.
(That makes Rathbun grimace because she worries he'll fall).

Pino would be Albrecht in Giselle, he says.

While dance was chosen for them, neither man would change his life path.
They live to dance.

In a back room studio at the Civic Center, where the ballet is doing its
dress rehearsal for Snow White, Cobus and Pino take turns running
through leaps and twists across the floor. It is a friendly show of
one-upping. One man runs and leaps, the other take a cell phone video.
Then they switch.

Cobus does that spiraling leap that makes Rathbun nervous. The first
time, he falters and puts him hand down. The second time, he nails it.

Here, though they have so little, their dreams seem closer. Even this
one: Perhaps one day their mothers, who gave them to the ballet when
they were still little boys, will see them fill the stage with leaps so
large it seems like there must be a tiny bit of magic somewhere.

"Algun dia," they both say. And smile.

Some day.

Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, life and culture in Central New York.

Source: Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in
Syracuse | syracuse.com -
http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/03/cuban_dancers_who_walked_away_from_their_country_are_now_building_new_dreams_in.html Continue reading
American cruise travelers bump into Cuba's rules
BY DAVID G. MOLYNEAUX
TheTravelMavens.com

ISLA DE LA JUVENTUD, CUBA
After a calm winter's night at anchor on Cuba's remote Siguanea Bay, 34
American travelers on the 150-foot motor-sailor Panorama II awakened
before dawn and collected their snorkeling gear, prepared for a ride on
a local boat to the southwest corner of Isla de la Juventud (formerly
Isle of Pines).

But on this day, the schedule, which had been arranged with and approved
by top tourism officials in Havana, was not to be.

Communication about changing procedures is not an attribute of central
government in Cuba, a country known for breakdowns in plans and
mechanics and disincentives for individual decision-making. Military
guards in charge of the island docks had received no written
instructions from Havana (though an approving word would filter down for
Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic trips in weeks that followed).

So, no local boat would be coming to tender us from our ship to shore as
the sun began to rise. Ever resourceful, expedition guides attempted
alternative transportation, rolling out zodiacs that belonged to our
chartered Greek vessel. Alas, Panorama II's captain called off our
morning journey to a white sandy beach for swimming and snorkeling at
Punta Frances Marine National Park. Instead, we would cruise directly to
Cienfuegos, our last city on the 11-day Cuba expedition.

During the course of the cruise, our schedule changed almost daily from
our printed itinerary.

The previous day on Juventud, we had reached shore without a hitch. We
toured Presidio Modelo, where Fidel Castro and fellow revolutionaries
were imprisoned in 1953 through 1955. We then made a delightful visit to
Nueva Gerona's Escuela de Arte Leonardo Luberta, a music school for
gifted children.

We walked El Búlevar, a pedestrian-only boulevard where city residents
turned out to watch us watch a terrific show. The show featured models
dressed in minimalist pirate's clothing made of newspapers, and two
local bands, one playing for a presentation by children of a folkloric
dance, a second performing music of the Santeria Church as dancers
representing the orishas, Yemayá and Eleggua, swirled.

"After such an inspiring day among the creativity, talent and spirit of
the local people, and after seeing the benefits from so many of the
government institutions like art schools and hospitals, today we faced
our share of difficulties," said Tom O'Brien, our expedition leader, as
we motor-sailed east to Cienfuegos (toasting with a spontaneous round of
Bloody Marys).

Earlier in the week we had been turned away from two seaside sites,
including famed Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) Marine Park,
the attraction that had drawn some of the passengers to book this
voyage. Now we had been outmaneuvered by the Cuban military, although
they did it politely and respectfully.

O'Brien applauded passengers for their patience, flexibility, open minds
and "surprisingly high spirits."

Why not? While snorkeling and swimming were out — in fact, we never
dipped our bodies into the water during the entire week at sea — we
remained a satisfied lot of travelers, sailing in and around ports on
the southwestern coast of Cuba, which largely has been closed to
Americans since the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Fifty-five years later, we had floated up to the infamous Bay of Pigs
and calmly walked ashore to visit a museum in Playa Girón for Cuba's
version of the failed invasion. We began the morning at daybreak for a
woodsy birdwatching walk that did not yield a Cuban green woodpecker but
did lead us to exciting views of a dozen indigenous species, including
the Cuban pygmy-owl and the bee hummingbird, smallest bird in the world
at 2 ½ inches.

The Lindblad/National Geographic expedition to Cuba — three nights in
Havana at the venerable, outdated Nacional Hotel and seven nights
cruising on the cozy Panorama II — was described as a people-to-people
tour, as spelled out in a contract with the Cuban government. That's
what we did — meeting, listening to and/or watching talented Cubans
speak, entertain and show off their homes, businesses and creations in
Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Nueva Gerona. Even our free time one
morning at the 60-block Havana cemetery, Cementerio Colón, seemed to
qualify as a people-to-people visit.

In Havana, the Habana Compás dance troupe drummed and danced to blends
of the rhythms of Cuba. In a private rooftop performance, Grammy-winning
Septeto Nacional, founded in 1927 and now in its fourth generation,
played Cuban music with special guest singers that included Pedro
Godinez, 90. We rode in classic American cars from the 1950s; toured
Ernest Hemingway's former home, Finca Vigía; and met with artists and
young journalists (at OnCubaMagazine.com, which is published in the
United States).

In Cienfuegos, the Cantores de Cienfuegos choir sang religious and
classical Cuban songs. In a specially arranged musical program, children
performed "Cucarachita Martina" at a harborside pavilion.

We ate well, and viewed even better at seaside rooftop restaurants and
in historic homes where Cubans are expanding their businesses and
presentations for an anticipated rise in visitors.

Havana, said guidebook author and lecturer Christopher Baker, is in the
midst of a gastro-revolution thanks to the creativity of cuentapropistas
(private entrepreneurs). Cuban food was tasty, although without much in
the way of fresh vegetables. On Panorama II, meals were more creative
than those on land, all of which were well-prepared combinations of rice
and either meat or fish.

Twice when we arrived at Cuban ports, passengers and guides lined up to
have their temperatures taken by a local nurse. That was a first for me.
In Cuba, at least on the southwestern coast, the government doesn't want
travelers bringing any germs ashore.

Travelers on this expedition unanimously reported a positive feeling
about the island and their many contacts with its residents. American
travel guides who have spent time in Cuba call it a country of
scarcities when speaking of material goods but with no scarcity of
enthusiasm and confidence among the people. That was an accurate
portrayal of the Cuban folks we met, both the people we were guided
toward and those we met casually on the streets.

By its nature, expedition cruising is significantly more adventurous
than relaxing. Such a cruise draws a special breed of travelers who are
flexible and patient about outcomes. Although Lindblad/National
Geographic expeditions are well guided by experts of the land, nature
and photography, travelers do not know for certain what expectations
will be realized, and when. That is part of the fun.

New expeditions, such as cruising the southwestern coast of Cuba,
require an additional degree of open-mindedness, anticipating a surprise
every day.

▪ Eleven-day cruises of Cuba on Panorama II start at $9,500 per person
double occupancy and are available through March, then again in December
through March 2018. Information: 800-397-3348 or expeditions.com.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of
TheTravelMavens.com

Source: Adjusting to Cuba's rules on a Lindblad cruise of the island |
Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/tourism-cruises/article137421348.html Continue reading
In memory of Oswaldo Payá 14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 9 March 2017 – We take as a given that all people aspire to be free, but the idea of ​​individual freedoms is not universally accepted. Defenders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes argue that a dictatorial approach to government is moral, just, and necessary. Some preach that … Continue reading "Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel" Continue reading
Cuba: 50 Ladies in White Arrested After Communist Mob Stones HQ
Kyodo via AP Images
by FRANCES MARTEL 6 Mar 2017

The Cuban anti-Communist group Ladies in White reports at least 50 of
its members were arrested this weekend following a mob attack on their
headquarters in Havana, in which the dissidents were forced to hide as
the mob hurled large stones into the building.
"They called us mercenaries, paid for by the Empire [the United States],
told us to get on a raft and go," Ladies in White member María Cristina
Labrada told the Spain-based publication Diario de Cuba.

"They shouted obscenities at us, called us whores, lesbians, told us to
come out so they could beat us." Labrada added that the group, which she
estimated to be about 200 people, ran to the other side of the building
in which they typically congregate on Sundays to avoid coming "under
fire with stones… they threw large rocks, we had to cover up the TV and
get away."

Ultimately, the women needed to leave the building. Labrada says the mob
beat those who left, ensuring to cover up any cell phone cameras that
could capture the attack.

The government reportedly organized the mob at a nearby park under the
guise of an International Women's Day celebration. "I think the goal was
to organize people at that activity and bring them here," Labrada said
from the Ladies in White headquarters.

