piglets / Laritza Diversent
Posted on March 26, 2015
After 90 days of imprisonment, there is no formal accusation against the
artist, Danilo Maldonado.
Laritza Diversent, Havana, 25 March 2015 — Authorities are still
imprisoning the artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto" (The
Sixth), who was detained arbitrarily by the police.
Maldonado, 31 years old, is an urban artist and painter who finds
himself accused of "aggravated contempt," a charge that the Cuban State
uses to incarcerate people who are critical of the Government. He
presently is serving 90 days in preventive custody in Valle Grande, on
the outskirts of the Capital.
On the afternoon of December 25, 2014, Maldonado staged a "show" in a
spot in the city of Havana, when he was detained by police operatives.
They arrested him for having two piglets in a sack. One was painted on
the back with the name "Fidel," and the other, with the name "Raul."
Both names are common; however, the authorities assumed that they
disrespected the Castro brothers, and they could impose on him a
sanction of between one and three years of prison. Cubalex presented an
appeal before the Havana tribunal for the authorities to explain the
motive for the detention, a recourse that was denied.
The prosecutor didn't even formally present the accusation before the
tribunal. Maldonado's lawyer asked the authorities several times to
allow him to await trial in liberty, which request was also denied.
In Cuban law, the crime of "contempt" is an amplified term that includes
defamation or insults toward other Government employees, and it carries
aggravated penalties when it is committed against the Head of State. The
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has said that this type of
rule goes against freedom of expression and the free demonstration of
ideas and opinions, which do not justify the imposition of sanctions.
Let's not forget that all those people who exercise public office or are
important statesman, like the Heads of State or the Government, can be
legitimate objects of criticism or political opposition. Freedom of
expression should take place without inhibition in the public debate
about Government officials.
Let's ask the Cuban State to guarantee and respect Danilo Maldonado's
right to freedom of expression, without restrictions. Furthermore, let's
ask the international community to speak up for his freedom and his
right to a fair trial.
Cubalex, the Center of Legal Information, is located in Havana, Cuba. We
are a non-profit organization founded in 2010, not recognized by the
Cuban State. We offer free legal advice on housing, migration,
inheritance, criminal appeals, constitutional procedures and defending
civil and political rights, in the national and international arena, to
Cuban citizens or foreigners who request our services.
If you want a consultation, you can find us through our email:
or by telephone: (537) 7 647-226 or (+535)-241-5948
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: Cuba: Artist imprisoned for painting the names "Fidel" and
"Raul" on two piglets / Laritza Diversent | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-artist-imprisoned-for-painting-the-names-fidel-and-raul-on-two-piglets/ Continue reading
REGINA COYULA, La Habana | Marzo 23, 2015
Just try it. On the street, randomly ask: What is civil society? You'll
be lucky if you find any satisfactory answer and will have better luck
if, unlike for me, more than one person even deigns to answer you. To
speak of civil society in Cuba is like teaching new material in school.
First the concepts, then, explain which is considered more successful
according to the teacher's vision. A meticulous educator looks for good
examples. It is essential to mention the thesis of Alexis de Tocqueville
of civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the
State. Also interesting is Habermas's approximation about individual
rights that guarantee and foster free association.
Like almost all social science concepts, we find different and even
opposing views on the subject. Where the philosophers agree, regardless
of their political affiliation or their religious creed, is that civil
society exists and functions independently of the State, and in many
cases as its counterpart.
Only then, after talking about the subject enough so that the citizenry
feels informed, can we speak of the role of civil society.
It has still been less than a decade that the term civil society, along
with its close relatives, human rights and non-governmental
organizations, was either nonexistent or cursed in the Cuban press. But
with the growth of alternative civil society, which is attacked and
simplified, accused of following an agenda dictated by the enemy, has
the issue seeped into the discourse of the official press. To public
opinion, contaminated with the unhealthy idea, now trying to present as
civil society organizations that, for the most part, are created and
financed by the government itself.
The upcoming Summit of the Americas will put to the test the ability of
both – the civil society recognized by the government and the
alternative one, unrecognized and derided – to show the continental
community their projects and results. Since the constitution itself
observes the difficulty of the alternation given that, according to
Article 53, freedom of expression is only recognized in relation to the
aims of socialist society. This article makes clear that the mass media
are state or social property, and limits their use exclusively to
working people and the interests of society.
The government tries to know and represent the interests of Cuban
society but, given the deterioration of social conditions, the
boundaries become blurred between popular support for the authorities
and the desire of citizens to try another formula. Only within a
totalitarian context is it possible to control the discontent, deaf to
discordant voices and to make practically impossible the legalization of
an independent project. This lock is constitutionally established in
Article 62, that doesn't recognize the freedoms when they don't fit with
the aims of the socialist state and the decision of the Cuban people to
I read Friday, in the newspaper Granma, the article "Our civil
society." I agree with some of the points of view of the journalist
Sergio Alejandro Gomez. In effect, domination is not always applied by
force or coercion and the powerful like to appropriate words and their
meanings. However, I disagree with the manner in which the journalist
resolves the current problem with civil society. The Cuban State
represents the interests of the great majority (while it demonstrates
the contrary), but this government has rejected the free associations
established by Cuban citizens.
It is clear that the heterogeneity of the Cuban Civil Society Forum is
circumscribed to differences in matters of religion, gender equality,
racial equality or sexual diversity. Immediately observable is the
absence of a political opposition, It's very fair that the above rights
are recognized, because bad memory can't omit the fact that minorities
were also discriminated against in Cuba. But as long as political
opinion and initiative outside the State are not present, civil society
will be incomplete, and any democratic observer immediately perceives
As pointed out by the Granma journalist, the society is not
homogeneous. Homogeneity is not the personality of brothers brought up
under the same roof. However, the Cuban state wants to achieve with
these organizations of its civil society a symphony that supposedly
affirms to the writer that this is a civil society unlike any other.
Source: A Mutilated Civil Society -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/Mutilated-civil-society-cuba_0_1748225181.html Continue reading
MARCH 23, 201511:57 AM ET
After the sun sets on Havana on weekends, G Street turns into a kind of
Blocks of the promenade — which is very colonial with its big, beautiful
statues and impeccable topiaries — swell with crowds of young Cubans.
For the most part, they just walk up and down, greeting each other with
It's a spectacle: Everyone, it seems, is here to impress. They're
perfectly coiffed, perfectly matched; they're splayed on benches, arms
wrapped around each other.
We stop to talk to Tatiana, 17, and her group of friends. We ask her
what she hopes will come of a new relationship with the U.S.
"We're going to be able to travel. We're going to have Internet," she
says, growing excited. "Unlimited Internet. Finally."
What you quickly find out here in Cuba is that the Internet has become
an object of desire: something as rare and valuable as strawberries that
By any measure, Cuba's Internet penetration rate is dismal. The
government says that about 25 percent of Cubans have access to the
Internet. But Freedom House, a watchdog that promotes freedom globally,
says that number refers to Cubans who have access to a government-run
intranet. According to Freedom House's experts, only about 5 percent of
Cubans have access to the open Internet.
That's why Facebook and the World Wide Web have become a kind of
As we walk through G Street, we notice that many of the kids clutch
smartphones. Out here, they're essentially useless, because the only
real way to get on a Wi-Fi network is to pay $5 an hour at a tourist hotel.
We ask the group why they think Cuba doesn't have widely available
Internet — and if they accept the government explanation that the lack
of infrastructure is the result of the U.S. embargo.
They laugh. Christian, an 18-year-old drummer, answers. He looks like a
typical teenage skater with long hair, baggy pants and Vans shoes.
"Cuba does not want us to know the things that happen in other
countries," he says.
Daniel, 18, interjects: "Only they," he says, making epaulets on his
shoulder with his fingers, "can have Internet." Then he tugs at an
imaginary beard, Cuba's universal symbol for Fidel.
"Only Fifo can have Internet access," he says.
We point out that what's going on here on G Street is actually kind of
nice: a bunch of kids talking to one another, without having their heads
buried in a screen. If indeed there is new openness in Cuba and the
island is flooded with foreign investment, and with it Internet
connectivity, this scene would probably cease to exist.
The moment they hear that, they erupt with giddy laughter, imagining a
future in which they would lie on their beds and still be able to
connect with friends and the world.
"I'm already an expert texter," Tatiana says.
A Limited Internet
For years, Cuba accessed the Internet using satellites. It meant that
the connection was slow and sluggish and had severe limitations on the
amount of data that moved in and out of the island.
At the beginning of 2013, Doug Madory, of Dyn, an Internet performance
company, noticed that the Internet speed on the island had become
significantly better. He figured out that Cuba had turned on a huge
underwater fiber optic cable that Venezuela had run from its shores to
the eastern end of Cuba. Madory says the cable — called the ALBA-1 — has
the capacity to move a huge amount of data to and from Cuba.
He says that right now, Cuba's lack of Internet has little if nothing to
do with the embargo.
"We've been making the case that if Cubans really want to do this, they
have a good model in Myanmar," Madory says.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, turned its ruling military junta into a
nominally civilian government in 2011. That's given rise to a more open
society and an improved relationship with the United States.
Madory says that shortly thereafter international telecoms lined up to
provide Myanmar with the infrastructure to access the Internet. Because
of the advancement in mobile Internet, the deployment has happened rapidly.
Madory says Cuba could follow suit even if the U.S. embargo against it
Non-American "telecoms would be lining up around the block to work in
Cuba if they were allowed," Madory says. "Not only that but they would
be willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for that right and
Cuba could probably use that money."
Long Waits To Get Online
One of the ways to get online in Havana is to visit the offices of the
state-owned telecom monopoly, ETECSA.
We find an office, painted blue and white, in a leafy neighborhood
called Miramar. Two priests from the Ecumenical Catholic Church of
Christ, Monsignor Stefanos and Father Fanurios, are sitting on the porch.
This is their second time in line. Earlier in the day, they had traveled
45 minutes to the office and then waited outside for another 45 minutes,
only to be told finally that the connection was down.
Stefanos says that he comes to ETECSA to check his email every few days.
That's the only way he can keep in touch with his leadership in Central
So, they sit patiently as people are called by the police officers to
walk inside the air-conditioned building and use one of the four
computers connected to the Internet.
At the end of the day, the clerics will have accomplished one thing:
checking their email.
"We're Cuban," says Fanurios, resigned. "We're Cuban and with needs."
A Special Case
Without a doubt, the Internet in Cuba is tough. But there is an oasis in
the midst of this digital desert.
It's in a poor neighborhood in Havana called El Romerillo. That's where
the artist Kcho (pronounced "CAH-cho") built his studio.
Kcho is a bear of a man, bearded and wearing a Rolex watch. As he walked
through his vast complex, which also houses a cafe, a library and a
gallery, a group of young girls followed, giggling as he expounded on
being a son of the Cuban revolution.
He's a superstar; his paintings and sculptures, often made with pieces
of boats, have been exhibited worldwide — in Spain, in Italy and even at
the Marlborough Gallery in New York City.
Because he's an artist, the Culture Ministry allowed him to have an
Internet connection. He told us that when he first moved into this
space, a 2-megabit Internet connection was too broad just for him to
use. So, in 2013, he connected a few computers to the Internet and made
them public, and in January, he installed wireless routers to share the
connection more widely.
"The Internet was invented for it to be used," he says. "There's this
big kerfuffle here in Havana that Kcho has Internet at his place.
There's nothing to it. It's just me, who is willing to pay the cost and
give it to the people. It's about sharing something with people, the
same way my country does. I've always worried that people have what they
need, just like the revolution did, and so I'm trying to give people a
place to grow spiritually. A library, an art studio — all those things
Kcho says that bringing Internet to the masses is not the responsibility
of the government. It is, he says, an "entrepreneurial responsibility."
"And if it's so important for young people to have Internet, my dream is
to bring more of it to them and to have a space here where they can
travel the world without spending a dime, a place where they can travel
from India to Burundi, to Antarctica, to the Library of Congress," he says.
When asked if the Internet could be detrimental to the revolution, he
says that a shift away from socialism is simply not on the table.
"But it's also not an option for me to renounce what I'm doing," he
says. "It's not an option for me to take back what I've already given to
The Internet at Kcho's place is Cuba's first free hot spot, and it's on
24 hours a day.
That means that the place is a hive of activity: There are people
leaning on the outside walls, staring at their smartphones. In the
library, people get on a waiting list to watch funny videos on Yahoo.
Yoan Istameyer, 29, is sitting along a concrete retaining wall. He is
with his friend Yendy Rodriguez, 20, but they aren't talking. They're
glued to a screen.
Istameyer says he has been there since the night before.
"I never leave," he says. The Web and especially Facebook keep him hooked.
He says that there are only two places in Havana with free Internet:
Kcho's place and the U.S. Interests Section along the Malecon. He'd gone
to the Interests Section twice before, he says, but he decided to stop
because of the political baggage that comes with stepping foot inside a
Rodriguez says that he had just heard of this place and is thrilled. We
ask him if the Internet had changed his life in any way. Rodriguez
shakes his head: not really.
Then Istameyer cuts in. He's young. He's brash. He'll hand you his email
address as soon as he can.
"I even left my girlfriend for Wi-Fi," he says, eliciting laughter from
The Internet — and the social connections across the world that it gave
him the freedom to make — had drawn Istameyer in so much that his
girlfriend gave him an ultimatum: Wi-Fi, which Cubans pronounce
"wee-fee," or me.
Istameyer chose the Internet.
Source: An Object Of Desire: Hope And Yearning For The Internet In Cuba
: Parallels : NPR -
http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2015/03/23/394276385/an-object-of-desire-hope-and-yearning-for-the-internet-in-cuba Continue reading
Kathleen McGrory, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 1:27pm
TALLAHASSEE — In an emotional speech Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores,
R-Miami, asked her fellow lawmakers to oppose President Barack Obama's
recent decision to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba.
U.S. to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, open Havana embassy
3 Months Ago
Timeline: Key dates in U.S. relations with Cuba
3 Months Ago
Presidents, popes and spies: How the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations came about
3 Months Ago
All but one agreed.
The measure, which also discourages the federal government from allowing
a Cuban consulate in Florida, is largely symbolic. But it was important
for the Cuban-American members of the state Senate, Flores said.