Miami's Martí Noticias cited a different Lady in White, Denia Fernández,
who confirmed the event as an attempt to keep the Ladies from attending
Catholic Mass on Sundays. The group, founded during the Black Spring of
2003, began as a support group for the wives, daughters, sisters, and
mothers of political prisoners. The Ladies in White attend Catholic Mass
every Sunday carrying the portraits of their relatives who remain
imprisoned for opposing Communism. The government often intervenes to
prevent them from attending Mass, even during holiday seasons like Lent.

Violence against the Ladies in White is common in Cuba. In an incident
in December, for example, Lady in White Ivonne Lemus lost consciousness
after a Cuban state police officer repeatedly slammed her head on the
pavement while arresting her. During high-profile visits like those of
Pope Francis and former U.S. President Barack Obama, police beat and
temporarily detained Ladies in White members to prevent them from
attending welcome event for the prominent individuals. The women would
be beaten and driven hours away from their homes, abandoned with no way
of returning to their families.

During Pope Francis's visit in 2015, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler
recalled: "They grabbed me by the hair, by the neck, and shoved my
violently into a car."

That same year, a Communist mob attacked Lady in White Digna Rodríguez
Ibañez and doused her in tar as a form of humiliation.

While President Obama claimed that opening the United States up for
further interaction with the dictatorship of Raúl Castro would help the
Cuban people, extreme repression of dissidents has continued, and
worsened, since his "normalization" announcement in December 2014. The
Cuban Observatory for Human Rights documented 484
arbitrary/politically-motivated arrests in February 2017 alone. Largely
driven by Ladies in White activity, 77 percent of those arrested were women.

The 2016 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Cuba found
multiple incidents of police torture of dissidents, including an
incident in March 2016 in which "police officers allegedly beat two
members of the Damas de Blanco with cables" and multiple reports of
"head injuries, bites, bruises, and other injuries during
government-sponsored counter protests and detentions."

Source: Cuba: 50 Ladies in White Arrested After Communist Mob Stoning -
http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2017/03/06/cuba-communist-mob-stones-ladies-white-way-church/ Continue reading
Growing Old in Cuba: Luck or Misfortune? / Cubanet, Ana Leon

Cubanet, Ana Leon, Havana, 3 March 2017 – Jose Vargas is 85 years old
and a retired musician. He lives alone in a room in a tenement in Old
Havana, depending on a monthly check of 240 Cuban pesos (eight dollars
U.S.) and whatever help his neighbors can offer.

For two years this old man has waited for cataract surgery in both eyes.
He was "given the run around" without the least consideration at the
League Against Blindness; at Dependent Hospital, the operating room
ceiling collapsed, causing the indefinite postponement of the surgery;
and at Calixto Garcia Hospital there were no doctors available.

In spite of Vargas' ordeal, the official press speaks with pride of the
aging population that today comprises 18% of the Cuban population. It
argues that this longevity is an achievement of the socialist system and
optimistically describes it as a "challenge" for the near future. But at
the current juncture, the free health benefits that the Island's high
officials preach so much about in front of international agencies are
not perceived. How can you plan to confront the "challenge" if a
helpless old man has to wait two years for a cataract operation?

Disabled by partial blindness and diabetes, Vargas began to experience
hunger. He suffered hypoglycemia more than once from not eating for long
hours. Rosa, 68 years old, is the only neighbor who, in accordance with
her means, has dealt with feeding him and washing his clothes. "It hurt
me to see him so dirty and hungry (…) I have seen him eating things that
are not good for an old diabetic," the lady told CubaNet.

Nevertheless, Rosa could not take on that responsibility for long given
that she herself is retired and has health problems; so she tried to
seek help.

Trusting in Christian charity, she went to the New Pines Evangelical
Church – very near the tenement where Vargas lives – which distributes
food daily for some elderly loners. But what a surprise when a woman
responded to her, without the least sign of compassion: "That is not our
problem. Go see the delegate [to the local People's Power], the Party
and the Government."

Rosa explained Vargas' case to Old Havana's Municipal Government and
sought a food quota and social worker services from the Family Attention
Centers. Reluctantly, they gave her written authorization that would
permit Vargas to carry home, twice a day, a bowl with rice, peas,
scrambled eggs and jam; all poorly made and without the necessary
caloric content.

As if that were not enough, Vargas had to walk a kilometer a day or pay
30 Cuban pesos (a fifth of his pension) for a bicycle-taxi in order to
collect the food. The social worker who should have taken care of this
task never showed up.

Behind the suffering of a forsaken old man there is so much
administrative corruption and human sordidness that right now the
prospect of growing old in Cuba is terrifying. The State does not have
the institutions or the specialists equipped to confront the wave of
aging that is approaching. The old age shelters – with a couple of
exceptions – are worse and do not accept old people with dementia,
advanced Alzheimer's or any other illness that requires care around the
clock.

At the beginning of the century Fidel Castro dedicated many resources to
graduating thousands of social workers who only served to squander
public funds in that crazy "Summer on Wheels" campaign, where the same
young people charged with regulating fuel consumption in order to
protect State property wound up stealing it. The government spent
millions of pesos, awarded college degrees to a gang of delinquents and
today cannot even harvest the humanitarian benefit of the investment
planned on the basis of political volunteerism and a lack of common sense.

In Cuba today there are not enough social workers, geriatric
specialists, adequate food or medicines. Many unfortunate old people
live in dwellings that are in a deplorable state. Vargas himself is in
constant risk of slipping on the mold caused by leaks in the tenement's
cistern; or being killed by a piece of loose brick from the eaves and
balconies of the building whose century-old structure is in an advanced
state of deterioration.

In the face of official indifference, people who don't have a place to
live enter "the mansion" in an old folks' home, to be "cared" for in
exchange for staying with the living instead of the dead. While death
approaches, who complains of mistreatment? Who can say if the old person
accepts his new situation or is feeling threatened?

A country that does not concern itself with old adults leaves them to
the mercy of bad people. That is the future that awaits Cuba, given that
the State wants to subsidize everything, and it is not possible.
Families have fragmented because of the exiles, and not even the Church
can be counted on. It is no wonder that the number of suicides by
elderly people has increased, although the government hides the statistics.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Growing Old in Cuba: Luck or Misfortune? / Cubanet, Ana Leon –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/growing-old-in-cuba-luck-or-misfortune-cubanet-ana-leon/ Continue reading
Cubanet, Ana Leon, Havana, 3 March 2017 – Jose Vargas is 85 years old and a retired musician. He lives alone in a room in a tenement in Old Havana, depending on a monthly check of 240 Cuban pesos (eight dollars U.S.) and whatever help his neighbors can offer. For two years this old man … Continue reading "Growing Old in Cuba: Luck or Misfortune? / Cubanet, Ana Leon" Continue reading

La iglesia First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York (FPCNYC) presenta "Cuban State of Mind", una serie de eventos que forman parte de su programa Art at First, y que en esta ocasión pretenden celebrar "la rica tradición del arte y la cultura cubana", según indica la nota de prensa.

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Continue reading
Brothers To The Rescue: A Crime That Hurts "Like The First Day"/
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 February 2017 – Members of the Cuban
exile remembered the anniversary of the death of four Cuban Americans
after the shooting down of two planes of the humanitarian NGO Brothers
to the Rescue by the Cuban Air Force in 1996.

The commemorative activities began with an act of homage to Manuel de la
Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales, at the
monument in Opa-locka that reminds them of the 21st anniversary of the
tragedy.

"Every year when we remember them, we feel immense pain," says Ana
Ciereszko, sister of Armando Alejandre, one of those murdered.

"When President Obama returned the spy responsible for the murder of our
relatives it was very hard because they gave their lives to save the
lives of others, Cuban rafters, many of whom have disappeared at sea,"
she added.

Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also recalled those
killed and lashed out at the Obama administration for the release of spy
Gerardo Hernandez, convicted of providing information to the Cuban
government that allowed the perpetration of the crime.

"Our nation must defend these murdered Americans and ensure that justice
prevails so that the families of these victims can have the final peace
they so deeply deserve," said the congresswoman.

Brothers to the Rescue emerged as an initiative of civilian aviators of
various nationalities and Cubans interested in assisting the rafters who
escaped from the island in fragile vessels during the migratory crisis
in the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union caused the greatest
economic crisis in the country's history and thousands of migrants threw
themselves into the sea in the hope of reaching the United States.

The two Cessna 337 Skymaster aircraft, from Miami, were shot down with
air-to-air missiles by a MiG-29UB 900 fighter and a MiG-23 fighter. A
third plane escaped and called for help from the US authorities, who
never gave it to them.

The Cuban government accused the organization of having "terrorist
purposes" and defended the demolition of light aircraft on the grounds
that they were over Cuban waters. Brothers to the Rescue, however, says
that the shooting down took place in international waters.

"There has been no justice because there was no clarification of the
truth. The facts were carefully hidden under the presidencies of Clinton
and Castro," says Jose Basulto, 76, president of Brothers to the Rescue
and one of the survivors of the tragedy.

"It was a joint action, complicit, because they wanted to resume
relations between both countries," he says. He adds that on the Island
there practice runs for shooting down the planes and that it was
suggested to American officials what was going to happen. "We were
exposed to the enemy fire and nobody helped us," he adds.

According to Basulto, the days before each commemoration of the
demolition are filled with memories and are "very sad."

"Brothers to the Rescue was an example of human solidarity with the
people of Cuba and to teach the world the harshness of the suffering of
the people, capable of committing suicide at sea in order to escape from
that dictatorship," he recalls.

At Florida International University (FIU) a commemorative event was held
with relatives of the victims and a broad representation of the
exile. The meeting has become a tradition to remember the four
Cuban-American youth and, as every year, silence was held between 3:21
pm and 3:28 pm, the time at which the planes were shot down.

"My brother was my first baby. He was just a boy when he was killed,"
says Mirtha Costa, sister of Carlos Alberto Costa.

"He loved being together with everyone in the family. He was also a very
cheerful person and always looked for how to make jokes to others," he
recalls.

Both Costa and the other relatives are responsible for the CAMP
Foundation, named after the initials of each of the victims of the
shooting down.

The foundation supports diverse organizations that promote youth
education, such as Miami Dade College and the University of Miami.

The families of the victims will honor their memory with a Eucharist at
St. Agatha Church at 7:00 pm this Friday.

Video:
https://youtu.be/j8bD4F_J7W8

Source: Brothers To The Rescue: A Crime That Hurts "Like The First Day"/
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/brothers-to-the-rescue-a-crime-that-hurts-like-the-first-day-14ymedio-mario-penton/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 February 2017 – Members of the Cuban exile remembered the anniversary of the death of four Cuban Americans after the shooting down of two planes of the humanitarian NGO Brothers to the Rescue by the Cuban Air Force in 1996. The commemorative activities began with an act of homage to … Continue reading "Brothers To The Rescue: A Crime That Hurts “Like The First Day”/ 14ymedio, Mario Penton" Continue reading
Appeasement Never Works
by GEORGE WEIGEL February 25, 2017 4:00 AM

And it's making matters worse in Cuba.
At first blush, Luis Almagro would seem an unlikely candidate for the
disfavor of the current Cuban regime. A man of the political Left, he
took office as the tenth secretary general of the Organization of
American States in 2015, vowing to use his term of office to reduce
inequality throughout the hemisphere. Yet Secretary General Almagro was
recently denied a visa to enter Cuba. Why? Because he had been invited
to accept an award named in honor of Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo
Payá, who died in 2012 in an "automobile accident" that virtually
everyone not on the payroll of the Castro regime's security services
regards to this day as an act of state-sanctioned murder. Payá's "crime"
was to organize the Varela Project, a public campaign for basic civil
liberties and free elections on the island prison, and he paid for it
with his life.

The regime's refusal of a visa for the head of the OAS caused a brief
flurry of comment in those shrinking parts of the commentariat that
still pay attention to Cuba, now that Cuban relations with the United
States have been more or less "normalized." But there was another facet
of this nasty little episode that deserves further attention: While
Almagro's entry into Cuba was being blocked, a U.S. congressional
delegation was on the island and, insofar as is known, did nothing to
protest the Cuban government's punitive action against the secretary
general of the OAS.

According to a release from the office of Representative Jim McGovern
(D., Mass.), the CoDel, which also included Senators Patrick Leahy (D.,
Vt.), Thad Cochran (R., Miss.), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), and Tom
Udall (D.,N.M.), and Representative Seth Moulton (D.,Mass.), intended to
"continue the progress begun by President Obama to bring U.S.–Cuba
relations into the 21st Century and explore new opportunities to promote
U.S. economic development with Cuba," including "economic opportunities
for American companies in the agriculture and health sectors." I've no
idea whether those economic goals were advanced by this junket. What was
certainly not advanced by the CoDel's public silence on the Almagro
Affair while they were in the country was the cause of a free Cuba.

There were and continue to be legitimate arguments on both sides of the
question of whether the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba should be lifted.
And those pushing for a full recission of the embargo are not simply
conscience-lite men and women with dollar signs in their eyes. They
include pro-democracy people who sincerely believe that flooding the
zone in Cuba with American products, American technology, and American
culture will so undermine the Castro regime that a process of
self-liberation will necessarily follow. That this seems not to have
been the case with China is a powerful counterargument. Meanwhile, my
own decidedly minority view — that the embargo should have been
gradually rolled back over the past decade and a half in exchange for
specific, concrete, and irreversible improvements in human rights and
the rule of law, leading to real political pluralization in Cuba — seems
to have fallen completely through the floorboards of the debate.

But as pressures to "normalize" U.S.–Cuba relations across the board
increase, there ought to be broad, bipartisan agreement that Cuban
repression, which has in fact intensified since the Obama initiative two
years ago, should have its costs. If, as Congressman McGovern averred,
he and others want to move Cuba–America relations into the 21st century,
then let him and others who share that goal agree that Cuba should be
treated like any other country: meaning that when it does bad things, it
gets hammered by criticism and pressures are brought to bear to induce
or compel better behavior in the future.

"Opening up" without pressure has never worked with Communist regimes.
It didn't work when the Vatican tried it in east-central Europe in the
1970s; the Ostpolitik of Pope Paul VI made matters worse for the
Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. It didn't work vis-à-vis
the Soviet Union in the years of détente, which coincided with some of
the worst Soviet assaults on human-rights activists. It hasn't worked
with China, where, as in Cuba, repression has increased in recent years.

To will the end — a 21st-century Cuba where the government behaves in a
civilized fashion and economic opportunity is available to all Cubans,
not just those favored by the regime — necessarily involves, at least
for morally and politically serious people, willing the means: which
must include holding the current Cuban regime to account when "opening
up" does not extend to basic civil liberties for the Cuban people, and
when "opening up" does not include a decent respect for the hemispheric
proprieties, such that the head of the OAS is summarily refused entry
into Cuba.

That the Almagro Affair had to do with an award named for Oswaldo Payá,
a true martyr in the cause of freedom who was inspired by Christian
Democratic convictions, suggests that the Castro regime and those who
wish to inherit its power are nervous. Authoritarians confident of their
position would not have reacted so stupidly to an award being given to a
left-leaning, Spanish-speaking, Latin American politician — unless, that
is, they were afraid that the memory of Oswaldo Payá would be rekindled
in the ceremony in which Almagro received the Payá Award. All the more
reason, then, for congressional delegations and others to end the
Neville Chamberlain routine, stop appeasing the Castro regime, and start
taking steps to ensure that what Congressman McGovern called "the
progress begun by President Obama" is, in fact, progress in Cuba — and
not just economic progress, but progress in human rights and the rule of
law.

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics
and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in
Catholic Studies.

Source: Luis Almagro -- Cuba Blocks Visa for Oswaldo Paya Award |
National Review -
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/445238/luis-almagro-cuba-blocks-visa-oswaldo-paya-award-organization-american-states Continue reading
Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara
and Daniel Delisau

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata and Daniel Delisau, Havana/Las Palmas de Gran
Canaria, 20 February 2017 — The players arrange their dominoes on the
table. Outside, the sun still floods the wide entryway on Monserrate
Street in Old Havana and time seems to have stopped. The scene occurs
at the Canary Island Association of Cuba, a community that languishes
between nostalgia and lack of resources.

People from the Canary Island migrated to Cuba for decades. In 1862
there were 48,192 Canary Islanders in Cuba, 41.5% of the total Spaniards
in the country. The flow continued, with highs and lows, and between
1898 and 1932, another 70,000 Canary Islanders arrived.

The descendants of those travelers maintain some of their customs and
gather at the Association that bears the name of Jose Marti's mother,
Leonor Perez.

In the main building, there's a cultural folk night every Thursday, with
typical dances and songs although the average age of the regulars is
over 60 and the younger ones rarely come, says an employee of the place.
"They are older people, most of them with economic needs," she explains
to 14ymedio. "They need food and basic products like vitamins,
disposable diapers, bedsore creams, wheelchairs or walkers. But we are
less and less able to help them, because they've cut off a lot of the
aid to us," she adds.

"When they are helpless we have to send them to the Church, because this
Association is going through a bad time. We can barely help them and we
also have to prepare the activities we hold here," she confessed. "This
building consumes a tremendous amount of resources and keeping the doors
open every day is a heroic task."