"A lot of my friends and colleagues have asked why we care so deeply,"
she said on the Senate floor.
Flores told the story of how her mother had fled the island nation as a
She spoke about the "hundreds of thousands (who) sit in prison every day
for having the gall to stand up and say something." And she showed
photographs of the Ladies in White, the wives and family members of
imprisoned Cuban dissidents who hold regular protests in Havana.
"They are spit upon, they are beat up, they are harassed," Flores said.
Flores said the Obama administration's decision to ease travel
restrictions to Cuba would allow American visitors to "have it all,"
while Cuban residents would continue to suffer.
"I know you've seen the pictures of the beautiful beaches were the
tourists can go," she said. "No one who is a Cuban citizen can go to
Her call was echoed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami
Republican who said members of his family had been imprisoned and killed
for speaking out against the government.
Diaz de la Portilla said the new Cuba policy would "do nothing but
ensure that the (Castro) regime stays in power."
"To think that by spending American cash, so Americans can buy Cuban
cigars and Cuban rum and stay at hotels on stolen land, that these two
obstinate octogenarian dictators and their cronies are going to change
anything is naive at best," he said.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, urged his colleagues to "send a message to
this administration that we understand the plight and the problems
(Cubans) are facing, and that we must continue to put the pressure on
the Castro regime to open up and be transparent."
The measure passed on a voice vote, with Senate President Andy Gardiner,
R-Orlando, saying he was proud to stand with the members of the
Miami-Dade legislative delegation.
Only one senator opposed the proposal.
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, said she
understood the Cuban-American senators' "passion and pain." But she
defended the Obama administration's "historic steps to chart a new
course" in Cuba.
"I know in my heart that there was no malice intended by the
promulgation of this policy by the Obama administration, and I know that
his moving this forward is an effort to bring freedom to the Cuban
nation," Joyner said.
A similar proposal, sponsored by South Florida Republican Reps. Manny
Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Núñez, is moving through the House of Representatives.
Source: Florida Senate votes to oppose U.S.-Cuba relations | Tampa Bay
http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/florida-senate-votes-to-oppose-us-cuba-relations/2222619 Continue reading
March 23, 2015
HAVANA TIMES — A recent debate among friends stirred up something of a
thorny issue: did the crusade against illiteracy and the founding of
free schools and hospitals justify the sacrifices involved in the Cuban
Was an educational system that dished out "culture" for the masses,
omitting much of our national and universal heritage, a system that told
(and tells) us what to think and what to say worth our efforts?
I would love to be able to say that, at school, no sooner than we had
become politically mature, they told us and stressed that the fact of
having been born in the "first free country in the Americas" granted us:
- The right to life, liberty and personal integrity
- The right to travel freely around Cuba and choose our place of
residence anywhere in the country
- The right to leave this or any other country and return, without being
arbitrarily deprived of our nationality
- The right to be spared inhumane or degrading treatment
- The right not to be arbitrarily detained, imprisoned or banished
- The right to be free from attacks on our integrity or reputation
- The right to individual and collective property
- The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- The right to assembly and to form peaceful associations
- The right not to be harassed over our opinions
- The right to seek and receive information and opinions, and to divulge
these without any restrictions and through any form of communication.
But I can only attest to the fact they would repeat that we had to be
good students, loyal to the revolution and grateful to the socialist
Three decades later, when my son started going to school, his school was
repaired, like many others in the neighborhood of Alamar, and a large
sign reading "Thank you, Fidel!" was inscribed on all of their
This kind of forced gratefulness and collectivism, characterized by
unchanging (and sometimes aggressive) adjectives and slogans, moved by
an underlying paranoia and made up of half-truths, full-fledged lies and
whispered criticisms, was the world of my childhood.
When, in 2011, I walked by the offices of Paris' Le Monde journal, I
felt the kind of ease and freedom I have never felt at home, whenever I
pass by the offices of Granma newspaper, where guards in olive-green
uniforms keep watch over the entrance.
That what we are taught should be called "culture" is something quite
debatable. That the knowledge we received was worth giving up our right
to question and demand answers is also questionable. The price of free
education for all was a people able to read and write but illiterate
when it comes to the law, vastly unaware of its civil rights and afraid
to demand these.
Personally, I am unable to blot out the bad and see the good on its own.
I believe the intention behind an action determines its result in the
long run. Awakening, tearing the gag from our mouths (be it in public or
in the privacy of our homes), has been far too long and painful a
process, and it has disemboweled the country.
When I converse with young university students, I am surprised at their
lack of commitment towards Cuba. Trained in the art of the double
standard, they can justify their apathy with sophisticated arguments,
barely able to cover up their indifference towards the society they live
in and do not identify with. Their maxim is to get the most out of the
educational options at hand, in order to practice their profession
abroad. Many of those who chose careers such as medicine (having a
calling for it or not) aspire only to go work abroad and leave the country.
Like previous generations, who, thanks to the education received, became
professionals in the field of survival, they have only learned one thing
well: that, in the world where culture and health are offered us free of
charge, freedom tends to be the most expensive thing.
Source: Cuba: Being Educated So As Not To Be Free - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110165 Continue reading
Posted on March 20, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 11 March 2015 — During the hot summer of 2013 I remember
Blanca Reyes, wife of the poet and journalist Raul Rivero, writing
letters to the pope in the Vatican, to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
in Argentina and to Nelson Mandela in South Africa, reminding them that
Fidel Castro had sentenced Rivero to twenty years behind bars for
writing without approval.
Reyes was speaking on behalf her husband and seventy-four other
prisoners of conscience detained in March 2003. I saw up close the
suffering of these women. At mid-morning, armed with baskets of food and
toiletries, they traveled hundreds of kilometers to visit their
husbands, fathers, sons and brothers in jail.
They were also prisoners of the system. Later they decided to organize.
They were like a clan. Laura Pollán was a natural leader who began
acting as the spokesperson for the group.
Never before in the history of Cuba's peaceful dissident movement has
there been an organization with as much international reach as the
Ladies in White. They have compelling reasons for marching gladiolas in
hand, demanding freedom for their loved ones.
They were subjected to physical assaults, humiliations and verbal abuse
by paramilitaries. Their symbolism and courage were key considerations
in leading the Castro regime to ask the Catholic church to act as
intermediary with the women after the death of Orlando Zapata in prison
from a hunger strike.
With participation of Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Spain's
Chancellor Miguel Ángel Moratinos the Ladies in White forced the
government to negotiate the release of prisoners arrested during the
2003 crackdown on dissidents known as the Black Spring.
They wrangled another concession from the regime: the right to march on
Sundays through an area of Fifth Avenue in Havana's Miramar district.
But with most of the prisoners of conscience having gone into exile, the
time has come for the Ladies in White to refocus and reorganize themselves.
There are several options available. One would be to form a political
party and focus their efforts on addressing other issues. In today's
society it is not only those who are imprisoned for criticizing the
regime who suffer. Prostitution and violence in general have increased.
In Cuba working women are paid poverty-level wages. They, like
housewives, have to struggle daily just to survive, especially when it
comes to looking for food. Besides handling domestic chores and seeing
to their children's education, they must also care for elderly and sick
parents and relatives.
The Ladies in White might become an advocacy organization for Cuban
women by trying to address the many problems they have today.
Their current platform includes a demand for democracy and freedom for
so-called prisoners of conscience. This is something that should be
better defined since it is not at all clear whether a former
counter-intelligence official and someone who hijacks a boat belong in
the same category. Nevertheless, there are already groups within the
dissident movement who fulfill this function.
What is lacking are organizations which can serve as voices of the
community. Dilapidated and dark streets, poor public transportation,
water and food shortages, low salaries, and health care and educational
systems in free fall affect both supporters and critics of the regime.
These are areas in which the Ladies in White might focus their efforts.
In the regime's farsical elections scheduled April 19 to select
municipal and neighborhood delegates, the Ladies in White could
encourage citizens to vote blank ballots.
Under the current election law any citizen can monitor the vote count.
The day that the number of citizens voting blank ballots reaches a high
percentage is the day that we have the potential to gain real power to
These days the dissident movement is all smoke and mirrors. It is more
media-savvy than effective. It cannot expect to play a role in future
negotiations if it is not capable of mobilizing people in the thousands.
Given their ability to organize, the ideal situation would be for the
Ladies in White to concentrate their efforts in neighborhoods.
I do not believe focusing on conversations between Cuba and the United
States is the right strategy. Political lobbying should left to those
dissidents who are better prepared.
Berta Soler is a woman to be reckoned with. She is not, however,
comfortable in front of a microphone. Engaging in politics, travelling
overseas and riding the information wave are more rewarding.
But what is needed on the island are boots on the ground working at the
grassroots level. Raising awareness of issues among the large silent
majority of non-conformists who prefer to sit on the sidelines is what
is required. This is something the Ladies in White and other dissident
organizations could do.
The row between Berta Soler and Alejandrina García was badly handled.*
Using an act of repudiation to undercut García was unfortunate. I
applaud Soler's decision to hold internal elections within the group.
It is a healthy practice and the rest of the dissident movement should
take note. If they want credibility, the political opposition should
adopt bylaws and practice transparency.
Most conflicts within the Cuban opposition are results of nepotism,
trafficking in favors and corruption. There are opposition leaders who
talk like democrats but who act quite differently. Meanwhile, their
followers often serve as a chorus of extras whose only purpose is to
provide applause and adulation.
The genesis of the Damas de Blanco was collectivism and authenticity.
Without a strategic change course, the movement — founded twelve years
ago — may simply peter out. That would be a shame.
*Translator's note: A video from December 16 was released showing a
group of Ladies in White surrounding Garcia, a founder of the
organization, and shouting "down with traitors" at the movement's
headquarters. As a result, sixteen exiled founders of the movement
signed a letter asking Soler to resign and hold elections to give the
group a new direction. They called the incident "an abominable act of
repudiation" and described it as a "communist" and "fascist" reaction.
Source: Miami Herald
Source: The Ladies in White Should Change Their Political Profile / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-ladies-in-white-should-change-their-political-profile-ivan-garcia/ Continue reading
REINALDO ESCOBAR, La Habana | Marzo 19, 2015
Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the
former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions
have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about
their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the
José Daniel Ferrer
The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers' regime did its
best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us
decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more
convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our
modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something
like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for
attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.
Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and
sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against
the people. Recognizing the changes doesn't mean we go along, because
what we don't have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days
when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some
people approached us and whispered in our ears, "I heard you," referring
to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few
media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.
Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea
I've had in my entire life. On Saturday July 10, the day on which I
spent my 57th birthday in prison, I received a call from Cardinal
Ortega. He informed me that he was forming the third group of
ex-prisoners and that I could leave together with my family. I thanked
him for the gesture and the fact that the Church had always fought
alongside the unprotected and against the injustices, but I would not
abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my
sentence. On 22 March he called me again and the next day they released
me from prison. Along with José Daniel Ferrer, I was the last to get home.
Right now I'm on conditional release, on parole, but I am convinced that
sooner or later they are going to allow me to travel normally like any
other Cuban. In my case, I have no intention of traveling abroad as long
as the president of Cuba is not a democratically elected member of civil
In my opinion, the country has changed, but for the worse. It is true
that since the beginning of December of last year the political police
have stopped repressing in the way they had been the expressions of
peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White in Cardenas and Colon. Before
that, every Sunday they prevented their walking down the street, they
were beaten and insulted, put into vehicles and abandoned to their fate
at whatever place. This doesn't happen any more and we believe it is
very helpful, but the repression continues in other ways, with police
citations and surveillance.
I was contacted three times by the Cardinal to leave for Spain and I
said no. When they told me I could get out of prison on parole I
refused, making my point that Raul Castro had announced months ago that
we would all be released. I left prison against my will. In September
2014 I made a complaint to the People's Power Provincial Court in the
section for crimes against the security of the State and the Council of
State for them to release me unconditionally. They responded that the
court had determined that I would have to remain under control. I have
no interest in leaving the country, this is my decision and I don't have
to explain it to anyone.
Some changes have occurred in our country, but I continue to insist that
they are not fundamental. The government of Raul Castro maintains very
rigid positions. The fact that relations with the United States are
being reestablished is perhaps the most notable change, but behind this
are the economic interests of the Cuban and American governments. In the
case of Raul Castro, what he wants is to extend his dynasty in power,
but I can't see what the benefits are for the Cuban people.
Just under five years ago I decided not to accept the offer to go into
exile in Spain. I received a lot of criticism, but my closest friends,
my wife and my family supported me in my decision. At one time I desired
to leave Cuba, but one has a right to change and today I have no
regrets. In the most difficult moment of the dilemma I chose to stay for
many reasons, one of them is the trajectory of the independent press,
where I worked with Habana Press since 1995, and also my convictions.
After thinking about all aspects, I considered it better to stay here
trying to open spaces for independent journalism, to bring our
experience to the young people. I am here, happy, although it seems a
contradiction in terms, because I am doing what I love and contributing
with my modest efforts to a better country.
Life is dialectical and everything changes. Sometimes we do not notice
because we are in the forest, but the world has changed and Cuba as
well. The Cuba of 12 years ago was very different. Now, for example,
events that no one expected have occurred, like the reestablishment of
diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. They have
opened spaces that were unthinkable back then, there are people who
don't see it that way, people who think it is very little, others say
nothing has changed. The country has changed and will change, perhaps
not with the speed those of us on the pro-democratic route would like,
but there have been changes. Our work is made visible with the existence
of new technologies, Internet and cellphones; discreet but important
spaces have opened up that have contributed in a greater or lesser way
to improving our work, both in the political opposition and in the
alternative civil society.
When I had been in prison for about a year and a half in Combinado del
Este in Havana, some officials from State Security interviewed me to
find out my willingness to leave Cuba as a way to be released from
prison. I told them flat out no, and their leader assured me I would
serve the 20 years without any benefit. I decided to stay because of the
commitment I have to the development of a dynamic of change that will do
away with the Castros' totalitarianism and produce a transition to
democracy. On the other hand, I greatly identify with and have a great
sense of belonging to Cuban culture, with its values, the people in the
neighborhood, the climate, with las parrandas de Camajuaní. I can't
find this in any other country.