Upstairs, sales of food and drink try to raise some cash. Coffee, soft
drinks, chicken and garbanzo Milanese, says the menu board. But the food
service isn't enough to stop the institution's decline. A deterioration
hardly noticeable to the newcomer, dazzled by the majesty of the
interior and the recently painted façade.

The Association has around 47,000 members throughout the country, and
those who are able pay 12 Cuban pesos a month in dues. This money is
barely enough to run the building, a few yards from the most luxurious
hotels in Havana's historic center, nor to maintain the association's 14
houses across the country.

In mid-2014, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the government of
the Canary Islands sent three grants worth 16,000, 9,000 and 6,000 euros
for the Association, intended for a day care center for the elderly, the
purchase of medications, and repairs and improvements to the Guines
headquarters. But the resources were quickly depleted due to high
demand, according to internal sources.

The president of the Association, Carmelo Gonzalez Acosta, traveled to
the Canaries this January to remind its public administration of the
need to maintain the aid and interviewed the Deputy Minister of Foreign
Action, Pedro Rodríguez Zaragoza, with a view to "recovering the support
of the Community Administration toward those who have Canary Island
blood in their veins," reported local media.

The Cuban authorities also asked the Canary Island government to help
them by sending a stone mill to supply Canary descendants with gofio
(flour made from roasted grains), the Cuban consul in the Canary
Islands, Ulises Barquin, explained recently in an interview.

The official explained that the gofio disappeared "at the end of the
1980s with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which was the main
supplier of wheat," but now they want to restart the production because
"it goes far beyond the food aspect… it has an enormous symbolic value."

The mill sounds like a distant promise to those who spend their hours in
the spacious facility in Monserrate Street. "Before, you could come here
and eat very cheaply, but we've lost a lot of options," complains an old
man. "Now they don't sell custard and rice pudding for us, which I can't
eat any more because my sugar is through the roof."

Paco, a Cuban son of the Canaries, feels grateful for being able to
count on a place to "meet friends and have a good time." His two sons
emigrated to get Spanish nationality and now the old man waits to "have
a place in the Canary Island vault in Havana's Columbus Cemetery,"
because his family "doesn't have a proper tomb."

A woman walks through the wide gate and asks the receptionist if there
will be a feast for Easter. Her name is María Antonia Hernández, she is
56 years old and she is the granddaughter of a Canary Islander who came
to the Island at the beginning of the 20th century. "He came looking for
a better life and ended up owning a bodega in San Antonio de los Baños,"
says the woman. "A short time later he married a woman from Pinar del
Rio and they had eight children."

Roberto Domínguez, author of the book Ariguanabo: History, Music and
Poetry, says that "the behavior, the character and the way of being of
Cubans is very linked to the Canary Islands." He calculates that at
present in Cuba "there are at least 650,000 Canary Islanders of their
descendants.

When she was a child and was annoyed by something, Maria Antonia
Hernandez's mother repeated with a sneer that she was acting like an
"islander" like her grandfather. Although Cuba is also subject to "the
damn circumstances of water everywhere," according to the poet and
playwright Virgilio Pinera, Cubans rarely self-define as islanders. In
the popular language "islander" is reserved for those from the Canary
Islands.

"We are the few who called them by their place of origin, because the
rest of the Spaniards call them Galicians," reflects the granddaughter
of the old man. "He had a lot of friends who came from villages close to
his and he loved to eat ropa vieja, but with garbanzos," she recalls.

Hernandez tried to obtain Spanish nationality through the Law of
Historical Memory, popularly known as the Law of Grandchildren, but
failed to complete the paperwork with all the required documents. "My
grandfather came to this country with just his clothes and always gave
very little importance to the papers," she laments.

Failure to obtain a European Community Passport has meant a severe
economic blow for her. Earlier this month the Spanish Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Cooperation announced the subsistence allowances for
2017, support that would have been very welcome to María Antonia
Hernandez, who is retired with the equivalent of 10 euros per month.

Others have been luckier than this descendant of a Canary
Islander. According to Cuba's National Statistics Institute (INE), as of
January 2015, 119,662 Spaniards resided in Cuba, the vast majority of
them Cubans who obtained Spanish nationality through the law of
grandchildren. In 2014 alone, some 5,618 nationals received their
European Community passport through that route.

Maria Antonia's grandfather was never able to return to his homeland.
"He died a few days after the events of the Port of Mariel," the
migratory crisis that led thousands of Cubans to escape the island in
1980 and that came to be known in the United States as the Mariel
Boatlift. "He would not have believed that the country he had come to
would have turned out like this."

"The bodega was nationalized and suffered directly from the shortage of
things that he liked most: tobacco, gofio and sardines," recalls Maria
Antonia. As an inheritance he left her an old mahogany wardrobe and a
three-string guitar that he played in country parties.

From Island to Island

José Luis Mosqueda is president of the Association of Cuban Residents in
Gran Canaria, the second largest of the Canary Islands. The entity "was
created six years ago and is meant to bring together the majority of
Cubans" who reside on that other island, he comments to 14ymedio.

The group has 112 members and the last public event they celebrated was
for the anniversary of José Martí, when they took flowers to a bust of
him in Telde. "The mother of José Martí was from Tenerife, but her
ancestors, the grandparents, were from San Mateo, in Gran Canaria,"
Mosqueda proudly remarks.

Consul Ulises Barquín estimates that there are some 22,700 Cubans spread
over the seven islands that make up the archipelago, "although 25 to 30%
of them are not physically here" because "they left with the economic
crisis or they repatriated themselves after Cuba changed its controls on
travel and migration, in January 2013, eliminating the requirement for
an exit permit to leave the country.

"In actual numbers, we are around 15-16,000 Cubans living in the Canary
Islands, with Tenerife having the most," and 95% of them are
regularized, says the consul.

Mosqueda emigrated to Gran Canaria 26 years ago. His sister is married
to "a Canarian of those who went to Cuba to avoid military service
during the Spanish Civil War," he says. In 1961 they decided to return
and soon the brother joined them.

When he arrived he began to work "in a company that polishes parquet and
granite, with a friend of the family." Later, he became independent and
created "a building and renovation business," he adds. He then set up an
aluminum workshop where he has been working for 15 years.

The association that he leads, Mosqueda says, brings together those who
"continue to believe that they are really Cuban and still love Cuba."

Source: Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mara and Daniel Delisau – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/canary-islanders-in-cuba-islanders-two-ways-14ymedio-zunilda-mara-and-daniel-delisau/ Continue reading
… week in eastern Cuba, travelling from Santiago de Cuba to Holguin and … chocolate bars. Something musical: These Cuban maracas are apparently extra durable … Santiago de Cuba. Something of this earth: El Cobre, Cuba’s most … church. Something woody 1: Entrepreneurial Cubans make the most of their … Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata and Daniel Delisau, Havana/Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 20 February 2017 — The players arrange their dominoes on the table. Outside, the sun still floods the wide entryway on Monserrate Street in Old Havana and time seems to have stopped. The scene occurs at the Canary Island Association of Cuba, a community that languishes between … Continue reading "Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara and Daniel Delisau" Continue reading
Cuba's Ladies In White Report 50 Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2017 — Some fifty Ladies in White were
detained this Sunday on the Island, according to members of that
dissident organization.

Former political prisoner and regime opponent Angel Moya told 14ymedio
by phone that Berta Soler had been arrested by members of a State
Security operation and the police surrounding her Lawton house. The
incident happened shortly after three in the afternoon on Sunday, when
Soler left the movement's site in the company of the Lady in White
Danaysi Munoz.

Moya added that in Havana the Ladies in White Yordanka Santana and Norma
Cruz were "abandoned to their fate*" on the ExpoCuba and Cotorro
highways respectively, after being released. According to the same
source, as of 6:00 in the evening 23 Ladies in White had been arrested
in the capital, although that number could be increased by some "who
still haven't called in."

Moya also reported on a Lady in White detained in Bayamo and eight in
Palma Soriano, while in Matanzas there were 22. In that locality Leticia
Ramos and Marisol Fernandez were arrested twice in a single day and he
said that the whereabouts of both women was still unknown.

The opponent also reported that from the province of Ciego te Avila
Lucia Lopez complained that she was "beaten at the time of her arrest"
by State Security agents and "stripped of her blouse and bra before
being released," in a "clear act of indignity," said Moya.

Meanwhile, Iván Hernández Carrillo reported from his Twitter account of
the arrest in the city of Cárdenas of Odalis Hernandez, Hortensia
Alfonso, Cira de la Vega and Mercedes de la Guardia. Likewise, from
Columbus the activist denounced the arrest of his mother Asunción
Carrillo and Caridad Burunate when they were on their way to the church.

At two o'clock on Sunday afternoon, minutes before being detained, the
leader of the Ladies in White women's movement, Berta Soler, informed
the media that there were already more than twenty detained in Havana to
"prevent them from reaching the site." She mentioned that two of them
were "released on the road to Pinar del Rio*," despite living in the
capital. "Since last Wednesday morning there has been a constant [State
Security and Police] operation outside," the organization's headquarters.

She also mentioned the particular case of Berta Lucrecia Martínez, who
was detained at noon hours after a solo protest in Calabazar
Park. According to the information that Soler has received, the activist
stood for "more than 35 minutes" with a poster regarding Human Rights
and shouting anti-government slogans.

Lucrecia Martinez is one of the Ladies in White who has repeatedly been
prevented from attending Sunday Mass or reaching the headquarters of his
organization. Until the moment of not knowing the place to where it was
led by the police patrol that stopped it.

Calabazar park is a very busy wifi area. As reported to this newspaper
by the activist Agustín López Canino, many people "filmed and
photographed the moment of protest."

Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary
detentions, a figure that "places the Government of Cuba in first place
in all of Latin America" ​​at the head of such arrests, according to a
report by the independent organization.

*Translator's note: Cuban police/State Security often arrest dissidents
and drive them a long way outside the city where they are arrested and
then put them out of the car in the "middle of nowhere," to find their
own way home.

Source: Cuba's Ladies In White Report 50 Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio
– Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubas-ladies-in-white-report-50-arrests-this-sunday-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Editorial: The Catholic Church takes a good step
DDC | Madrid | 20 de Febrero de 2017 - 09:41 CET.

Ever since the trip to Cuba taken by Pope John Paul II, the Cuban
Catholic Church's dedication to the defense of human rights has clearly
been insufficient. Understandably, some have come to describe this
failure as constituting collusion with the dictatorship, especially
during the years and years under Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, who
decided to advance the Church's position on the Island at the expense of
not denouncing the social, political and economic crisis induced by the
dictatorship. Ortega Alamino even went so far as to deny the existence
of political prisoners in Cuba, and to serve as a spokesman for the
regime in various international forums.

While Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba yielded few advances in the
struggle for human rights, that by Pope Francis was downright
regrettable, with the pontiff solely focused on repairing relations
between Cuba and the US, without even acknowledging the main problems
haunting the country: the lack of freedom and permanent violations of
human rights.

On Wednesday, however, the current Archbishop of Havana, Juan de la
Caridad Garcia, received representatives of the Ladies in White and
spoke with them, thereby sending an encouraging signal.

Hopefully this dialogue will help to lessen the harassment this group of
women regularly receives from civil society, and the Catholic Church,
without renouncing its ecclesiastical work and promotion of the faith,
will speak out regarding the injustices suffered by the Cuban people at
the regime's hands.

The trail blazed by Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García must be trod
again in the near future, for the sake of the Catholic Church, and for
the good of the Cuban people, both believers and nonbelievers.

Source: Editorial: The Catholic Church takes a good step | Diario de
Cuba - http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1487580115_29087.html Continue reading

Ever since the trip to Cuba taken by Pope John Paul II, the Cuban Catholic Church's dedication to the defense of human rights has clearly been insufficient. Understandably, some have come to describe this failure as constituting collusion with the dictatorship, especially during the years and years under Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, who decided to advance the Church’s position on the Island at the expense of not denouncing the social, political and economic crisis induced by the dictatorship.

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14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2017 — Some fifty Ladies in White were detained this Sunday on the Island, according to members of that dissident organization. Former political prisoner and regime opponent Angel Moya told 14ymedio by phone that Berta Soler had been arrested by members of a State Security operation and the police surrounding her Lawton … Continue reading "Cuba’s Ladies In White Report 50 Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio" Continue reading
The secrets of Santería lie deep in these Cuban families
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

PALMIRA, CUBA
José Entenza Montalvo, a babalawo, or priest, shows the faded
handwritten books, some more than a century old, where special knowledge
of medicinal herbs and plants and the names of those initiated as
babalawos are recorded.

For Entenza, the book has a direct link to his own family history. He is
the great-great-grandson of the former slave who first began the
veneration of Santa Bárbara in Palmira, a town in the central province
of Cienfuegos.

It is only one of the many treasures at the Sociedad Santa Bárbara, a
religious association founded by his ancestor, that serves as a living
museum, a repository of history and current spiritual belief where the
rites of the Lukumí religion, popularly known as Santería, are practiced
much as they were during the times of slavery in Cuba.

Few things appear to have been thrown out at the religious complex.
Instead, they are passed from generation to generation.

Entenza leafs through the neatly written entries in decades-old ledgers
that detail the cost of ceremonies performed and the items used — one
chicken of various colors, rum — and the names of those who came for
consultations.

When West Africans were forced into slavery on Cuban sugar plantations
between the 16th and 19th centuries, their overseers tried to force them
into Catholicism, too. They responded by secretly maintaining their own
religious traditions and associating or syncretizing their gods with
Catholic saints to avoid persecution. Santa Bárbara, for example, is
linked to Changó, the Yoruba deity of war, lightning, thunder and fire.

When slavery was abolished in Cuba in 1886, many of the former slaves
settled in Palmira and brought their African religious traditions with them.

The religion was passed from Lutgarda Fernández, a former slave, to her
daughter — the famous Ma'Fea Fernández who followed her mother as
director of the Santa Bárbara religious association, and, finally, to
Entenza.

Next to the temple where a life-size statue of Santa Bárbara with long
black hair and a flowing red gown sits on an altar surrounded by
offerings of red flowers and red plastic apples are the remnants of the
original thatched-roof home where Entenza's ancestors lived. Here,
ceremonial drums stretched with goat skin and extra goat hides hang from
the ceiling, and there is a small statue of Santa Bárbara, the first one
brought to Palmira, he said.

As the story goes, Lutgarda was ailing after a difficult birth when
Santa Bárbara (Changó) appeared in her room, instructing her to burn her
statue and use the ashes mixed with oil to make compresses. Lutgarda was
cured, but the saint told her she had an obligation to establish a
religious site.

About a decade after the abolition of slavery, Lutgarda began holding
religious ceremonies at the location where Sociedad Santa Bárbara now
stands.

The society was officially founded on Dec. 4, 1914, and Lutgarda was the
first director. But a decade earlier, processions honoring the beloved
deity began, and they continue to this day. On the Dec. 4 feast day of
Santa Bárbara, believers dress in red, the color of Changó, and the
statue of Santa Bárbara is taken down from the altar and paraded through
the streets of Palmira on a platform hoisted aloft on men's shoulders.

Palmira is about 7.5 miles north of the city of Cienfuegos but it seems
more distant. Its isolation from the rest of Cuba helped preserve
African traditions in this municipality of about 33,000 residents in a
surprisingly undistilled form.

Some babalawos in Havana have been accused of commercializing the
religion, charging exorbitant fees to tourists for cleansings and
consultations. Necklaces and bracelets in the color identified with
various orishas, or deities, also are sold as tourist trinkets. But in
Palmira it's all about the religion.

With three religious societies, Palmira is known as a center of African
religion in Cuba.

But now Santería adherents include people of all races and from all
walks of life, and in a nod to the 21st century, the Sociedad Santa
Bárbara now has a Facebook page.

The Facebook page contains several posts from Oba Ernesto Pichardo, the
high priest who heads the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye in Hialeah.
Pichardo and the church, which is not syncretic and practices the Lukumí
form of worship, won a landmark Supreme Court decision that established
Lukumí as a religion. The case began over a Hialeah ordinance that
prohibited animal sacrifices, even for religious purposes.

Palmira has become a popular stop for people making cultural visits or
Americans who are on people-to-people tours of the island. Entenza will
explain religious practice to them and sing in Yoruba and beat a drum to
summon the spirits of the dead so visitors can make requests.

In a secret chamber where a sepia portrait of Lutgarda and other
santeras and babalawos stand guard, Entenza shows the round tray of
cowrie shells that babalawos cast to divine la letra del año, or
prophecy for the year. Various groups of babalawos do their own readings
and come up with their own prophecies.

Last year, the reading in Cienfuegos advised being careful of the sun, a
possible indication of health problems, and urged adherents to nurture
the earth and protect the environment. "Ochún (the goddess of love) said
you must take care of your health," Entenza said.

There were also indications that things would improve slightly on the
island, said Entenza. "The little changes were when Obama came," he
said. Former President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March 2016 — the
first visit by a sitting U.S. president since 1928.

Another small change last year, he said, was the arrival of the first
regularly scheduled commercial flights from the United States that
brought more U.S. visitors to the island, including those — mostly Cuban
Americans, he said — who have found their way to Palmira.

This year, between Dec. 31 and the morning of Jan.1, babalawos once
again came together to come up with this year's letra. Such gatherings
are held not only in various places in Cuba but also in Nigeria, other
Latin American countries and Miami, and the advice and proverbs are
different in each location. This year's letra from Havana warned of the
possible proliferation of corruption and expressed concerns about
pollution and the environment.