Some experts in the areas of transition have said that there are four
types of non-democratic regimes: totalitarian, post-totalitarian,
sultanistic and totalitarian, but in the '90s a process of
"de-totalitarian-ization" began and this has happened because of the
pressure from the internal opposition and internationally and because of
other reasons, including biological. The regime has been evolving toward
post-totalitarianism and perhaps intends to move towards an
authoritarian military regime.
They want to stay in power and that has led to allowing certain
improvements in freedom of movement, they have facilitated aspects of
the issue of ownership and non-state management of the economy, such as
land leases and non-farm cooperatives. Despite the enormous repression,
the opposition has been gaining spaces. We are more plural, less
monolithic. People are forgetting their fear, breaking their chains and
learning to speak up in public and to demand their rights.
Source: "Recognizing changes does not mean we go along" -
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/recognizing-changes-does-not-mean-we-go-along-cuba_0_1745825418.html Continue reading
Posted on March 19, 2015
Fernando Damaso, 20 February 2015 — It has lately become fashionable to
speak and write about the need for combatting negative cultural trends
that, as is to be expected, arrive from abroad, mostly from the
"empire." This practice has increased since December 17, 2014, when it
was announced that diplomatic relations would be re-established with the
"empire"… sorry, with the United States government.
Nobody with any sense can bet on the vulgarity, the bad taste, the
alienation, the extremisms of all types, the violence, and other ills,
but much care must be taken when deciding what is negative, and who
determines this. Let us remember that for years this country prohibited
foreign music, and to listen to it constituted a crime.
Victims of this absurd policy were Beatles fans, as well as any man who
wore his hair long, wore jeans, or looked "peculiar" to the authorities.
The UMAP was a crude reality that destroyed the lives of many Cubans,
while back then this was said to be in defense of the culture and
national identity. That is, to prohibit has never been a good policy,
and it is less so now in a world so globalized and digitized as ours,
wherein prohibitions are very difficult to apply.
Therefore there is a need to raise the quality and attractiveness of all
things Cuban, to compete with what comes from abroad. This makes for a
good policy — if and only if the "compete" part is respected — and no
move is made to impose shoddiness, as has been the case up to now,
simply because something is "made in Cuba."
Now, to achieve this requires freedom and resources, without which
producers can make very little. Another necessity: leaving chauvinism
aside. Our children are not the most educated on the plant (even if
UNESCO says so), nor are our women the most beautiful, cultured,
sensual, sensible and lucid, nor are the Cuban people the most
politically aware, hard-working and brave. All of these statements are
no more than clichés, imposed by 56 years of "massive ideological
dumbing-down," arriving actually not from abroad, but made in Cuba.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Regarding the Massive Dumbing-Down / Fernando Damaso |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/regarding-the-massive-dumbing-down-fernando-damaso/ Continue reading
REINALDO ESCOBAR, La Habana | Marzo 19, 2015
Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the
former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions
have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about
their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the
Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello
I left prison in late 2004, paroled by the regime for reasons of health.
They never offered me the chance to go abroad, but it wouldn't have
occurred to me. My closest family, and most distant as well, live
abroad, but I never had plans to abandon the Island. I am a Spanish
citizen because my family did the paperwork, I visited the embassy of
that country the day they told me to fill out the forms and then got a
passport, about four years ago.
This is no longer the same country it was in the spring of 2003. The
government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens,
regardless of the fact that we can't make use of them. At that time, for
example, a Cuban was not permitted to say in the hotels. Now it's not
prohibited, but the economy doesn't allow the ordinary citizen to
exercise that right. Who, other than "papá's kids" [the Castro
offspring] has the money to pay for a room? Another thing is the ability
to travel abroad. Those of us who are on parole are not allowed to
travel, or we know that if we do it we will not be allowed to return.
I remember Cardinal Ortega, in a statement published by the newspaper
Granma, said that all of us would be set free, but they only freed those
who chose to go into exile. That is a way of punishing us for not
accepting deportation, it is a whim of the commander in chief and a
mockery of Spain and of the Church. On 31 October last year we made a
formal demand for a document of freedom, but we never got an answer. We
only have an identity card.
I got out of prison because of the efforts made by the Government of
Spain and the Catholic Church with the Government of Cuba, but
especially thanks to the internal pressures, which came from the actions
of the Ladies in White, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and
Guillermo Fariña's hunger strike. No one ever pressured me to leave
Cuba. The Cardinal called me and proposed it and I said no. My decision
was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I've never
regretted that. It was very important that I had the support of my wife,
Berta Soler, who has always agreed with our staying.
The country has not evolved at all in terms of human rights. Just look
at the lists of arbitrary detentions issued monthly by the Human Rights
Committee and Hablemos Press. The methods used by the State Security
include beatings and abuses of all kinds. The repression has intensified
to prevent the population from joining the activism. It is true that
they have not been making the same mistake of the Black Spring, because
that was a failure that cost the government dearly, but they continue to
imprison people for political reasons and still refuse to ratify the
international covenants on human rights.
Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique
I left prison in November 2010. Just before, Cardinal Ortega called me
and told me he was preparing for the prisoners of our cause to leave the
country. I told him I wasn't interested. It was a decision I've thought
about a lot since that time, but I wouldn't take it back. If I wanted to
leave Cuba now it would have to be forever, but I'm not going to accept
this blackmail. On leaving prison they gave us a little piece of paper
to get an ID card, but I never managed to get anything legal. My family
shares this decision and when your family supports you, the decision is
The opposition still hasn't been able to consolidate itself. The
constant emigration of people with experience does a lot of damage to
us, these exits don't allow us to consolidate. Of course the regime was
forced to take some actions, but it was done out of pure pragmatism.
They have no interest in changing. In this similar situation of
restoring relations with the United States I can't see clearly what
their real interests are. Maduro from Venezuela is an influence in this,
because he isn't happy to see there is a possibility of coming to an
arrangement with Cuba.
Diosdado González Marrero
Right now, almost four years after thye released us, I continue to see
it as a question of principles to have made the decision not to give in
to the Government's pressure and accept exile as a condition for leaving
prison. I saw it then and I continue to see it the same way now. In
about a week I'm going to join my family abroad. I am leaving the
Island, but I will stay in Cuba. I tried to leave like a normal visit,
but it's not allowed. My wife and I even went to the cardinal to
intercede, but it wasn't possible to resolve our request. I am leaving
for two reasons: my desire to reunite with my children and
grandchildren, and because we Cubans have to live in democracy. I have
done my best for the unity of the opposition, but it's very difficult,
there are too many individual interests in each organization. No matter
where I live, I will continue working for the freedom of Cuba.
Having spent eight years in those places that don't even deserve to be
called prisons, and coming back out to the street, I saw that everything
was worse. After you get acclimated again, you can get used to anything.
Now we see changes. There are things that Cubans have the right to, that
they couldn't do before. Get a cellphone, connect to the Internet,
travel, those were goals that seemed impossible, likewise with the
development of private businesses or land leasing, but politically,
nothing. After Fidel Castro got sick and handed over power to his
brother, they started to eliminate prohibitions and now, with the
conversations between the Cuban regime and the American government,
things will get better still, especially with the flow of tourists from
the United States.
Eduardo Diaz Fleitas
They released me just a few days before I served eight years in prison.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega called me to suggest that I accept leaving for
Spain in order to be released. I told him I wasn't interested in leaving
Cuba. Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my
commitment is to fight for the changes we need. I never regret having
stayed here, and I don't think I will leave under any circumstances.
The biggest change the country has suffered in the last 12 years that I
see is the greater deterioration. There is no respect for human dignity
nor any kind of improvement in any order of life. Now we need the regime
to decide to accept real changes and seek peace for the progress of the
Source: "No matter where I live, I will keep working for the freedom of
http://www.14ymedio.com/englishedition/No-matter-where-I-live-will-keep-working-for-freedom-cuba_0_1745225476.html Continue reading
(EFE).- Más de 25 medios de comunicación cambiaron de dueño en Venezuela en los últimos cinco años, según un estudio que el Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) presentó este jueves en Washington. La directora del IPYS en Venezuela, Marianela Balbi, denunció que tras las ventas de los medios cambiaron las líneas editoriales, con más información oficial, eliminación de la investigación y la crítica e incorporación de contenidos "banales".
"Además, las ventas fueron antecedidas por una serie de presiones con apertura de procesos judiciales, que cayeron tras el cambio de dueños y de línea editorial", explicó Balbi en una conferencia de prensa en la sede de Freedom House, organización de defensa de los derechos humanos y la democracia.
Según la investigación, existe una relación directa entre los nuevos dueños con "actores políticos vinculados al Gobierno nacional o a los Gobiernos locales del chavismo".
El informe, titulado Los dueños de la censura en Venezuela, fue elaborado a partir del trabajo de un grupo de 30 periodistas de distintos puntos del país que durante un año investigaron los "opacos" cambios de propiedad de los medios.
"Este proceso de concentración de medios arranca en el interior mucho antes que en Caracas, pero se convierte en un debate nacional cuando llega a los medios de la capital", señaló Balbi.
Para explicar en primera persona las consecuencias del trasvase de poder sobre los medios de comunicación en Venezuela, participó en la presentación del informe la caricaturista Rayma Suprani, despedida de El Universal tras casi 20 años por sus viñetas críticas con el Gobierno.
[[QUOTE:Participó en la presentación del informe la caricaturista Rayma Suprani, despedida de 'El Universal' tras casi 20 años por sus viñetas críticas con el Gobierno]]"En el periódico cada semana había rumores sobre la posible venta. No nos decían nada. Cuando me dijeron finalmente que se vendía pensé que con esa venta caía un bastión que había resistido a los avatares de los cambios", relató.
"Yo comencé a hacer pulso con los editores, me llamaron a una reunión con el director. Lo que querían era que suavizara si quería mantener mi trabajo, pero yo aceleré", añadió.
La caricatura que colmó el vaso fue una crítica con el fallecido expresidente Hugo Chávez y la situación de la salud en el país caribeño.
"Nosotros los periodistas no estábamos preparados para esto que ha ocurrido en Venezuela. Siempre hemos sido un poco quijotescos en esa idea del bien per se", concluyó.Continue reading
ORLANDO LUIS PARDO LAZO
MARCH 18, 2015
This article is part of The Mantle's series Against Censorship.
The U.S. embargo against the Cuban government is like those recurrent
childhood nightmares, for both Cubans living on the Island and abroad.
Oh, the Embargo Embargo: limit of our life, fire of our leaders…
During decadent decades the Cuban Revolution has been defined by that
urge of surviving in a besieged place, where distrust and the hate
speech are officially justified by the tricky threat of a foreign foe,
where an invisible U.S. invasion was enough to promote impunity within
the Island, including the need of a messianic savior: Fidel, just
Fidel—because calling him Castro could be considered a first symptom of
And public dissent begets personal disaster in dictatorships.
We Cubans are fed with the populist paranoia of Fidel in our mothers'
milk. In turn, this rule of Fidelity feeds a paternalistic State where
citizens always behave like children. All responsibilities rely upon the
Revolution. Behaviorism in the time of barbarity. Discipline as the
substitute of both duty and desire. Meanwhile all our fundamental
freedoms were embargoed by the Cuban authorities as a displaced
vengeance for the U.S. embargo against them.
At first, with the Soviet satellite republics nourishing the Cuban
economy, our Commander in Chief was making jokes about how useless the
U.S. embargo was to prevent his Revolution from turning Cuba into a
First World nation:
- "There will be enough milk produced in Cuba to fill Havana bay." (1966).1
- "The effect of the American blockade has been to require us to work
harder and better, it has been effective in favor of the Revolution."
- "The language of force does not intimidate us, we have been cured of
it, so the blockade is now a subject of scorn and laughter." (1969).3
- "Happily, we depend on the U.S. for nothing. No trade, no food,
- "Economic relations with the U.S. would not imply any basic benefit
for Cuba, no essential benefit," (1985).5
In the 1990s, however, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the
restoration of democracies in Latin America, Castro had to retool his
propaganda machinery. The U.S. embargo suddenly proved to be the genesis
of all social debacles on the Island. The economic sanctions threatened
our sovereignty more than a coup d'état, and as such the world was to
condemn them but with no mention of the scarcity of the fundamental
rights for the Cuban people (including the exiles, now more than
one-fifth of our population).
Generation after generation, resistance to Cuban totalitarianism has
become synonymous with the fine art of waiting. From ideology to
hypocrisy to idiocy, Cubans are experts in expecting with no expectation
at all. Anything goes, from fighting the Ebola virus in Africa to
signing a Major League contract worth several million dollars.
Once we were austere, once we even had an astronaut, maybe we have just
gone astray. Stigmatized as "worms" by the Castroites, many Cubans are
indeed waiting for biopolitics—or rather necropolitics—to finish its
work on a half fossil Fidel, a Marxterialist Methuselah about to turn
89, shrunken like a magic-realist character by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
who, by the way, was his close collaborator and a spokesman of the Cuban
The alternative to indolence is to emigrate to the northernmost province
of our country: Miami-Hialeah and other post-totalitarian towns, where
we can rent a so-called "efficiency" to watch this film from the burger
side of the embargo. Big Brother Marx is easily overwhelmed by a Big Mac.
The end of the economic and financial embargo against Cuba—still
inconceivable since the U.S. Congress is reluctant to change the
law—should then imply the end of the Castrozoic Cold War Era, still
ongoing by sheer inertia on the Caribbean island. And we all enjoyed a
preview with the miraculous milestone of last December 17, when the
simultaneous speeches of President Barack Obama and General Raul Castro
announced the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, a pluribus duo, with
liberty and justice for none—or perhaps only for the subscribers of The
New York Times, after endless op-eds paved the way for the White House
to pay the way for the Chamber of Commerce to invest in Cuba, just as
their members did in the Fabulous Fifties.
This adulterated affair of a democracy with a dictatorship is about to
seal the self-transition from power to power taking place on the Island
today. The Cuban dynastic model of State capitalism is already pregnant
with a baby dictatorcracy called Castrolandia 2.0. The next Putin-like
president is likely to be Alejandro Castro Espin, who, like the Russian
autocrat, is a colonel linked to state security who happens to be the
son of Raul Castro, who in turn has promised to step down in 2018 at the
age of 87 years with six decades of control behind him.
The pros and cons of this unexpected approach are not as relevant as the
perverse point that there are no right or wrong options when it comes to
monolithic regimes. No deal is dear with the Castro family. Every
engagement is co-opted for their own convenience, because all the levers
of society remain at their disposition without any limits.
Despite Obama's rhetoric that breathed life into the Cuban
establishment, the alternative to Communism is not likely to be
consumerism, but Communism itself. Or collapse. After Fidel, the Flood.
And Obama seems to be advancing a helping hand to us before a migratory
crisis extends its hideous hands to the U.S., as it is being announced
already in the record numbers of rafters and Cubans illegally crossing
U.S. borders, before and after December 17.
Since the nuclear missile crisis of October 1962, these "human missiles"
have been used as a pressuring position by Havana in its dialogues or
diatribes with Washington, DC. That is why on Island, the rumor is that
the Cuban Adjustment Act, which privileges Cubans to apply for a
permanent resident status after one year and a day in America, will
vanish somehow with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between
the White House and Revolution Square.
And so we keep voting with our feet in a sort of pedestrian's plebiscite
to kiss goodbye the Revolution—a fleeing flow that is 100% political
precisely because 100% of Cuban migrants hurry to declare that they are
only looking for economic benefits. What kind of benefits when they had
free education, free sports, free arts, free health and free et ceteras
on the Island? Farewell, Fidel.
Americans can come to Cuba in the search of profits. Cubans keep
quitting their proletarian paradise in search of only we know what.
"Yankees, come home" echoes in the so-called Key to the Gulf for the
first time in the history of our hemisphere. Americans are more than
welcome to appease our tired tyranny with their new markets for the New
Man to cease being a soldier and become a salesman. Money is time in
this equation to build a stable status quo for the region, which is a
major concern for America's national security. In gold they trust: bring
down the wall means open up the wallet. This explains the urgency of
Google, Amazon, Delta, Netflix, Coca-Cola, and even Bacardi to
re-conquer the once-called Pearl of the Antilles. Meanwhile, a multitude
of five-year multiple-entry U.S. visas is being granted to Cubans of all
ages, before and after December 17.
If 50-plus years of U.S. diplomatic stalemate and economic sanctions
failed to bring freedom to the Cuban people it is because these were
never designed to bring freedom to the Island, but to penalize a regime
that started by sequestering Cuban sovereignty with anti-democratic
procedures, including the violent illegalization of civil society and
all forms of property—both private and public, including the
press—forcing up to one-fifth of our population to live in exile today.
The 50-plus years to come of U.S. capitalist engagement with Cuba cannot
guarantee fundamental freedoms for our people, because a market economy
is not a redemptive formula per se, and it has been implemented by many
authoritarian systems to deny all basic rights. But "rights" is a
worn-out word that President Obama, Pope Francis, and General Castro
have eagerly agreed to postpone during almost two years of secret
negotiations: Cuban democracy, like heaven, can wait.
What has been good for Americans since the Eighteenth Century is still
not good enough for Cubans in the Twenty-first Century. This is the
basis of revolutionary racism, a discriminatory concept cruelly
conceived by American academics in their search of a lost Left. First
world democracies seem disappointed to support pro-democracy movements
anymore in the Third World, while Castroism keeps on being more than
proud to Castrify other countries —Venezuela is the most tragic example
Oh, bama! Why not take advantage of these U.S.-Cuba negotiations to seat
the historical gerontocracy in olive-green uniforms at the same table
with the emerging civil leaders on the Island? Don't we deserve this
after we have achieved so much in the struggle for freedom of speech and
to raise awareness of human rights violations and the overall
anthropological damage in Cuba? If the Castros want to be treated as a
normal government, shouldn't the Castros constitute a normal government
But as it has been impossible to hold the Cuban government accountable,
the lesser evil now seems to be to promote "Cuban civil society" only
for political correctness in presidential speeches, while in fact
excluding us from the establishment to come: State capitalism with the
sheepskin of a soulcialism.
In moral terms the unpopularity of U.S. policies, given the popularity
of the Cuban Revolution worldwide, should be less important than
securing that a true transition to democracy will take place in Cuba
soon. Unless, of course, advancing American interests in the Western
Hemisphere still means advancing American interests in Western Union.
Despite any goodwill of the U.S. executive branch enforcing resolution
after resolution, involving certain congressmen and think tanks and NGOs
and press magnates and corporate tycoons that shake Raul Castro's hand
without asking him a single uncomfortable question, what is being
legitimized is a clan that abolished the Cuban Congress and Cuban think
tanks and Cuban NGOs and the Cuban Chamber of Commerce and all Cuban
press except that belonging to the Communist Party.
I am not sure about "what everybody needs to know about Cuba"—as the
American scholar Julia Sweig might say—but rather about what nobody
dares to know about Cuba. Even if this is a small step for democracy,
it's also a giant leap against independence. And decency. The U.S.
change in its Cuban policy is the latest victory of The End of History:
from the Spanish-American War to the Anti-Imperialist Revolution, the
growing "common marketization" of international relations is what really
counts and "Cuban" continues to be out of date.
Milan Kundera, maybe the best Cuban novelist who is a Czech who writes
in French and lives in Switzerland—a perfect mix for liberty—knew that
"the old dead make way for the young dead" for "the struggle of man
against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
"Dialogues between the elites are not the path of the people," said the
assassinated leader of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement Oswaldo
Payá—winner of the European Parliament's 2002 Sakharov Prize for Freedom
of Thought. Dead since July 22, 2012—like Polish priest Popiełuszko in
the mid-1980s— in a traffic "accident" denounced as an extrajudicial
killing by the surviving witness who was driving the car, Payá and his
peaceful activists managed to collect more than 25,000 signatures on the
Island to legally democratize our society, as established by the Cuban
Constitution. The Castros' reaction was dozens of incarcerations, forced
expatriations and, ultimately, his murder by the Ministry of the Interior.
Is the Obama administration willing to mention such delicate details in
The New Deal with Cuba or will there be no solidarity with Payá's
family, who has been requesting an independent investigation since that
sad Sunday that abolished the hope of an inclusive country? And not just
a clowntry club for cowboys, a post-totalitarian museum turned into a
tourist theme park or worse, into a mausoleum of martyrs like Orlando
Zapata—left to die during a hunger strike—Laura Pollán—our second
Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought—and Oswaldo Payá?
Respect for universal values like life, mercy, beauty, truth, and
liberty—the most natural and yet so difficult to attain in times of
tyranny—is the responsibility of every free man and woman who wishes to
favor my people, who deserve not to wait any longer to be treated like
real citizens, with or without whatever diplomatic decisions are taken
one thousand miles away in the U.S.
"Cubans have the right to have rights," repeated Oswaldo Payá before the
Castros took his life. And we Cubans have the right to have rights
irrespective of all the Castros' conspiracies to permanently prevail. I
still skeptically trust in such a Cuba "founded with all and the good of
all"—as the patriot and poet José Martí wrote more than a century
ago—but most of my fellow Cubans already don't. Our wisdom is weird, for
we have seen things that you Americans wouldn't believe
1. Fidel Castro. Speech at the Meeting of the Federation of Cuban Women,
2. Castro. Playboy (January 1967).
3. Castro. Speech at the Plaza de la Revolución, Havana (January 2, 1969).
4. Castro. Speech at the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party,
5. Jeffrey M. Elliot and Mervyn M. Dymally. Fidel Castro: Nothing Can
Stop the Course of History (Pathfinder Press, 1986).
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is a writer, photographer, blogger of "Lunes de
Post-Revolución"(English trans. "Post-Revolution Mondays"), and editor
of the Cuban independent digital magazines The Revolution Evening Post
Source: No Embargo, No Cry | The Mantle -
http://www.mantlethought.org/international-affairs/no-embargo-no-cry Continue reading
March 16, 2015
HAVANA TIMES — Today, I had something of a domestic dispute with an
on-line acquaintance who asked me what I thought about my uncle Ernesto
"Che" Guevara having been a "butcher." I tackled the issue more or less
saying that, generally speaking, we had to recognize he had been an
exceptional person, but that he was ultimately a human being and not the
triumphal statue he was turned into.
Neither Saint nor Butcher
The first to suffer as a result of this kind of thinking is the person
we've turned into a myth. Doing this completely trivializes the effort
and the sacrifices that person made in order to acquire each of their
Ernesto was many things before becoming the man who headed down the road
of the "guerrilla," a path he was persuaded to follow by the ambition
and insensitivity of the world's powerful and their refusal to
distribute the planet's wealth in a more equitable, fraternal and even
He was a great dreamer and romantic, a lone-wolf, a tireless traveler,
an intellectual, a connoisseur of high French, Spanish and Latin
American poetry, a refined writer, a doctor who, despite never having
practiced officially, healed more people in the jungles, leper colonies
and places in Cuba's Sierra Maestra he spent time in than most
professional doctors throughout their lives.
He was a person who stood out among politicians owing to what I consider
to be his most outstanding feature: he practiced what he preached. In
general terms, I do not agree with any of his ideas. I am not a
communist. I hate it when others meddle in my private affairs. The
freedom of the State, like that of anyone and anything, ends where my
I condemn any kind of interference in the life of individuals on behalf
of the interests of the masses, and I am totally opposed to any kind of
violence – my uncle's and, of course, that of his enemies (and we can
agree that, since 1967, more people have died as a result of political
violence, wars, bombings, armed combat, upheavals, torture and other
tragedies than Che ever killed in combat or executed). I do not agree
with any of those ideas. I do, however, think our times are poorer for
lack of someone who does what they say, think as they act and openly
tell us about what they do: someone who practices what they preach, in
Ernesto was many things before becoming the man who headed down the road
of the "guerrilla," a path he was persuaded to follow by the ambition
and insensitivity of the world's powerful and their refusal to
distribute the planet's wealth in a more equitable, fraternal and even
He was a champion of volunteer work and he was the first to roll up his
sleeves every Sunday. Fidel couldn't stand that, because it made him
look bad. Fidel would do volunteer work for the picture opportunity. He
wasn't willing to spend four hours of a Sunday sweating buckets. He only
did that once or twice after Che's death, in 1970, when the
10-million-ton sugar harvest failed miserably, but he only did that
because he saw his enterprise in danger and was afraid to be held
directly responsible for that catastrophic, hard-headed enterprise.
Other government officials resented Che because of that, for mocking
them and rubbing their lack of scruples in their faces, and because he
was straight as an arrow and not very fond of opportunists.
He stuck his neck out for what he thought was right and died next to his
soldiers. He traveled without bodyguards. He would hop on trains and
visit places like Hiroshima, or Montevideo, Uruguay, when I assume he
missed the River Plate, a thick juicy steak, a mate and a park-bench
chat with someone in the parlance of his youth. As a government
minister, he would often drive places on his own.
Fidel travels with five hundred bodyguards. He called a liver expert
from the Gregorio Marañon hospital in Spain over to avoid dying, razing
all of the propaganda about the superiority of Cuban medicine to the
ground. He has always done what it takes to remain at the top and, of
course, so as to stay alive!
Ernesto took after his mother Celia in that he finished what he started,
with the romantic and transgressive spirit of his father Ernesto. He
told the truth, even when it was hard to do. He is the only politician
ever to stand before the United Nations to say something like:
"We have executed people, we are executing people and we will continue
to execute people." This is no doubt a dreadful statement, but I do miss
these sincere and needed speeches that no other leader (not even Fidel
Castro) has since pronounced, affirming things such as:
"We imprison, we forbid, we kill, we torture, we bomb, we liquidate, we
develop weapons of mass destruction, we create famine, misery, pain and
fear, and we will continue to do so."
Así como los dirigentes que una vez muerto lo encumbraron, y que cuando
estaba vivo lo detestaban en silencio; la gente humilde y trabajadora de
Cuba, lo quería de verdad, no era ese temor al omnipresente dios
devorador que le tenían a Fidel, vi auténtico cariño en rostros de gente
muy humilde que lo conocieron cuando me hablaban de él.
To be sure, we can miss only the speeches, as the facts have well
surpassed all expectations.
Che was not a demagogue: he didn't deceive the people.
That was his major political difference with Fidel Castro, who, in the
course of his life, has been able to convince the sheep to peacefully
fall asleep in a den of wolves.
Fidel would gather people up, lie right and left, and deceive the
masses, officials, presidents, and businesspeople to suit his individual
"We are not communists and will never be communists," he used to say.
Then again, looking back on this, that may well have been one of the few
truths he ever pronounced: he was never even the shadow of a true communist.
Che, on the other hand, would tell his soldiers this: "most of us will
probably not make it out of here alive. Whoever wants to leave, leave
now. This is a man's task." His battalions started out with a hundred
men and ended with ten.
Fidel started with a hundred and ended with a million men. However, he
let those million sink on the Titanic, never on Noa's Ark.
Che died next to his soldiers. Yes, he was certainly tough, and his
enemies claim he was heartless. But he was also a man of humanitarian
values who took the side of those who had no hope back then, or in the
world in general.
The government officials who extolled him after his death had secretly
loathed him when he was still alive, but the humble, working people of
Cuba loved him sincerely. They weren't moved by the fear towards an
all-powerful and devouring god, as they were when it came to Fidel. I
saw genuine affection in the faces of the very humble people who knew
him and spoke to me about him.
I say the same thing to those who see only the shining face of the
impeccable revolutionary who had nothing but virtues, the image Fidel
promoted in Cuba to suit his interests, after abandoning him when Che
needed him most, that it is also true he was in charge of the executions
conducted at Havana's La Cabaña fortress, a far from happy episode in
the history of the Cuban "de-evolution."
Every coin has two faces. We are all a mix of different values. Ernesto
took the good and the far-from-good to their extremes.
Source: Che Guevara: Not a Saint, Not a Butcher - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=109997 Continue reading
Posted on March 13, 2015
Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Border Guard Prison, Havana, 8 March 2015 —
The dictatorship has tried to hide my voice for two consecutive years. I
think it has failed.
On February 28 I completed 24 months in prison, and I can assure you it
has accomplished nothing, that the punishment has not served the
purposes of the totalitarian regime.