In Palmira, the letra drawn by the babalawos at Sociedad el Cristo,
another religious association, offers advice such as taking care with
one's health and avoiding family arguments, especially between brothers,
and advises against making offers one cannot fulfill.

Among the proverbs this year are two — one that could be interpreted as
speaking to the generational shift now underway in Cuban political
leadership: "The person who tries to be both the head and tail will
never rest" and "He who was born to be the head can't remain in the tail."

Video:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article133588554.html

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Source: Palmira, Cuba is a cultural and spiritual center for Santería |
Miami Herald -
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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 February 2017 — When one looks at that territory of Cuban literature inhabited by women, it is usually observed from the concept of gender. Among those who study the phenomenon with more intensity, and also with more courage, Ileana Álvarez stands out. She is a poet, essayist, author of a dozen books and … Continue reading "Ileana Álvarez, Wings Always Ready To Fly / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar" Continue reading
Havana's Archbishop Asked Cuban Government "To Sit Down And Talk To The
Opposition," Says Berta Soler / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 16 February 2017 — Berta Soler, after meeting this
Wednesday with Archbishop of Havana Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez,
said that he has offered his full support to the Ladies in White and
that the prelate told her he had asked the Government to sit down and
talk to the opposition.

"We ask the Catholic Church to speak out, because whoever is silent
supports [the government], and he said to me: 'No Berta, silence is not
always support. We have asked the Cuban Government to sit down and talk
to the opposition, but what we say is one thing and what they do is
another," Soler told 14ymedio.

Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, and Maria Cristina Labrada, a
member of the organization, met with Juan de la Caridad Rodriguez early
Wednesday morning and the Archbishop told them that that during the trip
from their Lawton headquarters they were "monitored by a large operation
made up of the National [Revolutionary] Police and State Security."

According to Soler's account, at the meeting the Archbishop was "very
receptive" to the movement's complaints, and they explained to the
prelate how they are systematically prevented from reaching the church
to attend mass and are victims of abuse such as thefts and fines for
"violating the security cordon of the Communist Party of Cuba" when they
leave their homes.

"We were able to give him some names and surnames of those who have told
us that we could never go to mass at any church," she added.

María Cristina Labrada and Berta Soler received from the hands of the
Archbishop "a family Bible with a dedication for each of us," and they
gave him "a CD and two reports with evidence of repression" suffered by
the women's movement and their families. Both left the door open for a
future second meeting.

Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez was named Archbishop of Havana in
April of last year after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Jaime
Ortega and Alamino who retired, as established by the Code of Canon Law,
after having reached the age of 75.

A few weeks after taking office, Garcia Rodríguez generated a bitter
controversy in declaring that he did not want Cuba to "have capitalism
or anything like that, but that socialism should progress" to go
"forward in a just and balanced society and one of brotherhood."

Source: Havana's Archbishop Asked Cuban Government "To Sit Down And Talk
To The Opposition," Says Berta Soler / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/havanas-archbishop-asked-cuban-government-to-sit-down-and-talk-to-the-opposition-says-berta-soler-14ymedio/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 16 February 2017 — Berta Soler, after meeting this Wednesday with Archbishop of Havana Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, said that he has offered his full support to the Ladies in White and that the prelate told her he had asked the Government to sit down and talk to the opposition. “We … Continue reading "Havana’s Archbishop Asked Cuban Government “To Sit Down And Talk To The Opposition,” Says Berta Soler / 14ymedio" Continue reading
Faith Arrives to the Rhythm of Reggaeton / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 February 2017 – Sexists, hard and streetsmart,
such are the lyrics of most reggaeton songs that are heard everywhere.
Topics that speak about jealousy and rivalries, but that can also convey
very different messages. Under the name La Unión (the Union), a group of
young artists spread the Christian faith to the rhythm of this urban
genre so popular in Cuba.

The group, founded in 2013, promotes their songs and videos through the
Weekly Packet in the folder titled "Christian section." A musical work
that stands out in the Cuban panorama by combining two elements that
seem opposed: religion and reggaeton.

Willing to break down those prejudices, Ramiro (Pucio), Osmel (Mr.
Jacke), Randoll (El Escogido), and Misael (DJ Misa), compose and sing
for a new generation of listeners born with this millennium. A
generation accustomed to choosing a la carte the audiovisual materials
they consume and who are very familiar with flash drives, Zapya and
smart phones.

In times of vertigo in the exchange of content, the members of the Union
release their songs under the label Kingdom Records, a handcrafted
studio installed in the house of DJ Misa, in the Alamar neighborhood. In
that zone of ugly buildings and good musicians, rap and hip-hop reigned
in earlier decades.

In public performances of the Union, women dancing with lewd movements,
twerking style, are not seen and the group members do not wear heavy
gold chains around their necks. Even so the places where they perform
are packed and fans sing along to the lyrics, which praise values such
as solidarity and friendship.

In a conversation with 14ymedio during a promotional tour around La
India, in Old Havana, the director of the group, DJ Misa, said that from
the beginning they wanted to "take the message of Jesus to the Island's
youngest listeners" and they thought it "perfect" to use urban music "as
a strategy" because "that is what is mostly heard in the streets."

Currently, the DJ Misa is immersed in a whirlwind of preparations for a
concert the group will perform on February 17 in the central venue
Riviera. The launching of a new video clip also fills him with pride,
although reaching the point they have now arrived at has not come easily.

The beginnings of the Union were not exempt from "some obstacles,"
comments DJ Misa, because few people dared to "mix Christian music with
reggaeton." However, they found acceptance within the island's
millennials and the pastor of the Methodist Church of Alamar, Daniel
Marín, who supported them unconditionally.

A recent survey of young Cubans found that their idols range from soccer
players, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, to reggaeton singers,
like Yomil, El Chacal and el Príncipe, who are overwhelmingly popular
among those under 30 years old.

In this context, Christian musicians count on an audience interested in
rhythms representing reality. But it is also an audience accustomed to
the ruggedness of many reggaeton songs, which praise sexism, promiscuity
and frivolity. These are the themes heard in bars, cafeterias, and taxis
and even during morning assemblies in Cuban schools.

DJ Misa explains the support they have also received from other pastors.
He says it is because many young people "who are in church but no longer
very interested and about to leave," after listening to their music
return with more joy. Although he laments that due to lack of resources
they can only do two or three concerts a year.

Both performances and video clips are self produced and financed, says
the artist, who complains "there are still no companies that promote
Christian music." Nevertheless, they have managed to perform various
concerts and in August of last year filled the venue Avenida.

The young man's production ability was self-taught, and he counts on
spreading his music through social networks, such as Facebook and YouTube.

He does not discard that the Union will be televised and is thinking
about presenting his next music video, Jesus Fanatic, at next year's
Lucas Awards. DJ Misa is convinced that his audiovisuals "have the same
quality as the ones presented" and show a "very professional appearance."

As they reach the small screen, these young musicians are achieving a
special place in the national urban music, a place where the heavy
terrain of reggaeton manages to gain spirituality and compromise.

Translated by Chavely Garcia

Source: Faith Arrives to the Rhythm of Reggaeton / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar
– Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/faith-arrives-to-the-rhythm-of-reggaeton-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 February 2017 – Sexists, hard and streetsmart, such are the lyrics of most reggaeton songs that are heard everywhere. Topics that speak about jealousy and rivalries, but that can also convey very different messages. Under the name La Unión (the Union), a group of young artists spread the Christian faith to … Continue reading "Faith Arrives to the Rhythm of Reggaeton / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
Cuba is a Country Firmly Set in the Past
February 5, 2017
By Laura Vazquez Lopez*

HAVANA TIMES — I still remember the smell of a storm that was constantly
lingering in the air, those beads of sweat that ran down my neck because
of the humidity, the most beautiful skies I have ever seen and the
warmth and friendliness of its people.

Cuba was a good place to travel to; maybe if somebody thinks about Cuba
as being Old Havana and Varadero, they won't understand everything the
island has to offer. Every alley, every business, every church and
monument was a work of art in itself, intertwined with the brightest
colors that you can imagine and the most ruined buildings I've ever
seen, but maybe that's where Cuba's magic lies.

It's a country firmly rooted in the past and you can see that just by
looking around and seeing its cars, traditions, almost nonexistent
technology, or in the lack of telecommunication infrastructure, or a lot
of other things which, thanks to the type of government they have, have
been banned over the years.

However, if I have to pick one thing that stood out the most it is the
Cuban people who, although the majority doesn't agree with living in the
situation they find themselves in, have an almost enviable patriotic
pride. They are people who even disagreeing with their current situation
and wanting to contribute something so that this changes, live happily
with the little that they are allowed to have, even when they are forced
to work long days for very little money.