They've put me through horrors, and I like to think that each one has
left me unscathed. If I remember correctly, I could see the fear in
their eyes for what they've done and the admiration for my vertical
posture and not wanting to live in silence under their boots.
I have never asked them when they will release me, because I believe
that other political prisoners have that right before me. Of course, I
have not received "time off for good behavior" where the years are
calculated as ten months if the prisoner behaves well.
Last year I asked my family for a cake to celebrate the first
anniversary. This year, as is their wont, the regime has intensified my
isolation in their constant failed attempt to achieve it.
I want to share with all those who love freedom of expression, as an
inviolable principle of every intellectual and the society in general,
this second year in prison, an honor that the despots in power have
given me as a gift.
Thank you and hugs to those who understand and support me.
Source: My Second Anniversary in Captivity / Angel Santiesteban |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/my-second-anniversary-in-captivity-angel-santiesteban/ Continue reading
Posted on March 13, 2015
Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Border Control Prison, February 2015 — If I
had any desire to be set free, it wouldn't be with a great desire to
accompany my children in their human, academic and social growth and to
cooperate in this dream of liberation for my country.
When I think that I will have to return to that huge prison that is Cuba
for Cubans who cannot express their opinions about the reality that
surrounds them, or the artists who, through their art, bring another
aesthetic that doesn't make the leaders happy, the emotion fades like
that light they try to turn off, to hide.
I makes no sense to say that freedom is outside my imprisonment when I
fell that I am more free than those who say they are free and speak
softly to hide their thoughts, or prefer to lie to others with the
intention of not being identified by the officials — somehow the police
— persecutors of those who dare to be honest, although they silently
To be punished by a dictatorship is one of the best experiences I've
received in my life and I am very proud of it.
Knowing that history will record me as against the tyranny that has
ruled the archipelago for more than half a century, fills me with joy
and is, in itself, the greatest payment for the suffering that I have
received, for the punishment they deal like a decoration impossible to
Today, Wednesday, February 25, I called the headquarters of the Ladies
in White and thanked them for their shouts of freedom for the political
prisoners; their boundless courage, and for bearing up under the
beatings and humiliations they receive, as one Sunday 22 February, when
they were physically abused, humiliated and imprisoned, as well as Human
Rights activists who support the Ladies in White, among others Ailer
Gonzalez and Antonio Rodiles.
The government has to stop its constant violation of these rights, and
accept that once the opposition is a tangible reality it is impossible
to annul them no matter how many outrages are committed against them.
In addition, the countries who converse with the dictators must demand
respect and not allow them to be used and underestimated in this game
that the tyranny smears in search of the oxygenation that guarantees
their remaining in power.
Down with the dictatorship! Nation and Liberty!
Published: 13 March 2015
Source: Freedom? / Angel Santiesteban | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/freedom-angel-santiesteban/ Continue reading
Mar 13, 2015
As the relationship between the United States and Cuba evolves, so does
the potential for U.S. investment in the island nation. Dan Loney, host
of the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM
channel 111 recently spoke on the topic with CNBC's chief international
correspondent, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, and Tom Herzfeld, an investment
professional who has been sizing up the early-stage possibilities and
has plans under way to invest heavily in Cuba's future.
Herzfeld and Caruso-Cabrera will also be on hand on April 1 when
Knowledge@Wharton, Wharton's Lauder Institute and Momentum Event Group
host the Cuba Opportunity Summit at the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York.
You can listen to the interview with Caruso-Cabrera and Herzfeld using
the player above. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.
Dan Loney: Michelle, let's talk about Cuba and the importance it has to you.
Michelle Caruso-Cabrera: My mother is a Cuban-American. She's an exile
who came when she was 13 years old, back in the early 1960s. And so,
I've always heard a lot about Cuba from her and from her parents. Then,
as [CNBC's] chief international correspondent, it's this island that is
so close to the United States. When you talk to businesspeople, they
think of it as potentially — not politically — a 51st state.… It's
another 11 million people that could be a potential market that is so
close that you don't have to worry so much about transportation and
shipping costs as you would across the ocean.
Dan Loney: [And] Tom Herzfeld, [you've] been sizing up potential
opportunities with companies that will be logical early stage partners
for the Cuban economy.…Your interest in Cuba goes back a couple of
decades. How did it really all come about?
Tom Herzfeld: Well, my field of specialization is closed-end funds. And
closed-end funds, going back to the 1800s, are the way that investors
participated in emerging markets. So, given that we were based in South
Florida, which is immersed in the Cuban-American culture, society and
economy, and we know the Caribbean very well, it seemed that, [since we
have] the combination of being a closed-end fund expert and a
Caribbean/Cuba expert: Why not form a closed-end fund to invest in the
Loney: In one of the articles I was reading about you, you referenced
the old Jaws movie from the 1970s — the scene where Roy Scheider says,
"You're gonna need a bigger boat." Obviously, Cuba is a big opportunity
for a lot of people.
Herzfeld: It's an opportunity not only commercially as an investor, but
to be involved in rebuilding a country is very exciting, especially for
someone like me who's been trading stocks since the 1960s — it gets a
bit tedious. But being involved in agriculture and construction and
transportation, it's so different for us and exciting.
Caruso-Cabrera: What kinds of stocks are in the fund?… The basis of the
fund is the idea that when relations are re-established, or to some
degree we can do more business with Cuba, that the stocks in there would
benefit. So, what are some of those areas?
Herzfeld: Well, let me just preface this if I may. We're in quiet period
at the moment with the publicly traded fund. But we also run money for
private accounts, and now we started an investment partnership to invest
in Cuba. So, I'd like to just say, any of my remarks now have nothing to
do with our publicly traded fund.
But going back over 20 years, we've looked at almost every industry that
we believe would do well once trade resumed with Cuba. And we've
identified hundreds of potential projects, many of which we can invest
in now — that are legally permissible to invest in now. But at the
forefront of the sectors we're looking at are telecommunications,
building materials, construction related materials, tourism,
hospitality, travel services, marine transportation services and
agriculture. Those will be the first slice that we're going to be
Caruso-Cabrera: That sounds exciting. Like what? When I go there, I see
people starting restaurants, starting small businesses. Are those the
kind of things that you're talking about?
Herzfeld: I think at the beginning there might be investment in
mom-and-pop businesses. That's actually one of the areas that we can
invest in. But certainly telecommunications — there was just a deal
announced and that's something we're looking at. And construction
materials. Back and forth commerce and aggregates between Florida and
Cuba will be a major industry. Tourism certainly. There is a tremendous
shortage of hotel rooms in Cuba, which will lead you to look at the
cruise lines, because they actually have the most hotel rooms available
that could be put to use immediately. And agriculture is something we
could invest in now. Food is exempt from the embargo.
Loney: What's your gut feeling, Tom, about when this will all probably
get going? Do you think it could be by the end of this year or early
Herzfeld: I think so, but I've been wrong on that in past.… But it
certainly seems like this is the year that it will happen. You have the
Summit of the Americas coming up next month.
Caruso-Cabrera: That is the deadline that the President was hoping [to
meet] — that when they got to the Summit of the Americas, that's when
they'd be able to say that the embassies were reopened in both
countries, and that they had been able to finally re-establish
diplomatic relations at that point. So, that's why that's such a key event.
Herzfeld: It's interesting because one of the companies I formed 20
years ago — which was a private company, just my family — the name of
the company is the "Summit of the Americas."
Loney: And one of the funds, ironically enough, has the ticker symbol
CUBA, and that showed very strong interest last year. So, obviously the
interest level has really peaked up. And I guess you saw an unbelievable
peak when the President actually made the announcement earlier on.
Herzfeld: Yeah. I can't talk about our public fund. I would love to, but
Caruso-Cabrera: Tom … you invest in the Caribbean.… On a personal level,
I'm interested in Cuba, but it seems to me that the "mind print" for
Cuba is larger than any other island in the Caribbean relative to its
size and its population, etc. Why do you think that is?
Herzfeld: Natural resources, the literacy rate, the industry — the
hard-working people. It is the hub of the Caribbean. And once trade is
resumed, I see tremendous growth for the country.
Loney: In terms of Cuba itself, we've heard so many stories about all of
the different things that the country needs. You rattled off earlier a
bunch of different categories, but are there one or two that seem to be
the most important areas for Cuba to focus on?
Herzfeld: Well, look at historically the largest industries — rum,
sugar, tobacco, tourism, mining, fisheries. But I always found it quite
interesting, our office and my home actually [are] right in the Port of
Miami and [have] been for oh, a quarter of a century now. So, as I look
out the window — and this is where many of our investment ideas came
from — I just look at the harbor and the harbor entrance, I look at the
cruise ships, I look at the dredging companies, the ferry boats coming
in and out, the terminals, the cranes. And you just think all of those
are things that are going to be right on the cutting edge of resumption
of trade in Cuba.
Caruso-Cabrera: The United States is clearly trying to make it easier
for you to do business there. That's very clear. Do you think the Cuban
government is going to reciprocate at all? Because a lot of people say
to me, "Oh, great, Cubans will finally have the Internet now." And I say
to them, "Well, Cuba actually could buy Internet equipment from China.
They buy food from China. They buy rice. They buy beans from China. But
they don't buy Internet equipment. Maybe the Cubans don't have Internet
because the Cuban government doesn't want them to have Internet. Just
because we can sell them stuff doesn't mean they want to buy the stuff
from us, right?
Herzfeld: Yeah, I think it's 5% penetration of the [market].
Caruso-Cabrera: Yes, you're right.
Herzfeld: But I think the attitude of the Cuban government is changing.
And their willingness to restore democracy and political freedom and
free trade — I think it's in motion. And so, it's just a question, not
[of] if it's going to happen, but just how fast. And I think we're on a
Loney: But it also has to be a mindset from their government as well;
that they realize that they have to make changes in order to be a
country that is involved in trade. Obviously, they are [trading] with a
lot of countries around the globe. But [they won't be able] to increase
that level and make their country a better option for a variety of
different things if they don't do these types of deals with the United
States and other countries around the globe.
Herzfeld: Yes, I agree completely. It will be interesting to see how
they handle the prior-claims issue. That's something we've looked at in
depth.… In all of the countries where prior claims have been initiated,
they one way or another all got settled. So, I think that there actually
is a way to settle the prior claims by exchanging them in part for
shares in an investment fund. And eventually that fund, I think, could
be the first stock listed on the Cuban stock exchange.
Caruso-Cabrera: That would be exciting.
Loney: For those who don't already know, let's talk about what those
"prior claims" are. The exiles who left behind property have claims
against the houses or the businesses that they abandoned. And then,
separate and apart from that, there are hundreds of American companies
and/or individuals who had their property seized in the early 1960s by
the Cuban government. They have a bunch of registered claims at the U.S.
Treasury Department, and they are waiting to negotiate those at some
point with the future government that is willing to negotiate them. And
the question has always been: How do you figure that out? How do you
settle people getting some kind remuneration for what was once theirs?
Herzfeld: By the way, one of my partners actually has one of the largest
prior claims in the country. But I would like to create a fund [to pay]
people who don't want to fight their claims out or wait for an eventual
settlement. If it's approved by the Treasury Department here and the
Cuban government, we'd like to take claims in exchange for shares in our
fund, so that the people who may be giving up their claims of specific
property might have a share in a large pool of claims, which we would
then create businesses and investments in those businesses to develop
the old cement factory or the sugar plantation or something along those
Caruso-Cabrera: Don't underestimate this. My mother still talks about
going back and getting her grandmother's house. There [are] a lot of
Cuban exiles talking about this.
Loney: I'd think there would be a lot of Cubans thinking about the
opportunity of going back and finding that level of security, but also
retracing their heritage and being able to visit relatives that there
are still there. There's a lot of the personal aspect to this as well.
Herzfeld: Yeah, we hear it constantly, especially in Florida. But as the
generations move on, the interests change. For instance, if we created
an exchange fund for prior claims, it could be done where there were two
classes of stock. Perhaps the older generation might want an income
share, but the next generation might want more of a growth opportunity,
and [a chance to] participate in part of the heritage in Cuba. So, I
find the younger generation has a slightly different view than their
parents did or do.
Caruso-Cabrera: And the polling data certainly shows that. When you talk
to the older generation, many of them tend to be just hard-line
supporters of the embargo, where the younger generations think it's time
to move on and try something different. Tom, have you been to Cuba at
all? I've always wondered: Do you get to go there as part of your investing?
Herzfeld: I personally do not go. My whole team goes, including my
children who work with the firm. They go on humanitarian missions. I
just — it's sensitivity to my friends here in Miami who asked me not to
do it. I decided not to.
Caruso-Cabrera: And that's another issue too.… a lot of the older
generation very much say, "I'm never going back to Cuba until Castro is
gone or the Castros are gone." And they tell their children, "Don't you
go back." And their grandchildren. And it becomes a real [issue] —
within families, it can become really divisive.
Loney: How much of a change will the Cuban government undergo once these
doors are open, with Castro's son running the operation, running the
country? Or do we really need to see a name other than "Castro" running
the government in Cuba to really effect all the types of change that
we're talking about and maybe that we're expecting?
Caruso-Cabrera: Well, certainly the way the embargo law is written, the
Castros have to be gone. But that being said, they've made tiny, tiny
little changes down there that I don't think the government realized the
impact that they would have. They had this announcement a couple years
ago. They said, "OK, before, everybody had to work for the government.
Everybody was a government employee." Every shop, everything [was
controlled by the government]. Now they say, "OK, it's these 200
categories where you can work for yourself instead." And the people who
started those little businesses are doing so well compared to everybody
else, I think the government there has maybe been taken by surprise.
When you lift the lid of economic repression a tiny bit, wow, the impact
Loney: Obviously, it takes a little while to get that movement going
down to Cuba. But just the ability of small businesses to be able to be
up and running and have an effect on the economy — that's a great way to
start that groundswell of much better public opinion.
Herzfeld: You couldn't be more correct.
Loney: Is it a bit easier with respect to Cuba, in terms of the types of
investments that you could potentially make, because the needs seem to
be so great across the board? It's almost like you can sit back and pick
Herzfeld: There are so many opportunities that when we add up how much
we could invest, it's billions. Twitter But we've got a list now that's
legally permissible. And we're pulling the trigger on that almost as we
speak. And then, there's a deeper list that, as we see perhaps the
embargo being lifted piecemeal, [presents] other opportunities. And
then, of course, full resumption of trade is interesting. The interest
we're getting is from many of the companies we're invested in — public
companies [that] want to go into Cuba. It might be a hotel chain, a
cruise line, a construction company, a ferry company, an airline. And
what we're trying to do is carve out pure Cuba investment so we can
co-invest with those companies.
Loney: Are those primarily U.S. companies or are there companies from
other countries as well?
Herzfeld: Most of the companies we've been speaking to are U.S companies
but we've also spoken recently with Spanish, Canadian companies, a few
companies elsewhere in the Caribbean. Mexico certainly has a high level
of interest in expanding their current trade with Cuba.
Caruso-Cabrera: Now, that's interesting because, besides the United
States, all the countries that you mentioned could previously invest in
Cuba if they wanted to. Do they see something about the change in the
relationship with the United States that gives them more confidence
about being willing to do the investments down there?
Herzfeld: Yeah, they're very timid. We met yesterday with an agency
representing Japan. And they have about $1 billion of unpaid debt from
the 1990s that they're still trying to collect. Yet I know that we had
some very positive discussions with Japanese companies recently. And I
think actually, many of the companies in these countries will use us as
the way to expand and develop new business in Cuba.
Loney: It sounds like you have not only the companies that you were
talking about that have an interest, but a fairly good list of companies
in other areas that, as the embargo opens up, will be ready to invest.
Herzfeld: They're ready. Some of them are investing in our private fund.
And some of them are asking us to co-invest with them and help them
create their businesses. Our team is comprised of some very prominent
Cuban-Americans. And I don't want to elaborate on it at the moment, but
we have the expertise and the relationships to help companies invest in
Caruso-Cabrera: Can you talk about the size in general [of these
investments]? [In] this emerging [market] — I mean, it's not even quite
emerging, right? You wouldn't necessarily go many, many, many billions
of dollars into a single investment? Are we talking about investments in
the single million, less than a million, multimillion [dollar range]?
Herzfeld: I think at the beginning, perhaps 10 or 20 investments of $25
to $50 million.
Herzfeld: Yes. At the beginning.
Caruso-Cabrera: Wow. That would be a huge amount of money going into the
country compared to the former direct investment that they've had for
the last 50 years, which has been almost negligible.
Herzfeld: And then we're targeting, as I said — it's set up in a series,
as a series partnership. So, we think eventually it will be several
Loney: Once that door opens up, then it's really just going to be a
flood, isn't it?
Herzfeld: Yes. But we don't want to be viewed as carpetbaggers, either,
which I think will be [the mistake] the people coming in behind us may make.
Loney: How tough is that specifically to deal with? Because that is a
perception that you obviously don't want to have attached to you,
attached to your company. Is it a bit of a tricky line to walk?
Herzfeld: Well, the CEO of the Herzfeld Cuba Alternative Division ran a
charitable foundation as well as being a businessman. So, we're very
sensitive to the need for Cuba to rebuild its middle class. And that's
one of the things we're focused on.
Caruso-Cabrera: When you talk about the investments that you're going to
do [in Cuba], because they have a lack of rule of law, there are so many
issues that make it a riskier investment, as is the case with [many]
emerging markets…. Generally, investors demand a higher return from
risky investments. What kind of return, when you talk about those
initial investments, do you think you're going to get, and over what
period of time?
Herzfeld: I think probably I shouldn't tell you what we're trying to
make. But you're correct. We're looking for returns in excess of what
people would make in private ventures and more plain-vanilla
investments. And we want the risk. People who are investing with us are
willing to take the risk. We want that risk.
Loney: Tom, is there also a correlating level of change that you'll see
in the Caribbean in general once the doors to Cuba open up? Once the
U.S. and Cuba really get going full speed, how much will there be an
effect on other nations?
Herzfeld: Well, certainly there will be a shift in tourism — a
geographic shift. But then, in terms of other trade, I think the tide
will lift all of the countries in the region.
Caruso-Cabrera: Tom, when [President Obama's] announcement happened that
morning, did you have any idea? I ask because you have been talking
about investing in Cuba for so long, since I've known you, since I got
to CNBC. When the announcement happened that day, what did you think?
Herzfeld: It was what Dan said. It was, "We need a bigger boat." But I
didn't expect the announcement to go as far as it did.… I didn't think
President Obama would make such a historic change. And it was truly
historic. It will be … one of the key factors in his legacy.
Loney: I was going to say that ends up being a very important piece of
the puzzle, especially for President Obama over [his] last two years.
And you talk about here in the U.S. and on Capitol Hill, all of the
things that the President is trying to get done in his last years. This
obviously becomes one of the important things that he wants to get
completed before the end of his term.
Herzfeld: Yeah. Well, I think it's certainly a very positive
achievement. And I think he will get it done.
Source: A Glimpse into the Future of U.S. Private Investment in Cuba -
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By Ramphis Castro, Founder, Mindchemy
March 13, 2015, 7:00 AM PDT
This Re/code series of contributed essays from Kauffman Fellows will
provide stories from their on-the-ground view of technology
entrepreneurship today, and its implications for the future. Founded in
1994, Kauffman Fellows is a Silicon Valley-based leadership program for
venture capitalists and innovators. The more than 400 graduates from
this two-year apprenticeship, collectively known as the Kauffman Fellows
Society, now lead venture capital, government, corporate, university and
startup innovation in over 50 countries around the world. Reach them
When venture capitalists talk about Cuba as the next Promised Land, they
note foremost the very real political hurdles that remain, both on the
island and in the United States. The biggest obstacle, however, may be
smartphones — the dearth of them.
Even as Cuba is a bright spot in the developing world for its top-notch
health care and education systems, it remains in a technological dark
age. Its communication systems, in particular, are almost as ancient as
the Packards and Hudsons that putter around Havana. Mobile phone
penetration (about one in 10 Cubans have one) is the lowest in Latin
America, the country's Internet is slow and government-censored, and
owning a computer was illegal until eight years ago.
All of which makes it especially exciting to be a venture capitalist
pondering the possibilities for funding companies in Cuba today and
tomorrow. If VCs, particularly angel investors, can become involved
soon, they will be getting in not at the proverbial ground floor but
while the blueprints are being drafted.
Cuba, to be sure, has much to gain from the opening of its economy. For
instance, it is one of the few places in the world where organic or
non-GMO products, beloved by Americans, exclusively are grown. An export
opportunity likely lies there. And then, of course, there is the Cuban
And certainly, the challenges for the first wave of early-stage VCs who
hit the ground in Cuba are myriad. But we have made inroads before into
early-stage economies: Iran, Yemen and Myanmar, to name a few.
Our fundamental role as VCs will be to support the creation of a new
Cuban economy — one wanted by Cubans, not necessarily one desired by the
U.S. or the outside world. Then we will back the local entrepreneurs who
will build it.
A probable priority for Cuba: Telecom. Much of the island's telephone
connection with the rest of the world moves through an old undersea
coaxial cable system. Banking networks and other infrastructure needed
for e-commerce are just as antiquated.
The easing of sanctions announced by President Obama in recent months
should make it more practicable for U.S. companies to export technology
and consulting services to Cuba. There is the potential for leapfrog
telecom networks, skipping over the wired and maybe even cellular
network stages, going right to satellite technology.
The timing is excellent for VCs seeking partnerships in Cuba, as a new
investment law, introduced in Cuba in March 2014, opens opportunities in
agriculture, infrastructure, sugar, nickel mining, building renovation
and real estate development.
Rodrigo Malmierca, minister for foreign trade and investment, believes
Cuba needs to attract $2 billion to $2.5 billion in foreign direct
investment per year to reach its economic growth target of 7 percent. To
that end, in November 2014, the Cuban government appealed to
international companies to invest more than $8 billion in 246 specified
development projects. The 168-page Portfolio of Opportunities for
Foreign Investment is available online and in English. "We have to
provide incentives," Malmierca said.
All this follows an initial effort four years ago by Cuba to make it
easier, somewhat, to start a company, an initiative that hundreds of
thousands of budding businessmen seized upon, taking their first steps
into state-sanctioned capitalism.
Still, much more needs to be done — and faster — by both Cuba and the
U.S. Congress for VC roots to take hold soon.
A recent Heritage Foundation report ranked only North Korea lower in
labor freedom, respect for the rule of law and lack of corruption.
Moreover, Cuba has repudiated or delayed debt payments to other nations
and corporations; it also wants the U.S. to leave the Guantanamo Naval
Base, which has proven to be problematic.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., resistance to normalization — although it's
lessening — remains problematic, as many Republicans, and especially
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of Cuban exiles, are unalterably
opposed. Many Cuban exiles want reparations or the return of seized
property and businesses, an unlikely scenario.
But the energetic, animated, conversations of the older generation Cuban
exiles, often over a colada in Versailles or La Carreta restaurant in
Miami, contrast with those of a new generation of Cuban Americans who
want a different way forward and to play an active role in the
rebuilding of their parents' home country. At the same time, American
nationals continue to become more curious about Cuba, its people, its
music and business opportunities.
The rest of the world also has much to gain from Cuba's expertise in
medical-related fields; the country's infant mortality rate is one of
the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and there's a high-functioning
universal health-care system.
Startups can catch fire in Cuba. And why shouldn't they? Necessity is
the mother of invention, and Cubans certainly have had a tough time in
recent decades. The literacy rate, however, is high — higher than in the
U.S. Cuba also has a strong culture of collaboration and support, two of
the basic tools entrepreneurs use to meet challenges large and small.
Starting a business is human nature, too. The desire to prosper from
trade has existed since antiquity. Holding back this instinct forever is
impossible — it's like stopping rain; eventually, it falls and things
begin to grow. Such will be the case in Cuba.
Ramphis Castro — no relation to the Cuban leaders — lives in Puerto
Rico. He is a Kauffman Fellow and founder of Mindchemy, a startup
specializing in bringing technology entrepreneurship into the developing
world. Reach him @jramphis.
Source: Seeding a Silicon Valley in Cuba | Re/code -
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BY ABIGAIL JONES / MARCH 12, 2015 11:54 AM EDT
Traveling from Miami to Havana is a haphazard, seemingly nonsensical
process that requires patience, guile, humor and a ruthless willingness
to cut lines. Thankfully, I'm traveling with Alberto Magnan, so we skip
the airport check-in line because he knows a guy. Magnan, who's 53, was
born in Cuba, left at the age of 7 and, aside from a short stay in
Spain, has been living in New York City ever since. He and his wife,
Dara Metz, are behind the Magnan Metz art gallery in Chelsea, where they
focus on international artists, particularly Cubans. Ninety minutes
before our flight takes off, we breeze past the folks who started lining
up two hours ago, and head straight for the ticket counter, where he
greets a woman who is clearly in charge of something. She takes my
passport, then disappears. Magnan tells me not to worry.
While we wait, he introduces me to Mark Elias, president of Havana Air.
He says long lines have been "the norm" for years for charter flights
between Miami and Cuba. Most flights "require three or four different
check-in positions to finally get your boarding pass," Elias says,
adding with a bit of pride, "but we check the flights differently. We
check a flight in an hour and a half."
Thankfully, the woman who took my passport reappears about 20 minutes
later. She hands me a rectangular folder, and inside I find my boarding
pass, my return ticket, my passport and a brochure about Cuba. Tucked
all the way in the back is a pale blue piece of paper that looks like
trash. "Don't lose it," she says.
"What happens if I do?"
She and Magnan say, almost in unison, "Don't."
Less than an hour after we take off, we land in Havana. As soon as the
wheels touch down, the pilot comes on the intercom: "If you're happy to
be in Havana, clap!" The plane sounds like my apartment did when the New
England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February (I'm from Boston).
By the time Magnan and I drop our bags at the hotel and eat dinner, it's
evening. We've hired a driver, a thin, 50-year-old man named Raphael. He
is a trained physician, but he quit medicine after four years to start
his taxi business. He drops us off at the mouth of Plaza de San
Francisco de Asis in Old Havana, and before we walk 15 feet, half a
dozen taxistas converge on us. Need a ride? Americano? Where to? I shake
my head no and keep walking toward the vast cobblestone square, which is
lit up with floodlights and packed with people.
Day and night, tourists flock here for the historical sites and
architecture. Across the street is Havana's seafront boulevard, the
Malecón, teeming with young people, day or night. In a country where
many earn in a month less than what it costs to eat at a paladar (a
privately owned restaurant, as compared with the dominant state-run
restaurants, where the government funds the eating establishment and
makes decisions about management and wages), the Malecón gives locals
something to do. We walk through the plaza, down a ways and into a
modest lobby. There's a security guard at the door and, just inside, a
woman sitting behind a desk. Magnan speaks to her in Spanish. I have no
idea what he says (I speak high school French), but he's clearly
persuasive, because eventually she nods. We're in.
Magnan, a few of his friends and I pile into the tiny elevator. Someone
asks him a question about the event, but Magnan silently shakes his head
and points to the ceiling. His message is clear: They're listening. We
all shut up and wait for the doors to open.
When they do, we are on the roof-deck of a two-story penthouse apartment
overlooking Old Havana. The scene looks as if it's been airlifted from a
high-end Miami hotel: sleek white chairs and couches, delicate flower
arrangements, a full bar. Off to one side, a film is being projected
onto the facade of a nearby building.
Half an hour later, guests start disappearing inside, so I follow—down a
spiral staircase until I reach a living room so vast and opulent I feel
as if I'm on the set of a Leonardo DiCaprio period drama. A large
hammock of thick velvet hangs from the ceiling. The floors are covered
in ornate rugs. Oversized plants rise up against the walls studded with
sconces and artwork. Nearby, equally ornate rooms hold a pool table and
a robust dinner buffet. Down the hall is the most pristine bathroom I'll
see during my week in Havana. Perched on a ledge near the shower is a
fat statue of...yes, those are penises.
Everyone here is dressed—older women in gowns, young models in tight
dresses, men in sharp suits and hats and shiny shoes. It's as if age—and
Communism—doesn't exist here; older guests mingle with the younger set,
and not a single person is looking at a smartphone. I am surrounded by
Cuba's intellectual and cultural elite. I meet Cucu Diamantes, the
Grammy-nominated Cuban-American singer and actress, and her husband,
Andrés Levin, a Venezuelan-born and Juilliard-trained American record
producer and filmmaker who won a Grammy in 2009 for the In the Heights
cast album. He spearheaded the inaugural TEDxHabana last November.