It's been several months now since we came back from that Caribbean
paradise which we traveled across for 10 days and I can still remember
everything quite clearly. Cities like Trinidad or Remedios, the
beautiful colonial architecture, made for photography and tourism, where
every place looks like a holiday postcard.

The Cays in the North and West, with the finest, whitest sand I've ever
seen, where it seems that the sun is only hot but it burns you in
excess. Viñales, a treasure located in the interior of the country, with
its famous mogotes (hills), its vegetation, its animal-drawn carriages,
its immense plantations, I'm pretty sure it's on my list of favorite places.

And what can I say about Havana… I would be lying if I said that it was
how I imagined it would be. I really didn't imagine that it would be in
such a poor state, except for the tourist area. But even so, it's
beautiful; it has a special beauty unrivalled by any other place I know.

In conclusion, now writing from Spain, I can only remember those 10 days
as an amazing experience, discovering all of these places, the way the
Cuban people live, the smells, colors, life on the island…

* A visitor to Cuba in August 2016.

Source: Cuba is a Country Firmly Set in the Past - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=123509 Continue reading
Former Political Prisoner Arturo Pérez De Alejo Dies / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Miami, 25 January 2017 — The former political prisoner Arturo
Perez de Alejo, who was part of the Group of 75, died Wednesday in Miami
at 66, as reported by MartíNoticias .

Pérez Alejo was born in Manicaragua, in the then province of Las Villas,
on 23 May 1951 to a peasant family.

During the nineties, in the middle of the Special Period, he began his
dissident activity. He participated actively in the Democratic Action
Movement, the Nationalist Action Party and the Independent Democratic Front.

In addition, he founded the Escambray Independent Organization For The
Defense Of Human Rights, of which he held the presidency, and he was
noted for his dissemination of the Varela Project, a civic initiative
promoted by the late Oswaldo Payá to demand more liberties in the island.

In 2003 he was imprisoned in the 2003 repressive wave known as the Black
Spring. He was imprisoned for five years, and the conditions of his
imprisonment greatly undermined his health.

During his imprisonment he was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by
Amnesty International. In June 2010, through the efforts of the Catholic
Church, he was released and exiled to Spain.

He later moved to Miami, where he resided until his death. He spent his
last years closely linked to the work of organizations of the Cuban exile.

Source: Former Political Prisoner Arturo Pérez De Alejo Dies / 14ymedio
– Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/former-political-prisoner-arturo-perez-de-alejo-dies-14ymedio/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Miami, 25 January 2017 — The former political prisoner Arturo Perez de Alejo, who was part of the Group of 75, died Wednesday in Miami at 66, as reported by MartíNoticias . Pérez Alejo was born in Manicaragua, in the then province of Las Villas, on 23 May 1951 to a peasant family. During the nineties, … Continue reading "Former Political Prisoner Arturo Pérez De Alejo Dies / 14ymedio" Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 January 2017 – There were two Donalds that Cubans associated with the United States: the cartoon duck and the famous hamburger chain. Starting Friday, added to the list will be Donald Trump, the new president of our neighboring country. Not as nice as the Disney character nor as addictive as … Continue reading "Voices From Cuba: Obama Yes And Trump Too / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata" Continue reading
Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio,
Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 January 2017 — Talking with Belkis
Cantillo these days can be an impossible mission. With her home
raided on several occasions, a daughter about to give her her first
granddaughter and the foundation of the new Dignity Movement, the life
of this woman is a whirlwind. A resident of Palmarito del Cauto,
Santiago de Cuba, the activist is looking forward to better days for
Cuba, but she is not ready to fold her arms to wait for them.

With her voice breaking up, Cantillo speaks through the telephone line
about her projects and the new organization she has created to support
the prisoners who populate the prisons of the Island. She clarifies, to
anyone who asks about the origins of the new group, that many of the
women who comprise it were part of the Ladies in White. "We were also
the group Citizens for Democracy (CXD) and most of us have a great deal
of knowledge about this struggle."

For Cantillo, life is a perennial battle. Last Friday at dawn she
crossed the mountain to avoid the police siege and shorten the distance
that separates her house from the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Charity
of Cobre, patroness of Cuba, whom Cubans affectionately call
Cachita. Although she considers herself a devotee of Cachita, this time
it was not only her faith that moved her. Some 16 women gathered there
to announce the birth of the Dignity Movement.

"The repression was so great that only some of us made it here," she
tells 14ymedio. The fright from what she experienced has not yet passed,
but Cantillo is a "battle-hardened" woman. Under her leadership are now
grouped around 60 companions of the struggle, three-quarters with a
history of activism and experience in opposition from eastern Cuba, the
area of ​​the country most tightly controlled by State Security.

"We entered, 14 of us, and later, at ten at night, two more," Cantillo
explains. The surveillance agents also arrived and they threatened them,
telling them to withdraw without waiting for Sunday Mass. The women
insisted in remaining in a nearby shelter, managed by the church, but in
the end they had to return to their homes.

"They didn't let us eat, nor even drink water. They'd never seen
anything like that there, they even called the police to get us out,"
she remembered. But the people who were pressuring them didn't know they
had given birth to a new group.

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, has words of
encouragement for the movement that has just been born. "I see as good
every person who fights against the regime," she emphasizes. "Any
movement that is willing to fight the regime, for me, is valid and
effective in this fight," she says. However, she disagrees with what
happened on Saturday: "We have to respect the churches, that's their
discipline."

Cantillo is now focused on the future. Her effort and that of the rest
of her colleagues is focused on the common prisoners, a sector that few
speak about and whom many avoid representing. "We chose these prisoners
to help them and their families with the social and legal attention they
need and do not have," the woman said. At the center of her critique is
the crime of "pre-criminal dangerousness" – a "crime" for which it is
possible to imprison a citizen on the mere suspicion that they may
commit a crime in the future.

In the middle of last year, the United Nations Development Program
estimated that Cuba had 510 people in prison for every 100,000
inhabitants, a figure that places it at the head of the region. In 1959
the island had 14 prisons, the figure now exceeds 200, according to
estimates by Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission on
Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has
denounced that, after El Salvador, Cuba is the country in Central
America and the Caribbean with the highest rate of overcrowding in
prisons. Between common and political prisoners, the prisons are
estimated to house more than 80,000 Cubans, 80% of them black or mixed-race.

The activists are seeking to extend their actions to all provinces but,
for the moment, feel comforted to have been able to get this far. "We
have succeeded, now we will continue," says Cantillo, with that direct
and brief way of speaking of women accustomed to the rigors of rural life.

"All those who initiated the movement have been threatened by the
political police, house by house," she reports. However, "my family has
always been very supportive of me and has had to be strong not to become
divided."

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), her husband, knows
Cantillo's determination well. José Daniel Ferrer looks positively on
the formation of the new entity of the civil society. "It seems to us
positive that women and men, in this case women, are concerned about the
problems that most affect our nation, our society."

"The only thing we had not recommended was to change the name, they
already existed as Citizens for Democracy and had been known for two
years," he reflects.

Cantillo also leaves a space for premonition when she says in a firm
tone of voice: "Soon my first granddaughter will come into the world and
she will be very strong because she has experienced the repression since
she was in the womb of her mother."

Source: Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/belkis-cantillo-launches-a-new-fight-from-santiago-de-cuba-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2017 — A spring rainstorm with light gusts of
wind fell over metropolitan Havana on Sunday, March 20th, when at 4:30
PM Air Force One landed at the first terminal of the José Martí
International Airport carrying President Barack Obama to one of the
final redoubts of communism in the world.

While a Secret Service agent opened Obama's umbrella at the foot of the
airplane stairs as he greeted Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez,
two hours earlier in Miramar, west of Havana, State security agents had
fiercely repressed a group of forty women and two dozen men who were
demanding democracy and freedom for political prisoners.

The dissident movement Ladies in White was instrumental in the
olive-green autocracy's calculated political reforms before the
international gallery.

Raúl Castro, hand-picked for the presidency in the summer of 2006 by his
brother Fidel, took the brunt of the escalating violence, and in three
way negotiations with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos
and the National Catholic Church in 2010, he freed 75 dissidents and
sent the majority into exile.

Castro II changed the rules of the game. The repressive modus operandi
of the regime began using brief detentions and returned, in a worrisome
way, to beatings, death threats, and verbal attacks on its opposition.

The afternoon that The Beast rolled into Old Havana, where Obama ate
dinner with his family in a private restaurant, the regime sent a
message back to Washington: the reforms — if they can be called reforms
— would be made at the convenience of the Palace of the Revolution, not
the White House.

On December 17, 2014, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama decided to
reestablish diplomatic relations and to turn around the anachronistic
policies of the Cold War.

The strategy of Obama proved indecipherable to the Taliban of Castroism.
He did not threaten to deploy gunboats nor subvert the state of affairs.