Together, he and Diamantes founded the fusion band Yerba Buena, which
earned a Grammy nomination for its 2003 debut album. Levin points out
some famous Cuban actors and musicians. There are even a few members of
the Castro family. A cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke envelops us all.
The U.S. embargo, which began in the early 1960s, prohibited American
investment in Cuba. Art, books and music, however, were exempt, giving
artists the leeway to earn their money and travel outside the country,
albeit under the watchful eye of the government. In a country where
there are neither real estate tycoons nor hedge fund moguls, artists and
intellectuals are among the 1 percent!
This is not the Havana most tourists see; nor is it the Havana most
Cubans know. Even writing about it seems like something the Cuban
government wouldn't approve of, because, well, viva la revolución, right?
For the rest of my time in Cuba, I see the Havana you probably see in
your mind: The vintage Chevy convertibles with rusted tail fins; the
propaganda posters that read "La Revolución es invencible" in faded red
letters across buildings; the dilapidated mansions and rickety bicycle
taxis; the cigar shops clogged with snowbird tour groups; and the kids
who follow you around, ask where you live and, when they find out it's
New York City, shout, "New York Yankeeeeees!" (I didn't have the heart
to tell them I grew up near Boston.)
At the same time, in a country where almost nothing has changed for
generations, I found cranes erected across the city in preparation for
renovations and construction. New paladares pop up almost weekly, as do
small pizza shops. Hotels are filled with tourists; at Meliá Cohiba,
where I stayed, I heard more American accents than I usually do walking
down a random New York City street.
Now that the country is opening up for the first time in over five
decades, hope, determination and money are in the air, and everything is
up for grabs: real estate, construction, telecommunications, tourism.
Small businesses, from bicycle and car repair to plumbing, restaurants
and taxis, are all poised for growth. Netflix has announced it is
coming, despite the fact that just 5 percent of Cubans have Internet
access, according to a 2012 Freedom House report. (Twenty-three percent
of Cubans can access the government-sanctioned "intranet.") In February,
Conan O'Brien became the first late-night host to tape a show in Cuba
since 1962 (the episode aired March 4). Which colossal American brands
are next? Home Depot? Best Buy? McDonald's? Royal Caribbean
International? Donald Trump?
Cuba is suddenly brimming with potential, restrained by a tentative
government and populated by hopeful, hardworking people. Who, exactly,
stands to benefit and who could be left behind? Is Cuba's future a
newfangled Jamaica, thronged by spring breakers, bachelors and
bachelorettes wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and Castro-style Army caps?
And is that a best- or worst-case scenario?
The Art of Change
"I remember having my mom pick me up at school and say, 'We have 24
hours to leave. Pack a suitcase. We're going to be traveling outside of
Cuba,'" Magnan says. "It was scary."
Forty-six years ago, Magnan's mother, an art professor, and his father,
an accountant for a tobacco factory, left everything they owned in
Havana—car, furniture, jewelry, possessions. Even then, Magnan was a
collector: baseball cards, stamps, coins, stickers. "I loved to draw but
was never pushed into the art field. The Cuban mother wants you to be a
doctor or lawyer." Instead, he became an art dealer.
Magnan is known for showing Cuban artists like Roberto Diago, who
explores race, religion and Afro-Cuban roots; Alexandre Arrechea, a
founding member of the collective Los Carpinteros; and Glenda León, who
represented Cuba in the 2013 Venice Biennale. His first time back to
Havana, in 1997, was during Cuba's Special Period, the economic crisis
that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Cuba lost
billions of dollars in support and subsidies. There were shortages of
everything: transportation, food, electricity, cars, replacement parts,
toothpaste. Once-stunning homes started falling down, creating the kind
of dilapidated beauty that fuels ruin porn. "I fell in love with the
artists because what they were doing during the Special Period was very
different. They had no materials. They were working with paints that
were not paints. Canvases were metal or fabric or mops. They'd take
everything they could and make it into art. I said, 'Oh my God, the U.S.
collectors have to see what's going on here.'"
Today, Magnan is behind some of the most innovative and controversial
art events in Cuba, including Chelsea Visits Havana at the National
Museum of Fine Arts in 2009, the first art exhibit of American artists
in Cuba since the revolution. The event was part of the 10th Havana
Biennial, which, despite its name, has occurred every three years since
2000. "That was a key turning point in Cuba-U.S. relations, when I
realized art can make a difference," Magnan says.
Over the past few decades, a handful of Cubans and Cuban-Americans have
been working quietly as cultural ambassadors, building bridges between
the two countries by focusing on the arts. Magnan is one of them.
"Havana is alive and well," he says. "Artists are doing incredible
things. And they are choosing to remain in Cuba to pursue their
careers.... The changes that are happening through art and culture are
making the way for other changes."
On our second day in Havana, we visit Cuban curator Juanito Delgado at
his apartment overlooking the Malecón. It's early evening as we gather
in his living room, which is covered floor to ceiling with framed
paintings and photographs. He leans back into a deep wicker couch,
crosses one red velvet slipper over the other and says (through Magnan's
translation), "When you make good art, it poses all of the political
questions. Don't make politics art. Make art political. Then you have
In 2012, Delgado transformed the Malecón into an art exhibit for the
11th Havana Biennial. Arlés del Río's Fly Away featured the silhouette
of an airplane cut into a large, rectangular chain-link fence placed at
the edge of the seawall. Rachel Valdés Camejo installed a large mirror
facing the water; she called it Happily Ever After No. 1.
"Art moves society, and art moves people," Delgado says. "I hope Obama
will help the cultural scene here, give funding to make books, do shows
and help artists promote their work…. I want Havana to have its theaters
filled." He pauses for a moment, then looks straight at me. "Bueno," he
says. "Maybe you could find out where [the new money] is gonna go?"
One Less Brick in the Wall
Cuba is just 90 miles from the United States, but it has been
essentially frozen in time since 1959, when Fidel Castro overthrew the
dictator Fulgencio Batista with an army of guerrillas. Under Castro's
Communist reign, education and health care were free but the economy
crumbled, poverty spread, and Cubans were rarely permitted to travel
abroad. Castro has a long history of punishing and repressing critics;
in 2013, there were over 6,000 arbitrary detentions of human rights
activists, according to the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba. Freedom
of speech does not exist here, the state owns all official media
outlets, and the government has intimidated bloggers and locked up
journalists, who face gruesome conditions in prison.
Since 1982, Cuba has been on the U.S. government's list of countries
that sponsor terrorism because, according to a 2013 State Department
report, it has offered "safe haven" to members of the Basque Fatherland
and Liberty (ETA), in Spain, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, and it also harbored fugitives wanted by the U.S. That
designation prohibits Cubans from banking with America. While Barack
Obama has promised to review Cuba's status, Republicans are protesting
the potential removal.
In 2008, Fidel's brother Raúl took over. In the past few years, he has
instituted a series of reforms that permit Cubans to travel abroad more
easily and for longer periods of time; buy and sell cars and homes;
legally start private businesses (with over 100 types); and stay at
Havana's international hotels. (Historically, Cubans were shut out of
high-end hotels, partly because they accept only the tourist currency,
CUC (pronounced kook), and state workers earn their wages in the
essentially worthless Cuban peso (CUP), and partly because the
government didn't want the hotels to become hotbeds of drugs and
prostitution.) While Raúl's policies have been applauded, the economic
reality for most Cubans has not, since the majority can't afford to do
any of these things.
"The reforms, even as reforms, are tepid, halting and partial," says
Fulton Armstrong, who served as national intelligence officer for Latin
America from 2000 to 2004 and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center
for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University. "[When]
you don't have the influx of new capital, new trade, new money coming
in, even if opportunities exist, the resources for using those
opportunities do not exist."
The average Cuban makes less than $20 a month. Last year, some doctors
reportedly got a pay increase from $26 a month to $67. In an appliance
store I wandered into, a microwave was on sale for $72.60, and a
coffeemaker cost $30. Most meals I ate were around $30 a head. Now that
Americans can send Cubans $8,000 a year, up from $2,000 before Obama's
December announcement, the gulf between blacks and whites is expected to
widen. According to The New York Times, white Cubans are 2.5 times more
likely than blacks to receive financial support from relatives abroad,
making it easier for them to start businesses. White Cubans living in
rural areas are also likely to struggle, Armstrong says.
There are 11 million people in Cuba, and many stand to benefit from the
thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations: tradesmen, farmers, all those who
receive remittances from relatives living abroad to enable them to open
up small businesses. "The informal economy of Cuba is massive, and it's
been the training ground for large sectors of society to practice
entrepreneurialism," says Armstrong. "Some, like artists, have been
doing it for decades, and they're very good at it. People who've stayed
on the straight and narrow, either because of personality or closeness
to the party or institutional affiliation with tight oversight, haven't
engaged as much in the black market. Those people will have a slightly
The losers, Armstrong says, are those who tend to lose everywhere, every
time: the poorly educated, the elderly and those with health problems.
"Always, change is good for a group of people and bad for another," says
Meylin Bernal, 32, a tour guide with San Cristóbal, one of Cuba's
state-run tour companies. "Everyone is excited about having the chance
to work and, according to their wages, be able to have a normal life.
Not to struggle, but to survive."
'The Sun Is Different Here'
"That's a Muscovy. Russian! That black one is a Chevy, 1953. I used to
own some of them."
Raphael has been shouting the names of cars we pass as we drive through
Havana. "That one over there, the green one, is a Chevy, '52. That one
is a Mercury, 1951. That's a Dutch '58. That used to be a Shell gas
station before the revolution."
We're heading to Párraga, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts. It's
about a 30-minute drive, so to pass the time, I ask him why he decided
to stop working as a doctor. "The wage was not enough!" he says. Raphael
says he earned between $12 and $15 a month. (Today, doctors earn four
times that, he points out.) As a taxi driver, he earns about $200 a
month, which helps him support his family. "At the beginning, I missed
my work as a doctor, but now it's so many years working as a taxi driver—"
He trails off.
"Juan Carlos just graduated dentist university in July," Raphael says of
his 24-year-old stepbrother. "He worked two days for me and made $30 a
day—more than he makes in a month. It's awful. Juan Carlos would like to
go to the U.S. He's studying English. I'll send him some money to help
him. There's no future for him here."
We pull over on a quiet street and pick up Sandra Soca Lozano, a
28-year-old Cuban psychology professor at Havana University who has
agreed to spend the day with me. Lozano is short, with long brown hair,
big brown eyes and a friendly smile. She lives with her mother, a
psychologist, and father, who's retired, and her grandfather. She's
never left the island. "Because I love my country and I love my parents
and I'm an only child, I don't want to leave them behind," she says.
When Lozano is not teaching at the university, she volunteers with
children and teenagers who have cancer. But like other Cubans who opt to
keep their government jobs, she makes a measly income—just $30 a month.
("Every Cuban does the black market to make purchases and earn money,"
says Armstrong, "because obviously the $30 income is not her only
income. Don't kid yourself.")
Lozano longs to buy a car and go salsa dancing with her friends, but
both are luxuries beyond her means. The challenges of daily life are
compounded by watching her peers succeed abroad. "Lots of friends live
outside of Cuba, and after four months they have cars! And they have
houses! They can go on vacations wherever they want. My parents, who
work like hell, cannot do regular stuff. My mother can't go to Egypt and
look at the pyramids."
We continue driving, past abandoned gas stations, bus stops teeming with
people and an old port without boats. I ask Lozano what it is about
Cuba, aside from her family, that keeps her here. "It's the people, the
places," she says. "Structurally, the streets suck and the buildings—I
know that. But the smell from the sea! I've always lived near to the
sea. This is a particular smell that I love. The sun here is different.
You can always find someone who'll help you, who'll share with you."
"Oldsmobile, 1955!" It's Raphael again. He explains that we're driving
through a neighborhood called Luyano. We pass people sitting on stoops
or standing on sidewalks waiting for a communal taxi. A large sign that
says, "Gracias Fidel" hangs from a bridge.
Eventually, the streets get rockier. After a few more turns, we end up
on a wide, pothole-ridden street devoid of cars and covered in trash.
People are hanging out in the streets, and dogs roam the sidewalks as if
they own them. Aluminum sheets serve as fences around tiny houses that
are nestled up to each other like sardines. This is Párraga. There is no
tourism here, and the water doesn't run every day. A friend suggested we
spend some time here, and introduced me to someone who might offer a
window into what life is like on this side of the city.
Justina Cordero Mesa greets us on her porch, stretching her thin,
wrinkled hands out toward mine and kissing me on the cheek. She's
wearing a white print dress, dark green socks and black flip-flops. Her
white hair is clipped in a messy twist on top of her head, and fluffy
white eyebrows hang over her eyelids. Her face is marked by deep
creases. She's 90.
Mesa waves us into her home and points to the couch and a couple of
chairs covered in brightly colored pillows. Lozano, Magnan and I sit
down. It's a tiny space, not more than six by eight feet. Cracks and
stains line the pale mustard walls and tiled floor. In one corner, a
tiny Christmas tree and a boombox sit on a small brown table. On another
table are a vase of fake flowers, a green piggy bank and a couple of
other miniatures. Hanging above the table is a framed photo of Fidel
Castro. Outside, dogs are barking.
In a raspy voice, Mesa tells us her television was recently stolen when
someone broke in through the window. When I ask if the culprit was ever
found, Mesa laughs.
Her home is small, dark and filled with flies. Behind the living room is
a small dining room with a wooden table and short refrigerator covered
in vegetable-shaped magnets. In the even-smaller kitchen, old buckets
and some cups and bowls sit on a makeshift countertop. There is a plate
of what looks like chicken bones near a hot plate, and four cooking
utensils hang from the pale blue wall. The ceiling is low, not just here
but in all of the rooms. A small door in the kitchen leads to a back
alley, where Mesa hangs her clothes and washes her dishes.
"My grandson wants to take his house and this house and trade them for
one bigger house, so that I can live with him. But I don't know," says
Mesa, who has lived here for more than 60 years. Her husband, who worked
for the police, died a few years ago. They have one son, who lives in
Cuba, and her sister and niece live in the U.S. "My sister wanted to
take me, but I didn't want to leave. I have my family…. My history is
big. But what am I going to do with that?"
I ask Mesa if she thinks life in Párraga will get better now that change
is starting to come to Cuba. "It hasn't changed. Every day it's worse,
because everything is more expensive," she says. "I can't hear or see
well. I'm very old. I'm really old. Whatever I'm gonna see now I've
When I return to New York City, I email Lozano. She says it was "hard"
to see how Mesa lives. "On the other hand, she represents exactly what I
think it is to be a Cuban, because even living in those conditions she
would never leave her country. She loves it. She hopes for good things
for others and not for herself. She offers the few things she has, and
she is old but still…independent and she still cares of her family.… For
me that's the essence of the Cubans—always take care and worry for
someone else, always resilient, always helping the other, even if you
don't know him too much."
'Will They Beat Up People?'
Vedado, an urban center in Havana where Hugo Cancio has been slowly
growing his media empire, is a long way from Párraga. Cancio, who's
Cuban, is the founder and CEO of Fuego Enterprises, which focuses on
business, media, telecommunications, real estate and travel
opportunities in Cuba and the U.S. A few years ago, he and his wife were
on a flight from Miami to Havana along with about 40 Americans. He
overheard some of them talking about what Cuba is all about—"other than
that famous last name that starts with a C," he says.
"Is Cuba a militarized country?"
"Will we find people with machine guns in the street?"
"Will they beat up people who say bad things about Fidel?"
"My wife said, 'Why don't you get up and tell them what Cuba is all
about?'" Cancio recalls. "I was getting pretty upset, because as you can
see, this country is about more than Castro and the dissidents and the
opposition. It's a beautiful country with beautiful people. I approached
them and started talking to them about Cuba."
Twenty minutes later, he returned to his seat. His wife had an idea:
print a brochure about Cuba, to be given to tourists on flights to
Havana. "Do something!" he remembers her saying.
Instead of a brochure, Cancio launched On Cuba, the first Cuba-focused
bilingual magazine, which is sold throughout the U.S. and Cuba. Its
website gets between 600,000 and 1.2 million visitors a month, and the
magazine and its sister publication, ART On Cuba, which Cancio launched
last June, are sold in all U.S. Barnes & Noble stores and all Hudson
News shops at Miami International Airport and Ronald Reagan National
Airport in Washington, D.C. This month, the magazine goes into 184
Publix supermarkets across Florida. And in a nod to his wife's original
idea, On Cuba is the official in-flight magazine on most charter flights
between Miami and Havana.
Cancio, 50, was born in Havana. His mother, Monica Leticia, was a famous
Cuban singer, and his father, Miguel Cancio, co-founded the legendary
Cuban quartet Los Zafiros (the Sapphires), affectionately referred to as
the Beatles of 1960s Cuba. During the famed 1980 Mariel boatlift, when
Castro announced that anyone wanting to immigrate to the U.S. could
leave the country, 125,000 Cubans fled on 1,700 boats. Cancio, then 16,
left with his mother and 13-year-old sister. Not long before, he'd been
expelled from his prestigious high school for making a joke about
Castro. "My mother said, 'You have no future here,'" Cancio recalls.
"'We gotta go.'"
With no relatives in Miami and nowhere to go, they spent three weeks in
a shelter at the Orange Bowl stadium. Later, they moved to a tiny studio
in South Beach. "My mom slept on a sofa bed, and I slept on the floor on
a mattress for three years. She regretted her decision for many years."
Back in Cuba, Cancio's father had been working with the Ministry of
Culture's Centro Contraciones, but he lost his position for permitting
his family to leave. He got a job as a street sweeper and later worked
in construction. "I'm the only construction worker who goes in a
three-piece suit to work," Cancio recalls his father writing in letters.
A few years later, he, too, left the country.
Today, Cancio is a pioneering ambassador for Cuban music and art in the
U.S., especially in his hometown of Miami. He has produced nearly 140
concerts and 30 music tours, and his résumé reads like a primer of the
Cuban-American culture wars. In 1999, he planned a concert at the Miami
Arena for Los Van Van, one of the most successful Cuban musical groups.
"Right-wing Cubans were outside throwing eggs and cans, and their sons
and daughters were inside dancing," he recalls.
Cancio was also behind the first Cuban-American feature film produced in
Cuba since before the revolution, Zafiros, Locura Azul (Blue Madness),
about the rise of Los Zafiros. The film premiered in 1997 at the Havana
Film Festival, where it won the people's choice award and then ran in
theaters for six months. When he brought it to Miami, thousands of
protesters rallied outside the theater. "My mom had brought me to this
country to be a free man and to have a better future," he says. "How can
you prevent me from doing something I have every right to do in a
democratic country your parents brought you to because in Cuba you
couldn't do anything?"
With U.S.-Cuban relations changing, Cancio is expanding the On Cuba
footprint. In March, On Cuba Real Estate will arrive, focusing on
architecture and local neighborhoods. This spring he's launching On Cuba
Travel, a Travelocity-type website focused on Cuba, and, later, On Cuba
Money Express, a money remittance business. He's also partnering with
two large telecommunications companies in the U.S. (Blackstone Online is
one; he declines to name the other) in an effort to bring the Internet
and cellphones to the Cuban people.
"I have been fighting for this for many, many years—not defending the
government but defending my right as a Cuban to change U.S. policy
towards Cuba, which was inhumane and didn't work, as President Obama
said," Cancio says. "All of that combined has given me some credibility
Who, exactly, stands to benefit from all of the work he's doing? I tell
him about Lozano, the psychology professor, and Mesa, and ask him what
he thinks their futures will look like.
"I'm concerned the first people that will benefit will be the well
connected," he says. "It will be a lengthy process, but we are breathing
a different air. I see it in my people who work for our publication.
I've seen the transformation from when they started working with us to
how they are today. They're happier. Their houses are being rebuilt.
They're thinking of putting a little money aside to take a trip to
Mexico or Honduras."
The On Cuba office is empty when I visit on a Saturday, save for the
editorial director, Tahimi Arboleya. She's sitting at a desk in one of
the offices, surrounded by a few computers. On her desktop: Gmail and
Facebook. It's the first time I've seen those websites during my entire
trip. It's also one of the few times I've seen working computers.
"I think that we can do something. A little, you know?" says Arboleya of
her work at On Cuba. "It's very, very important to us to inform Cubans
and Americans [about] what happens in Cuba, what is the reality of the
Cuban people. The information about Cuba in the United States is very—I
don't know how to say in English—polarizing?"
My last night in Havana, I invite Lozano to join Magnan, me and a few
others for dinner. At first, she isn't interested. She's supposed to
meet up with some friends to go salsa dancing, which she hasn't done in
weeks, but after making a quick stop at the salsa club and finding out
it's full, she decides to join us. Raphael drops us off near the water
in the Miramar section of Havana. A bouncer stands at the foot of a
walkway leading up to an imposing white house. He and Magnan talk—it
looks as if they know each other—and then we head into Rio Mar, a
seafood paladar overlooking the Almendares River.
We sit at a long table on the terrace, beneath a navy blue awning. All
around us are tables of tourists: Americans, French, people speaking
Spanish and more Americans. White Christmas lights hang from the
balcony, lighting up the clear glasses and bottles of Acqua Panna.
Lozano keeps commenting on how clean the water tastes. She'd never had
blue cheese before, so she orders chicken breast in blue cheese sauce.
Before dessert arrives, she disappears inside and takes photos in the
restaurant's lobby, posing on a couch with one of the waiters.
"That place, it's kind of magic. I felt like I was move to another
country or time," she says later in an email written in nearly perfect
English. "[It] makes me nostalgic of my future, of my parents, of my
family to be, of my country…. But I know that in the current situation
of my country's economy, and the struggles of my government to keep
public systems like health and education with quality, working in my
field (education) will never allow me to go by myself to places like
that. I will always have to wait to be invited by someone else."
In Cuba, she says, "there are lights and shadows everywhere and you can
choose what to show, but most important for me how to show them both."
This story has been updated to reflect that the United States' embargo
against Cuba has not been officially lifted.
Source: Cuba's Bay of Fat Cats -
http://www.newsweek.com/2015/03/20/cubas-bay-fat-cats-313183.html Continue reading
In an original initiative designed to circumvent website blocking by
governments that violate human rights, Reporters Without Borders is
using the technique known as mirroring to duplicate the censored sites
and place the copies on the servers of Internet giants such as Amazon,
Microsoft and Google. In these 11 countries that are "Enemies of the
Internet," blocking the servers of these Internet giants in order to
make the mirror sites inaccessible would deprive thousands of companies
of essential services. The economic and political cost would be too
high. Our nine sites are therefore protected against censorship.
Reporters Without Borders is renting bandwidth for this operation that
will gradually be used up as more and more people visit the mirror
sites. We are therefore asking Internet users to help pay for additional
bandwidth so that the mirror sites will be available for as long as
The nine mirror sites created by Reporters Without Borders
Grani.ru, blocked in Russia, is now available at
Fergananews.com blocked in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, is
now available at https://fg1.global.ssl.fastly.net/
The Tibet Post International, blocked in China, is now available at
Dan Lam Bao, blocked in Vietnam, is now available at
Mingjing News, blocked in China, is now available at
Hablemos Press, blocked in Cuba, is now available at
Gooya News, blocked in Iran, is now available at
Gulf Centre for Human Rights, blocked in United Arab Emirates, is now
available at https://gc1.global.ssl.fastly.net/
Bahrain Mirror, blocked in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, is now available at
This list is also available at https://github.com/RSF-RWB/collateralfreedom
To help make freely-reported news and information available in these
countries, all Internet users are invited to join in this operation by
posting this list on social networks with the #CollateralFreedom hashtag.
GreatFire – our partner organization
Operation Collateral Freedom is the brainchild of GreatFire, an NGO
operated by Chinese activists that has already created unblockable
mirror sites of Deutsche Welle, Google and China Digital Times.
GreatFire's tools and technology are freely available online for anyone
to use to combat online censorship. We are posting an opinion piece by
GreatFire co-founder Charlie Smith, entitled "How to fight censorship
with freedom of speech," on our 12 March website (12mars.rsf.org).
GreatFire's tools and experience were our source of inspiration for this
year's World Day Against Cyber-Censorship.
Source: CollateralFreedom, foiling censorship in 11 anti-Internet
countries | Collateral Freedom -
http://12mars.rsf.org/2015-en/collateralfreedom-foiling-censorship-in-12-anti-internet-countries-a-modifier/ Continue reading
Posted on March 11, 2015
They are referred to as old folks, half-timers and the pure. They are
shipwreck victims of a capsized island. They cling to debris, trying to
Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, February 27, 2015 — Men
and women in Cuba who have reached the age of forty are referred to as
tembas (old folks), medios tiempos (half-timers) and los puros (the pure).
Those approaching this age have lived through the periods before and
after 1989 on the island. Their childhoods were spent between schools in
the countryside and schools like those in the countryside, an ostensible
bonanza subsidized by the Council of Mutual Aid (CAME) and the war in
Angola. As young people they heard the echoes of the fall of the Berlin
Wall, and suffered through the crisis and blackouts.
Those who remain view their lives like those of shipwreck victims on an
island that has capsized. Some cling to debris, trying to stay afloat.
Others see fulfillment slipping away in a country that continues to deny
them a future.
Cubanet interviewed people in Bayamo and Havana: one a small city, the
other the capital. They offer a portrait of a generation for whom hope
has been extinguished.
Bayamo, a country within a country
One couple agreed to be interviewed by this reporter on how they see
their lives now and in the future. The man will turn forty in two years.
Both declined to give their names.
"They say that in 2016 the outlook in Bayamo could be very different,
but that is exactly what the government promised my parents and what I
inherited from them was crisis and the urge to leave behind these people
and this country," he says.
"This is a beautiful city," says the woman, "but it feels very small
when we see the tons of opportunities we are missing. The ones who
prosper here, more or less, are the ones who get help from those who
left when they were young to try their luck in another country. I don't
want my children to live with the despair I inherited from my parents.
On that he and I both agree."
Another man, known as El Pelón (the Bald Guy), graduated during the
educational chaos of the last decade.
"I have a lot of family living in the United States," he says. "At one
time I thought about making the crossing to Miami, leaving through
Puerto Padre. But life got messy, so I'm still here. By the time you're
forty, you feel the initial urge slipping away. It's like you have
entered a stage of life where you are moving at half speed. You resign
yourself to things. Arriving in a new country at twenty is not the same
as when you are over forty."
In Havana forty at forty
The Maxim Rock theater is a hotbed for the young and not so young. It is
Saturday in the capital. Tonight, two generations of music fans
co-mingle, intent on having the best time possible. This reporter
managed to have a conversation with one couple. He is forty; she is much
younger. Both spoke informally without giving their names.
"Twenty years ago," he says, "I was walking around Vedado, hunting for
foreigners and 'hustling.' It was the 1990s, the era of blackouts and
all those nightmares no one wants to remember. You had to be brave to
leave but also to stay. That's what I tell people when they ask me why I
am still living in Cuba."
"Something will have to change. These people's time has passed," she
says referring to the government. They are committed to the same old
same old. But they are very mistaken if they think the public's silence
is due to resignation."
Dominoes, a game of life and politics
At a Casa de los Abuelos senior center, a buiding which is somehow
miraculously still standing, a group of men is getting ready to play
another round of dominoes. Everyone here is past the age of forty. As in
the game of life and politics, each playing piece is a bet to be wagered
in silence. Their faces tell the history of this country, spanning the
dying past that landed them at this table and a future as uncertain as a
At the same time their counterparts are playing another round in Miami's
Maximo Gomez Park. They are veterans of nostalgia. Some still
unabashedly await the imminent downfall of the two brothers, just as
they did when they arrived in Florida at age twenty.
However, the prospect of reconciliation without freedom for Cubans
living on the island continues to shadow those on both sides of the
Source: Being Forty Years Old in Cuba / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera
| Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/being-forty-years-old-in-cuba-cubanet-camilo-ernesto-olivera/ Continue reading