In his memorable speech at the Grand Theater of Havana on the 22nd of
March, he simply offered things that the majority of Cubans desire, and
of course did not renounce the doctrines that sustain American
democracy, of supporting private businesses and political rights.

Obama said what he thought looking into the eyes of Raúl Castro,
squatted in an armchair on the second balcony of the theater and
surrounded by the military junta that has administered Cuba for almost
60 years.

The 48 hours of his visit shook Havana. Neither the strong security
measures nor the Communist Party's strategy for minimizing the impact of
Obama's speech prevented the spontaneous reception of the people of
Havana that greeted the president wherever Cadillac One passed.

But official reactions to the visit were not long in coming. Fidel
Castro, retired from power, sick and waiting for death in his
residential complex of Punto Cero, opined that Obama's outstretched hand
was poisoned candy.

The propaganda machinery of the regime began to corrode, and some signs
of economic backlash against intermediaries and private sellers of
agriculture products, which began in early January, were reinforced in
the following months.

Obama's visit entrenched the hard-core of the island's totalitarianism.
The gang closed ranks, they returned to the spent Soviet language, and
began to render to Castro I a cult of personality modeled on a North
Korean manual.

It was assumed that the arrival of the president to Havana would be the
event of 2016 in Cuba, but at 10 PM on the night of November 25th,
according to the government, Fidel Castro died.

His death was no surprise. With 90 years and various ailments, the death
of the ex-guerilla was imminent. For better or for worse, he placed Cuba
on the world political map, confronting it with strategies of subversion
against the United States.

His revolution was more political than economic. He could never erect a
robust economy, and the architecture and textile factories during his
extensive rule, only produced things of shoddy and bad taste. Any
reasonable person should analyze the benefits and prejudices of the
regime of Fidel Castro. Sovereignty powered by cheap nationalism.
Division of families. Polarization of society. Relentless with its
enemies and local opposition.

Agriculture declined, he buried the sugar industry and it is difficult
to find any economic, sports or social sector that has not gone
downhill. There was no political honesty in recognizing his failures. On
the contrary, the regime entrenched itself in what it knows best: odes,
panegyrics and trying to enshrine its absurdities in gothic lettering.

And then, 2016 was the year of Raul Castro's diplomatic apparatus, the
most outstanding in his decade as president of the republic. In the last
five years he has reaped success. The secret negotiations for the
reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. The
intermediation of peace in Colombia, with the Roman Catholic Church and
the Russian Orthodox Church. The cancellation of financial debts and
negotiation of a new deal with the Paris Club. And he even managed to
blow up the Common Position of the European Union. Unobjectionable
triumphs of Castro's advisers in international relations.

But those same advisers misjudged their strategy against the United
States. Like the American media and pollsters, they failed to discern
the Donald Trump phenomenon. They may now regret that they have not made
enough progress during Obama's term.

Trump is unpredictable. He repeals the agreements reached with the
United States saying he will make a better one. But something is clear
to the regime. To negotiate benefits you have to make concessions. No
more gifts.

In 2016 there was much more. Mick Jagger unfolded his unusual physical
energy in a mega-concert, scenes of the movie Fast and Furious were
filmed in Cuba, and almost every day a celebrity landed in Havana.

In May, Chanel offered a haute couture show in the Paseo del Prado in a
country where the majority of inhabitants earn $25 a month and not
everyone can see Chanel models in fashion magazines.

Cruises began arriving from Miami as did regular flights from the United
States. There were more than 1,200 cultural and academic exchanges, and
the visits by weighty figures of both governments have been numerous.

The meetings and negotiations have been constant; as constant as the
repression. According to the National Commission of Human Rights and
Reconciliation, in the month of November there were 359 arbitrary
detentions of dissidents, activists, and independent journalists.

The détente is not about to land on the Cuban table. Markets continue to
be out of stock, two meals a day is still a luxury, and one hour of
surfing the internet is equivalent to the wages of a day and a half of
work by a professional.

The year 2017 will be a key year. Barack Obama, the conciliator, will
not be in the White House, and in Cuba the old leader Fidel Castro will
not be there either.

Source: Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro /
Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-2016-the-visit-of-barack-obama-and-death-of-fidel-castro-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 January 2017 — Talking with Belkis Cantillo these days can be an impossible mission. With her home raided on several occasions, a daughter about to give her her first granddaughter and the foundation of the new Dignity Movement, the life of this woman is a whirlwind. A resident of Palmarito del Cauto, Santiago … Continue reading "Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2017 — A spring rainstorm with light gusts of wind fell over metropolitan Havana on Sunday, March 20th, when at 4:30 PM Air Force One landed at the first terminal of the José Martí International Airport carrying President Barack Obama to one of the final redoubts of communism in the world. … Continue reading "Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García" Continue reading
… racing to preserve millions of Cuban historical documents before they are … (about 110 miles) east of Havana, Lafevor discovered the existence of … Santo Espirito Church in Old Havana, tucked away in a warren … in Cuba, he added. Slavery wasn't outlawed in Cuba until … Continue reading
… racing to preserve millions of Cuban historical documents before they are … (about 110 miles) east of Havana, Lafevor discovered the existence of … Santo Espirito Church in Old Havana, tucked away in a warren … in Cuba, he added. Slavery wasn't outlawed in Cuba until … Continue reading
Police Raid the House of Activist Belkis Cantillo in Palmarito Del Cauto
/ 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2017 — At six on Saturday morning the
police raided the house of Belkis Cantillo, leader of the Citizens for
Democracy movement in Palmarito del Cauto, Santiago de Cuba. The
officers showed up a few hours after about a dozen women of the
organization walked to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, as
reported to 14ymedio by Jose Daniel Ferrer, coordinator of the Patriotic
Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

The opposition leader said that on Friday the activists arrived at the
church consecrated to the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba, "with
the intention of reclaiming the space that the political police have
taken away from us in the Sanctuary." This morning the police entered
Cantillo's house in the municipality Mella "where elderly people and
children live," says Ferrer.

"Several witnesses report that the political police arrested a
19-year-old girl who is six months pregnant, Martha Beatriz Ferrer
Cantillo," said Ferrer, former prisoner of the Black Spring. He adds
that "the telephones of family members have been siezed, so it has
become impossible to communicate with them."

Citizens for Democracy is a group formed by women and founded in
September 2014. Its members are residents in the towns of Palma Soriano,
Palmarito del Cauto and the city of Santiago de Cuba. The fundamental
demands of the organization focus on respect for human rights and civic
liberties.

Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests in
the country, a figure that "puts the Government of Cuba in first place
in all of Latin America," said the report of the independent organization.

Source: Police Raid the House of Activist Belkis Cantillo in Palmarito
Del Cauto / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/police-raid-the-house-of-activist-belkis-cantillo-in-palmarito-del-cauto-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Cubans in Panama 'Irregularly' Will Have to Leave the Country / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Miami, 13 January 2017 — The more than 100 Cubans who are in
Panama illegally must leave, according to the director of
Panama's National Immigration Service, Javier Carrillo. "They will not
be deported, but immigration law applies," the senior official
told 14ymedio.

Under that law, migrants "in an irregular situation" could be returned
by air to Cuba or taken to Colombia from where they entered Panamanian
territory. More than 80 Cubans are in the shelter set up by Caritas to
welcome the immigrants.

To a question about the situation of Cubans who do not have a visa to
return to Colombia, Carrillo responded: "Is your country not a place?"

"What Obama did is abominable. We did not expect it. We may have some
hope when Donald Trump takes power," says Andrés, one of the Cubans who
have set out on the long road from the island to the US.

To a question about the situation of Cubans who do not have a visa to
return to Colombia, Carrillo responded: "Is your country not a place?"

According to Deacon Victor Luis Berrio, head of Caritas in Panama,
Cubans are not illegal immigrants but "special immigrants."

"We are waiting for the change of government in Washington. In the worst
case, the Church will intercede in their favor so that they are treated
in a special way," he speculates.

According to statistics from Panama's National Migration Service
provided to 14ymedio, during 2016 more than 750 foreigners were returned
to their countries of origin. Of these, only 5 were Cubans.

Most Cubans who arrive in Panama have entered from the border with
Colombia, where they travel after traveling without a visa from Cuba to
Guyana or the Lesser Antilles.

Two large groups of Cubans were transferred through an airlift that the
Government of Panama agreed with Mexico last year. In total, about 5,000
Cubans left on those occasions, but the flow of migrants continued.

"So far [Panama] Immigration has not told us anything nor have officials
come here. We have to wait, we have no choice, "says Andres.

Source: Cubans in Panama 'Irregularly' Will Have to Leave the Country /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubans-in-panama-irregularly-will-have-to-leave-the-country-14ymedio/ Continue reading